Monday, January 31, 2011

New Western Experience

Before I left work last Friday my editor told me that I would be heading out to the 1st Community Credit Union Spur Arena for the Celebration of Champions, an annual competition held by the National Reined Cow Horse Association. I, for one, had never heard about the group before nor did I know what you would do with a reined cow horse. Aren't all horses reined? The NRCHA has held this competition in San Angelo for the past two years and it just happened to fall on my shift this time. Apparently, they do all kinds of cool events during the week-long extravaganza: herd work, rein work, cow work and steer stopping.
I kind of felt ashamed for not knowing about this event. I am from West Texas, grew up in a small farming community, lived and worked in San Angelo for seven years covering all sorts of "rodeo-ish" competitions (I'm sorry if the term "rodeo-ish" offends the followers of the sport, perhaps "horsemanship" is a better term) and I had no clue what to expect when I got there. It turns out to be a pretty cool deal. Some of the moves the riders and horses make would throw any casual rider from the saddle. Unfortunately, I will not be heading back to the Spur Arena for the rest of the week because we are expecting a massive cold front this evening that could bring us rain, sleet and snow. The entire staff will be covering the weather for the next few days. There's nothing like being a photographer and having to brave 8-degree weather to make feature photos.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Stresses of the Job

Have you ever noticed that middle school coaches always seem to be at the end of their rope? How they always seem to be talking to themselves with no one really paying attention, their voice trailing off into a faint whisper ending in that far-off stare where I'm sure they're thinking of better days?
As a way to beef up our local sports coverage we offer a photo page of the non-mainstream sporting events in our Sunday sports section. The page is called "Got Game" and covers things like little league baseball, junior high basketball and adult softball tournaments. I have shot two assignments for this page, both of which were middle school basketball games, which is where I noticed just how stressful it can be for a middle school coach.

"If she's covered by three defenders, why did you pass her the ball?"
"Run back on defense, don't walk!"
"No, you can't have any more water!"

It's been a while since I was in middle school, but I still remember a few of my coaches. Two in particular made positive impacts on me personally, Coach Kyle Carver and Coach Desmond Ayala. Both coaches truly seemed to enjoy their jobs at the school and were great to play for. So here's to all of you middle school and junior high coaches who dare to live the dream. The long road to the top starts at the bottom, but take heart, you never know just how much of an impact you will have on the life of a developing youth.


Monday, January 24, 2011

A Life Lived Abroad

I got to hang out with a local rancher in Crockett County last week for a West Texas section assignment. His name is Roy Harrell, and for 24 years he lived and worked in Africa for the U.S. State Department. Prior to that he worked for the CIA, but he didn't really go into that much detail about it. Harrell worked in just about every country on the continent but two, Somalia and Djibouti. He is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese, and conversational in Italian and French.
Now he lives a quiet life ranching in Crockett County and acting as a trustee for a family swath of land. I drove around with him for a few hours last week and listened to him talk of his adventures overseas and it got me thinking about my own travels. I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to travel to Hong Kong in 2000, I went to Ghana, a small country in West Africa, in 2003 and have taken several sailing trips through the British Virgin Islands. And, of course, the obligatory jaunts to the beaches of Mexico on various family vacations. I began to wonder if I have been truly getting the most out of my trips. Is there something or someone else I could have experienced that would have put the trip over the edge? Am I experiencing every thing I can on my domestic travels? Here's to getting everything you can out of an adventurous life.


Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Rundown: Spring Sports

The sporting events in this town never seem to come to an end. (Not that I'm complaining.) Well, at least not during the spring semester while school is in session. It's not like in the fall when all we have to worry about is the once-a-week coverage of high school and Angelo State football games, pepper in a few area volleyball matches, and we're good to go concentrate on other non-sports assignments. But the second the spring semester commences the sporting flood gates part. And remember, we cover 15 counties.
The rundown: Boys and girls basketball, Central and Lake View boys and girls soccer, baseball, softball, boys and girls golf, boys and girls tennis, Central boys and girls swimming and gymnastics, and lets not forget that freezing-your-buns-off/burning-your-buns-off event we like to call... track and field.

On Saturday I headed over to Central High School for the Bobcats' first home gymnastics meet of the season. To tell you the truth, I always forget that we cover gymnastics simply because Central is the only school we cover that has a gymnastics program and the fact that gymnastics is not a UIL sanctioned sport in Texas. But it's stupid of me to forget because I've covered the gymnastics state championship for the last three years with Central winning two of them. I enjoy shooting gymnastics, it's difficult, but fun at the same time. You never quite know which direction the athlete is going to perform that pivotal tumbling pass, flip or release. But not knowing when those elements are going to be performed can also make it one of the more stressful sports to photograph.
You'll notice that I have posted these photos in black-and-white. As usual the lighting conditions are pretty bad. I'm shooting under fluorescent lights that flicker, which means when I get back to the office for the edit I'm having to weed through frames of various shades of greens, blues ans reds, like some kind of psychedelic Christmas lights display on acid.

