Month: April 2007


Got a lot to write about: Jazz in the NBA playoffs, NCAA Gymnastics National Championships, FLDS exile Wendell Musser and more. In the meantime, here’s a photo of Carlos Boozer dunking the ball in the Jazz victory over the Houston Rockets in Game 4, Saturday night.

The Utes’ Other Cheer

The greatest thing happened at the NCAA Women’s Gymnastics National Championships last night. No, it wasn’t the University of Utah taking second place nationally, although that was pretty cool. Something else happened. I just happened to be “backstage” when the Utes huddled up before the competition.

I couldn’t believe my luck, being the only photographer there to photograph this behind-the-scenes moment. I leaned right in with a wide-angle lens as they did some pre-game talk, and then they began to do a cheer.

I was expecting their traditional “Who Rocks the House” cheer, but this was a different cheer. And the girls went all out, jumping and screaming the words as loud as they could. I can’t remember the whole thing. As best as I can put it together, the cheer started out with, “Horses’ ass,” followed by a string of very creative sailor talk. After that came something that starts with SH and rhymes with city and then the cheer ended with, “We’re the girls from Salt Lake City!”

This ribald cheer delivered by a group of petite young women was definitely the highlight of my year so far. For me, it will be one of those memories that makes you laugh at random moments causing the people around you to ask what’s so funny. If I was ever held hostage by terrorists I would play this cheer over and over in my head just to stay positive. It’s why America is great. I wish I had a recording of it.

Things got even funnier.

After they were done, a producer from CBS Sports walked up with a cameraman and asked the girls if they could do their cheer again for the camera. He obviously hadn’t heard it. The girls tried to explain that it wasn’t exactly broadcast material. They then went into their regular, G-rated cheer. Too bad it was CBS filming instead of HBO.

I guess it’s common for TV to have people re-enact reality. If I’d have missed the real moment, it would have stayed missed. I’m only interested in documenting reality. Write that down, students, and hold me to it.

This post first appeared here.

Never leave your camera unattended

Covering the NCAA Women’s Gymnastics National Championships, I left my camera unattended near a couple of college students for just a few moments. Only later when editing did I discover a few frames that I certainly didn’t take.

Good joke, guys. For anyone wanting to investigate the suspects: Him and Him.

This post first appeared here.

It’s All About the Skills

This is a piece I wrote for the SportsShooter newsletter. I don’t know how the idea evolved, since the thought of quoting Manowar in the newsletter is simply, well…

Here’s the article:

Issue #100 of the SportsShooter newsletter is here. Unbelievable, isn’t it? Looking back, it’s amazing to see what grew out of Issue #1, a set of nine short “articles” all written by Mr. Hanashiro. Through selfless dedication and technical wizardry, SportsShooter has changed the photographic landscape and built up an amazing community of photographers who swap ideas and images daily. The positive impact of this photographic community cannot be overstated.

Congratulations on Issue #100, Big Kahuna.

In thinking about what to write about for #100 the ideas kept flying around my head, just out of reach. So I turned on some tunes for inspiration. Finally a song came on that really made me think. This song coalesced all of my thoughts and the course of the article was clear. That song was “The Gods Made Heavy Metal” by the legendary heavy metal act Manowar. You know the words, right? Sing along with me:

The Gods made heavy metal,
and they saw that it was good.
They said to play it louder than hell,
we promised that we would!

Okay, I’m just kidding. It wasn’t Manowar that got me thinking. The song that really got me was Fugazi’s “Bad Mouth.” It simply says:

You can’t be what you were.
So you better start being just what you are.

The photographic and media industries are going through momentous changes. Everyone will be affected. And it’s going to be a bumpy ride before things settle down (if they ever do). That Fugazi song says it all: “You can’t be what you were.” If you want to survive the Internet revolution you have to make yourself a valued commodity. You have to stand out from the horde of photographers you are competing with.

Since everyone seems to be posting the same types of photographs, taken with the same cameras and the same three or four lenses as everybody else, ask yourself how you are going to stand out. I think the answer is to realize who you are and put your unique combination of skills to use. Rate yourself on the following skills typical to photography:

Creativity. Do you see things differently than others, bringing a fresh look to old stories?

Shooting Style. Do you have one? And do you work on keeping it fresh?

Timing. Are you especially good at capturing the decisive moment?

Personal Background. Where are you from and how does your life experience influence your vision? Can you tell a story that no one else can tell?

Knowledge. On what subjects are you an expert? And are you using that knowledge?

Awareness. Do you have a keen sense of what is happening in front of you, how people are reacting to you and how it fits into the story you’re telling?

Accuracy. Are you telling the truth, visually as well as keeping events in their proper context?

Personality. Does your personality show up in your photography? Should you let it show more?

