Friday, July 30, 2004

Reed speaks online today

If you have the time, here's something worth checking out today. Photographer Eli Reed, the first black photographer for Magnum, will be a guest on the Glenn Mitchell radio show today at 1 p.m. on KERA, 90.1. It will be broadcast live from the Central Library. You can listen online via streaming audio.

Reed will also give a free lecture on Saturday at 11 a.m. at the J. Erik Jonsson Central Library, 1515 Young St. (he is billed as co-lecturing with local photographer Carl Sidle). Finally, he will also speak Sunday at the DMA at 1 p.m., for $10, while announcing the winners of the Gordon Parks competition.

For the sake of juxtaposition, Canon ran an ad featuring the nine photographers of Agency VII. It's on News Photographer magazine (July, page 2.). It is a double truck ad featuring a homogeneous (all Anglo - two women) group of photographers posed in a French restaurant, looking defiantly into the lens. The text lauds their visual and combat prowess.

In the DMN scanning room somebody ripped the ad out and taped it on the wall with a single sheet of white paper separating the pages. On the paper is the word, "whatever." I laughed hard when I saw it.

Irreverentcy in the DMN photo department? No...

Enough for now,

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Add text to images

Dancer Lori Barber (right) and musician Greg Fiellin (left) pair up for "Harlem Nocturne" during a performance of "Swing" at Bass Hall in Fort Worth on Tuesday, June 10, 2003.

Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

When I was preparing my entries for the Katies, so were some other staffers. The instructions were a little vague, so we decided to include paper proofs of our images and cutlines with the CDs.

I'll explain the process for anyone else who wants to know. It's important to remember the cutline becomes part of the image (a jpg, tiff, eps, etc.). It isn't a text block as Quark XPress or the other layout programs would create.

A big advantage to embedding text as part of the image is increased copyright protection. If a copyright symbol (©), name and date are part of an image, someone else can't claim ignorance in a courtroom. The infringer would have deliberately misused the image and can be slammed for heavy damages.

Here's how to do it:
  • Open the image in Adobe Photoshop.

  • Prepare the image as needed.

  • The image should be in the correct orientation (horizontals are, verts are).

  • Using the drop-down menus, go to Image, then Canvas Size. A dialog box appears.

  • Increase the Height by 4 to 6 inches. This adds to both the top and bottom of the image.

  • Using the Crop tool, remove any undesired section (top or bottom) by excluding it from the crop area (crop includes the image and the main text area). Crop.

  • Select the Text tool from the tool box (it's the big "T"). Mouse the tool over the text area and click. On older versions, a dialog box appears. On newer versions, the text can be typed directly into the area.

  • Set text font, size and color.

  • Type desired text. Use Return to break lines because it's not text, it's raster characters, which look like text. Close the dialog box, or choose the Lasso tool and make a circle to set the text.

  • Crop off the remainder of the unused cutline area.

If you need a print, Size the image (Image, drop down to Image Size) to fit the paper size. If the image is horizontal and you want to see it as a landscape print, rotate the entire image and size to fit the paper.

Enough for now,

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Metroplex Martini

The Lion's Den at the Stoneleigh Hotel in Dallas offers the Metroplex Martini on Tuesday, July 27, 2004.

Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

Katie memories are good

Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News
Jason Hawkins of Baytown, Texas rides a bull during the Lewisville Saddle Club's 39th annual Labor Day Rodeo at the Lewisville Saddle Club on Saturday, August 30, 2003.

I delivered the Katie entries on time. I feel good about the lightning horses (Feature). I don’t know about the bull rider (Sports). We’ll see. Both Fayrouz and I just want to make the cut so we can get dressed up (tux and gown), go to the ceremony and have a good meal a’ la Belo.

I’ve been a finalist twice. It’s cool to get spiffed up and go. Ariane Kadoch Swisa is officially the Susan Lucci of the Katies. Last I heard, she had been a finalist seven times without a win. Before then, Judy Walgren was two of the three finalists in the same category and still lost. It's just wrong I tell ya'.

End result: It’s cool to win a Katie, but don’t kill yourself if you don’t. Judges and judging change each year. Enter, hope to make the finals and drink as much booze as the head honchos will buy. ;-}

I don’t think they will ever do it again, but the first time I was a finalist the Press Club had a great reception party at Speed Zone. After we got our Certificates of Excellence (all finalists get these), we got drink coupons and unlimited use of the facilities for two hours. Rock on!

They had a "celebrity drag race" (cars not tiaras). I made it to the final round and actually won on speed and finishing time, but somehow I got second place because they measure initial reaction time (I didn’t want to get disqualified for jumping the light). Well poop.

After the races, I went inside and started playing the video games for toy redemption tickets. I got a small amount of tickets here and there until I found a game where it was a matter of timing lights and pushing a button... Hmmm...

So in the last 45 minutes of free play, I racked up enough tickets to bring home arm loads of toys for all the nieces and nephews of several families. He he he.

I think this was the last time they got this deal. Do you think it might be a bad idea to provide immediate rewards to overly competitive people? Maybe? Just a bit? It sure was fun though.

If I make it again sometime in the next few years, I hope they get some similar deal. I might win a real, live pony. I don't know where I'd keep it, but, but, but....

Enough for now,

Monday, July 26, 2004

Look down before shooting

Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News
Mark McClelland, 9, of the Lewisville Dodgers baseball team adjusts his new catcher's equipment before a baseball game at Lake Park in Lewisville on Thursday, October 2, 2003. Thousands of dollars worth of new baseball equipment was stolen from the Lewisville Baseball Association in August. Local businesses replaced the equipment for the young players.

I should be scrambling to submit my Press Club entry long before deadline, but I'm lollygagging. And you know what you call someone who lollygags? A lollygagger. That's right.


The very first assignment I got in Photo 101 was "Light and Shadow." To a 101 student, this typically means stairs, trees, anything as long as there are no people within miles. Why? Because we had no freaking idea what we were doing with the durn camera-thingy and the borrowed gangly-legs-thingy-holder-thingy. We just want to look cool.

We knew the way we looked on the first day with a new camera and tripod wasn't cool. Read the book, aim, read the book, focus, read the book, check the aperture, read the book, check the shutter speed, read the book, camera falls over, curse...

The end result of the first assignment is some over- and underexposed negatives (if we're lucky). The instructor then uses all her/his brilliance to tell us why we're such failures (hint: it's the freaking light meter).

If we're not lucky, we have no images at all. Develop first, THEN fix. Or, turn the little red light OFF while you load the film on the spool. Or, burn marks on the "best frame" (of tree bark). Or, the temperature and time really DOES matter. Or, "How many pictures did the little dial say you had taken on a 12 exposure roll?"

