Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Try out Hello



Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

I made this image on my first day with The Dallas Morning News. I had a 6 a.m. shoot of a runner, and it was the first frost of the year. After I shot the runner, I laid in the frost for 30 minutes waiting for this alignment as these swans warmed themselves in the early morning sunlight. Be there, be patient and know what you want.

I chose this image to be a test for the new Hello picture assistant from Picasa and Blogger. I'll go through the blog and add some more images to make the blog make more sense.
This alone should really confuse someone in about six months when they realize I wrote for eight months without posting images on a blog about photojournalism. What can I say, I'm poor.

Once you download the free software, you can post images onto your blog without paying for hosting fees ... yet (I know, I'm cynical).

The image appears to have been sized well and the pixels held up well. You must have the image saved on your hard drive and post it to Hello. The image is then resized and posted onto the blog with the chosen border width (mine is two pixels).

Viewers can click on the image area to see a sharper, full-size image (the size we send at least).

Enough for now,

Monday, June 28, 2004

Congrats to Iraq

I'll add my voice of congratulations to the new Iraqi government's sovereignty. I hope they understand, appreciate and act appropriately with the increased rights and responsibilities.

I expect to see a stifling of rights in Iraq until the government gains favor over the Islamic terrorists. As long as the Iraqi people protect terrorists (domestic or foreign) who are willing to kill their hosts' siblings, their brothers and sisters will die. They have only themselves to blame now.

I see a need for a U.S. military post in the country long into the future. However, it should not be near a city. Wherever a base is placed, a city will grow around it as they do in America. Let the soldiers have a clean start in a new place with no negative history. The U.S. should purchase some land at equal to or greater than market value (to save future hard feelings).

From there, the Iraqi people can either welcome or reject our concept of freedom without interference. From personal experience, if the Army would just hook up some Iraqi chicks with some Texan soldiers everything would be cool for years to come.

Enough for now,

Friday, June 25, 2004

Road show boxing


Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

Grand Prairie resident Michael Dickerson (left) delivers a punch with an oversized boxing glove to his son Kevin Dickerson, 15, (right) at the 2004 Grand Prairie Road Shows at a private park in the Grand Peninsula neighborhood in Grand Prairie on Friday, June 25, 2004. The show, sponsored by the Grand Prairie Parks and Recreation Department, was the 2nd of six similar shows to be held throughout the city this summer.

Exceptional people need clarification

Since I have seen this entry taken out of context. I will clarify.

We do our best at every assignment. However we don't rent a helicopter to take a photo of a "For Sale" sign in a field during a lightning storm. It is a waste of time and money. Although some might think anything less is a sin, don't bother.

Editorial writers can choose to focus their talents toward News, Business, Sports, Lifestyles and many divisions therein. Those who specialize are extolled.

Photojournalists must be able to work in all these environments with equally stunning results. We touch every editorial section. Therefore, those PJs who are best at low light and fast action assignments are given more news, sports and entertainment assignments.

It doesn't mean we "suck" at mug shots or absolutely meaningless fete sets, it means we prefer news and sports rather than mug shots and fete sets. We know it, the editor knows it, and now copy editors around the world also know it.

Enough for now,

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Pets pleasantly prove point


Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News
The Fair family poses for a portrait at their home in Plano on Wednesday, June 23, 2004. The family includes David Fair (from left to right) with tabby cat Boo, 5, his wife Robin Fair with Great Dane dogs Linus, 2, (left) and Honey, 3, (right) son Logan Fair, 14, with tabby Tigger, 9, family friend Levi Dahl, 14, with tabby cat Rocky, 11, and son Grayson Fair, 12, (bottom) with Wiener, 13, a Basset and Rottweiler mixed breed.

As if to prove my point from yesterday's entry, one of my shoots yesterday/today (this waking period of time) was Pets & People. Fayrouz laughed at me uncontrollably as I told her about the endless chaos involved in wrangling too many animals (which obviously didn't like each other). I can't talk about it too much yet, but one of the critters literally put a toenail through the webbing of the owner's hand.
Because it was so crazy, we only got one publishable image out of the whole take because it got too bad and blood was starting to go everywhere.

What's my assignment for later today/tomorrow? Pets & People -- to prove my point.

Enough for now,

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Avoid ghastly assignments

Don't get good at what you don't want to shoot. This is a backward truth if there ever was one. Probably I shouldn't be posting this, but I may as well say it for other staffers elsewhere. I suppose this entry is only for staffers or underpaid freelancers. Pro freelancers are stuck because they don't want to eliminate any shoots.

A seasoned shooter told me this truth:   if a particular kind of assignment is repulsive to one photojournalist, the PJ should not kill her/himself on the assignment. It might be something someone else enjoys shooting.

