Friday, November 7, 2008

Phantastic day

I was looking. I swear. OK, I was looking through the camera lens. Maybe not where I was going. So while I was framing this shot of Charlie Manuel my foot met, well, what horses leave behind. A large pile of it. A good way to start one of the most exciting days of my photographic career.

The Phillies celebrated their monumental World Series victory in style with a parade down Broad Street, complete with floats, players, hundreds of cops and millions of fans.
Through some research and a good dose of luck, I finagled a press pass to cover the parade. I was the youngest photog there, brushing elbows with photogs from the Inquirer, AP and Reuters.

We started out on the press buses, double deckers reminiscent of those London trademarks. There were two buses, and as we started the parade the crowd’s cheers turned to screams of words I can’t say here and gestures that you can probably imagine.

As the parade approached City Hall, I, along with other photogs on the bus, realized the angles presented from the bus were not very good, so we left the bus, allowing us basically unlimited access to the parade route.

I could get in the faces of the fans and get right up next to the trucks of players. I also could get in the way of cops on bikes—one officer screamed at me that I was “in his way” and that he would “throw me out” if it happened again. The cops also had horses, which they, unlike the Budweiser Clydesdales that were also there, did not clean up after.

Photographing an event like this brought with it some different challenges. For one, lens changes were difficult. I brought my backpack instead of the bag so it’d be easier to take on the (packed) trains, so that meant, for most of the time, shooting with the 18-70 and keeping the 80-200, which is a huge lens, in my cargo pocket. When it came time to switch, it was a sort of balancing act, holding onto two lenses and a camera while walking along the parade route, dodging cops and horses and fans.

With stories like this, the close ups are as important as the wide shots. In other words, the story can be told shooting something more small scale than large, such as fans vs. a wide angle of the parade snaking its way down Broad St. However, this event was such a big deal I had a feeling I’d have a significant amount of space allotted to me in the paper (in the end, this got full page, back page and in color—can’t ask for much more).

Some of my favorites:

Pitcher Jamie Moyer raised his hat in recognition of the fans as confetti rains down. I'm still curious as to how I got this one--I guess I just zoomed out the 18-70 all the way, held the camera up, and shot away.

The Phillie Phanatic stares down at the statue of William Penn, a statue that local folklore states has cursed Philadelphia sports for decades, as the Phillies celebrate their triumphant World Series victory.

J Roll points to the crowd.

This shot was taken from the bus with the wide angle. I think it's kinda cool how you basically start at the feet of these kids and then continue on to the thousands of fans.

Confetti! Yes, I gave her the OK to throw it at me. Though one kid almost silly stringed my camera, which would've ended up badly. She aimed at me and was about to shoot before I yelled "Shoot up! Shoot up!" As she shot, I shot too, though the pictures didn't turn out as well.

In the end, this thrilling day hopefully will bode well as the city moves on. It’s been a rough year for Philly, with countless murders—especially of police officers—poverty, homelessness, unemployment and budget cuts. And hopefully this day, this team, brought this special city together.

(More photos of the parade are available at

Some pep

Once again, folks, it's time for the pep rally at Conestoga. Readers of this blog know that I'm not a fan of the pep rally because of its sheer repetition, and the challenges that presents as a photographer to find something fun to shoot. This pep rally, though, surprised. It had some frankly kooky events that made for some funny shots. Add that to the fact that it was a bright and sunny day made for a truly fun shoot. Some of the best...

The always amazing food eating events...

Before the pep rally began, students were given portraits of outgoing principal Tim Donovan to hold up upon Donovan's arrival. A somewhat newsworthy spin to the pep rally. Then, Donovan headed up above to the roof of the press box and surveyed the day's events...

Pioneer mascot...

Then, the intrepid sports stars did these sleeping bag races.

Shooting the pep rally involved doing quite a bit of lens switching. Some of the shots, such as the food eating contests, were perfect for the wide angle. But for the Donovan silhouette and the shot above, the telephoto was the better choice.

Overall, it was a fun shoot--even if I did get hit in the head with folded up paper airplanes of those Donovan portraits.

The Art of the Portrait

I'm mostly sent out to shoot sports, but so far this year I've been doing a fair amount of portraits. Portraits and sports are vastly different things to shoot--for one, you can actually tell your subject (such as Principal Tim Donovan, at left) what to do and how to look in a portrait, as opposed to the athletes in a sporting event. So...should be easier, right? 

At best, it's a work in progress...

This shot was for an article about the brother of two Conestoga students who has served tours of duty in Iraq. I sat him in the middle in his uniform, and asked him to hold that flag, which flew in Baghdad. In retrospect, I'd probably have asked Mr. Auburn to take off the bright orange sweatshirt, but I think the photo does portray the pride and dignity of the soldier.