It's a way of introducing would-be PJs to the torture of image making. As I've said before, photography is all about failure. Once anyone fails enough times, they'll figure out how not to screw it up again (heavy duty steel reels with speed prongs ;-} ). So, each assignment in Photo 101 is yet another way to mess up.

I won't be so mean. Today, I'll save everyone a little confusion and time with one simple piece of advice: Before you shoot, look at your feet.

If your shadow is covering your feet, you should probably find a little better angle. If your feet are brightly lit and have no shadows, you might want to wait for a better time of day or move your subject into a evenly-shaded area. If you can't see your feet at all, use a tripod ...or possibly read the fat-o-journalists entry.

The angle of light creates a feeling of depth for a two-dimensional image. This is most profoundly seen when light is at an 89.5-degree angle to the photographer -- particularly right after sunrise or before sunset.

When I shoot sports, I check light direction with my monopod. I make sure the shadow is pointing generally toward the field from my firing position. Then I aim my claymores, set my tripwires, dig my tiger pit, camouflage everything and cover my tracks... Oops, wrong blog.

If the shadow isn't pointing toward the field, I move around the field until it does. There is no law requiring people to shoot from their own team's sideline. I'm covering both teams.

The point is to light the subject from the direction we're shooting. Yes, it's possible to shoot from the reverse direction (the shadow side), but this is tricky on sunny days.

For most folks, the ideal angle is to see your own shadow at a 45-degree angle from directly in front of you. This affords proper light on the subject with enough shadow to give a sense of depth.

Enough for now,

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Just Kid-ing

Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

Kid Rock (left) and Hank Williams Jr. (right) sing together at Smirnoff Music Centre in Dallas on Saturday, July 24, 2004.

Hank Williams Jr. wins the prize for the best media access badge this summer. It is a laminated badge with an image of Williams smoking a cigar as well as a gold laminated border and crest. Very classy.

Meanwhile the combined crowd who came to see these performers... Well, I'm open-minded, and they were somewhat startling even from my point of view.

I'll also give him kudos for letting us have three songs as well as Kid making an unexpected appearance within those three songs. However, wearing a black hat, shades, T-shirt and pants against a black background makes life a bit sweaty for us photo folks.

Select the right clothes

Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

Bert Byerley, president and CEO of Bibbentuckers, laughs as he poses for a portrait at one of his stores in Dallas. Byerley has captured the attention and loyalty of customers by innovating the industry with his full-service dry cleaning service, which includes drive-through service and refreshments - even for children and pets.

This summer, I got a half dozen pairs of cutoff jeans. I had a closet full of jeans with holes in the right knee (I call them my "religious jeans" because they are so holey). In other words, they're useless for work.

Part of a PJ's budget goes toward clothes. We destroy everything we wear. Pants, shirts, shoes, hats, leather jackets – nothing can handle this job. There are two approaches to buying clothes for a PJ (pay attentions moms): 1) buy lots of cheap, durable clothes 2) buy the best, most rugged clothes. I'm not a clothes freak, so I take the first option. However, I try to buy American-made clothes whenever possible (and affordable).

As a general rule, we aren't allowed to wear shorts to work (there are always exceptions), so we wear jeans or casual trousers. Khaki and black jeans are the coolest because they're rugged and don't initially look like jeans. Black is the best choice because it helps camouflage the PJ. In the old (darkroom) days, PJs typically wore black and brown clothes to hide the Dektol stains (it's brown and nothing removes it). It also absorbs light, so there was no additional fogging of printing paper.

Shirts are easy. A polo shirt with a collar and pocket is good most days.

Shoes are really important. Leather, leather, leather. For the animal activists out there... leather, leather, leather anyway (it's OK, I already ate the cow. Please be eco-friendly and keep the leftover part out of a landfill). I stuck with leather boots and sneakers after I was in the Army and saw the scars and burns I left on my boots, which otherwise would have been stitches and skin grafts.

The most bizarre side effect of this job is how our shoes wear out. I typically wear out the top and toe of my shoes before I wear out the sole. This is explained by the number of knees I rip out of my jeans. So, choose shoes wisely if you are on a tight budget.

This year, I've been running a lot. I'm wearing out the soles faster for a change. I was really proud of my "American-made" cross trainers – until I was covering a fire and my shoes immediately started squishing. Whatever is designed to let air in to the shoe also lets water in – except leather (it does too, but it takes longer).

For general-purpose shoes, get some with tread for traction in the mud, ice, oil and raw sewage spills (trust me on this one). Make sure it's flexible (PJs bend their feet a lot). Black and brown colors are best, but you know your own style best. Make absolutely sure it's non-marking (doesn't leave marks on gym floors).

Padded hightop sneaker/boots give extra protection to the ankles as well as keep water out better than low top sneakers. Padded hightops may also save a hospital visit after a snake gets a little too friendly. Avoid steel-toed shoes because it's easier to fix broken toes than to find and reattach severed toes – plus they'll set off every metal detector in town.

Jackets and coats are again better in leather. I already answered why. Make sure it has inside pockets to keep dit batteries and/or film warm (to increase dit battery charge and avoid static discharges on the film).

Gloves are tricky. I have different pairs depending on the weather. Normally, sports test the quality of any pair of gloves. Think of the worst February day and remember that you'll hold onto an aluminum pole with a chunk of titanium at the top. Then pick the warmest and most flexible glove.

Some PJs like to use silk glove liners. I prefer trigger mittens (a mitten with an additional index finger compartment). They can be found at Army / Navy surplus stores. There are regular trigger mittens with wool liners. These work for most people. Sometime the wool liner alone will do. There's also an arctic version, which is probably overkill unless PJs are outside overnight in sub-zero environments.

If a PJ has the cash, go for the arctic trigger mittens with faux fur backs and quilted nylon liners. They rock because they have long sleeves with elastic to fit over jacket sleeves and keep water out.

I'll do an entry about rain gear some other day since this post is a little long.

Enough for now,

Friday, July 23, 2004


Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

Guests enjoy a twilight show during a Movie Dive-In at Hawaiian Falls Adventure Park in Garland on Friday, July 23, 2004.

This image was for a package about 10 things to do with your kids before the summer ends. The light source is the rear-projection movie screen (this is about a 20 second exposure).

Dit Manip - Don't do it

The New York Times ran the correction below today. There is a story about it on News Designer. (Thanks to Nicole for spotting it).

Editors' Note

An article on Wednesday described the plight of single men facing a shortage of single women in Alaska. A photograph with the article, showing one woman and four men at a bar in Anchorage, was digitally altered to remove the photographer's reflection in a mirror.

That should not have occurred. The Times's policy prohibits alteration of news photographs except in the cases of collages, montages or fanciful contrived situations that are unmistakable to readers, and with explicit acknowledgment in a caption or credit.

