Ballet West

Salt Lake City – Ballet West dress rehearsal at the Capitol Theatre.

Phony Campaigning

I had an interesting experience about a month ago, before the election. My assignment was to photograph a candidate for one of Utah’s congressional seats campaigning door to door. He was supposed to be out in a suburban neighborhood knocking on doors to explain his views and ask people for their support on election day.

There was a little mix-up on the time and location, mainly the location, so by the time I found the candidate he was inside the last house of a cul-de-sac after having visited the other homes.

Before I could go in, one of his staffers met me on the sidewalk and had me wait for the candidate to come out. And then a photographer for the other newspaper in town came out. That’s why they were holding me back, they wanted her to get her photographs. No problem. I started talking to her and found out she had just photographed the candidate visiting each home in this cul-de-sac. She went on her way.

Now the campaign staffer started explaining to me what was going to happen. He said the candidate would like to re-visit the homes in the cul-de-sac so I could photograph him interacting with these people.

Can you hear the red flags snapping up to attention? We were here to photograph some real campaigning, and this staffer wants me to photograph some fake situations, set up and staged for the camera, with families they have handpicked for the situation. I stopped him and said that we were expecting to photograph the candidate actually campaigning, and that I couldn’t photograph a staged situation like this. It had to be real.

To my surprise, he didn’t get it. In my mind, his suggestion of having the candidate fake his way through a series of visits with selected families was a clear violation of standard journalistic ethics. There was just no way I could photograph this.

It took a good five minutes for me to explain to the staffer that his proposal wouldn’t work for me. I don’t know if he ever fully grasped what I was saying, or why I couldn’t shoot his plan, but the candidate had no problem knocking on some unfamiliar doors and meeting some voters. He was actually very friendly and accommodating, and to be clear, he never suggested anything untoward. That’s what we did and those are the photos you saw in our paper. A true situation.

This post also appeard on my work blog, on the Tribune’s website.

Ted Wassmer

I read in the paper this morning that Utah artist Ted Wassmer died Sunday at the age of 96. Brings back a lot of memories and warm feelings for Ted. When I first started at the Tribune back in 1995, one of my first assignments was to photograph this amazing artist. I walked into a downtown art gallery (don’t look for it, it’s not there anymore) and met an 86-year-old man wearing an obvious silver toupee, a white suit coat and shorts. Ted.

He was great to photograph, hamming it up and especially proud of his legs and how good they looked. Even at his age, he had the energy and enthusiasm of a 20-year-old.

After the photos ran, Ted started calling. He wanted to get some prints of the photos. I offered to put them in the mail, but he insisted that I come over to his condo. He said he had something important to do. How could you turn down Ted? Of course I went over.

I took four prints, my favorites from the take. Ted ushered me in. When he noticed I didn’t have a camera, he thrust an old rangefinder into my hands, walked ten feet across the room, and stripped down to a Speedo and started flexing. I was stunned.

“I need you to take a photograph of me so I can show it to all my old buddies at our reunion,” he said. It was some kind of military reunion, Army or Navy, I can’t remember. “Those guys won’t believe how good I look!”

I remember wanting to kick myself for leaving my camera in the car. To this day, I wish I had that photo of Ted in his Speedo demonstrating how good he looked.

Ever the saint, Wassmer insisted that I take two of his paintings with me. He gave me a watercolor portrait and a painting of aspen trees that he had accidentally sliced. Both paintings have hung proudly in my home ever since.

Thank you, Ted. You will be missed.

This post also appeard on my work blog, on the Tribune’s website.

Jeffs hearing, part two

I got to the courthouse early, planning to sit in the “cry room” gallery and watch the proceedings until it was my turn to shoot. Not only was I very interested in watching the hearing, but I wanted to be sure I was ready to shoot and knew the layout. Showing up early allowed me to set a perfect white balance and compare exposure settings with Doug Pizac, the Associated Press photographer who would be sending my photos out on “the wire.”

In a last minute change, the defense and prosecution teams had switched tables. There had been some concern that the original spot Warren Jeffs would be in would allow him to stare down the witness (I’m not saying he would have). This move meant we would be closer to Jeffs. But it was a surprise when I looked out at Doug and saw he was sitting right next to Warren Jeffs. At most, he was photographing Jeffs from only 36 inches away.