If the PJ does an excellent job on something most PJs hate, the requesting editor notices the difference and requests the same photographer each time. In real terms, this means those who hate a particular genre get trapped in it because that's what they're "good" at shooting.

A good assignment editor wants to keep PJs interested in their job and get the best images from each person. So, the editor monitors how we shoot different subjects. Those with good results are remembered. Those with bad results are also remembered. We're steered toward our successes rather than our failures.

I'll discuss an example I don't mind shooting. Our paper has started shooting pets and the people who love them (it's different than "pet of the week"). It has been really popular with our readers since Texas is a pet-friendly place.

I like animals, and I'm not afraid of them. This means I'll shoot the 16-foot-long snake with a wide-angle lens at close range because it's not an issue to me. I'm also OK with a squirrel monkey sitting on my head for a while.

So, I've gotten some of these assignments. With each success and some positive feedback, the assignment editor knows I'll do a good job making sense of the chaos created by trying to arrange animals and people in one tight frame.

Here's what the section editor wrote to our assignment editor:

Subject: praise for foto

Ah, those pet people, they love their dogs, they love our photogs. This came from Colleen FitzGerald who has Chance the Samoyed.....She wrote, "Mark Hancock was a delightful photographer. What a pleasure to work with him."
This sort of thing makes my life a lot better, too! Thought I'd let you know so you can arrange a whopping bonus for the shooter....


Colleen (center) and Jim FitzGerald (right) pose for a portrait with Andrew Kreis, 13, (left) and the FitzGerald's dog Chance, a 3-year-old Samoyed, (bottom) at their home in Duncanville on Wednesday, June 9, 2004. Kreis worked with Chance to earn a dog care merit badge and credit toward his Star Scout certification.

Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News


Obviously, my whopping bonus is more Pets & People photos. It's cool with me. I enjoy the challenge, and I also know which assignments I'm avoiding at the same time (fete sets - the oneses we hateses). But imagine if I didn't like pets - or was allergic to animals. What a horror this letter would bring.

So, if you don't want to shoot something, don't die for it. If you want to shoot something, excel at it. If you don't excel at something, don't expect to get an assignment to do it ever again. This sword swings in every direction, but you can keep it from swinging one way or another if you get good at alternatives.

Enough for now,

06/24/2004 UPDATE:
 

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

PJs must deliver

If images aren't where they belong when they belong there, it's a huge problem. Delivery is the core of the PJ's reputation and reflects upon the photo department as a whole. I've already made an entry about newspaper deadlines, so let's discuss image delivery.

Image delivery is different than shooting, editing or any of the other technical factors we tend to talk about in this biz. Image delivery is the only component of this job that matters to a publisher or assignment editor. Delivery (or lack thereof) is what makes mediocre PJs acceptable and great PJs worthless to editors.

Editors don't want to be burned by a shooter. Think of editors as conductors of an orchestra. Each PJ delivers predictable notes when and where they're expected throughout the entire score. When everything is done properly, it's professional. If one PJ doesn't deliver properly, it's a sour note repeated over and over and over by an amateur. The entire orchestra suffers as a result of the actions of one.

It isn't like a pebble disturbing the stillness of the water. It's a freaking cannonball through the side of the ship. Everyone must scramble to fix the problem. However, typically the problem comes near deadline and the only option is damage control rather than a reshoot. So, the hole is patched with text or whatever image or graphic might be similar.

Redundancy is the key to delivery. There are multiple ways to get information and small items (film, disks) around the globe now. We must know how to use each of these and which ones to use first. We use the cheapest first and then work up to the fastest depending on the deadline.

It costs a lot (ouch), but we can literally pay American Airlines to hand deliver something to another city the same day. Freelancers should measure the cost of potentially lost gigs (photo editors are all friends, and it's a tiny world) against the cost of making deadline and then make his/her decision after the last FedEx pick up was missed.

Hopefully a PJ only needs to get some dit images to the editor. If the Wi-Fi location is down, there is always a hard wire or cell patch. If FTP doesn't work, there is always e-mail. Most publishers have their own hubs or at least some form of high speed connection. A six Meg file isn't a problem to get as an e-mail attachment anymore.

Even if the file size is a problem, freelance PJs can set up a special area on a Web site to load images. Post the images there, let the client download the jpgs from the Web. Later, pull the image down, invoice the client, do the happy dance and eat a pizza.

In a worst-case scenario, the PJ shot film and is working for a distant client. S/he should process the film, edit, scan (high resolution) and transmit the best six with an explanation. The editor won't be happy, but the editor is more concerned about making deadline with any image rather than having nothing and an excuse. You can always send the negs later for file images.

