Sunday, September 30, 2007

Lawrence football... back to the Banta Bowl

I really love shooting at the Banta Bowl... lately the team playing there has been a bit lacking (albeit improving)... but you couldn't ask for a nicer daytime venue to shoot at in our immediate coverage area.

It's usually slightly overcast or backlit. The far end zone is wooded: dark and not distracting at all for the backgrounds. The sidelines aren't crowded either, further eliminating the visual clutter. It's great.

Lately I've been kind of obsessed with shooting from low-angles, ever since I saw an article on I'm giving it a try with the mid-range lenses lying on my belly in the end-zone praying that they don't decide to throw deep into the end-zone my way...

I kind of like this frame of a touchdown run below, but part of me thinks that the awkward body position of the runner is what skews it towards an "almost frame".

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Another Friday night... Week 6

Another week of trying to get something different... my creativity is beginning to reach a critical level...

I'm looking forward to a short break from this beat in a couple weeks.

The first quarter sunlight may be gone, but a kiss of it on the horizon was still there for the team introductions.

I'm becoming a firm believer of the mantra that not every good sports photograph has to be one with peak action of somebody flying through the air or catching a pass mid-air. There are plenty of instances where publications like Sports Illustrated will publish an image for it's athletic-strategic value – something that shows how the play happened, puts a face to the Xs and Os. I'm not a football expert, but it seems like this big run wouldn't have happened without the textbook blocks by the guy's teammates.

When right before my lens should appear, a defender making a grimace while he's ripping someone's arm off... when this happens I do a little mental happy dance.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Heritage Day

I always look for photos that will show the subject in a distinct place. Heritage Day is about music, it's about culture, and it's about the beginning of Octoberfest in Appleton.

In reality it's about 200 older citizens in lawn chairs listening to polka music in the waning hours of daylight.

This photo of Dorf Kapelle trumpeter Warren Wirth warming up his instrument before taking the stage in Houdini Plaza (I think) says all that needs to be said. The fall color palette sure helps.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Fox Cities Marathon

Lately I've been covering a lot of running. Somehow it's left me inspired to start running myself. My short term goal over the next 6-months is to train for a 5k. In the next two years I would like to run a marathon.

Here are some of my favorite photos from this year's Fox Cities Marathon... like golf it's about finding the aesthetics and the quirky moments, because the peak action ain't that interesting to look at.

Runners arrive by bus early in the morning and sleep in the halls of a nearby building prior to the race.

Volunteers make the marathon go off without a hitch. They do everything from cheer on runners (as in the case of these residents from the St. Paul Elder Services Villa, and the medical staff at the finish line who help people who have given every ounce of energy they have.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Real life vs. TV

I was handed the opportunity to tackle an assignment involving a portrait series for our features section. We did a story about the fall network TV line-up and wanted to talk to people in our coverage area who have the same careers as those on CSI, The Office, Boston Legal, and Grey's Anatomy.

I was given total creative license with these shoots. For two days I worked out of the basement, setting up a makeshift studio with a large muslin backdrop, one light and a reflector.

I had wonderful subjects to work with who were receptive to my ideas and offered some of their own. After each shoot I interviewed each of them for a short sound bite and produced an audio slideshow for the web. In hindsight, maybe I was pushing things trying to get a multimedia piece from this. I think it's a good multimedia opportunity but I don't think SoundSlides is the right presentation for it. Something more interactive and flash-driven might have been more appropriate.

These photos were labeled photo illustrations because I dropped the color out of the background, but other than that these are all in-camera shots.

Dr. Chris Hugo, a Neenah ER physician. We used magenta ink from the old presses to simulate the appearance of blood on his gloves. That was a lot of fun trying to wash off of my hands...

Rhonda Ziegler, a local assistant bank manager, posed for me on top of a filing cabinet... unused filing cabinets are really hard to find in an office building.

Sgt. Scott De Broux of the Appleton Police Department does a lot of crime scene photography, fingerprint and identification work. Standing in as our corpse is my colleague Kirk Wagner. Get this guy on Law & Order...

Local attorney Sarah Kons. We tried full lengths portraits like the others but they just didn't work because of the lack of props (attorneys typically only have a large briefcase). Something tighter to emphasize the slight bit of attitude in her face was needed. I asked her to pretend I was a judge who just handed down a verdict against her. Kons said that studies have shown that people shop for lawyers by appearance in their phone-book photograph. The meaner you look, the more people want you to fight for their cause.

Our printed page... click it to see it larger.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Portraits: Up until the last second...