I was able to come away with a few nice images, though, and these are a few of my favorites. Some of the athletes on the on the girls team remember me for the coverage we gave them last year. I probably shot four or five meets last year, including the state championship in Alvin (near Houston), which took forever to get to by car. Fortunately, if we cover the state championship this year, the meet is going to be held in Arlington, half the driving distance. I look forward to coming season.


Saturday, January 22, 2011

Area Basketball Rules!

As I've said before, we have some great area girls basketball in Tom Green and surrounding counties. Take the Irion County Lady Hornets, for instance, who manhandled Iraan last night to the tune of 81-36. And the only reason why the score was that close was because the starters sat on the bench early in the third quarter. The Lady Hornets are now 4-0 heading into the last half of district play. It was a rough game though. Lots of slapping, bumping and players landing in precarious ways on the hardwood. I was transmitting photos back to the office during halftime and after the game in the same office where the game officials take their breaks. It's very comical to listen to the opposing opinions of the referees versus the fans and coaches.
I'm looking forward to the playoffs this year and hopefully we'll have several teams make deep runs. So far, the most exciting teams I've photographed this year are Wall, Brady, Ballinger and of course Irion County. See you in the playoffs!


Friday, January 21, 2011

Orphaned Ceramics

Even though we are conveniently situated just about three hours from any major metropolitan center, San Angelo has a pretty cool art scene. We have a great resource in the San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts, the Kendall Art Gallery and the Old Chicken Farm Art Center operated by the world-renowned ceramist Roger Allen. We even have an Art Walk one Thursday every month. Since I've been working on the Progress edition I've had the opportunity to get to know some of the people who keep the San Angelo art scene moving. One of those people is Lillian Lewis, the director of the educational program at the museum. I was shooting at the museum the other day and came across a table of ceramics crafted by kids during previous sessions. It was a mass of orphaned bird nests, broken butterflies and homeless ashtrays/jewelry dishes. They may not have a home, but at least they were created in the first place.

Moving right along with the art-themed post, on today's front page of the Standard-Times ran a story of a friend of mine, Toro Vaun, a local artist and business owner that I photographed recently. Toro is a great guy with a great story to boot. He was born in Cambodia, growing up through the Pol Pot communist regime, bouncing back and forth from refugee camps before finally fleeing to the States. He immigrated in his early teens and has never been back to his home country. He is planning a return trip this year if he can swing it.
Each Friday we run a series called Studio Sessions which features a local artist and it happened to be Toro's turn. He does large scale paintings and dabbles in photography as well. Here is the LINK to the story if you're interested.

SIDE NOTE: I came across another cool video. This one is a timelapse of New York City by Josh Owens. Very cool.

NYC - Mindrelic Timelapse from Mindrelic on Vimeo.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Mixed Bag of Assignments/Sleep

It's been a strange week. I am technically on the "night shift", working from 11:00am to 8:00pm, but it seems like every other day I've had to get up at the crack of dawn to head out to an assignment. I'm a night owl anyway so this shift suits me just fine, but I do like getting off work earlier in the evening when I'm on the day shift. It's hard for me to go to bed at a sensible hour so that I feel refreshed in the morning for those early assignments. One morning I'll get up at 10:00am, the next morning I'll get up at 6:00am. This is wreaking havoc on my energy levels throughout the day. My coffee consumption is insane.
The assignments themselves have not been anything out of the ordinary, a few stories for the Progress edition that will come out in February, a West Texas feature out in Crockett County, and a few sports assignments. Tuesday I was out at San Angelo Stadium shooting the Central and Lake View soccer match. The two teams had scrimmaged earlier in the year with Central coming out on top 2-1. I decided that I would use the 300mm lens for the game and put the Canon Mark IV to the test. San Angelo Stadium is by far the best lighting situation we find ourselves in during the football season, but before we still had to use a fixed 200mm f/1.8 lens to shoot the games. Now that I can jack the ISO up on the new camera and still have it look presentable I decided to use the longer, slower lens to shoot the game. The color in the frame is still questionable due to the fact that we're still shooting under stadium lights that flicker. (Photo tip: If the color sucks, make it a black-and-white!) The game was a fair match with Central once again victorious, 2-0.
Once the Progress stories are done and we get into full swing on the rodeo and stock show stuff, I'm hoping to start back up on our monthly multimedia project, I Am West Texas. I have a few ideas in mind, talked a few people of interest and am starting to lay down the ground work for coverage. I have a small sports feature to shoot this evening and I hope that once that's done I can follow up on a lead I came across over the weekend at the tattoo convention.
Here's hoping for better sleep!