Dude, if you don't want to shoot for newspapers, just tell them in some unflattering way. They won't call back. You don't need to drag all of us down with this kind of BS. The rule is simple: Don't move pixels. You can "spot" for dust, but your own reflection in a mirror isn't lint on the sensor. Someone somewhere eventually sees the original take and the show is over.

Alan S. Weiner was the photographer. The bio found by News Designer lists him as a wedding photographer. Hmmm... So maybe some brides really don't get married. Instead, they conspire with wedding photographers around the globe to bilk unsuspecting relatives out of new toasters and other household appliances. How absolutely diabolical...

Enough for now,

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Help a drunk walk

Guests party at Lush restaurant and lounge on Lowest Greenville Avenue in Dallas on Friday, June 25, 2004. It is the new hot lounge for 20-somethings with money.

Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

Work has been strange this summer. Because of Quick, we're covering more items of interest to 20 and 30-somethings, the most ignored group. What do they like? Drinking!

For years, I wondered why we only covered people until they turned 18 and graduated high school and then basically ignored them until they were married with kids.

The short answer is that they aren't exactly family-values role models. The only ones who made it into the paper were athletes, socialites, entertainers, academics and an occasional entrepreneur (or criminal). Since I have a Girls-Gone-Wild niece, I know most don't fit squarely into these categories.

Ironically, I know the worst of today's party animals could be the worst of tomorrow's hypocrites. But for now, they're having a good time and provide some fun entertainment for PJs.

This summer, I got to cover a lot of drinking and dancing events. Personally, I've enjoyed the heck out of it. It's fun to watch pretty/handsome, drunk people stagger around and do things they'll later wish they hadn't (it's even more fun to photograph it). I suppose it's like watching puppies step on their own ears. I know what's going to happen. But as long as nobody gets hurt, maybe someone will learn a lesson.

Since I'm running low on time today, here is a game to help a drunk get home. He walks until he loses his balance and then falls over and goes to sleep. The challenge is to see how far you can help him get. Click on the sign he's holding to begin. Move your mouse to keep his balance, and click on the measurement sign to start again.

Enough for now,

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Brooklyn Jazz

Marchel Ivery plays the sax while Andrew Griffith plays the skins as the Marchel Ivery Quartet performs at the Brooklyn Jazz Cafe in the Bishop Arts District of Dallas on Wednesday, July 21, 2004.

Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

This photo finally ran today as a postage stamp "teaser" image (means extremely small with no byline). I really like the image. I think most people will feel it speaks to Jazz.

This shot was originally for a Cheap Date feature (places two people can go for under $30). The day before it was scheduled to run it bought new sneakers?, I had another assignment at the same club for a different section of the newspaper.

Many people like to return to a subject over and over like buffet lines to get the total feel. They later assemble the images into a cohesive story. However, if the images are running in completely unrelated stories, it sucks it takes the appeal out of the return trip. It isn't a been-there-done-that situation, but I have already experimented with some options and failed miserably have found out what doesn't work. It becomes limiting. But, there are far worse places to feel limited than in a bar listening to good jazz.

This club was a light-sucking-vortex "romantic," so I had to light it. I've been playing with a hand-held slow front synch lately because the camera may be broken. I think it worked here. This technique tends to fail miserably not do so well with the big stobes.

Tomorrow will be crazy as if it's something unusual, so I gotta crash.

Enough for now,

El Agave Margarita

The Iron Cactus offers El Agave Margarita at the restaurant on Main Street in Dallas on Tuesday, July 21, 2004.

Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

This was a Quick drink of the week. The restaurant (Iron Cactus) had real cactus growing on the patio. It seemed like a good match although I was sweating as bad as the glass.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Keep your focus

Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

A runner sprints toward the finish of the 5K Run In The Dark at Bear Creek Park in Keller on Saturday, August 23, 2003. Proceeds from the event provide school supplies and medical services to disadvantaged students.

A lot of photographers can lose focus and take positions as writers, designers and any number of other (higher paying) jobs. Some people take "any" job at a newspaper in hopes of getting a foot in the door. It does help, but it might be the wrong foot. I caution PJs against taking different news-related jobs.

A PJ does much better taking a PJ job at a smaller publication and honing her/his skills as a PJ rather than taking an unrelated job at a larger paper. Each job at a newspaper has a learning curve and demands total attention for competency.

If a photographer overstretches her/his time, something eventually breaks. PJs make photographs. They're out in the real world. The rest of the office sedentarily sits in the office and works. Occasionally they get some coffee in the break room, but breaking news is unlikely to happen in the newsroom itself.

Some might think it's best to be available for breaking news. According to this theory, being available is as good as getting the assignment. This would be possible if one isn't doing anything else. However, if a person becomes a writer, they can't drop the deadlined city zoning story to photograph a fire. Or, if they do, they'll be expected to write about the fire instead of photographing it.

The really ambitious person might even think they can cover an event and photograph it at the same time. This is also unreasonable. It's like attempting to videotape and photograph the same event. One person can only do one thing at a time. I've tried to do both. Both suffer. Yes, a feature story can be done along with a portrait, but deadline breaking news is an entirely different game. PJs are lucky if they have time to write decent cutlines before time is up. Off to press everything goes.

If someone wants to be a news photographer or PJ, priorities must be set. Photography is time intensive. Writing is time intensive. Editing is time intensive. Color correction is a time vacuum. Eventually, the two jobs clash (particularly during Friday night football). One wins, and one loses. The biggest loser is the person who lets someone down.

Currently, I'm reading one of the Writer's Digest marketing books for novels and short stories. An interesting passage stopped me and made me think hard about what I'm considering. In an interview, author T.C. Boyle said the biggest problem for those who want to enter a field is to try without first immersing themselves in the field.

This is true. As a PJ, I can easily rattle off the names of 50 other news photographers whose work I admire. Some of them I know personally. Some I do not. However, I'm familiar with their work. I can dissect their work and explain why I like it. I can also rip apart a bad example and not feel bad about it.

Similarly, if I get a critique of my work from another pro, I can handle it because I understand the critique is about the work - not about me as a person. This is how we become better.

Personally, I know backgrounds in my images can get a little cluttered. I also know I don't layer my images as much as I should. These are issues I'm dealing with each time I shoot. If I wasn't shooting every day, I wouldn't concentrate on repairing these problems in my vision. Instead, I'd worry about the basics.

In writing, I face similar problems. I'm a professional writer in that my stories could be published in the newspaper after they've been beaten into shape by a talented copy editor. This doesn't mean someone should beg me to write for them. It merely means they publish a story if it meets minimum standards. I'm still paid for making images, not my stories.

Writers bump into the same problem if they try to shoot their own photos. Yes, we publish a photo related to a story by one of our writers as long as the basics are sound.

Does this mean the image is as cool as a staff photographer might have done? I doubt it. But, there are some writers with good eyes. They still get their paycheck. It still rewards them for writing. They just get a feeling of satisfaction from having done something extra.