If something happens late at night and the film must be souped, it could be a problem for those who don't have the knowledge, chemistry or equipment. This is where those who know how to process color film at home (or in a hotel toilet) keep the clients while others lose future gigs. When it comes to competitive situations, it doesn't matter who has the shots as much as who delivers the shots.

As long as an image – any publishable image – is delivered on time to the right place, everything else becomes academic. Exposure, composition, timing, chemistry, pixels, etc. don't mean anything if there's no image in the system or in the basket at deadline. It's slightly understandable when the PJ runs late while in the midst of a hurricane, but a missing three-day-old mug shot is intolerable.

We turn out (prepress into the system) most of our zone stuff two days ahead of deadline because of the press schedules. Only Main, Metro and Sports can think about real-time deadlines.

Whatever the circumstances, have multiple back-up plans. Get an attachment to transmit with a cell phone in a pinch. If the traffic is dead, pull over and send one image. It's the best possible option. If the car breaks down, and there's no way to transmit from the car, expect to hitchhike to the closest Wi-Fi location with a laptop. Call the auto club or a tow truck on the way, but make deadline.

Enough for now,
 

Saturday, June 19, 2004

The Green machine


Pat Green performs in concert at the Smirnoff Music Center in Dallas on Saturday, June 19, 2004.

Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Shapes executives


Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

Bonnie (left) and Adrian Kirby (right) pose for an Executive Suite portrait at Shapes Inc. salon in Dallas on Wednesday, June 16, 2004. They said education and keeping abreast of industry advances make job seekers more marketable.

We got an intern

We got our summer intern. Everyone repeat with me, "Mmmmuuuhuuuuhuuuhaaaa." Let the games begin.

I've briefly met this year's intern, but haven't had the opportunity to mess with his head learn more about him. I can hardly wait to do so.

Today is the first monthly meeting since the intern arrived. There should be some good horror stories special moments discussed during the meeting and plenty of laughter empathy.

I don't know why torturing the new kid is so fun, but it is. And, it should continue as a institutional sport. We just want to make sure the educational experience and training is regrettable up to its highest level.

When the intern has an important shoot at the motor speedway the next day, we must make sure s/he gets extremely drunk gets briefed about safety precautions the night before - to fully enjoy the experience, heat, sun and sound.

Our assignments editor is nice to the interns. The interns typically get pushed to their visual and emotional limits, but not beyond. They'll get 1A assignments and will be expected to deliver 1A images by deadline, which is in about ummm 40 minutes.

Yessir, 1A stories are the most important to the community. Everyone in the community needs and pays for proper sewage. Do you know what a sewage treatment plant look like in 100-degree weather? Let's send the intern to find out. It must be different than last summer.

Well, good luck to all the interns across America this year. This is a great job if you don't like money, time, family....

Enough for now,
 

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

First two songs, no flash


Gene Simmons of the band Kiss performs at the Smirnoff Music Centre in Dallas on Friday, June 11, 2004.

Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

This month I got to cover some cool concerts. This is a perquisite of photojournalism. Who else gets paid to see Kiss or Jimmy Buffett in concert? It sure beats working at the pet store.

I was never a concert fan. I paid to see Pink Floyd (nosebleed section). Otherwise, I'd rather spend the concert ticket money on an entire album collection. It makes more sense to me.

Now, I get paid to go to some concerts. It's fun.

We cover the "first two songs, no flash." Kiss let us have three songs. Gene Simmons did all his best visual performances for each photographer. He knew to step away from a microphone and find each photographer. Then he conveniently pointed left, right and center for layout purposes. So, he ran in the paper (hint, hint to you aspiring young singer/performers).

This cooperation is what sets performers like Kiss apart from some-guy-who-was-famous-but-wanted-total-control-of-his-image-and-now-sings-at-weddings. I wonder who might fit this description?

Meanwhile, PJs typically hang out somewhere backstage until we work. For some reason (probably MTV) everyone thinks there is some massive party happening backstage. Although I'm sure I'm not seeing everything, I commonly see semi-nervous people trying to psych up for their show.

Many performers want a little time alone to pray or talk to themselves. Some are cramming new lyrics to make sure they don't sing the wrong words. Some stretch like athletes or adjust their makeup like thespians.

Most eat. They are people. It's dinnertime. So, they eat dinner. They eat some innoxious, unmemorable, bland, hotel meal from steel containers. Not the "Rock Star" image many people imagine, but the backstage reality we typically see.

If I'm shooting from the stage, I normally talk to some of the band members before the concert starts. They're people. They work. They play. They want to know they're valuable as humans and someone somewhere loves them -- like everyone else, everywhere else.

They have children, pets, bills and cameras. Many like to make photographs and ask photographers for pointers and little technical questions.