After a moment, Doug switched to a much better position across the room. Now we would be shooting from just in front of the jury box with a clear view of Jeffs, the attorneys, the witnesses, etc.

Every seat in the courtroom was occupied. People were actually turned away. Security was tight but not overbearing as has been reported. In fact, the security wasn’t so obvious, especially outside. The men with guns were there, but not in your face. One tricky aspect for journalists, they didn’t allow any cel phones in the court, which made communications non-existant.

During a break at 10:30 I traded spots with Doug, taking the pool position in the courtroom. I was working with three cameras, each with a different lens. One, with a 24-70mm lens, was for wide shots and overall views of the courtroom. The next was a 70-200mm lens which was pretty much the go-to lens for photographing the attorneys asking questions, the Jeffs supporters in the gallery, the mismatched socks on the defense attorney. On the third camera I had a 300mm lens, which was really good for getting in tight on Warren Jeffs.

(I could have done it with two cameras and switched lenses, but I try not to switch lenses with digital cameras. It just lets more dust in to collect on the sensor.)

In the initial Warren Jeffs court appearance three months ago, I shot machine gun style, firing off dozens of shots in the brief three minutes I had. This time was different. I had two hours, so I could take my time looking for shots and focus my attention on various moments.

One of the shots I kept coming back to was a tight shot of Jeffs with the sheriff’s deputy standing behind him.

During my shift in the court, the victim’s sister testified. So no shots of her. As I talked about in part one, we don’t identify rape victims except in extreme cases. Further, the judge had ordered us not to photograph the victim or her family.

It’s too bad that the victim’s testimony was only heard by those in the courtroom. It was very illuminating into at least this girl’s life growing up in the FLDS culture. At the age of 14, when she was married, she had had zero sex education. She knew nothing about sex, which she called “man-wife relations.” She was asked how often she had “man-wife relations” with her husband, the alleged rapist. She responded, “It seemed like it was all the time…probably once a week.”

The victim’s testimony was very emotional, and she cried through a lot of it. As she started to get into the worst of the story, I went in tight on Warren Jeffs in case there was any kind of reaction. His expression didn’t change. He listened without much emotion.

When the judge called for a lunch break, Warren talked with his attorneys, smiling with them about something. I waited to photograph his exit, but the deputies made me leave everyone leave the room before they took him out one of the two secure exits. Security reasons.

My shoot was over. Doug copied my flash cards and started to distribute them. I went out to my car and moved my picks back to the office. Then I went back in and listened to some of the cross-examination of the victim. Very interesting, watching the defense try to pick apart her story. I missed a lot of it, but did hear the question that was something like, “Isn’t it true that (your husband) found a receipt for condoms?”

Another interesting thing I learned from testimony today: Fred Jessop arranged this marriage, not Warren or his father Rulon Jeffs.

I’m not here to tell you what to think about this case and/or polygamy in general. I’m not out to get Warren Jeffs and I’m not here to be the apologist for polygamists. My goal is to be your eyes on the story, and show you things through my hopefully knowledgeable eyes so you can make up your own mind.

That said, it’s always frustrating to listen to the media coverage after actually being at one of these kinds of events. You hear so many things reported just plain wrong and out of context or simplified beyond all comprehension. If I could give you any advice on keeping yourself informed about the world, it would be to read the news rather than watch it.

This post also appeard on mywork blog, on the Tribune’s website

Warren Jeffs Hearing, part one

Warren Jeffs appeared Tuesday for a hearing on the charges the FLDS leader is facing as an alleged accomplice to rape.

Going into the hearing I was looking forward to another chance to photograph the elusive Warren Jeffs, though it would prove to be less thrilling than photographing his first three-minute court appearance in Las Vegas three months ago.

This time, Jeffs seemed very aware of my camera, especially when I pointed it toward him. He appeared calm and collected the entire time I was in the courtroom, nearly expressionless.

Backing up a bit, a lot of planning went into the photo coverage of this hearing. Leading the planning effort … no … the guy who set it all up was Doug Pizac, the Associated Press photographer based in Salt Lake City.