Lighting. How are your lighting skills, both on location and in a studio setting?

Equipment. Are you using the right equipment to get what you’re after? Are there better tools for your current project?

Workflow. Do you have a regular, well thought-out, and most importantly, a time-effective workflow? Is it as fast as it could be?

Technique. Are you getting the most out of your equipment? Do you really know what you’re doing when you juggle exposure, white balance, JPEG and RAW files?

Technology. Do you keep current with the quickly moving technology of our field? And do you incorporate the latest knowledge, as far as your budget allows?

Editing. Are you using your head, thinking through the choices you make when editing?

Storytelling. How strong are your storytelling skills? If they are strong, are you using them enough?

Gambling. Are you taking enough risks?

As the media world continues to shift in response to a number of market forces, I encourage you to take stock of yourself. In which of these skills are you strong, and in which ones are you weak.

After you think about it, start playing to your strengths. And at the same time, build up your weaknesses.

And prepare for people to continue to proclaim gloom and doom for the industry. Maybe I discarded that Manowar song too early. We could easily adapt the second verse to the rough times in the professional photography world:

When losers say it’s over with,
you know that it’s a lie.
The Gods made heavy metal,
and it’s never gonna die.

Coming Home – Stewart Peay

Assignment: Attorney Stewart Peay. After landing a job at the firm Snell & Wilmer, Peay was called up by the National Guard and served 18 months in Iraq. Our story is on Peay’s re-adaptation to civilian life.

This was my second collaboration with Tribune reporter Matthew D. LaPlante as part of his “Coming Home” series, profiling Iraq War veterans returning to their former lives. I spent a good amount of time in Peay’s office as he went through a workday. Other than a lunch meeting at a local sushi spot, Peay kept busy making phone calls and poring over legal documents.

Since my subject wasn’t moving, it quickly became clear that I would have to be the one in motion. But how creative can you be when you’re subject is a white collar worker at his desk? I tried to find out, playing with various compositions.

I backed out of the office and shot with a telephoto, counter to my normal instincts.

Then I spotted this symbolic composition. It’s my favorite out of the take. The open door of the office on the right leads you out of the frame, off to what, another destination? Iraq, perhaps?

I know that the literal thinkers out there dismiss photos like this. They think that this kind of symbolic shot goes over readers’ heads. I don’t agree. Readers are very aware visually in this media rich era. I love photographs that suggest a deeper meaning. Hopefully I’m not alone.

Assignment Information

I just got a great idea for a book. It would be compiled of the crazy information found on assignments slips. I’m talking about the things reporters and editors write in an attempt to be funny. And it gets even funnier when a subject inadvertently reads it.

Like the time one of my co-workers went out to photograph a man who had his head bashed in with a brick while trying to stop a violent crime. The assignment was slugged: BLOCKHEAD.

Years ago at another newspaper, I was given the assignment to go out and photograph people enjoying the beautiful spring weather. The editor suggested I head over to a local park where college students were known to sunbathe. On the assignment slip, the editor wrote, “Show me some skin!”

I still have that one. It’s on pink paper.

Another time I was sent to cover a gun show. The assignment read something like, “…show us all the crazy gun nuts…”

With assignment slips there’s always a danger that the subject will see those “funny” words. It happens more often than you’d think, especially when you’re looking over the slip for information like a phone number or confirming the spelling of a subject’s name.

Sometimes even the most innocuous description of an assignment can get you in trouble. Since I often use my assignment slips as note paper, there are times when the subject of a story will see and even read the information I’ve been given. On an assignment that read, “photograph this family and the trailer they live in,” the mother of the family read those words and said tersely, “We live in a mobile home, not a trailer.”

One more before I turn it over for comments. From a business assignment to photograph a “high-end boutique (name omitted) … it sells a bunch of stuff most people can’t afford.”

This post first appeared here.

Down in Flames

I’d really like to move on to other topics. The last thing that this blog needs to become is the Allan Detrich zone. But today the Toledo Blade published the results of its investigation into the work of its former photographer (Detrich) and found some astonishing results.

In his article, “Newspaper photos must tell the truth,” Vice President Executive Editor Ron Royhab says that, “since January dozens of digitally altered photographs of his were published either in the newspaper or on our Web site.” Damn, folks. Dozens since January. Royhab continues:

“The changes Mr. Detrich made included erasing people, tree limbs, utility poles, electrical wires, electrical outlets, and other background elements from photographs. In other cases, he added elements such as tree branches and shrubbery.

Mr. Detrich also submitted two sports photographs in which items were inserted. In one he added a hockey puck and in the other he added a basketball, each hanging in mid-air. Neither was published.”