It takes a lot of guts to stand in front of 9,000 or 50,000 people with just your voice and body language. Some do this while flying through the air or playing different instruments. It's cool, but I wouldn't want to do it for a living. It sure is fun to shoot it for the "first two songs, no flash" though.

Enough for now,
 

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Photoshop hints can save some screams

Many people have Adobe Photoshop for work or play but don't know how to use it for a quick color correction and prepress. Consequently, they take whatever the scanner hands them (typically a flat, lifeless version of reality).

Although there are many adjustments possible, here's a fast set of basic controls to make bland images pop. These are the immediate actions I use when I'm on deadline and have little time to deal with prepressing the image. This could save someone 10 years of deadline stress along with the associated screaming and cursing at a computer screen. It works on digital camera images as well as images scanned from negatives.

I tend to use numbers instead of eyeballing images because it saves time (especially on slow computers with low RAM) and increases my confidence about the final result without looking much at the actual image, which is different on every non-calibrated monitor.

If you know what you're doing, here's the speed readers version:

Open. Ctrl 0. Crop. Ctrl M. Auto correct. Save As. Ctrl M, set black point, white point, gray point on black. Ctrl L, set input levels at 10 | 1 | 240. Save. Select highlights. Feather. Invert. Try contrast at 6 (adjust to taste). Select shadows. Feather. Ctrl L, try 3 | 1 | 245. Save.

This version should be small enough to print and tape to a monitor. If it really saves your rump on a tight deadline with an important image, you can always send Fayrouz a book from her Amazon wish list. ;-}


Here's the very long version:

Open Photoshop.
Choose and Open an image file.
Simultaneously press Ctrl and the number 0 to fit the image to the screen.
Crop the image to the best composition and size.

Simultaneously press Ctrl and M. Or, choose from "Image" the menu bar, then "Adjustments," then "Curves" to get the same subscreen.

Move the mouse cursor over "auto" and click. Sometimes this is good enough for most people. However, it occasionally really messes things up. If it does, choose "cancel" and perform the following steps without the initial automatic adjustment. If the auto adjustment is fine, choose "OK" and move to the next step.

Save (Save As) the image onto your hard drive/desktop (particularly if the computer doesn't have a lot of RAM).

Simultaneously press Ctrl and M. Or, choose "Image" from the menu bar, then "Adjustments," then "Curves" to get the same subscreen. This time, we're going to set the image's black, white and gray points. As your skill improves, use the magnifying glass to enlarge areas for the most precise pixel selections for the following.

Set your mouse cursor directly over the center of the diagonal line on the curve. Press and hold the mouse as you drag it toward the lower right corner. The image should appear to fade and become brighter. If it becomes darker then your controls are set opposite, so move the cursor to the opposite corner. Release the mouse when the darkest parts of the image are barely visible. The darkest of these points is your black point.

Move the mouse cursor over the black eyedropper on the right side of the "Curves" dialog box. Click. Now move the cursor, which should be shaped like the eyedropper (hit the Caps Lock key if you want more precision), over the darkest point of the image and click. The image should look basically like it did before, but slightly darker and with a little more umph to it.

White point is tricky because you must choose the white point without the help of moving the entire curve. Select a pixel which is most likely pure white and set the white point with the white eyedropper. The color probably shifts to something horrible, it's fine, we're about to fix the gray point.

Gray point is often the most difficult to set because it's subtle. By definition, gray is a color with a neutral hue between white and black. The best way to set the gray point is to remember the exact position of the original black point and use it as the gray point. Since black is also gray, it color balances if the original black point is used as the gray point as well. If the color seems to still be off, try setting the gray point in a shadow area of a known white, black or gray area. Be careful about over adjusting gray if you aren't certain about the calibration of the monitor you are using.

If you like it, choose "OK." If not, choose "Cancel" and try again until you're satisfied.

Next, simultaneously press Ctrl and L. Or, choose "Image" from the menu bar, then "Adjustments," then "Levels" to get the subscreen. Manually set the input level numbers at the following 10 | 1 | 240. This takes some of the flatness out of the image by compressing the image range. It makes light areas brighter and add some depth to the dark areas while adding an overall contrast. If you like it, choose "OK." If not, choose "Cancel."

Save the image.

Next, we're going to hold the detail in the highlights while recovering some detail to the darker areas of the image. There are two ways to accomplish this. I'll explain both. When I have time, I use a combination of both to balance the image for maximum detail.

Move the mouse over the tool bar. Select the magic wand tool. On a PC machine, look at the top of the screen for the word "tolerance." It should be at 36. If not, hit "Enter" on the keyboard and change the number to 36.

On Mac machines, hit "Enter" on your keyboard. A subscreen appears with the settings for this tool. Set the tolerance at 36.