As I consider writing some freelance short stories for publication, I understand I'm not a pro novelist. I can promise illustration photos for my stories will be better than those shot by most other writers, but my story better have its own merits or there is no publication willing to touch it.

In the meantime, I'll keep my focus on my camera. I'll read about writing and write about reading, but I know I'm best at shooting because I do it every day. If someone is considering taking a job as a writer to be a photographer, think hard about the consequences. Each job is a matter of experience and immersion.

Enough for now,

Sunday, July 18, 2004

NPPA modernizes its Code of Ethics

The NPPA recently released a “modernized” Code of Ethics. The old code was written in 1946 and did not address television or editing. The new code includes these concerns and clarifies some other issues while clearly stating the expectations of members.

Here is the NPPA's modernized Code of Ethics:

The National Press Photographers Association, a professional society that promotes the highest standards in photojournalism, acknowledges concern for every person's need both to be fully informed about public events and to be recognized as part of the world in which we live.

Photojournalists operate as trustees of the public. Our primary role is to report visually on the significant events and varied viewpoints in our common world. Our primary goal is the faithful and comprehensive depiction of the subject at hand. As photojournalists, we have the responsibility to document society and to preserve its history through images.

Photographic and video images can reveal great truths, expose wrongdoing and neglect, inspire hope and understanding and connect people around the globe through the language of visual understanding. Photographs can also cause great harm if they are callously intrusive or are manipulated.

This code is intended to promote the highest quality in all forms of photojournalism and to strengthen public confidence in the profession. It is also meant to serve as an educational tool both for those who practice and for those who appreciate photojournalism. To that end, the National Press Photographers Association sets forth the following Code of Ethics:

Code of Ethics

Photojournalists and those who manage visual news productions are accountable for upholding the following standards:

  1. Be accurate and comprehensive in the representation of subjects.

  2. Resist being manipulated by staged photo opportunities.

  3. Be complete and provide context when photographing or recording subjects. Avoid stereotyping individuals and groups. Recognize and work to avoid presenting one's own biases in the work.

  4. Treat all subjects with respect and dignity. Give special consideration to vulnerable subjects and compassion to victims of crime or tragedy. Intrude on private moments of grief only when the public has an overriding and justifiable need to see.

  5. While photographing subjects do not intentionally contribute to, alter, or seek to alter or influence events.

  6. Editing should maintain the integrity of the photographic images' content and context. Do not manipulate images or add or alter sound in any way that can mislead viewers or misrepresent subjects.

  7. Do not pay sources or subjects or reward them materially for information or participation.

  8. Do not accept gifts, favors, or compensation from those who might seek to influence coverage.

  9. Do not intentionally sabotage the efforts of other journalists.

Ideally, photojournalists should:

  1. Strive to ensure that the public's business is conducted in public. Defend the rights of access for all journalists.

  2. Think proactively, as a student of psychology, sociology, politics and art to develop a unique vision and presentation. Work with a voracious appetite for current events and contemporary visual media.

  3. Strive for total and unrestricted access to subjects, recommend alternatives to shallow or rushed opportunities, seek a diversity of viewpoints, and work to show unpopular or unnoticed points of view.

  4. Avoid political, civic and business involvements or other employment that compromise or give the appearance of compromising one's own journalistic independence.

  5. Strive to be unobtrusive and humble in dealing with subjects.

  6. Respect the integrity of the photographic moment.

  7. Strive by example and influence to maintain the spirit and high standards expressed in this code. When confronted with situations in which the proper action is not clear, seek the counsel of those who exhibit the highest standards of the profession. Photojournalists should continuously study their craft and the ethics that guide it.

©2004 The National Press Photographers Association, Inc.

Enough for now,

Friday, July 16, 2004

Baby bather

Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

Jennifer Goodman (right) entertains her daughter Kate Goodman, 3 months, (left) at the City of University Park swimming pool in University Park on July 16, 2004.

Busy, busy, busy...

It's a busy week. I've much to talk about, but no time today. This weekend, I'll try to add a pictures-of-the-week and competition roundup section on my sidebar.

In the meantime, Louis DeLuca (aka. Crush from "Finding Nemo") had a photo selected as June's showcase photo by the Associated Press Managing Editors (APME). This alone would be super cool, but May's image was shot by Tom Fox. Getting this honor for two months in a row by one newspaper is unusual.

It rocks to work with such talented professionals.

Enough for now,

BTW, the Nemo page has a cool interactive underwater camera near the bottom of the page, but I wouldn't suggest this site for dial-up connectors.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Work with the subject

Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

Flower Mound golfer Ben Morrow poses for a portrait at the Golf Club at Bridlewood in Flower Mound on Friday, July 2, 2004. Morrow won the prestigious 2004 Justin Leonard Scholarship, a $20,000 award, as the "most outstanding" male NTPGA Junior Golf Foundation golfer.

I got some positive feedback from some co-workers about this image, so I thought I would post it to break up the grey letters on this blog.

This is an example of getting a good shot out of an average assignment. The actual photo request was to make a portrait of a golfer at his home. Joy.

The golfer's neighborhood was nice, but everything nice faced eastward at sunset (instead of westward). I told him I needed to shoot 100 frames. I also wanted to do something special with him since he was so special. Most importantly, I would need his help to pull it off. He agreed people normally agree, then they reconsider after the truckload of hungry squirrels arrives....

Anyway, I set up a strobe on the course and got the standard Tiger Woods' I'm-too-confident shot (the safe shot). Then we started trying some different shapes and backgrounds.

I suppose I should explain my strobe (a Norman P-2000) can appear brighter than the sun in an image when I turn it up all the way. I can literally have the sun over someone’s shoulder and have more light on their face. I simply stop down the sun to the intensity I want it – just like any other light. This image uses only one head. I've never even tried to use all six or one at full power.

Anyway, I wanted something unusual. We started trying to get him to jump and match the angle of his golf bag. It worked. So, we tried to have him actually appear parallel to the ground. It worked better, but was harder on the lad (he took the full brunt of each jump on his hip/butt/knee). But we were soooo close to something really cool, so we kept working it. When I layered the clubs in the foreground instead of having them close to him, it really started to pop.

This is the end result of him plopping onto the grass about 40 or 50 times. It was hot, he was tired and sweating by the time it all finished and the country club crowd got a good show with their dinner. Most importantly, we got an unusual image to set his abilities apart from the others.

The point is to work with the subject to get something cool. A nice image isn't the result of either the photographer or the subject. It is cooperation between both. Don't be afraid to ask the subject for something unique and don't let them see the truckload of squirrels before they agree.

Enough for now,

Basic photography rules are simple

The basic rules (requirements) of photography are exposure, focus and timing. In photography (as in life itself), rules are meant to be broken, but never in ignorance. In this case, these three rules are difficult to break and still have a successful image. It happens, but it's rare.

