The Crash Site

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Down in Green River for another assignment when the phone rings. A plane went down not far away, at the airport north of Moab. All nine passengers and the pilot dead. Raced over to find the scene closed while bodies were removed.

Back to Green River for the original assignment, then a shot of the Bandidos in Moab and, once the bodies were removed, we were finally able to document the scene. Trib reporter Christopher Smart braved a couple of crazy bumpy sandy washes in his 4×4 and we made it in (photo below taken one-handed as we bounced around). Hopefully his vehicle wasn’t too trashed from the trail. Our mileage reimbursement probably won’t cover this kind of abuse.

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Maybe it was the rush of getting over there and juggling two other shots, but it wasn’t until I was telling someone about it the next day it hit me. Ten dead.

Moab – Ten people were killed when a 1975 Beechcraft King Air A-100 plane crashed about 2 miles from Canyonlands Field airport. They worked for Southwest Skin and Cancer/Red Canyon Aesthetics & Medical Spa.


First Game Rust – Jordan v Northridge

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I can’t blame missing this split-second helmet knockoff on the camera’s autofocus like I usually do. My framing was off by just a bit. Screwy photographs like this are especially common from the first game of the season. After that, the rust clears away and we start to roll.

Sandy – Northridge’s Chris Washington knocks the helmet off Jordan’s Cory Hunt. Jordan’s Bill Vavau (50) looks on. Jordan vs. Northridge high school football, Friday, August 22, 2008, at Jordan.

Finally, Football

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It’s an annual event. Football season starts and rescues newspaper photographers from summer. Football for me is a sign that the weather will soon cool down, and that’s good enough.

Sandy – Northridge’s Jesse Stauffer (9) leaps over Jordan’s Braden Hammond (2), who just scored a touchdown. At left is Jordan’s Cory Hunt (15) and at right, picking up the ball is Northridge’s Blake Smithing. Jordan vs. Northridge high school football, Friday, August 22, 2008, at Jordan.

Dissecting the Day

As a young photographer I remember looking up to the guys working at the big papers and imagining how exciting their jobs must be. I was right, the big paper job is much more exciting than the little paper job. But not like you’d imagine in some photojournalism fantasy, where we’re shooting black and white contest-winning documentary essays of the poor and afflicted for weeks on end. The job is mostly quick-hit bread and butter assignments, peppered with those occasional exciting assignments that you dreaming of.

My assignments Wednesday were nothing to dream of. The day was a perfect example of what the job really is— Three assignments that took me all over, on a timeframe that forced me to find a usable, if not great, photograph quickly. Here’s the day, approximated from memory.

– Show up at work to pick up lighting kit for my first assignment, a portrait of a high school quarterback in Logan.
– Start driving north.
– Quick lunch at Bajio in Centerville.
– Arrive in Logan.
– Scout the location.
– Twenty minute skateboard session at the Logan Skate Park (basically my lunch break).


– Photograph QB Jeff Manning throwing passes in practice drills (16 minutes of photography).
– Portrait of QB Jeff Manning with strobe kit (2 minutes of photography). This portrait session was made during the team’s five minute water break, forcing Manning to forgo any thirst-quenching.
– Drive south.
– Gas for the car, chocolate for me.


– Photograph northbound commute traffic on I-15 from 6th North overpass (10 minutes of photography).
– Edit and send traffic photos from my car.
– Drive south.
– Arrive in Copperton for last assignment.


– Photograph Apollo Pazell addressing the town council (This happened fast. Just one minute of photography).
– Edit and send Pazell photos from car.
– Arrive home with 15 minutes left on shift.
– Realize I haven’t edited the quarterback photos.
– Edit and send quarterback photos.
– Off duty with three minutes to spare.

Total miles driven: 236
Total shift time: 8.5 hours
Total time spent photographing: 29 minutes
Total time spent in the car: Don’t want to think about it.

So there you go. One day in August working for the big paper. That’s often how the job is. Three assignments that, while not thrilling, are important. You get what you can and you move on to the next. The real magic of the job is that tomorrow’s another day. Everything resets and you never know where or what your next shoot will be.

From 2007: Crandall Canyon Coal Mine Composites


August 8, 2007 – Crandall Canyon coal mine owner Bob Murray leads reporters on a tour of the facility two days after a colossal failure in the mine trapped six miners.

Yeah, still a year behind. Yeah, still haven’t had time to ditch PhotoShop’s built-in Photomerge for something better. Just look at the cracks in these, which showed up after I downsized from the original high-res. At least the cracks are educational, showing you where the breaks are. (They’re not visible in the high-res files.)

The bottom photo is made up of 24 eight megapixel photographs, and shows the entire mine complex with a bit of a bow from the wide angle distortion. Weighs in at 204 detail-loaded megabytes.