With a good setting, move the mouse over an image highlight. Click the mouse. You'll notice a shimmering line appear around the highlight area. If it's in the wrong area, hit Ctrl Z or "Edit" then "Undo Magic Wand." Try again.

To select additional highlight areas, hold down the shift button while moving the mouse over those areas. Each additional selection can be undone. If it's all wrong, click anywhere outside the selected image and it all disappears.

A faster way to do this is to select a highlight area. Then choose "Select" from the menu and "Similar." This can be done several times as needed.

I also like to choose "Select," then "Grow" to expand the range for pixel variations. This could occasionally cause some strange selections, so be careful before the next "Similar" after a "Grow" command.

Once the highlights are selected to your satisfaction, we need to make the following adjustments blend gracefully. Simultaneously hit Ctrl, Alt and D for a Feather Selection dialog box. Or, from the menu bar, choose "Select," then "Feather." Set the feather radius to 15 pixels for most standard images. Use a smaller number if the image is much smaller. The point is to smooth out the selection lines.

Once the selection is feathered, choose "Select" then "Inverse," or simultaneously hit Ctrl Shift and I on the keyboard.

I prefer to hide the selection lines to see the results more accurately. To hide the selection, simultaneously hold down the Ctrl and H keys.

Next, choose "Image" then "Adjustments" then "Brightness/Contrast." A dialog box will open. Hit "Tab" or mouse over the "Contrast" numerical box. Set it to 6. This can also be done by sliding the scale, but it's not as fast. Hit "OK" and be prepared to undo (Ctrl Z) the change.

Look carefully at the image and hit undo (Ctrl Z) a few times to see if you like the difference. If not, hit Ctrl Z and try a lower number. If it still isn't enough contrast (this also changes the color balance) repeat the steps above with a maximum of 6 rather than bumping up the contrast number.

By now, the image should be fairly close to looking good. If the shadows are looking a little flat or are still too dark, we have one more round of adjustments. Select the shadow areas as was done with the highlights, but don't invert the selection. Feather the selection as previously done.

Next, simultaneously press Ctrl and L. Or, choose from "Image" the menu bar, then "Adjustments," then "Levels" to get the subscreen. Manually set the input level numbers at the following 3 | 1 | 245. The dark areas can be made darker by increasing the first input number. The shadow areas can get more highlight detail (rough concept) by decreasing the top input number (to 240 for example). If you like the changes, choose "OK." If not, choose "Cancel."

Save.
Write a cutline and get to the next image because the press rolls in five minutes with a big freaking blank spot if you don't HURRY.

UPDATE:
I still suggest the original steps (above) for images where time isn't an issue and quality is important. The steps are accurate and largely predictable and tend to produce consistently professional work.

It's also best for new PJs. The following steps are designed for PJs who've been at this a while (and can manually fix problems) and own a newer version of Photoshop.

The Photoshop program has evolved since my first post, so I'll address useful new features. With CS2 and CS3, there are some amazingly fast options for deadline PJs trying to crank out images fast or a high volume of images (for slideshows or freelance "event" photos).

These options won't work on all images. Again, if any step doesn't look correct, back up in History and work the image the "old fashioned" way from the point it strays.

CS-2&3 adjustments:
Open a generic .jpg file and crop to taste. Create the following Actions to maximize process speed:
1. Auto Color (Shft+Ctrl+B)
2. Set Shadow/Highlights (the Ansel Adams button)
      Shadow = 1
      Highlights = 4
3. Set Brightness / Contrast (for deeper blacks)
      Brightness = -1
      Contrast = 4
4. Set Unsharp Mask (as final step once image is fully toned)
      Amount = 110%
      Radius = 0.5 pixels
      Threshold = 0
If you're really lucky, the generic image should look good. Add 3 | 0 | 255 to the Input Channel in Levels, and you should be done. Save As (rename), put the Actions back into Button mode and move to the next image.

For extra speed, combine all the actions above under a single button and lable it "Feeling Lucky." If you're truly lucky, the one button will do it all. If not, back up through the History to find the problem and manually continue from there.

I'd also suggest creating a Similar, Grow, Feather button to fine tune the highlights and shadows to taste.

The five action buttons should be able to handle most images. They can be combined into a batch command (or the "Feeling Lucky" button) with a catch folder to handle most high-volume assignments efficiently.

In these circumstances, Copy selected images into an additional folder to protect the originals before starting the batch command. Go through the output folder and check for incorrectly-toned images. Redo those images manually the original way.

Enough for now,

Friday, June 11, 2004

Kiss rocks Dallas


Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News
Kiss performs at the Smirnoff Music Centre in Dallas on Friday, June 11, 2004.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

100 frames are required per assignment


Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

Eric N. Danchak poses for a portrait at his home-based office in Lewisville on Tuesday, June 8, 2004. He is the North Texas representative for the National Association for the Self-Employed. The former technology worker is helping other unemployed techies start their own businesses.