Basic composition and all the other stuff (including legal rules) can be learned or nurtured later. The pros consider skeletal structure, layers, mood, quality of light, etc., but it all comes back to these three elements. We must make sure each image (or set of images) meets these rules, or we have no useful image.

I'll try to comment about and refine each component over the next few months. For now, evaluate your favorite images on these elements. I wouldn't be surprised to learn all of them are in focus, properly exposed and have some element of timing (even if it's the time of day).

I consider these qualities the same as knowing the alphabet of a language. If we don't know the alphabet, we can't understand words or stories. If we can't focus, properly expose or time the shutter, we can't make an acceptable image or begin to tell a story.

For advanced PJs, these technical issues become habitual. However, they're still the first and foremost to every pro PJ. Nothing else can be done until these issues are addressed.

Enough for now,

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Future news could look like this

I've been thinking a lot about the newspaper of the future. Judging from the following, I've probably thought about it too much.

The following is an idea of a perfect paper for one fictional reader. It lists many ideas to consider. I don't think any publication can jump through all the requested hoops, but different publications are choosing which hoops would be good for their readers. This potential reader is very demanding, but offers some trade-offs benefit for the newspaper.

Future newspaper

I want a tree-free (guilt-free) newspaper delivered to my door or available at the grocery store. It'll be a CD with the entire daily newspaper searchable on it. It has every story and photograph from every section and all the zoned editions (suburban sections) so I can browse through it on my laptop while I ride the train to a business meeting or college class. These CDs are more valuable to me than a pulp newspaper and easier to store.

Unlike the printed newspaper, I can customize my computer screen to make it easier for me to read the text. Likewise, my grandmother's eyes are not as good as they once were and she needs larger letters than the newspaper font.

Since I must multitask, I want to have a daily screen saver of all the day's images (photos and graphics). As I see an interesting image appear, I can click on the screen, and it'll bring me the related story. This makes me more interested in the news each day and makes your advertisers happier.

However, I want the children at the school of my choice to get credit for all the newspaper I would have recycled if I had gotten the paper edition. Since my neighborhood is the best (everyone thinks this of their neighborhood), I want the children to get full credit in the NIE (Newspaper In Education recycling) competition.

Since I do understand you're saving money by producing a CD instead of a pulp newspaper, I want to have access to the newspaper's online archives for my kids' school projects. I'd prefer unlimited access (like TIME magazine), but three times per paid month would be fine.

I'm willing to use a special code tied to my subscription to let you track who I am and which stories I read. Again, you can use this information to place your advertisers onto targeted archival stories.

This new form of news (the CD) also contains 30 minutes to one hour of the top stories in audio files read by professionals from a TV, radio or some new person hired specifically for this task. The audio files are from the front page, metro, business, sports and weather. I'll be able to listen to it during my morning exercises, on my way to work in the car or on the train. I could search forward and backward through the stories as they interest me.

It'll have a protective cardboard sleeve as not to scratch the CD. This sleeve identifies the newspaper issue, but it could also have a premium paid ad on the back.

I also want my coupons (particularly on Sunday). So, the normal inserts advertisements are in the plastic wrapper. Instead of a large paper-based newspaper, I get the CD, ad inserts and any free samples. It's easier for the delivery people to get it closer to my door since it is lighter. It also is much easier for them to have the inserts inside the bag and just pop the CD in there at the last moment. This should also help with last minute changes as news breaks.

Since we're on the subject of coupons, I want to be able to print the coupons of my choice from the day's paper. You might consider a PDF-format 8.5x11 sheets with all miniature coupons for me to print easily. But, I don't want to lose a single coupon (or anything else for that matter) by not getting the paper version of the newspaper. I should get extra instead of less.

I also want the same options for other languages since I'm learning Spanish/French/German/Arabic and hearing and reading the news (especially while I'm online and have access to an Internet translator) in Spanish helps me.

Since I'll probably be online while I read the newspaper, I want the CD to check for story updates. If any stories have changed, let me know.

I also want a button at the top of the browser to report news tips to the newspaper. I don't expect every tip to get total attention, but an automated "thanks for the note" e-mail response would be nice.

I'm willing to give very detailed information about myself and how to contact me to assist reporters and photographers as long as I think my ideas are heard. However, I only expect to hear from news people (not from advertisers) for this information.

If possible, I'd also like the CDs to be made from corn-based biodegradable resin. This is better for the ecosystem, helps farmers and sends less money to foreign oil-producing countries.

Also, I would like to have an additional MP3 of a local or national band (as well as information about the band) on some CDs -- Monday might be good. You could include it in your advertising as a special to improve your rack sales of the CD news. If this is seriously considered, my teenage children will beg for specific newspapers. It'll get them interested in the newspaper at an early age.

My teens also like video games. I know they'd like some freeware games. If it happened to look like they were reading the newspaper instead of playing computer games at school, it would get them in less trouble. Who knows, they might even read the paper after all.

Lastly, I doubt there's any room left on the CD, but if there is, you can put some TV-style ads on it or movie trailers. Since there is no downloading time, it'll play properly on my computer. I won't find it as annoying as when I'm surfing the Web because of the realistic speed.

I remember buying boxes of cereal to cut out imprinted record singles. This nostalgia alone makes me try the CD version of the newspaper.

Enough for now,

Monday, July 12, 2004

Newsjunkies unite

The Newseum has a cool news trivia game. I scored 130 on the Reporter level, but not so well on the Editor level. I don't know how frequently it's updated. It does repeat some questions with each "play again" game.

Enough for now,

Cheeseburger is paradise

Thunderhorse Saloon offers a Double Cylinder Cheeseburger and libations at the saloon in Lewisville on Friday, October 15, 2003. The motorcycle is a 2002 custom Harley Davidson long bike chopper owned by Christina Antee, the saloon's CEO and manager, at the motorcycle-friendly establishment.

Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

There are some days when I need a big basket of greasy fries. I can only eat rice/popcorn cakes for so long before all the Texan comes out screaming for beef and grease. Today was one of those days.

I love Joe Willy’s on Greenville Avenue. Their great hickory sauce is kept in a warming pot. It tastes good on the burgers and on the hand-cut fries. If you are trying to inflict vengeance upon your diet, you can order up a big bowl of guacamole and put it on your fries for a special hot/cold/I’m-gonna-need-to-run-five-miles-tomorrow flavor. Yummy!

OK, it will be a pain to eliminate all the darn calories. Instead, I’ll quote my brother, “Anybody can drop a nuclear weapon on us at any moment. So I’ll eat my dessert before dinner thank you.”

He’s lost an amazing amount weight lately. He still smokes. Hmmm....