Baseball Playoffs

One of my favorite sports to shoot is baseball, and one of my favorite times in a season to shoot is the playoffs. What better than a baseball playoff game? was raining. Pouring. So, a bag went over the camera and off I went. The game was conveniently delayed for about 15 minutes, but then the storm passed, and the newly cleared skies made for some memorable pix...

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Saga Continues: Swimming, Part Two

Cameras and water don't mix too well, so shooting swimming for a second time was a little nerve wracking. Covering this water sport was a little out of the blue (a swimmer friend informed me at the end of the school day that I WAS covering this afternoon's meet--news to me). And no pun intended.

The horrors of the water photographer is the fogging up of equipment when first entering the steamy pool from the cold outside. Until now, I had been spared this awful fate. Until now.
The fate, granted, is not especially awful and the equipment de-fogs quickly, but not in time for the first several events. I got ready to shoot them, when I looked up at the viewfinder and was greeted with a pleasant blur of color behind an impenetrable mask of semi-transparent white. In other words, the lens was fogged. And there's nothing you can do, but wait.
Once the camera recovered from it's bout with the shock of cold air to heavy humidity, it was time to shoot, and I was hoping to improve upon my last shoot, in December.
Some of my favorites:

This isn't your traditional swimming picture, but this meet was loud and intense, a big one for the boys team. There's emotion to be found all over the pool.

This shot is one of my favorites. #1, there's a face--a critical element to any good sports shot. People like to see faces. #2 the way she's breaking the water, combined with the calm reflection ahead of her adds to a neat effect.

I find this next one pretty interesting. It's really a study in the properties of water, how, if you look closely, the individual droplets splashed up by her swimming each cast their own, individual shadow on her arm:

This is the kind of shot I've been trying to get for a while: divers jumping off the blocks. As I detailed in an earlier post, shooting the divers as they leave the blocks in the beginning of a race is a bad idea, as firing the flash at the wrong moment could mean being thrown out of the pool--if not in the pool. This shot was taken during a relay race:

Both guys and girls won this one, and the girls have not lost for years now. Hopefully that'll mean a trip for some to districts, and a trip for me to some "playoff swimming."

Some publicity for the blog

The blog has hit the bigtime, folks. Recently, "From Behind the Lens" was featured in the Philadelphia Inquirer's Chester County section. Thanks to the Inquirer for a well written and informative article! (Read the story)

The Police beat...

As mid term exam time rolled around again for Conestoga, this week was supposed to be a relatively Spoke-free and distraction-free week. Well, I was wrong. This time, the culprit was breaking news, and leaving books behind I dashed out the door to cover two breaking news stories.

The first breaking news came mid day on Saturday, when a witness called to report a possible bank robbery in progress at the PNC Bank on Rt. 30 in Devon. I arrived at the scene a few hours afterwards (walking there took longer than expected) to find a quiet bank, with a squad car out the back and an ominous sign out front:
Apparently I had missed the action, but a bank robbery is something different from the usual stories, so it was a refreshing change.
The second breaking news event of the week was on Wednesday, when construction crews called the police after digging up aged dynamite the day before, news reports say. Bomb squads were called in to deal with the dynamite. (Read the detailed police report) This sure is explosive news (the pun was irresistible) and warranted a drive down to the construction site.
The road was blocked by Paoli Fire Police, who were not letting anyone pass:
Not to be let down (and make the long drive for naught), we headed around and finally met up with the other end of the road, this time also blocked by fire police. However, the road was open to pedestrians, so off I went. It was roughly a mile (or at least it felt like that) before I came across any other sign that something had happened here. Sheriff's deputies had blocked off the road, and politely told me that the road is "indefinitely" closed.
None of these photos really are that exciting or tell the story that well. Perhaps the best shot of the day was after I walked back from the road block and found the fire police turning a driver away--really the only "action" that even begins to tell the story of the moment:

There wasn't much story here, either (bomb squads had burned the explosives far away, and the news helicopters circling overhead were the only ones who got the shot), but at least it's something to show for a long day--and long week--out responding to the breaking news.

Monday, December 31, 2007

The game of Petanque

It was a freezing cold afternoon as I followed about four 'Stoga students out to the grass near the bus circle, where they were about to play a game I had never heard of. Today's assignment was the Petanque Club, a club started by a couple French students who were fascinated by this game, which much resembles bocce.

I began the shoot focusing on the tools of the game, something essential to an expose of a sport.
This photo's shot with the wide angle real close to the boule bag, and you can almost see my reflection in the closest boule.

Then as my hands began to freeze up, it became obvious that gloves would be needed. Hoping I had left some in my camera bag after shooting a night soccer game, I set the backpack down and finally found a mismatched pair of gloves--two rights hands, as it were--but it was enough to keep my hands functioning.