In Remembrance, 2000 Balloons

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Kristin Kimber, whose ex-husband Brandon was one of three killed rescuers in the Crandall Canyon Mine rescue attempt, leads the release of 2,000 balloons on the one-year anniversary of an implosion that killed three rescuers and injured six others trying to reach six trapped miners.

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For the thirty minutes leading up to this balloon release, I circled the crowd trying to find the best angle. The balloons looked best backlit, but the sun was very low and it didn’t look workable. I ended up on the stage as Kimber made an emotional speech and then led the crowd in the release. I help down the shutter as everything went nuts, not knowing what I was getting. Ten seconds later it was all over.

I looked down and Kimber was embracing Wende Jacobson as the balloons vanished into the sky:

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Salt Lake City – Gabriel Hernandez (left) and Humberto Amaya put on their traditional costumes and headress before taking the stage to perform as Aztec dancers at the Hispanic Fiesta Days in Washington Square Thursday, August 14, 2008.

It’s just a photo today. I don’t have any witty stories (about how we almost didn’t get a photo out of this event but then we did). And I don’t have any technical advice (about how I used an off-camera strobe with a LightSphere defuser wirelessly off to the left to softly punch up the scene). I especially don’t have any worthwhile behind the scenes details (like how I sent in the photo from my car with just four minutes left on my shift while watching the first episode of season 5 of The Wire). And I certainly don’t have any funny Utah stories (like how I heard that the photo is running on the page right next to a story about Bountiful city banning employee tattoos).

“When a police officer shows up, you don’t want to see a Nazi tattoo on their forehead or a ring around their nose,” Bountiful City Manager Tom Hardy said.

No, nothing hilarious here today.

Nordic Combined — Five Months Later

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Winners podium at the Nordic Combined US National Championships at Soldier Hollow, Saturday, March 15, 2008. Left to right: 3rd place- Eric Camerota, 1st place- Bill Demong, 2nd place – Johnny Spillane.

I shot this when there was still snow on the ground, five months ago. Finally got around to piecing it together though I still only had time to run it through Photomerge in the auto mode which is less than perfect. You really need to build these manually for the best results…until Photoshop CS4 comes out.

(Hey Adobe: Why is Photomerge giving me jaggies in a 281 megabyte file? Look at those edges.)

Picking the (Strawberries) Photo

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201 photographs I made in the FLDS house in Westcliffe, Colorado, as several women sliced and bagged strawberries.

Someone sent me a question about editing, asking, “How do you know that ‘this is the photo‘??? Just wondering if it’s a great talent, or does it just look good or what?”

There are two steps to finding the great photo: Shooting and Editing.

1. Shooting. When I’m photographing a situation like this, I’m looking for the three things that make up a great documentary photograph.

A. Dramatic and storytelling elements (the content). Obviously there will be few dramatic moments when the subject is food preparation, but there might be small moments where people interact or show a little emotion (a laugh, a smile, etc.)

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Storytelling elements in this case that would be things like the portraits of FLDS leader Warren Jeffs on the wall and the unique hairstyles and dress of the women in the photo above. Another storytelling element present is the communal effort, so showing a lot of people in the photograph illustrates that.

B. Graphic design (the art).

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This photograph has strong lines, coupled with the moment of the boys grabbing a snack.

Good graphic design to me is clean and functional, drawing the viewer’s eye across the image and to the points you want to emphasize without including a lot of distracting elements. In this situation the better photographs have a nice design and structure to them, and that’s what will separate the good from the bad.

C. Good technique (great lighting, perfect exposure and focus).

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In today’s modern fluorescent world, good light indoors is hard to come by. So when I noticed the light coming through the window on this young woman’s face, I worked it for a while shooting a lot of loose and tight frames. It’s certainly not amazing light, but it’s a small detail that makes it a better photograph.

I know that these three examples are very subtle examples of the concepts I’m talking about. But maybe that will help you to look closely at what makes them stand out. That’s how I look at photographs. I look at all of the small details that make up the photograph. And the best photographs are strong in all three categories (content, art, and technique).

2. Editing. Now the shoot is over and I have to go through the photographs to find what I like. As you can see in the big image up top, when photographing I’ll work an angle for quite a while as I try to make the best photograph I can from a promising situation. Some work and some don’t. But it’s only in the editing phase that you find out for sure.

In the editing workflow, I’ll take the photos from any given angle and look at them all, eliminating the weaker ones until I am down to the strongest (the selects). After pulling selects the entire take I’ll look at them all and whittle that set down to a final set, which hopefully are the best of the shoot.

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In my own workflow, I like to edit quickly, acting on instinct. Too much pondering gets me stuck and takes me away from the way that photographs are absorbed by readers (instantly, for the most part). But to be honest, sometimes I can’t decide between two photographs. That’s where a second opinion becomes very valuable. My colleagues and photo editors have always been a big help in that regard.

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