These are huge violations of the ethics of photojournalism. We’re not supposed to be the Weekly World News, running photos of Bat Boy (sighted in the New York subway!) or giant grasshoppers invading Iowa. We are photojournalists, whose reputations as honest reporters are vital to our careers, to our readers and to humanity.

And yet there are people out there who wonder whether or not such manipulations would justify the firing of a photojournalist. Let me assure you, they are. No question about it.

A photojournalist’s role is to tell the truth, to let the content of his/her photographs stand as nonfiction, as historical documents. And if someone is screwing around with the credibility of their outlet, they need to go. It’s no different than a writer trying to pass fiction for fact.

The very idea of pasting a basketball or hockey puck into a news photograph is laughable. If you are a photojournalist who is tempted to break the rules like this, please leave the business immediately. You’re not going to get a better job by pasting a hockey puck or some shrubbery into a photograph. You’re going to get fired and never find another job in this business. Your name will be spoken with contempt in every photojournalism course throughout the country. Some nice shrubbery in the background of a photograph is hardly worth the shame.

An important point that I hope readers notice out of this whole scandal is the way responsible media outlets react to situations such as these. When this photographer went out and broke the rules, the reaction of The Blade was to conduct an investigation and report its findings very publicly. They didn’t hide the error. That’s to be commended, even though we expect nothing less. The credibility and trustworthiness of any newspaper is of such importance that nothing but the complete truth is acceptable.

The main lesson of the Detrich incident: Save the shrubbery for the gardeners of the world.

This post first appeared here.

Master of Photos

OK, photographers, we need to talk about two things: photo editing and Metallica.

I’ve been looking at a lot of photography lately: on blogs, Web sites, magazines, etc. And I’ve noticed that photography has become all about quantity rather than quality. Photographers are still posting great photographs, but for every great photo I see it seems there are at least ten boring average ones on the same website, photoblog or multi-media package. I’m forced to wonder, have we lost the ability to edit?

Let’s get to Metallica. I bought the first Metallica album, Kill ‘Em All, in 1983 at the Record Exchange in Walnut Creek. Actually, my friend Jef bought it. But he sold it to me the next day because the music was just too fast and he couldn’t handle it. (After all these years, I still can’t stop rubbing it in.) Anyway, that album had 10 songs.

A year later, Metallica put out an album with nine songs. Two years later, they released a classic, Master of Puppets, with nine songs. They would not release another original album for two more years. Take note of their output: Only twenty-eight songs in six years. It’s no flood; they’re trying to release only their best material. And you could argue this, but the majority of the songs are above-average with at least one classic on each album. (Of course you might argue that they never had any good material.)

On the Master of Puppets album, there are great songs like Battery, Disposable Heroes, and Damage, Inc. There is also a masterpiece, the title track Master of Puppets. Then there are a few crap songs, thrown in for filler. Songs like Orion and- sad, but true- the dreadful track Welcome Home (Sanitarium).

Compare Metallica’s 28 songs over six years to the huge amount of photos the average photographer has published in six years. Of course, I can’t make a living publishing only five photos per year. But I can certainly start cutting out some of the fat.

So the next time you prepare to post some photos to your blog or website or a multimedia piece filled with a lot of wallpaper, ask yourself this question: “Am I uploading a great photo, or another average one? Is this photo another spacey instrumental like Orion? Or is it a hard-charging Master of Puppets?” The last thing your career needs is for you to be promoting anything but your best photography. Skip the average work. You don’t want your photoblog to be the equivalent of Metallica’s awful, though aptly named 1996 album, Load.

Let’s see some spirited photography from you. I’ll try to do the same. Whether your photography style is akin to Metallica, NOFX or The Smiths, show me some passion.

This post first appeared here.

LDS Tabernacle, part 2

The Tabernacle was where, historically, the LDS Church’s most important meetings were held. Every church leader since Brigham Young had stood at the Tabernacle’s pulpit to address the church’s followers. At the end of this session, LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley was to dedicate the renovated building.

Obviously that was the story of the day. The man and the building. That’s the shot I was looking for. After I had made a few other angles I moved to a position in the very back row of the Tabernacle to have a good view of Hinckley’s talk and dedicatory prayer, showing him in relation to the building (especially the immediately recognizable organ).

In doing this, I was giving up any shot where you could see Hinckley clearly. There would be no close-ups from the back of the hall. I would simply be too far away for that. So this resulting image would be more of a symbolic image of the man dwarfed by the massive organ. It was a risk to take, but I had a closer shot of Hinckley when he walked into the meeting.

As he spoke about the Tabernacle, Hinckley put his hands out and I knew I had my shot. Back at the paper, Tribune Design Director Colin Smith put the photo large on the front page. I thought it looked great. Here is our coverage from that day; click on an image to see it bigger:

This post first appeared here.