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Baby Needs New Shoes

I just realized I never posted any shots from the Texas Stars Casino Night I covered near the end of the January. So, here are a few of my favorite shots, including a nice one of Matt Frazer who was just called-up by Dallas. Good luck up there. Enjoy.

Texas Stars Casino Night Texas Stars Casino Night Texas Stars Casino Night

Heads Up!

I wrapped up a three-game, three-day softball assignment at The University of Texas this afternoon. The Longhorns hosted, and won, a tournament after hanging on to beat North Texas, 5-4. Shortly after scooting out of the way of a well-hit line drive late in the game, I decided I would use tonight to compose a short post about some basics of safely photographing sports.

First, finding the appropriate place on the continuum of "playing it safe" and "getting the shot" is vital. Different situations dictate where the slider should land. Bowl games and playoffs tend to force sliders in the direction of "getting the shot" while preseason action typically works them toward "playing it safe" status. Ultimately, the personality of the photographer sets that slider. I've worked with people who seem to make a point of getting in the way, almost asking to be smashed by a receiver or drilled by a puck, but I've also shot with alongside who hang so far back I wonder if they ever get decent shots.

Big games aren't the only factors in the movement of that safety slider, however. Different sports come standard with different presets. Many professional and Division I baseball fields have dug out photo wells and decent hockey rinks will have a pane of glass on at least one side of the photo box between the benches. These features should not be downplayed. For those sports, more risks can be taken because some amount of protection is offered from the beginning. Other sports don't show up so well in this department. Softball is definitely one of them.

Of the three games I photographed this weekend, I spent a total of two and a half innings on the field itself. That's partly because the angles I had from the stands were as good if not better than most of what the field offered, but risk also kept me at bay. Athletes play softball on a smaller field than baseball and fewer softball fields have dug out photo wells. This means a photographer shooting from the field has less time to react to a ball hit his or her way and less protection to use when it happens.

Here's something I bet you didn't considere: Softballs, though they aren't soccer balls, are considerably larger than baseballs and that extra surface area means they curve better. Tracking a spinning baseball and tracking a spinning softball are two different tasks. If I can catch a glimpse of a baseball's direction, I can almost always take evasive action in time. On a softball field, one of those suckers can bend right at my face if I become satisfied with my relative location to my initial judgment of the ball's travel.

Next, I want to address the proximity issue. Anyone can steer clear of a ball hit in his or her direction from 300 feet away, but the difficulty of that task is inversely proportional to the distance to the batter. In other words, the closer I get to the action, the less time I have to react to trouble. Not that all high school and college teams don't have some hitters who demand respect, but UT, a premiere Division I program with tournament appearances in the last eight years straight calls for a heightened level of awareness. No reviewing shots or checking the phone or turning to see what that sound was while on the field during one of those games. No sir!

I combat the reaction time deficiency with a combination of listening, judging the reactions of people I can see through the lens (pretty standard in any sport) and keeping my out-of-camera eye open. This last one takes some practice and many people struggle with this concept. I love it and not just for safety. If I'm shooting on the third base line and the other team has runners on base, I can see them all and tell if they're trying to steal or in baseball, leading off more than they should be and possibly be asking for a pick-off attempt. I also switch eyes when I'm on the other side of the field. I put my left eye in the camera and open my right eye. I can't see as much because the design of the camera body puts most of its bulk on the right side, but I can see enough. Of course, this also allows me to see people looking in my direction if a ball is barreling down on my head.

Finally, I either stand or remain on the balls of my feet on a softball field. I don't bother dropping a knee in the dirt for balance out there. I need to be able to move -- and quickly. I also stand for certain situations in the game, which lets me move even faster but it also makes me a larger target. Additionally, I preach awareness to young photographers wanting to try their hands at sports all the time. I tell them all the same thing before anything else, "Pay attention to the game. Learn the teams, the players, the plays, tendencies, formations etc. as best you can." This too, has safely applications. From the third base photo well, I worry less about a ball tunneling through me when a team with a one-run deficit in the fifth has a pinch runner on first, a slapper at the plate with a full count and two outs than when a left-handed four-hole hitter enters the box in the bottom of the first with two outs against a weak pitcher.

These are just a few basic safety tips I've picked up thus far and employ routinely, but this post is by no means comprehensive. I centered on softball here, but baseball, hockey, soccer, basketball, football and others can get really dangerous and they've all got unique avenues through which they can surprise an unassuming shooter and/or one who doesn't have much experience shooting a certain sport or even a sport at a certain level. In general, keep you're head up and always use your ears. Never ever put in ear buds and listen to music while shooting a sporting event, ever!

This is a photo of the split second before UT's starting short stop, Taylor Thom, sent the aforementioned foul ball in my direction.