Doug is all about the details. A week before the hearing he sent me an e-mail with a map of the courtroom detailing how things would work, where Jeffs would be sitting, and where I would be shooting from. His work on the logistics was invaluable and resulted in great, timely coverage of the hearing.

Four news outlets would split up the still photography pool. As I’ve written about before, news outlets will form a pool to share the coverage of situations where there isn’t room or the ability to accommodate everyone.

For example, say the governor is going to fly on a helicopter to tour flood damage in St. George. There are four photographers but only one seat on the chopper. One photographer from the news outlets covering the event will take the seat and share their photographs with the other outlets in the pool. In Utah courtrooms, pool photo coverage is the norm.

Since this was such a big trial and everyone wanted a chance to photograph Jeffs, Doug’s plan would entail a rotating pool. Doug would shoot the first two hours, followed by me. Next shift would go to the Daily Spectrum (St. George) and the last shift to the Deseret Morning News.

Doug had positioned the pool photographer in the best position to photograph the defendant (Jeffs), the attorneys, the judge, the gallery and even the witness stand. Photographing the witness stand would be mostly off-limits, however. This being a case alleging rape, there is an alleged victim. And for reasons of privacy, professional news outlets don’t generally name rape victims. So shooting the victim would be out of bounds, especially once the judge, James Shumate, issued an order forbidding photos of her and her family. Shumate rejected our (Doug’s) petition to photograph the victim in an unidentifiable way (her hands or something).

At the same time, Shumate had approved a remote camera that Doug set up with a tight shot at the witness stand and was triggered wirelessly from outside the courtroom. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to use it Tuesday, as the day’s witnesses were the victim and two of her sisters.

Things would work like this: Doug would shoot the first two hours, then I would jump in and take the pool spot. Immediately, Doug would begin transmitting his images to all pool outlets and worldwide through the AP feed. Doug had a computer set up with wireless Internet in the cry room adjoining the courtroom. From there, he could send photos and watch the proceedings (and trigger the remote witness camera) through a large glass window. When my shift was over (at the lunch break), Doug would make copies of my photographs and send them out. Through the day, from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m., he sat at that computer moving photographs. No lunch. Maybe a bathroom break, but I’m not sure. I didn’t ask him about that.

More in part two…

This post also appeard on my work blog, on the Tribune’s website.

Quick thoughts from the Warren Jeffs hearing

Question: Why was defense attorney Walter Bugden wearing two different colored socks?

There were about 10 FLDS men, supporters of Warren Jeffs, in the courtroom showing their support for their prophet. Once Jeffs was seated at the defense table, he looked back and acknowledged each of them with a smile and nod. At the same time, a bunch of former FLDS members craned their necks from the back to get a look at the man who booted them out.

The first witness was a woman who, at the age of 19, married the then 83-year-old prophet Rulon Jeffs. She’s now around 30 and I never would have pictured her coming out of a fundamentalist background. She was a very confident witness, smiling at Warren Jeffs while testifying, “I had many talks with Warren.”

I’ll write more when I get a moment about photographing the hearing, the logistics of it all and how we did it. It was a great setup.

This post also appeard on my work blog, on the Tribune’s website.

Utah Jazz – Lighting the Arena

To fill in some of the blanks on how we light the Delta Center for NBA basketball, here we go… When we started to look into lighting the arena, we did research from a bunch of sites, including SportsShooter.Com and the now defunct ArenaStrobes.Com, which was run by Tennessee photographer Patrick Murphy-Racey.

On the one hand, all the top professionals were running on the Sports Illustrated model, which calls for four Speedotron heads costing around $25,000. Murphy-Racey’s site was claiming success for years in pro arenas with Elinchrom lights that cost one-fifth of that.

Who to believe?

One of the factors we had to consider is the height of the ceiling at the Delta Center. It’s a very high catwalk, where our lights would be mounted. And the further the lights are from the subject, the dimmer the light. We would need power. Murphy-Racey told us that he worked with a high ceiling as well and assured us we wouldn’t have any problems, especially with Elinchrom’s giant beehive-shaped reflectors. We decided to go with the Elinchrom lights.