When the game started, it became immediately clear that to capture the essence of the event, I would need to get in the line of fire. I started out really only being able to shoot portraits, like this one:

But to get shots that show the whole range of the game required standing almost in the middle of the action. Fortunately this was a club sport, so they politely reminded me I was in the way as opposed to threatening to kick me out, which is what has happened in more conventional sports.

This shot was taken, as you may imagine, right in the field of play. The boule that was just thrown is now in the air (it's towards the student wearing black, the middle one in the three farthest from the lens).

One challenge of this sport is that the boules are small and the cochonnet (the green target ball) is smaller--and green.

And, playing in grass, getting the thrower and the boules in the same shot proved challenging, so I took a deep breath and laid down on the muddy ground, flat on my stomach, and started shooting. And the result, at left.

The sky is hot, but the perspective is interesting.

Fortunately the editor would print three photos, the one at left included, so as to tell the different aspects of the story.

Because shooting an sport is all about telling the story. And packing gloves.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Covered in water...

Shooting swimming had some interesting qualities: High stakes, pressure shooting. Humid as heck conditions. Subjects that splashed you as they got closer. But perhaps the most frustrating: subjects whose heads disappear out of sight, below the water.

It was a cold day outside, but the inside of the Upper Darby pool was hot and humid. The swimmers warmed up as I took off my sweatshirt and hoped that my camera would not fog up in the humidity. Fortunately it didn't, but all the water in the air certainly made me nervous switching lenses.

The swimmers were happy for the publicity. While the other team chanted something to the tone of "Go us. Beat 'Stoga!" the 'Stoga swimmers shouted "H-R-O-M-E. What does that spell? HENRY ROME!"

Swimming was a sport unlike anything else I've shot before. For one, there isn't a specific center of action--i.e. a player with the ball. There are several lanes of 'Stoga swimmers, and I mainly stuck to the middle lanes, as I was informed that generally the faster swimmers were in those lanes.

It also became clear that I would not stay dry in this shoot. When I determined that probably the best shooting would be getting head-level with the swimmers, that meant lying down on the wet pool tiles. And then getting water kicked at me, sometimes it felt done on purpose by some of my friends on the team, added to the moisture, especially on the camera, which I desperately tried to keep dry.

Some of the most intense shooting happened when the swimmers came to the blocks. A flash is used to tell the swimmers when to go as well as a horn, so I could not use a flash and thus could not shoot the start. See, this pool was so poorly lit that it was almost impossible to shoot without the speedlight flashing alongside. But, a flash of mine during the start meant big trouble, so I had to be quite careful throughout the event.

Some of my favorites:
This photo was actually during a warm-up, and it required holding the camera precariously above the water.

The butterfly was one of the easier strokes to shoot, as their heads came out of the water, looking right at me. Other strokes proved more challenging, as the fact that the heads are only up for a fraction of a second and not even fully out of the water makes for a mediocre image, like this one:
But swim meets are not only about the strokes. There's also diving in the middle of the meet. And this proved to be the most difficult part to shoot. Flashes are not allowed in diving, as it may distract the divers, so action shots were next to impossible to shoot. But this opened my eyes to more creative shots:

And then there's always the useless shot that just looks cool:
As the meet ended, Conestoga came out decisively on top--both boys and girls--and it was time to head home. Coming from the heavy humidity of the gym, I walked outside into the now heavy snow, in soaking wet clothes. It would be a cold and snowy ride home, after a fun and very different swimming shoot.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


This morning was frigid--around 31 degrees--and the air was dry. The scene at 'Stoga--yes, this is Thanksgiving break and yes I did go back to school--was stunningly different. Entering the gym, the first thing that hit me was the smell. The smell of sweat. And the amazing humidity inside the gym.

Once I got over that, it's time to shoot. Dozens and dozens of 'Stoga guys and those from at least one other school were scrimmaging, with many mini-matches happening at once. Locating the 'Stoga seniors, I popped on the speedlight and started shooting.

Wrestling is certainly different than most other sports. There is no clear-cut offense or defense to focus on, and because of the nature of the sport (for better or for worse) there's so much limb entanglement that it can either be distracting and confusing or downright cool.

Another difference, especially as a photographer, is that the movement of wrestlers can be unpredictable. Granted, I know very, very little about wrestling, whereas the other sports I often cover such as football and soccer I know a fair amount about. So when these entangled guys come tumbling at you, you'd better move, as they may not even see you. That's why they invented telephoto.

I shot mostly telephoto but I popped on the wide angle about 3/4 of the way through, and as the scrimmage ended, having the wide angle on came in handy when the players started rolling up the mats and putting them away.

I tried to be a little creative with this next one, when the mats were being taken away to the closet. My brother said it reminded him of photos you see of someone being rushed on a stretcher into an ambulance...