Taylor Thom

House Lights Down

I recently photographed a play in the B. Iden Payne Theater at The University of Texas. Shooting in a theater is always difficult but thankfully this play was well-lit. It ran in Chicago prior to Austin and I believe it's now running in Seattle. It picked up some wonderful reviews and I certainly enjoyed it. Hope you enjoy these photos.

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Happy Birthday!

On February 6, I turned 28 years old. As much as anything, the occasion reminded me I hadn't yet posted some of my favorite photos from Ashley's birthday. For 33 days each year, we are the same age and 33 days is more than enough time to turn around a few photos so I have no excuse. That said, here they are. We hit Panera for lunch, then meandered to Peter Pan Mini Golf for 18 holes. Of course the birthday girl won, but in my defense, she had played the course before and I hadn't. Happy Birthday Ashley.

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Miss The Dreads

True Texas fans should recognize this guy. I took the photo at his statue unveiling at The University of Texas. He looked right at me and froze during the middle of hs speech as if to say, "Get a good shot of me." I was on his flank, perpendicular to his audience and most of the photographers who were behind the designated seating area either elevated or trying to shoot through the cracks between the chairs. I suppose my position, standing right in front of the golf cart carrying Earl Campbell, the University's only other Heisman Trophy winner, didn't hurt my case. Much attention was focused on him as well and of course, I got some quality shots of him too.

For those who hate football or can't quite get the name off the tips of their tongues, it's Ricky Williams.

Ricky Williams

What Balance?

I found this image today when I was rummaging through some old files and thought it might make an interesting post. It's a great photograph for making a certain point which many young photographers don't always understand. Anyone who's taken a series of photographs at Cedar Park Center or in an arena or stadium and found a wildly inconsistent color washed over the images, the following is most-likely why, or at least a major contributing factor.

On your left hand, count the number of lights in this image. On your right hand, count the number of color temperatures. When you finish, you'll notice you have the same number of fingers raised on each hand. Arenas, stadiums and other venues that require a lot of light often have many different types of lights. Different lights emit different color temperatutes measured in Kelvin (K). Beyond that, when light sources need to be replaced, sometimes cheaper options or generic brands are called upon and they too, can shine at mismatched temperatures.

I always shoot RAW and find it best to either stay on the auto white balance setting or find a temperature close to where I think most photos will average, withing the range, then either make the large adjustment or fine-tune the photos, depending on which route I chose, later in post. A custom white balance is a third option but most of the time the image is going to need fine-tuning anyway so at best, this just starts a photograph closer.

Austin Toros

Stars On Film

The digital age is wonderful and allows photographers a flexibility that wasn't around in the age of film, but film photographs have a quality that myself and many other believe digital cameras just can't duplicate completely. I have two film cameras, a 35mm Canon I use more for on-the-street, photojournalism-style photos and medium format Bronica that absolutely dominates in the studio. Not only do I expect to always have a couple film bodies lying around, I plan to increase the frequency with which I use them.

Explaining how and why film photography is better for some situations is a difficult task. Art's value is subjective and photography, even photojournalism, is art. A side-by-side comparison seems the logical starting point but it alone lacks the conclusiveness skeptics seek. As is the decision to chose between poles in an dichotomy, digital vs. film demands an open mind and prolonged exposure to each competitor in order to gain true perspective and fair judgment.

I believe both have a place and will for years down the road. Art is cyclical just like fashion. Once digital becomes overtaken by holographic and holographic by bona fide replication, the ancient art of digital photography will re-emerge in a handheld device application named something along the lines of instadigi. Even then, film will have its place and tell the story as it has so well for so long.

Ashley and I just discussed this at dinner not two hours ago. I tried to help make my point by explaining several of the world's best photographers still shoot with film. I could name a great many of them here but to appeal to a wider audience, why not turn to Hollywood. "Ghost of Girlfriends Past" with Matthew McConaughey, depicts him as a world-renown photographer. At the beginning of the movie, during the apple on the head, Olympic archer shoot, a Hasselblad 120mm camera unveils itself as his weapon of choice. Hopefully that's a strong enough point for the time being.

My first few cameras were film. I am not so old that I can't remember the excitement surrounding the introduction of APS film. I can recall the release of digital photography and watched it seep through the cracks until it ultimately blew the doors off still imagery. I appreciate it the same, if not more than most, but I want to help make sure we stay grounded and never lose sight of the raw and/or gritty, grainy, soft, abrupt, edgy, smooth, weathered, emphatic, saturated, washed-out, warm, cold, realistic, surreal, understanding, forgiving, anxious, battle-hardened format in our unknowing-ironic voices we so casually refer to as film.

Here are some shots I took on 35mm at a Texas Stars game last week. The apparently-fused images are multiple exposures. That's how the negatives appear -- not done in Photoshop. Enjoy.

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