Everyone is focusing on how America is becoming fat. AP reported "obesity [is] closing in on tobacco as the nation's No. 1 underlying preventable killer." However, I haven’t seen any stories about the correlation between the aggregate of those who stop smoking and those who have gained weight.

My theory holds those who are gaining the majority of the weight are the ex-smokers. At least I am down to 5 mg nicotine patches now (a 21 mg cut into four pieces). But the desire to smoke feels the same as starvation, so I could understand why America would gain weight if we stop smoking. If it isn’t true, have France stop smoking and let’s see if they don’t cumulatively put on a few French-fried pounds.

Enough for now,

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Simpson struts

Dallas native Jessica Simpson performs at the Smirnoff Music Centre on Saturday, July 10, 2004.

Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

Strangely, I worked at her hometown newspaper in Richardson while she was growing up. I don't recall ever shooting her singing (not even the national anthem) or otherwise performing at any events. I guess people must leave to come back as a star.

Photograph the notes

Vinny, an 18-month-old Chihuahua, (top) tries to use telekinesis to get the last bite of Brooke Fossey's hot dog (bottom) at the 2004 Grand Prairie Road Shows at a private park in the Grand Peninsula neighborhood in Grand Prairie on Friday, June 25, 2004.

Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

Photojournalism is a set of mistakes. The more experience a PJ gets, the fewer mistakes they make (hopefully). We can either suffer through the mistakes firsthand or learn from each other's mistakes. I think the purpose of this blog is to explain some f-ups and try to prevent others from suffering the same. (Yes, I do know about the electrocuted monkey experiment.)

In this spirit (not the monkeys), I again suggest PJs take photographs of their notes as they complete each page. Then the cutline information is clustered with the images in the permanent archive.

They have been pushing us to start doing this instead of filing a CD and cutline info in the hard file. In our case, we have a yada-yada-yada terabyte jukebox platter archive system. So, they want all the information there and backed up.

Having shot film for too many years, it's hard for me to "waste" frames. I'm over it now. Here's why (this is the I-get-to-suffer-while-you-learn part).

I had a casual Friday shooting schedule. I shot a nice little parks and recreation informational carnival in Tarrant County and then shot the new, Metrosexual haught spot in Dallas.

The PARD shoot eventually produced acceptable images. With some good shots in the bag, I headed off to my next shoot in Dallas.

The club was too packed to move but interesting. Because of the club's darkness, I approached it as a "get the feel" assignment. I used a tripod for most of the frames and got the swirling mass of people and color from every angle.

I took it a little further and did some rear-synch flash, slow exposure images on the packed dance floor as well to show how pretty everyone was (I believe "pretty" is the operative word for all genders in this club).

I had my shots after two hours of work and a lot of sweat. I was shooting my way out (getting the exterior shots), and I realized my notepad had fallen out of my camera bag. I knew it was in the club because I used it. I knew to check for it before I left the shoot because I had already lost a notebook years before.

I searched the crowded club for it, but I couldn't find it in the throng of gyrating bodies and perfume. Luckily neither shoot was on deadline.

I left a biz card with the club manager and he told me to call back at 2 a.m. I did. He said call back at 2:30 a.m. I did. He said he would call me if he found it. I stressed the importance of the cutlines from my previous shoot. He said he would call back.
At 4 a.m., he called back. No luck.

Saturday I shot a Burn MLS game against D.C. United and AP wanted deadline shots (blog entry to come about Fox Sports' use of those shots). Then I had another shoot for deadline (yet another future blog entry). Afterward, still no notepad.

So, Fayrouz and I went back to Tarrant County on Sunday (my day off) to find the people from the first shoot. It was a new subdivision and most of the event's attendees had walked to the park. I remembered the first names of two of the people I needed and the last name of another two. I also wanted to get the name of a Chihuahua.

After three hours of going door to door with a laptop of images from one property developer to another, making phone calls for confirmation and knocking on a few neighborhood doors, I had cutline information for the people I really needed. I still didn't have the Chihuahua, but I could punt with an animal.

Five hours after I started, I transmitted three images to the grid, got a spell check from the desk and could finally start my work-free day.

On Monday (my other day off), the club dude called. He said he found my notepad, but he was tired. He said I could pick it up on Wednesday. Wow! What a relief. I thought I was going to be forced to pay for that expensive miniature spiral notepad out of my own pocket. Thank goodness I don't work for a big daily metro newspaper...

So, my point is: If you want to have a stress-free day off, take photos of your notes as you complete each page. It will be good for the company too because then the information is always included with your take.

Enough for now,

How to write a cutline

A cutline is the caption near a photograph in a newspaper. It informs the reader of who, what, when, where, and why or how about the photograph. Because photographs depict events frozen in time, the first sentence of a cutline is always written in the present tense. Additional sentences can be written in present or past tense depending on a publication's style preferences (I prefer past tense for explanation).

A standard cutline is written as such:

(Noun) (verb) (direct object) during (proper event name) at (proper noun location) in (city) on (day of the week), (month) (date), (year). Why or How.


Dallas firefighters (noun) battle (present-tense verb) a fire (direct object) at the Fitzhugh Apartments (proper noun location) near the intersection of Fitzhugh Avenue and Monarch Street in Dallas (city) on Thursday (day of the week), July (month) 1 (date), 2004 (year).

In our photo department, we're allowed an average of 15 minutes to prep ("turn out") each image. This includes scanning, toning, color corrections and cutlines. If two images are selected at the desk, they expect to be checking cutlines on the completed images in 30 minutes.

In reality, we often have less than five minutes to get the entire shoot turned out. PJ students should work on their deadline typing speed and accuracy before they're covered in water, sweat, mud, blood and smell like an old chimney.

When writing cutlines for portraits, don't get tricky and get in trouble. Write the facts.

"(Noun) poses for a portrait ..."

As long as the original cutline is 100 percent accurate, the PJ has a job the next day. Leave the cutline changes to the section and copy editors. If they wish to change something, it becomes their problem. The correction also becomes their problem.

There is no compassion or understanding extended to neophyte PJs for factual errors in cutlines. Be as accurate as possible on everything known to be a fact. If it's not a confirmed fact, don't include it in the cutline. Phones and Google are ways to confirm facts – use them.

Enough for now,

Friday, July 09, 2004

Hungry for Emeril

Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

Jakki Jones (left) and Sandra Armstrong (right) pose for a portrait at the home of Michael McCoy (Jones' employer) in Colleyville on Wednesday, July 9, 2003. The friends recently got tickets to "Emeril Live!" while on a trip to New York. They were chosen from the audience to sit at the counter and sample food during filming because they played up their Texas style.

Common ground starts here

Ryan Warner, 3, of Dallas swings in the playground at Kramer Elementary School in Dallas on Friday, July 09, 2004. Neighborhood parents have raised $75,000 to refurbish the playground and give neighborhood families a place for fun and exercise.

Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

I was writing a blog entry about some really complex theories of light when I realized some people may not know the first thing about SLR (single lens reflex) cameras. So, I’ll write some photography basics entries over the next month or so. Then we'll have common points of reference (not to mention I'll have a head start on a future photography book).

Relax, I'm not going to bury the pro readers in a barrage of basics, but I'll slip one into the mix occasionally as a first entry. Just getting to the Zone System and dynamic range is really difficult if one doesn’t know what an EV (equivalent value) is.

I suggest photographers read the exact camera manual for their own camera. I’ll address the general topics to make things easier down the line. In the meantime, see:
How light works
How cameras work
How photographic film works
How autofocus cameras work
How digital cameras work
How camera flashes work

Enough for now,

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

I'm an angel ... fish

If someone ever wondered what Finding Nemo character they were, here's the test. Fayrouz thinks I'm more like Dory (she turned out to be Dory - Hahaha).

You are GILL!
What Finding Nemo Character are You?

Since I presented a quiz, here is another. It's the Inner Dragon quiz. I turned out to be a Time Dragon.

The interesting part of the Time Dragon is it's ability to fold time backwards and basically be in the same place over and over. I'm imagining how great photographs could become if I could keep doing something until I got it right.

I'd know the place and time of an event and then work it from every angle with every lens until I got it just right. Others would think I did it correctly the first time with no problems. AH HA! That's how James Nachtwey does it. Darned Time Dragons disguising themselves as PJs...

Enough for now,

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Riding the rocket is an uncomfortable rush

Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News
Dallas firefighters battle a fire at the Fitzhugh Apartments near the intersection of Fitzhugh Avenue and Monarch Street in Dallas on Thursday, July 1, 2004.

The worst day a photojournalist could have is when there are no assignments. Many might imagine this is a great situation. PJs could catch up on archive work, research story ideas, prep contest entries, turn in paperwork (mileage, etc.) maybe even get something to eat. At a smaller paper in a small town, this may be correct. At a metro daily, we call it “riding the rocket.” Yes, you can start doing the typical office things BUT...

To an editor, a PJ without an assignment means s/he is available for the next crisis – anywhere on the planet.

Imagine a huge rocket sitting outside the back door of the building. If something goes wrong, a PJ will run to the rocket, strap her/himself onto the side and blast off. Of course this is a fictional rocket and the actual rockets are our cars and trucks, but the feeling is similar.

The PJ often has no idea what s/he is roaring toward, where it is or how long s/he will be there. The PJ is merely screaming away in a general direction and waiting for additional instructions. This is riding the rocket. It’s an uncomfortable-bowel-syndrome wait for something to go wrong.

We hope everyone plays nice today, but expect something bad to happen. We are excited to cover something big, yet we know the bigger the assignment the bigger the potential failure. It’s often something tragic, which we wish on nobody. It’s a rush, but it isn’t for everyone.

Editors expect definitive images in the system by deadline. This isn’t a “maybe” situation. Deliver compelling, definitive, story-telling images by deadline or don’t bother to come back.

PJs without assignments are the first on the rocket. Those between assignments are next, followed by those who are closest to the event (this is why it’s important to get a shot of something/anything the second we arrive at a scheduled shoot). I’m not sure how it goes from here, but if it involves guns in less-desirable metro areas it seems to be mine.

Additionally, vacation is subject to cancellation at any time. We must have our pager with us at all times (particularly while on vacation). A vacationing PJ can be reactivated and put on the rocket in their flip flops with a margarita hangover and sent who-knows-where. Laugh now, but wait until it happens to you.

Sometimes there is absolutely nothing there. The event happened and the bodies were removed hours ago. One photographer said this is where photojournalism ends and documentary photography begins. You take a few images to document there wasn’t squat there. However, they better be compelling images of nothing in the middle of nowhere.

Enough for now,

Monday, July 05, 2004

PJ use on Web questioned

Dot Journalism has an interesting story about the inadequate use of photojournalism on the Web. Since Web-based news sites will probably be the future of journalism for many current and future PJs, it is worth a read to all involved.

© Mark M. Hancock


Sunday, July 04, 2004

Happy Independence Day

I hope everyone takes a moment between the BBQ, watermelon, margaritas and fireworks to remember how brave our nation’s founders (including a kinsman) were to stand up to a tyrannical king. They knew they would lose everything they had worked to gain. The greater good is sometimes worth great sacrifice. Freedom was worth the cost.

Enough for now,

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Rare Cure takes first

Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

Eddie Martin, Jr. rides Rare Cure (No. 1, right) to a first place finish in the 8th running of the Bob Johnson Memorial race at Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie on Saturday, July 3, 2004. Other finishers were (in order) Pie N Burger (No. 5) ridden by Guy Smith, Lights on Broadway (No. 6) ridden by Larry Taylor, and Guaranteed Sweep (No. 4) ridden by Cliff Berry.

Although I prefer to shoot the races head-on, the sun was setting behind the horses as they finished (see the light on their back legs). Better to be safe than sorry when Sports only wants one race on deadline.

Friday, July 02, 2004

It's worth a buck

What will a buck buy? It can buy a few days of nice daydreaming.

Today's multi-state Mega Millions lottery is estimated at $290 million. Even with the cash-option penalty and 50 percent tax, it'll still be more than $100 million. That's a lot of equipment, lab fees and film (especially if you bulk load). Think of all the images you could take with that kind of nest egg...

Enough for now,

Thursday, July 01, 2004

There's more than fireworks on the 4th

People watch from a gazebo as fireworks burst against the twilight sky during Richardson's Fourth of July event at Breckinridge Park in Richardson. Hundreds of local residents converged at Breckinridge Park for the city-sponsored event.

© Mark M. Hancock

Since I've seen some people with anxiety about shooting fireworks, I'll share a few tips to get a PJ through a Fourth of July assignment.

First, arrive as early as possible to stake out a shooting area and get some other package shots. Bring a good tripod and a plunger or electronic shutter release (the self-timer on the camera can also be used less effectively).

First, let's discuss the assignment. Patriotic holiday events are all about color. Find the color (flags, banners, food, blankets) and work people into it. The assignment is to cover the event. The event includes fireworks, but it's really about people. We all know the fireworks shot are the lede in a small paper, but it's only one shot. What the editors probably want is a picture page or at least a package of images of hometown folks having fun and being patriotic.

Approach the assignment like a movie. We need wide, medium and tight shots as well as a detail or two.

It's advantageous to work wide first. We don't need names for groups of more than five people, and the spectators know we're working and harmless (otherwise we look like stalkers sneaking around).

As we approach the scene, we get our wide, overall images to show the scope of the event and how many people turned out from the community. This is most easily accomplished from a high vantage point. Try getting on the stage, a building top, in a tree or a ride in a hot air balloon (I know, but if one is there, what's the harm in asking?).