...I have no idea what I'm going to shoot most of the time. Usually, I have no idea what I'm getting myself into. I've never seen my subject before. I've never seen the location I'm shooting at. That's why every single piece of equipment I have is in my trunk everywhere I go. A colleague told me my boss Dewey once said that we have to "Stop, Drop, and Roll with the punches."

A key player in the making of the George Lucas movie Star Wars Episode II Attack of the Clones (I've never seen the movie, I swear) once said that pre-visualization serves the purpose of selling a concept. I find that to be truer and truer with every portrait I've planned in my head beforehand. It sells the idea to my editors, but hardly ever do I get the image I set out to capture. And almost always I emerge with something better.

In the case of this portrait, my most valuable pieces of equipment were my ears and my mind. Ray Waiter of Appleton, 74, has been running marathons for about a decade and a half. He's shown opposite a prized trophy from the 2002 Fox Cities Marathon. He placed third in the 65-plus age group.

The moment I met Ray, he showed me the bronze trophy. He was so proud of it. He joked that he thought it looked like a Heisman Trophy. It was special to him and I new that I had to incorporate it into the portrait. I had my colleague Kirk Wagner hold the statue halfway between Ray and I. The perspective makes the trophy appear larger and it's form balances the frame against Ray's determined body language. Often, I use flashes to jazz up the lighting scheme on a portrait, but this was a case for simplicity... just me, my camera, and a subject.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Another Friday night... Week 5

Tonight the story was the weather. Severe storms rolled through the Fox Valley and caused several delays and made things a general mess.

The weather was already threatening when I got to Kaukauna, and by the time I made it to Appleton East it was a steady downpour. I'm pretty happy with these.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Their World is the Gridiron

My latest ViewFinder photo column deals with what it's like to experience the pre-game atmosphere of high school football. It's a project I'm fairly proud of. Check it out.

(Click to view larger.)

Monday, September 17, 2007

Fire destroys Larsen grain mill...

Just when I thought it would be a relaxing Saturday afternoon, inputting my pictures from the morning's assignments... the words "grain mill" and "fully engulfed" came over the police/fire radio.

Our newsroom regularly monitors police, fire, sheriff, medflight, and airport emergency frequencies. It's impractical to respond to every call. Even in peaceful towns like the Fox Cities, there's tons of activity on these radio bands. It's a constant chatter. There's an art to monitoring or "scanning," and it involves listening for keywords.

When I lived in Columbus, Ohio, that art involved knowing the 10-codes like the back of your hand. You needed to know the difference between a 10-5 (auto accident with injury) and a 10-4a (hit and run). You needed to know that you don't respond to a 10-10 (bomb threat)... you listen until it's a 10-10a (bomb threat- suspicious package found). You needed to get your butt in gear right away whenever you heard 10-3 (officer in trouble). You knew that you could sit tight if you heard "Code 4" (no arrest) or 10-16B (mental disturbance). There was also a lot to be said for being able to pick up on people's tone of voice... you could tell the difference between a very serious 10-5 and a minor 10-5 depending on how the officer spoke.

Things are a little different here. There are no alpha or numeric codes per se. Officials use plain-talk here with some abbreviations. They aren't the most uplifting things to hear about... PNB = pulse, not breathing. DOA = dead on arrival... but it's a reality of daily life, even in our happy little valley here.

When it comes to fires, we usually sit tight until we hear that there is an actual fire. You would be amazed at how many times on a daily basis fire departments go out on calls and there is no fire. When we hear something's going on somewhere, we start listening to the scanner more closely. A dispatcher repeats the specific information several times on different channels. Because of the repetition, we have a couple chances to write down a locator (address or intersection). We also get an idea of how many trucks are being sent. The first responders notify dispatch when they arrive on scene, and shortly thereafter they let them know what they see. If smoke or flames are visible as they approach the general area, they'll say so.

The key phrase we usually listen for is "working fire." This means just that... there's a fire and the firefighters are going to be there for a while. Firefighters use the phrase "fully engulfed" when things are really looking bad.

When the call came over the radio on Saturday about the Larsen grain mill, I sat tight for five minutes. Any time there's any sort of business that processes or manufactures something, people sometimes mistake steam or natural smoke for the presence of fire. But, the first engine on scene declared the building fully engulfed. Shortly after, 16 departments were dispatched to the scene. This was no small fire.

I quickly grabbed a big, long lens (you never know how close you'll actually be able to get) and hopped into my car for the half-hour drive to Larsen. While I knew that there would be plenty of action when I got there, I knew that grain mills have the potential for explosion. The earlier I got there the better. That's why I left as immediately as I did.