I talked to Kent Horner, who was then the Jazz team photographer. Horner had spent years working as a lighting technician for Sports Illustrated and had installed lights in arenas all over the country. Horner knew this stuff as well as anyone I knew. He looked over our plan and was, to say the least, skeptical.

He pointed out that each of his four Speedotron heads were putting out 2400 watt seconds of power. Our Elinchrom heads would only be putting out 600 watt seconds. It just didn’t make sense to think that they would have the power to light the arena. Simple math, 600 is less than 2400.

Still, Horner agreed to help us install the lights. Before I tell you how it turned out I’ll describe our basic setup, which matches what just about everyone else is using in these situations. We’ve got four heads (basically large studio-type flash heads), one in each corner just to the side of each basket on the court. (Put it behind the basket and you get shadows from the backboard.) Attached to these heads are wireless receivers, which trigger the lights when we take a shot. (Attached to our cameras are corresponding wireless transmitters.)

Photographers will often also use remote cameras for basketball, which are also triggered wirelessly. Often a release button for the remote camera will be taped to the photographer’s main camera. It takes practice, but after a while you’re pushing one button or the other, or both depending on the play. I’ll talk more about that in another post.

High end systems are used by outlets like Sports Illustrated, which link multiple cameras and lighting systems to each other. For example, a typically SI setup will have several remote-controlled cameras that are locked into focus and pointed at the basket, the bench, or whatever. They’ll also often mount a camera in the ceiling, pointing straight down at the rim, or a camera looking at the rim through the glass backboard. These cameras are all synchronized on a wireless remote system so that when the photographer pushes the shutter button to take a shot, every camera (and the strobes) fire at the same moment. So one photographer during one play can get several angles of it at once. That’s the high end and not many people are shooting at that level. It’s mostly a cost issue, when you consider that each camera body alone is costing between $3,000 to $8,000, not counting lenses, wireless systems, and lights.

Back to our system, admittedly low-end. Would it work, would our four weak heads light up the enormous Delta Center? Kent and I spent a day hooking up the equipment. Once we had everything plugged in, we eyeballed the difference in brightness between his Speedotrons and our Elinchroms. When he set off the powerful Speedotrons, there was an audible POP! when the lights fired. When he set off ours, they was noticeable dimmer and there was no exciting pop. Very anti-climactic. We climbed down to the floor to make some test shots and find out the answer. Going through my head were all the conflicting takes on the setup. I wasn’t sure that our lights were going to be strong enough. But I hadn’t completely lost hope. We put the wireless transmitter on a camera and I took a frame of Kent:

It worked. (I should note that test shot is with only two of the four strobes firing.)

Someone asked in a comment if we ever put up lights for high school games. The answer is basically: no. The amount of time it would take to set up and then take down lights in a high school gym, added to the fact that we just don’t have the equipment to do it, make it impossible. The other thing to consider is the quality we’re getting from our cameras. With every new pro camera that comes out, the quality in low light situations gets better and better. And as the images get better and better, the need for lights goes down. As for high school, there are some truly dark gyms out there. We know which ones they are, these dark and awful caves. Even some of the newest high schools have horribly dim gyms.

If you’re shooting basketball in a bad gym, you need a lens with at least a 2.8 aperture. You’d be better off with a faster lens. I would recommend an 85/1.8 lens for basketball in a dark gym. We pretty much shoot it all with a 70-200/2.8 lens and a 300/2.8 or 400/2.8 for the far end. We try to keep our shutter speeds at 1/500th of a second or faster. 1/500 at f2.8 is the standard setting for indoor sports. Luckily for high school sports, the playoffs and championship games are usually held in college arenas, which have bright lights.

This post also appeard on my work blog, on the Tribune’s website.

Up in the Ceiling

In preparation for this year’s NBA season we were up in the ceiling of the Delta Center on a series of catwalks, making sure our strobes were in working order. (For the record, these photos were taken at the end of last season.) When we shoot a Jazz game we now have the option of using our strobes (high-powered flash units) to get much better looking photographs than we do with the available light. Just curious, does anyone know why the Delta Center seems to get darker every season? It’s 1/3 stop darker this year.