SIDE NOTE: Here are few videos I found that are pretty darn cool.

Light Writing Proposal from Derick Childress on Vimeo.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Getting Inked

It was a pretty tame weekend here in San Angelo, I didn't have much to do in the way of assignments, except to cover the 2nd annual West Texas Tattoo Convention. I went into this assignment with a few preconceived photo ideas. Shallow depth of field, maybe a little macro, and mix all of that with a few portraits (something I never do). I was quite disappointed when I left after several hours shooting, having not accomplished my goals.
Everyone has on and off days and this was tending more to an off day for me. I was frustrated that the photos I was looking for where not materializing and no matter how hard I tried to force a photo, fate had other plans. Then there was the intimidation factor to get over. Individuals who are into the tattoo and body art scene can have a very aggressive look to them. You try and approach a guy who has the outline of his scull tattooed on his scalp for a photograph and try and not look a little frightened. Though the look might be a little off putting, the people I met during the convention are just as friendly and as genuine a people you will ever meet. Yes, they have blazing sculls and daggers that appear to be ripping through the flesh on their necks, and yes, some might even have a piercing or two in an interesting place on their body. But let's not forget this is also a form of self-expression and art. I myself am fond of the old Americana tattoo art and have thought about adding to my own body ink.

But there are also those times when people decide to get a tattoo that it's not for their own self-expression, but to honor a loved one or someone lost. I ran into a young man getting a tattoo in honor of his great-grandfather who was a pilot in World War II. I met a young woman who survived breast cancer and was having a four-leaf clover inked over the spot where she found the lump a few years ago. But most of the patrons of the convention were those that had once thought about getting a tattoo and after seeing and meeting with the artists themselves (and perhaps through a little peer pressure) decided to take the leap. Another surprising aspect of the convention was the number of female tattooists in attendance. I held a conversation with a young woman who runs a shop in Austin and she said that female artists receive a lot of first-timers simply because the women in the business appear to be more approachable than the men. (You know, that whole scalp/scull tattoo thing.) Makes sense. I look forward to covering this event again and hopefully I'll come away with photos that do better justice to the culture.


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Busy Basketball Week

Wow, I shot a ton of basketball this week. More than I normally do. Fortunately, we have great high school basketball to cover in our area, especially on the girls side. On Tuesday evening I headed south of town to Wall to shoot the Lady Hawks' game against Sonora. The Lady Hawks are currently fourth in the state for Class 2A. I think I had mentioned before that two of their senior starters are out with knee injuries, and it doesn't look as if they will make a return to the team for the rest of the season. One of the girls' mothers shoots on the sideline with me and you can tell that she is pretty upset her daughter my not heal fast enough to rejoin the team. The Lady Hawks went on to win the game handily.

The following evening I went over to Angelo State to photograph the Rambelles play Midwestern State in a Lone Star Conference South Division game at the Junell Center. This was a much closer game and was also the conference opener for both teams. I really enjoy shooting the ASU teams. 1) The games are located in a top-notch facility, 2) and are staffed with really great people to work with, and 3) I get to use strobes that we have mounted on the catwalk high above the gym floor. The only downfall to using the strobes is that they don't recharge fast enough to follow a burst of action on the court. The Rambelles won the game to go 8-5 overall and 1-0 in the conference.

For the final game, I headed east of town about 40 miles to Ballinger to watch the Lady Bearcats take on district rival Brady High School. I really couldn't tell you how this game was going to turn out. It just so happened to be the most exciting game of the week. Both Ballinger and Brady are in the same district with Wall, District 7-2A, which makes for an incredibly difficult way to end the season. Both of these teams are run-and-gun, high octane teams that never seem to take a break. Ballinger always makes it into the playoffs where as Brady has not been to the playoffs since 1964. Brady came out with a one-two punch and never looked back. The Lady Bulldogs went on an 11-0 run at the end of the third quarter and won the game 64-56. It was a great week of high school basketball.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

It's That Time of Year Again...