The first time I went to the desk for an edit of a portrait, the editor held up my negative sleeve between his forefinger and thumb, wiggled it in the air like a thin fish and said, "Where are the rest?" I had taken 16 frames with two backgrounds. What else could he want?

He wanted 100 frames.

We're asked to try to get at least 100 frames per assignment. It's very important to let the subject of a portrait know this immediately. Then, we don't have a "are we there yet" situation after 10 frames.

I'm certain 100 is an arbitrary number, but here's my justification for the subjects. Between pay, insurance and all the other non-listed costs, the publisher pays on average about $400 to send us to each assignment each day. If we take 100 images, then each image costs the publisher about $4. However, if we only take 36 images (still a sizable number at a smaller paper), it costs the publisher more than $10 per image.

Consequently, the publisher would pay more money for less images each time we shot less than the target 100 images.

To the point, news photography involves an extremely high number of portraits. If the story isn't currently happening or is of a human-related abstract nature, it can only be visually represented by a portrait.

Portraits are both the easiest and most difficult assignments. Personally, I find them challenging because I prefer to shoot live events, which tend to run 200-300 frames.

To make a portrait, PJs must experiment a lot to do our job up to standard. The following is an example of how 100 frames only scratches the surface of a portrait session.

We use every lens. I carry four lenses with me at all times (80~200mm, 17~35mm, 50mm, 100mm) and have another two in reserve (300mm, 70~180mm micro). I consider the properties of each lens and work each lens as if it were my only lens. Math buffs have already calculated the numbers. This means I'm shooting 25 times with each of the main lenses.

Light is the critical part of any image. There's no image if there's no light. We tend to light more subjects than not. We also try multiple angles of light to get different looks. For our example today, we'll use available light and a flash with a small softbox.

We make one frame with available light. We make one frame with direct flash overhead, direct flash from the right and left, one bounced off the ceiling, and one from each of the two walls available. This is a total of seven frames.

At this point, we've already committed to 28 frames (7 light angles x 4 lenses) without considering the subject or the background. Or, we have used 7 of our 25 frames.

The number above is before the subject blinks, sneezes or any number of other twitches which spoil a frame. As a rule, once we arrange a good portrait (proper lens and light, background is good, hands in position, jacket strait, hair in place, pleasant look, etc.), we should make three images for each person in the setting to compensate for the above mentioned spoilers. So, for a trio of people, we'll need nine images. (The number is 9 remaining for those keeping track)

For speed, here are nine quick standards: The subject stands up, sits down, half-sits on arm of chair/couch/desk, lays down (on sofa) forward and TV style. The photographer uses a high angle, low angle, standard angle, and portrait angle (slightly higher than subjects' eyes). – IF everything goes perfect.

For those counting, there were 100 frames made for a boring portrait without much thought. This is the basic starting point. Beyond this point is where creativity begins.

I didn't mention color balance, adding layers to the image, the skeletal structure of the image, posing multiple subjects, depth of field, severe lighting or a plethora of other standard photography devices. This entry only explains why it is important to plan on using at least 100 frames for every assignment.

Enough for now,
 

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Don't scratch!

It is officially time to hate the next season. Spring is done here. Now, it's summer. Vicious insects sharpen their fangs. Frisky, hungry, irritated snakes lie in ambush. Poison ivy grows wantonly. Chiggers... well, they're everywhere. Then there's the sun...

Every document on the Web seems to say everything is easier to avoid than to treat. However, photojournalists are up to our eyeballs in all this nasty stuff -- particularly if someone dies from it. Here are some hints to make summer survivable:

Chiggers
Chiggers don't like sulfur. Buy some powdered sulfur and put it in an old sock. Before you go into high weeds, pat the sock against your legs as high as the grass grows. This should keep most of them off.

The particularly hungry chiggers can still be eliminated later (before you scratch until you are more blood than skin). I find a bath in bleach water or long swim in a chlorinated pool eliminates them. Another option is to cut off their air supply by painting over the chigger with nail polish (clear polish is the preferred choice).

Mosquitoes
Mosquitoes are best handled by spraying down with an insect repellent containing DEET before getting near their homes (wet areas). This has become even more important in America since West Nile Virus is on the scene.

Once bitten, Band-Aid makes an Itch Relief Gel Spritz, which works fairly well at calming the itch. However, old-fashioned Calamine or Caladryl (it's clear so you don't look diseased - you are, but you don't look it) lotions work well.