After the shoot, the frigid outside air didn't seem so bad after all...

Click here see the photos

Monday, November 19, 2007


It was a thrilling moment. The seconds tick, and when the clock says zero, the girls soccer bench players rush the field to meet the players already there to celebrate their first ever (that's right, first ever) state championship.

And it wasn't anywhere: it was in Hershey Park.

The drive, yes, was two hours. But, was it worth it? Absolutely.

Checking in around 4:30 for a 5:00 game I got my media ID and proceeded to take the field. HersheyPark Stadium takes around 15,000 people--a far cry from Teamer Field.

The game started up quickly, with Conestoga coming out in the first half scoring two goals. At left was the first goal, headed in by Casey Steidle.

Around this time I learned an important lesson: I like to shoot low to the ground to be more "ball level" as opposed to "people level"--it adds a neat effect. However, not recommended for soccer when they kick the ball right at you, and you're torn between getting the shot or getting out of the way.

Another shot I really liked from early in the game was this one: This focus is a bit soft on this, but the intensity, I think, comes through.

Well, the game continued on until the one minute mark came up in the second half, and realizing there is no stoppage time or no stoppage of the clock, for that matter (I'm so used to football), I quickly switched lenses from the big zoom to the wide angle, and just in time.

As the clock expired, the 'Stoga bench players and coaches rushed the field. And I, along with the other photogs, ran out with them.
Something about it, I guess, says victory. The one girl with her hand in the air helps out. And the slow shutter makes for a lot of movement; unintentional, but it's an effect. This isn't likely to make the paper, but it certainly is a memory. Sharing in the team's excitement, running on the field, holding the camera up on top of the huddle in the center, was something special.

And then there's the classic trophy raising:

It was a really special night as a photographer to shoot a very special team, who took home the state title.

Click here to see the photos

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Hard News

As previous blog posting show, these past few months have been filled with lots of sports and action shots--but today's assignment was a different kind of action. The news broke this morning that a local man had been found shot dead in his home, which is in the school district. Police have yet to determine whether the death was suicide or homocide, according to numerous news reports, but either way covering this story felt very different from anything else.

I've covered crime, I've covered arrests and courts, I've covered bomb threats and drug busts, but never anything involving a person dying.

On the scene earlier this afternoon was a police officer in a cruiser and another photographer from a local daily. I snapped some shots of the crime tape in the foreground and the front door of the house in the background, but I spent much of the time talking to these professionals about not this specific incident, but about "hard news" in general, and, for that matter, life in general.

The officer and photog were joking around, chatting. The photog then remarked that, to perhaps a neighbor, having an officer and reporter small talking in front of a house where a person died is insensitive, rude. But he then said the most important thing, for me at least. He said that despite the horrors of what reporters cover (he had just finished from covering the double fatal on 202), you cannot get too attached; almost, you can't take everything to heart. That's not to say not be sensitive, but with the frequency of these tragedies it is often better to just be detached, and be able to stay upbeat and keep a sense of humor.

As the case moves forwards, and as detectives make determinations as to what actually happened in this death, it will be surely interesting to cover, if in fact the case results in charges being filed. I've covered courts and the police, but never in the case of a death.

But I'll have to remember that despite the tragedy of this incident, despite the frightening fact that it happened in such close proximity to the school, I must strike the balance between being detached and not getting too upset by the incident, while being empathetic to the family. But, judging by the fear expressed by students who live near the shooting, the story is important, and for that reason, it must be told.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Those Hooligans

They rang cowbells, waved flags, played trombones and screamed their hearts out. Decked out in face paint and with blood pumping with emotion, the Conestoga Boys Soccer "Hooligans" cheer on home boys games.

I had never heard of them before being assigned the story, and going in I had very little idea as to how I was going to shoot this.

Do I stand just in front of the fans on the small walkway and shoot them with wideangle from there, or do I stand on the field and shoot with a telephoto. The answer became clear once I realized how important lighting was going to be.

Standing right in front of these emphatic hooligans provided for a neat angle. With speedlight flashing away, I attempted to portray the emotion behind these kids.

And, then there are those fun shots, too.

This shot, on the right, was taken during the national anthem. I really love the shot because the kid here is taking off his hat--a blue elephant --to salute the flag.

All in all, shooting the hooligans were a welcome change from just straight sports action, and the photos turned out in the paper in the form of a full page color spread--even better.

Staying for the whole game...

Shooting sports means staying for the whole game--period. Because, what happens at the end of the game or after the game's over is often the most exciting.

After leaving early from what would end up being a fantastic come-from-behind football win by Conestoga my freshman year, I've learned to stay all the games through, even if I think I have "the shot." The game may end in an exciting fashion, but if not there's always the post-game.
From the the elation...
...and frustration... the trophy raising...

It all happens after the game.