Stock show and rodeo season is quickly coming up. Last Saturday I was assigned to shoot the Sterling County Livestock Show, and to tell you the truth, it was first time I had photographed another stock show other than the big one we have here in San Angelo every February that coincides with the rodeo. I'm sure that every county has one before the kids head out across the state to compete in the major shows. Believe it or not, but San Angelo has an enormous show that brings in students from every county in the state.
It was kind of a shock when I walked in to the Sterling County Community Center and seeing so few animals. I'm used to seeing hundreds of animals at the livestock barns here in San Angelo. But, it was kind of nice to see that intimate setting of this show, a more family-driven atmosphere rather than a competitively-driven one. There were only about 30 students showing animals: sheep, cattle and hogs. My favorite animals in the show arena are still the cattle. The steer in the above photo was my favorite of the morning. All the steers still had their full coats of hair on because the stock show in Fort Worth (which is the first major show on the circuit) is a hair show. After that the steers will be trimmed.
It's going to be a busy two months with our annual Progress edition coming out and the stock show and rodeo, but at least we won't be scrounging for stories to work on.

SIDE NOTE: PBS aired a small feature on Minnesota-based photographer Alec Soth recently. It's kind of an interesting look into the world of a fine art photographer. Here's the LINK to Soth's website if you're interested.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Up and Down Night for Central

Yesterday was a pretty busy day for me, starting early with a morning assignment at the construction site for our new county library, followed by a quick shooting session with a local artist, and finally rounded the day out with two high school basketball games here in San Angelo. The photos for the library are going to be used in a special section hopefully in April to coincide with the opening of the new library, although the opening keeps getting pushed back later and later. I won't be posting any photos of that project until the section publishes. I'll post photos of the artist later next week. Crystal Goodman is a fantastic muralist who calls San Angelo home.
Typically, high school basketball is run-of-the-mill shooting until you get to the playoffs, but last night was special because I was getting to break in some new gear the office purchased for our department.

"Say hello to my little friend," (read that in the best Cuban accent you can muster): the Canon 1D MarkIV. (I also got three new lenses, but they are just updated versions of lenses I was already using.) As a small West Texas newspaper photographer, it is a given that you most likely will have to shoot in some of the worst lighting conditions known to man. And by that I mean high school gyms and football fields. The MarkIV cures that putrid, pit-of-the-stomach feeling you get after taking a look at your photos and seeing the light temperature changes from red to green to to blue to yellow, all while having to shoot at a high ISO. The MarkIV is a dream. I was shooting at an ISO of 2500 and the photos look as if I was shooting at ISO 800. The games themselves were pretty good as well.

District play has just gotten under way, so every game counts now. The first game was the Central Lady Cats playing Odessa Permian. Central has struggled in District 3-5A play, especially since their freshman standout Emily Hurst re-injured her ACL over the holiday break. The game went back and forth for the Lady Cats who eventually ended up losing 43-36. At the start of the boys game, it looked as if Permian was going to blow out the Bobcats, leading by as much as 13 points in the first quarter. But the Bobcats have a good team this year, a new coach and are able to keep calm when things get tough. The Bobcats came back for the win, 60-55. The newspaper business is often a fast paced machine and requires its employees to keep up so that information is released in a timely manner. We have two deadlines every night, one for the area edition of the paper which is delivered to all the counties in our coverage area outside of Tom Green County, and the other for the city edition which goes to Tom Green County residents only. Because our paper is printed in Abilene and driven the 90 miles south to San Angelo to be distributed, we have had to move our deadlines way up to meet the printing needs of the press. My first deadline is at 8:20 p.m. and my second is at 9:15. I was able to shoot the first half of the girls game before I had to do a quick edit and transmit photos back to the office for the first edition. After transmission, I headed back to the court for the start of the boys game, photos from which would centerpiece today's sports section for the city edition. There's never rest for the weary.

SIDE NOTE: I came across this video post on of fashion photographer Scott Schuman. He talks about how he goes about getting photographs of everyday ordinary people on the streets and the clothes they wear. He runs a blog called The Sartorialist with updates of street fashion photos.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Looking Back... at Me

Each year we all come up with a list of things we want to accomplish for the new year, whether it's losing weight, spending more time with family or just being more successful in our professional lives. I'm no different. I also come up with a laundry list of things to do, and just like everyone else have trouble staying true to my goals. "But this year will be different," I say to myself, "and I'm committing myself fully to achieving these specific goals."
We'll see how this goes. The following is my to-do list for the year.