Poison plants
Poison plants are no fun either. I get poison ivy at least once each summer. I found an outstanding product last year called Tecnu. It's a clear gel with a photograph of a pine tree on the box (why they chose a pine tree for a poison ivy treatment is a mystery to me). It claimed to be able to inhibit poison ivy if applied before getting into contact with the plant as well as treating the symptoms once affected.

I've also used Ivarest by Blistex (unfortunately, it's pink). Then I give the bumps a few squirts of the Band-Aid spritz to tone down the itch.

Sunburns
Sunburns can seriously interfere with a photographer's ability to work. Heavy items hang off our shoulders, we need a full range of motion and we may need to lay on our stomach or back for a low angle shot.

Typically some water-related shoot causes the first burn of the year. The easiest way to avoid a burn is not to expose too much skin directly to the sun between the hours of 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Since most of us understand this is impossible for our job, let's continue.

There are plenty of high SPF sunscreens on the market. Depending on the reflectivity of skin tone (this is the nice way to say it with large groups of multi-toned people), choose the best option for the amount of time and conditions the person will be in the sun. Use waterproof sunscreen if there is a chance of it washing off.

Although the tendency would be to use maximum strength SPF, get the appropriate level instead. PJs need to have some tan. It's good to have some base color to allow the body to handle those times when we aren't followed by a prop truck.

My worst burn ever was during a S.W.A.T. standoff in an apartment complex at the beginning of the summer. From 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. I baked on a cement driveway with no shade. The police said I would lose any ground I chose to retreat. At the time, I had a 200mm with a doubler, so proximity was important. In one day, I learned not to wear shorts even when called out of bed. At the end of the day, the guy killed himself, and I got no arrest photo.

Since someone will get burned, use Aloe Vera gel of some sort. I use the Solarcaine versions because it is medicated to reduce pain. The advantage of Aloe Vera (over chemical sprays) is the faster recovery speed and there seems to be less peeling.

Bull nettle
Bull nettle may only be a Texas problem, but I doubt it. Bull nettle (I have no idea what its actual name is, because there is no consensus on the Net) is the dark green plant with small purple or white flowers. It makes skin burn like fire once it touches skin. Typically these plants are the highest plants in a cow pasture (even the cows know better). When a person touches the plant, they get microscopic needles deposited into their skin and it feels like it must have some poison as well.

Although the effect wears off with time (and much pain), it's best to wet some dirt near the plant (typically a mineral-rich sandy soil) and make a mud pack. Put a medium-thick mud pack on the affected area. As the mud dries, it captures and removes the tiny needles. The trick is to keep the mud thick and pasty so it'll dry quickly. Do this as frequently as needed until the pain subsides.

I should address snakes and major wounds, but that needs to wait until some other day.

Enough for now,

Thursday, June 03, 2004

I got the lightning horses


Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

Horse statues appear to contemplate the lightning strikes near the intersection of Plano Parkway and Windhaven Parkway in The Colony on Wednesday, June 2, 2004.

I got some lightning behind the horses I discussed yesterday. It's not as much as I had hoped for, but "ya can’t always get what ya want." I got what I needed before the last edition ran off the press.

It ran in inside in B&W. It was too late for other placements. I’m hoping it makes the cover of the Denton/Lewisville section as well to get some color and space. I know as it has no chance in clip competition as a B&W image.

Drivers must have thought I was crazy shaking my fists and yelling at the sky when I finally got a burst where I wanted it. I was pleased.

Lightning is like fireworks. It's all about the foreground. Anyone with a tripod can shoot a 30 second exposure of a skyline and get a few bursts of lightning or fireworks by the end of a roll of film. However, if the foreground is interesting, then the dead areas of the frame can be filled with the extra element of light.
By choosing the right foreground element and stopping down far enough to have depth of field without diminishing the light too much (f/8 is good), the whole frame becomes useful. Then it’s like fishing.

Since July 4th is approaching, those wanting to try out this idea could give it a go. There are three big advantages to fireworks over lightning:
1) You know where the fireworks will hit
2) Fireworks have far more color variation
3) Death is less probable

If you decide to incorporate a foreground element with firework or lightning shots, consider metering the foreground element(s) about a stop under required light. This draws attention to the lights and make the image more moody. It also covers any miscalculations when the light from the sky adds to the foreground element light. If shooting digitally, season to taste.

Enough for now,
 

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Tornados are a rush

It was raining. There were big thunderboomers in Denton County. I had my last shoot in the bag. I headed over to get some lightning shots behind a wire horse I've had my eye on for just this kind of night. Then I got this pager notice:
“Tornados reported. Tarrant county. Nothing specific yet. Head that way. Kennedale, Mansfield. Will update when I have more info.”

I turned the truck around and headed toward Tarrant County. I was hungry and thought about eating an orange on the way. Then I thought, “Hold it. You may be dead in less than an hour and you are still worried about calories?” So, I pulled over to the drug store and got the biggest bag of peanut butter M&M candies I could find. At least I would die happy.