When I arrived, townspeople had already gathered in the vicinity. The mill was somewhat the center of the unincorporated Town of Larsen. People were understandably taken back by this.

Althought the structure was fully engulfed, you couldn't tell from the outside. It seemed to be smoldering. As fire crews worked to battle the flames, I continued to listen to the chatter on the radio. I keep a portable scanner radio with me while I cover breaking news like this... it keeps me informed of anything noteworthy that I should know about as a journalist. It also lets me know as early as possible of any safety concerns I should be aware of.

As the temperature of the flames increased, the structure became unstable. Unable to control the flames, the firefighters backed-off. And soon, the whole building came crashing down in a ball of fire...

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Quarry Quest

Quarry Quest is a fundraiser held annually at Michels Materials quarry in Neenah. Kids can come and sit behind the controls of backhoes, scissor-lifts, cement mixers, etc. They can also lay bricks, and dig through sand and dirt, among other things.

Here are some sights from the quarry. All I could think of is how much fun my nephew would have at this event.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Another Friday night... Week 4

This was not as good of a week for high school football.

My first quarter daylight is gone - I have no choice but to use flash, which completely ruins photographs. The warmer weather is waning - it was a low of 32º Friday night. When it's that cold, batteries don't hold a charge. I cover two games a night, shooting as many as 500 frames or more over the course of the evening. While I drive during halftime to the second game, I set all my batteries on the passenger side floor-board under the heater-blower. This warms them up and makes them last longer.

It's so cold, my hands, even though they are gloved, are numb. I can't really feel my face. The wind is drying out my eyes so much, I'm crying.

But I think I love it...

Friday, September 14, 2007

A surprise return...

From our 9/14/07 story by Andy Thompson:

"Lindsey Janikowski was back in familiar surroundings on Thursday night, wearing her No. 11 jersey for the Neenah High School girls' volleyball team. Twenty-two days earlier, Janikowski was playing in a volleyball tournament at Appleton North High School when she suffered a stroke. Slowly but surely, the 17-year-old Janikowski made progress over the next three weeks, and doctors allowed her to come home on Thursday afternoon.

Lindsey made it clear to her mother, Colleen, that she wanted to be with her teammates for their match in Menasha. "I'm part of the team," Lindsey said. "So I wanted to be here."

Except for head coach Bruce Moriarty and fellow senior Kelsie Rankin, none of the Rockets knew that Janikowski would be at Thursday night's match. When she showed up at about 6:30 p.m., they were stunned — and thrilled."

It's so nice to cover happy events with strong news value. What's even more humbling is the fact that the family and people who were in-the-loop on the surprise contacted us to let us know it was happening. We could have never known.

The moment her teammates saw her again for the first time...

Proudly standing with her team again during the national anthem...

And participating in pre-game cheers...

Monday, September 10, 2007

Lawrence football opener...

I spent as much time laughing at this game as I did shooting it.

From our story by Dick Knapinski: "The Vikings managed just 172 total yards and did not cross the 50-yard line until late in the third quarter and did not get a first down until 6:25 remained in the first half. Twelve of LU's 16 drives lasted three or fewer plays Saturday."

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Isle of Valor

Menasha dedicated it's Isle of Valor memorial to fallen area servicemen and Medal of Honor recipients, including Ken Stumpf, below.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Another Friday night... Week 3

This was a good night. I'm still able to take advantage of that beautiful late summer evening light.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Thursday, September 06, 2007

More politicians...

... I like this...

Gov. Jim Doyle made an appearance at Appleton East High School to promote the Wisconsin Covenant Plan, aiming to get Wisconsin ninth-graders to commit to achieving high standards in academics and citizenship in exchange for a guaranteed spot at a Wisconsin university.

Never doubt that a politician's public appearance is planned to a T. Students who had signed the Wisconsin Covenant were chosen to be in the background behind Doyle as he spoke. To me, it's a game. They setup a trap and it's my job to force myself to find another way of seeing the event. I try to ignore and work around these staged photo opportunities.

But sometimes you have to just swallow your pride and nail the photo of the guy after he's named an "honorary Appleton East Patriot," sporting the fresh hat presented to him.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Laboring on Labor Day...

I worked on Labor Day and so did these fellas at a paper company in the Neenah/Menasha area.

They got a bit of a break so they could enjoy the parade going by the factory area.

It's very unlike me to post a "cute doggie" shot... maybe there's a soft spot for canines developing...

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Jazz Fest

Appleton is surprisingly cosmopolitan.

We really do have a jazz festival.

I got what was needed for the newspaper but focused my creativity on shooting some details that struck my eye.