1) Be a better family member. I have a great family. The best family. An eclectic family, living all over the country. I will see and talk to them more.
2) Shoot more photos for myself. I shoot pictures for a living, camera in hand every day I'm at the office. It's difficult for me to pick up a camera on my own time and take more photos strictly for myself and actually enjoy doing it. That's ridiculous. I'm a photographer for crying out loud, I should want to take photos. I will take photos for my own enjoyment.
3) Read and write more. Newspapers, magazines, books, blogs or online articles, it doesn't matter what it is: I have to read it. My wife is completing her masters degree to become an English teacher and has amassed a mountain of books that now resides in the back room of our house. Brooke is capable of reading two or three books at one time and, miraculously, can retain all the information. I, on the other hand, can read about three pages a week, and that's pushing it. But, I am also a curious person by nature, and like to be informed about the world. I will read every day and learn something new. How about I even write up a brief summary of the books I finish and send them off to the first person who requests the copy. (That last statement is not included in the goal, it was just something I thought up on the fly. Please don't hold me to it.)
4) Travel to new and unexpected places. I love to travel and there's no reason why I should stop now. There's something about getting out on the open road, beating down a lonely trail or soaking up the rays near a body of water. I want to do all of that this year, wife and camera in hand. I will make time to explore new places.
5) Lose weight. Cliche, I know, but it's got to happen. I will shed the pounds for physical and mental happiness.

There, that's it. Those are my top five self-imposed goals for the new year which, conveniently, encompass just about every aspect of my life. Go figure. Let me know what your goals are for the year and perhaps we can push ourselves to success.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

2010 News Favorites

So today's post is of my favorite 20 news photos from this past year. Living out in the middle of West Texas, hard news can be difficult to come by. Sure we have the occasional horrific car crash and a destructive fire, heck, we even had a few standoffs this last year too, but nothing that really produced dramatic photographs. So, that being said, most of my news photos tend to the more feature and general news side of things. Some of these photos you have seen before form this blog, but I was surprised to see how many photos I had to pull from the archive that were not already posted to my Flickr account or on my Facebook page. After our small photo staff was reduced by one shooter in October 2009, I had to pick up more sports assignments in 2010. I shoot way more photos at sporting events than I do at news assignments resulting in more sports photos to shift through at the end of the year. I guess as part of my new year's to-do list I'll have to put down "Shoot better news photos." I'll be posting my personal and professional goals for 2011 soon. Let me know what you think of the news photos.
This last Tuesday I was given my first assignment of 2011, the annual match-up between Wall and Abilene Wylie high schools at the Junell Center in San Angelo. The game also resulted in my first newspaper clip of the year (left) for your viewing pleasure. The previous games between the two girls teams have been barn burners and very exciting to shoot. The Lady Hawks had played the Lady Bulldogs twice this season prior to Tuesday's game winning the first game by just one point and the second game in overtime. Unfortunately, Tuesday was a different story. Two of the senior starters for the Lady Hawks were out with knee injuries. The game was not that exciting. Heading into the game the Lady Hawks were Number 3 in the state, but after Tuesday's game that ranking should drop and their season could be in jeopardy come district play. Hopefully the two starters will heal up fast and will be available next week. The Lady Hawks made it to the 2A state championship game last year in Austin. They lost that game, but it sure was fun to be there.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

2010 Sports Favorites

After a much needed two-week break from the office, Tuesday was my first day back for the new year. Happy 2011 everybody! At the beginning of the new year I like to go back through all of my photos that I submitted to the photo archive here at work and pick out my favorites. I split them up into two groups, sports and news, and try to come up with my top 20 photos for each category. As any photographer will tell you, doing a self-edit can be/is a difficult process. Photographers can be an extremely sensitive class of people, whose egos are as fragile as they come. But, I enjoy the challenge of the process and gain insight on how I can better myself in the coming year.
Today, I present you with my favorite 20 sports photographs of 2010. Most of them you have seen before if you follow this blog, but there may be a few photos you haven't seen. Some of them have won awards, most have not. There may be a few photos in the group that might make you ask, "What was he thinking?" While some of them may seem a bit "off", all are personal favorites of mine. I hope you like them. I'll be posting my top 20 news photographs soon. Stay tuned.

SIDE NOTE: For your viewing pleasure today I've got two videos you need to see. The first is by director/cinematographer Andrew Wonder who follows urban explorer and photographer Steve Duncan into the wonderful New York City underbelly. Although illegal, Duncan reveals a stunning world of centuries past through dramatic photography. The film is almost 30 minutes long, but definitely worth it. If you're interested, HERE is the link to Duncan's website to see photos and to keep up with news of his explorations.

UNDERCITY from Andrew Wonder on Vimeo.

The next film for you is by Jamie Stuart who filmed a blizzard in New York City. He used a Canon 7D HDSLR throughout the day and pieced together a film just over 3 minutes long. Film critic Roger Ebert saw the film and believes it's deserving of the Academy Award for best live-action short subject. What do you think?