Next, get some medium-range candid shots of groups of five or less people interacting. We need each name along with the ages of anyone under 18 (pets are name, age and breed) along with their current city of residence.

Also get tight, colorful detail shots of interesting items - particularly if they have some action involved. My standard detail shot on patriotic holidays is flag-painted toenails and fingernails. I try to find something new at each event, but I know I'm safe if I get this shot. These shots combine to make the inside page package with the firework color out front.

As we comb through the spectator area, look for people enjoying themselves. We'll often hear them before we see them. Be aware of how harshly local alcohol ordinances are enforced. We don't want to deliberately land someone in jail or ourselves in court (or in jail for contempt) by shooting something that could wait a second or two.

For wide-angle shots, try to layer the images. We'll need a person in the foreground, something of interest in the midground and a scene in the background.

Scope out the good background first and build your image forward. Once we have the general image in our mind, place a person's head or upper half in the image. We approach stationary subjects from oblique angles (so they don't see us). Then we get as close as we dare. They'll eventually turn to an angle we need if we are patient. I suggest placing the sun over your shoulder or to the side to make a better candid image before they freak out (better light, harder to spot you).
An alternate approach is to choose the mid and background and wait for someone to pass through the foreground. They will.

For long-lens shots, stick to the shadows (for concealment) and shoot with the sunlight at no more than a 90 degree angle. Stay near other larger objects to hide our presence and continue to be patient if spotted (A.D.D. works to our advantage). Try to shoot with a wide aperture (f/2.8 or f/4) to pull the subject off the background. Place light objects/people into dark backgrounds and don't be afraid to shoot some silhouettes on light backgrounds.

If the subjects notice us, we move our hands or say "Be yourself." Most people know the game and go back to whatever they were doing. If not, SMILE (this is our best safety net). We move toward them, kneel or squat down to their eye level, take out the notepad and tell them who we are, who we represent and why we made an image of them. Then put the pen on the paper and ask them for their name. Listen to the name and ask them to spell it. Once they spell it out, read it back to them. If it's really loud (concert) and still daylight, show it to them. Then write down the color shirt they are wearing or some other way to identify them. Make sure the description is something you would be confident showing them ("fat guy w/greasy hair" is verboten).

Andy Smothers of Hammond, La. asked about recording information on a camera's wave file. I don't use recorders for cutline information unless both my arms are broken. If something can go wrong with a tape or digital file, it will. The wave file can become corrupted and there is no way to know how much background noise is too much. Plus, there are important reasons to write the information down on paper.

PJs have nothing to hide. By writing the info down, we can show it to the subjects. They can then verify the information and make any corrections immediately. Any questionable spellings should be read back to the subject. For example: "John with an 'h'?" or "Tifini with only one 'f' and ends with an 'i'?"

If it is correct, put a check mark next to the spelled-out name while they watch. This works even if they're too drunk to spell it correctly the first time.

If the subject refuses a name and the images are taken in a public area, we let them know the images may still be printed as "unidentified" or "refused name" because we don't make the final decision. This typically prompts them to give us their name because their friends and family know who they are and will give them grief for years over this.

Before I continue, I'll give some advice I wish I followed regularly. Shoot copy shots of notes as you finish each page of notes. Then there are index frames to identify frame order and subjects as acquired. Furthermore, if something horrible happens to our notes (blog entry to come), we have all the names within the files. This saves our butt on deadline. Nobody wakes us up to identify a person in our images. This is a priceless habit to begin as early as possible.

Finally, let's talk about the actual fireworks shots. Please read my entry about lightning to get some additional pointers. Foreground is the key to photographing fireworks. If you have no foreground, you have no front page. The foreground creates the location and scale of the fireworks.

When I prepare to shoot fireworks, I know I'm only going to get one frame in the paper. The one frame better sing if I want to see it more than 3x2 inches because I'm fighting for space against 15 of the best staffers in the world.

The mechanics are probably the easiest part, I shoot f/8 on 200 iso with a dit camera (100 iso film). I set the camera on bulb and use a plunger or electronic shutter release cable. Hold the frame open for about 4 to 8 bursts and then release.

Try to time the frames for colored firework bursts and avoid the standard white/yellow fireworks because they are at least 2 stops brighter than the other fireworks. Since I shoot digital, I can adjust exposures on the fly. If I have time, I save some frames for the big ending. However it normally has too much smoke for a good frame and is past my deadline.

If I want to get really tricky, I'll cover my lens between bursts and choose to uncover during the colored ones bursts and remain covered during the white/yellow bursts. Just remember photography is cumulative and enough of any color over the same area eventually becomes white (like paint eventually becomes brown).

Long before we set up for the fireworks, we locate the launch pad and shoot the pros as they set up their mortars. IMPORTANT: I turn OFF my flash before I approach the launch area. I also fire a test frame to make certain the flash is off. Yes, it would be fun to watch their reaction and all, but I spare them the heart attacks and broken bones as they leap off the launch pallets after they see a flash.

Once I make a few frames of them working, I get names and the name and city of the pyro company. Then ask them what they think is the most colorful sequence, and how to anticipate it.
Also ask them some good cutline questions like:
How many rounds will be fired?
How high do the rounds fly before bursting?
How much did the show cost?
Who is paying for the show?
Are they planning any other shows in the area sometime soon?

This side trip nets A) some nice frames readers don't typically see of the pyro people B) additional cutline information C) a source for future firework shows D) inside info on how to shoot the best frames.

With this information and a wind direction, I can set up for my shoot. Fireworks photos are backwards to regular images. They are built from the foreground to the background. Find a good foreground element and estimate where the fireworks should burst. Leave enough room for the fireworks to dominate the frame, but don't minimize the foreground.

When choosing the foreground, make sure it's big enough to work with the lens' depth of field. I tried to shoot fireworks through an oversized martini glass with an ultra-wide angle lens and still didn't have enough d-o-f to get it. Everything from a fire hydrant upward have worked though.

If I'm planning to use people as foreground elements (backs of heads watch lights), I'll get their names before the show begins and let them know I'll be moving real close to them during the show.

To make sure I get the shots I need, I stake my claim literally. I put up the tripod, and block off a small square with some wooden stakes and duct tape for my rig and a smaller foreground element. It looks official, so people leave it alone. Others might lay down a tarp or blanket to block off an area.

I can't say how many times people arrived five minutes before the event started and have tried to set up between me and my foreground element (since it looks like it would be a good shot). I know it's crappy to be this way, but I know I have a million eyes seeing through my lens, so I'll get territorial.

If you've suffered through this long-ass blog entry and still want more information, I just noticed photo editor Chris Wilkins had already rounded up hints and images from Erich Schlegel, Louis DeLuca and David Woo about this subject. Check it out.

Enough for now,