The drawback to using the strobes is that they can only fire once every 4-5 seconds. So you end up taking your camera that can race a speedy 8.5 frames per second and knock it down to little more than a single shot per play. You become more of a sniper than a machine-gunner. Timing and luck become essential.

I’ll be man enough to admit I’m still working on that timing. Our strobes are new and I’m used to the machine-gun style of the motor drive: Shoot anything that moves, sort it out (edit) later.

With the strobes, it’s hard to know when exactly to take your shot during an evolving play. I’ll write more about this as the season progresses. Here’s an example of Carlos Boozer, strobed vs. available light:

This post also appeard on my work blog, on the Tribune’s website.

Joseph Rohbocks Story

Texas Polygamy blog:

I moved to CC after our house got built in 1999. I was working for Guy Allred at Allco because I had just had back surgery and I was not able to do construction with my brothers at the time. Anyway, the lifestyle down there was totally different than what I was used to in Salt Lake. I had never talked to a girl before, and when Ruby started flirting and paying attention to me, I thought it was pretty cool. So I sent it right back, never dreaming of what I was getting myself into. We just flirted for a little while, and then she started calling me. I thought that was even cooler although I was pretty scared that I would get in trouble. You have to realize that I had been taught all my life that even to talk to a girl was a huge sin. I really was scared. Anyway, it progressed to where I snuck out one night and went and met her. We talked and, yes I kissed her. It was almost intoxicating. I had never felt anything like it in my life. But at the same time, my guilt was killing me. Then someone told me that they were monitoring the phone calls that the girls were making from their rooms. That really got me scared, so I went to Uncle Warren and told him what was going on. He asked me if I had told her I loved her or touched her or kissed her. I told him no. So he cussed me out and told me if I wasn’t careful then he was going to kick me out of Priesthood meeting.


Election Day

Yeah, we went a week without posts. Assignments last week just weren’t great for blogging. Among other things, I photographed a cinnamon roll in Logan and a high school assembly in Sandy. Trust me, you don’t want to read about it. Not to worry, I’ve got several posts on the assembly line now. This past Saturday I was sent out to photograph early voting, taking place on Diebold electronic voting machines at the Salt Lake County offices. The election workers there couldn’t have been more helpful, providing completely open access to the polling station. It’s essential to our democracy that the voting process is completely transparent. Saturday’s experience was a welcome contrast to a previous experience I had photographing an election.

Back in 2005, the small town of Cedar Hills, in Utah County, was voting on a ballot measure that would force local businesses to close on Sundays. Driving to the school where the polling station was, I passed several signs that referenced religious reasons why people should vote to close the stores. As I stopped to photograph signs, I got a call warning me that there might be some trouble getting access to the public polling station.

Entering the school with my cameras I was immediately confronted by a local election official, a city employee if I remember it right. She told me I was not allowed to photograph in the gymnasium where people were voting. I politely explained that I was here from the Tribune to photograph the election and that the polling station (and the school) were public areas. She said that wasn’t possible, and quoted me a state law pertaining to elections, saying it was illegal to “disrupt the voting process,” and so she would not allow me into the gym.

Of course, this argument was completely ludicrous. To say that photographing people voting disrupts the voting process is a stretch. This is America and our election process is, by law, open and transparent.

Instead of getting angry and yelling like I really wanted to, I calmly explained to her what I intended to do. I would respect people’s privacy by not photographing or looking at anyone’s ballots. I wouldn’t talk to any voters inside the gymnasium, allowing them to focus on the decisions they were making. And if someone didn’t want to be photographed, I would respect their wishes. I repeated that this was public property, and that polling stations are open to public scrutiny.

This is when the official backed down, realizing that I was right and that I wasn’t going to back down. We came to the agreement that I would not be a disruption to voters and I went about doing my job.

I photographed a mother, Stacey Chappell, who brought her three children with her to vote. She really summed up the community, as I saw it: middle class families with children. She was happy to talk to me once she was finished casting her ballot.

Later, her father got in touch to compliment me on the photograph. He was proud of the photo that showed his daughter doing her patriotic duty as an American citizen.

This post also appeard on my work blog, on the Tribune’s website.

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