I listened to the AM radio stations as I drove. They were screaming about super-cell tornados and everyone needing to take cover immediately. Yup, that's where I'm headed. Joy.

I'm smiling now because to me tornados are something between a haunted house and a creepy carnival ride. So the freaking thing picks up my truck and throws it into a building. I’m harnessed. Maybe I will live through it. I have airbags. It doesn't really matter. I have done everything I have ever wanted to do.

I called Fayrouz to let her know I love her (just in case), and off I went.

This could be fun. Each report I hear for the next hour is a little worse than the last. As I move along, I find myself relatively alone on the highways (never a good sign in DFW). Furthermore, all the streetlights and buildings are dark.

Meanwhile the lightning said, “sha-BOOM, Sha-BOOM, SHA-BOOM.”

Believe it or not, this is what I find so enjoyable about my job. It's a rush to know you may not make it home tonight. It's not really a death wish, but it's embracing the inevitable. If I live through this one, it'll make a cool story. If not, life's been good.

As it was, all I could find by deadline was a car trapped on a flooded road. Then I had to look for a place to transmit. The power was out in Fort Worth, then Arlington (even at our emergency press), I already knew it was out in Euless, Grand Prairie as well. So, I might as well go to the downtown office.

As I pulled up to the building, I got a pager notice telling me there was no room left. They put an image on the Web site though. I earned my pay today. I got some extra miles, and I didn't injure my truck. It was a good day.

Enough for now,
 

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Tri swimming


Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

A swimmer passes a buoy in Lake Carolyn during the Tri-America Triathlon series at Williams Square in the Las Colinas area of Irving on Sunday, June 1, 2003. The event challenged competitors' ability to swim, bike and run. Both sprint distance and Olympic distance triathlons were held.

I know, no name. They only had numbers on their shirts and bikes. I had to go generic on this one. Yet another reason for competitors to write their competition number on both arms with waterproof ink.

Daily newspaper deadlines are hourly

I interned at a small daily newspaper. I got my first staff job at a twice-weekly newspaper (technically called a “semi-weekly” because “bi-weekly” means “every two weeks” AND “twice each week”). I worked every day as a photojournalist, so (in my head) I did the same amount of work as a “daily” photojournalist. Actually, I shot more assignments per day.

But, it is not the same.

Big metro daily newspapers are not like small daily newspapers. Yes, they both appear on the doorstep in the morning and look similar. However the deadlines are completely different.

At a small daily, the photojournalist shoots all day and into the evening. Then, s/he can’t go home until everything is done. If it is an afternoon daily paper, all the pre-press work can be done between morning assignments. Everything must then make deadline between noon and 3 p.m.

At a semi-weekly, there is a specific deadline at 5 p.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays (as an example). As long as all the pre-press work and page positions are complete before this deadline, there is no problem. Shoot all day and night on Monday, then go home. Worry about it on Tuesday while finishing the Tuesday shoots.

A metro daily newspaper should be called an "hourly" newspaper. Each section of the paper goes onto the press at a different time. Some sections have multiple runs and deadlines based on the distance the paper travels from the press. For example, there are three versions of the front page each day. There are at least four versions of Sunday's front page including the bulldog (an early edition of the Sunday paper).

More recently, there's been a push to turn out images on-the-fly for the Web site. This is problematic because it makes transmitting "any 'ol" image more important than getting the best images, which is the whole point of photojournalism.
We've been able to fight this idea so far. It's currently on hold, but I don't know for how long. I hope those in charge continue to understand the certainty of these conflicting realities.

There are already some wireless transmitters, which send images directly to a remote location in real time via FM signals. I'll save this topic for another blog entry. For now, we'll say it's used in extremely limited instances. I hope it doesn't ever make it to regular daily assignments.

Meanwhile, one Saturday last month, I had three assignments in three counties with three deadlines. Once someone has traveled DFW highways, it's easy to understand the difficulty of completing three assignments in different counties without the deadlines. When there are multiple timed deadlines on top of the normal stress, it makes the brim of the boonie cap a bit moist. It worked out, but it really leads to a rushed and panicked feeling.

This Saturday, I had an assignment with a 9 p.m. deadline, but they wanted a shot from 10:30 p.m. Unless someone actually invents a company called Einstein Express ("When it absolutely, positively needs to be there yesterday"), this can't happen. I did my best before deadline and they built an entire page (three display photos) without the primary image they actually requested.

With multiple, hourly deadlines, give 'em what they don't want and sometimes it's better than what they requested (but can't have). It's not inspiring. Nor is it what I'd prefer. However, it's the reality of deadlines at daily newspapers.

Enough for now,