When the Boogeyman goes to sleep at night, he checks his closet for Chuck Norris.
There is no theory of evolution. Just a list of animals Chuck Norris allows to live.
Chuck Norris has counted to infinity – twice.
There is no chin behind Chuck Norris’ beard. There is only another fist.
I’ve loved reading these “Chuck Norris Facts” for years. It was pretty awesome when we actually got to meet the man in person recently when we photographed Norris and his lovely wife Gena for Houstonia magazine.
Part of the hook for the story was that Gena had recently fired up a full blown water bottling plant on their giant ranch property near Navasota to bottle water from the natural aquifer they found on their property. The plant is a state of the art facility and there is a charity component to their H2O endeavor. You can read more about it in the Houstonia story here.
Since we were there in sort of the middle of the afternoon on a sunlit partly cloudy day, we needed a big light and lots of power for the outdoor shots. We used a Profoto B-4 and a Plume Hexoval 180 for most of the outdoor shots.
Although we shot the bottling plant and did lots of still life shots of water bottles, the highlight for me was getting to make a cool environmental portrait of the former Walker Texas Ranger star and Gena on his awesome Texas ranch. We also shot in their horse stables, which had amazing light. Gena was a professional model, and the two of them together have a lifetime of experience in front of the camera and were just wonderful subjects to photograph. I don’t think I’ve ever dealt with two nicer, more accommodating people.
As we were loading the gear back into our vehicle, he came back out of the house and gave everyone in the crew a paperback copy of a Chuck Norris Facts book. I think he gets a big kick out of the cult hero status from all these “facts.”
Before we departed, Norris was telling us a story about going to Iraq to visit troops there. He was standing at the front of a long line of soldiers eager to meet him, shaking hands, posing for photos, signing autographs and such. When one of the soldiers (who was a particularly big strong guy) got to the front for his turn, the conversation went like this:
Soldier: “Ok, kick me in the chest!”
Chuck: “I’m not going to kick you in the chest…”
Soldier: “No, really, I want you to roundhouse kick me in the chest!”
Chuck: “Come on, I’m not going to kick you in the chest.”
The soldier wouldn’t let up, and was just dying to go back to the barracks and tell all his buddies that he survived a Chuck Norris roundhouse kick to the chest…..the line was starting to grumble from the delay.
Finally, Norris quickly grabbed the soldier, and in one quick motion the (at the time) 70 year old martial arts veteran spun him around backwards and put him in a choke hold and dropped the big guy to the floor like a sack of potatoes.
At this point all the other military guys standing in the autograph line, full grown men trained in combat, were yelling like little kids, “Put me in a choke hold too! Put me in a choke hold too!”
Of course….after hearing this story, what do you think I did?
I’m a little late in posting this, (the 2015 annual reports were actually released during April of 2016), but I wanted to share some of the published work from the last ExxonMobil annual report.
Although we shoot all kinds of things: lab technicians, testing, construction sites, high-tech control rooms, etc., for some reason this particular year, they featured several aerial photos of maritime facilities and ships. These are always challenging to shoot, and we go through a lot of safety training including HUET (Helicopter Underwater Egress Training) just to be able to work out of aircraft offshore. Basically, if you’ve seen the old Richard Gere movie, “An Officer and a Gentleman”, it’s very similar to that. You’re dunked several times in a mock helicopter fuselage in a large swimming pool upside down and you have to unbuckle and swim out through a window. Fun stuff!
The cover image was shot of the coast of Angola, and the spreads are from shoots in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, Jubail, Saudi Arabia, Baton Rouge, USA, Qatar, and from the Gulf of Mexico. We shoot thousands of photos in these various locations, and there are many rounds of editing, so it’s gratifying when you finally get to see some of the work in print. I’m thankful for wonderful clients, and cool opportunities to travel the world, and I can’t wait to share some for he work from 2016 after it’s released.
With the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio coming up, I thought this might be a good time to write about a shoot we did earlier this year with US Olympic gymnast Simone Biles. Biles, who trains in Houston, is 4’9” tall and a three time world all around champion.
The media landscape is changing these days. This is the kind of shoot we might have done for Sports Illustrated once upon a time, but instead, this time we were commissioned by Buzzfeed to do this sports portrait shoot.
In the months leading up to the Olympics, the notable competitors (like Simone) have huge demands on their time. In addition to their normal training schedule, they are also doing interviews with various writers and television programs, and posing for photo shoots with not only media outlets, but potential endorsement partners. They are seriously busy, and it’s hard to stay focused on their training with all these various demands on their time.
To that end, we knew that we would have very little time to work with her, and that everything would need to be prepped carefully so as not to waste any of her time.
The photo editor wanted a classic, quiet portrait and sent several examples of gymnasts/fitness models on concrete walls and muslin backgrounds. Since Simone’s family-run training center was brand new and very modern, we knew we weren’t going to get the muted, moody industrial concrete wall background. We took a big muslin backdrop instead , and did a classic one-light portrait that stayed within the spirit of the comps.
We also prepped a secondary setup on a balance beam to capture some rim-lit “action” shots of Simone doing her thing. For this we used big tall C-stands with two Profoto B4’s and one Profoto 7B. (Note to self: always be careful when setting up lights in a gymnastics facility….one false step and you might find yourself neck-deep in a Nerf-cube-filled landing pit….not that this happened to me or anything….).
We mixed in some available light practice shots (I was able to dust off my usually dormant Canon EF 300/2.8!) of Simone and her coach working together to round out the assignment and give the photo editor lots of options.
The backdrop session went very fast…about 6-10 minutes. The balance beam shot went fast too, but not by choice. The coach shut us down after just a few frames saying the strobes were a distraction to the other young gymnasts training there. Even though we prepped them for what we were doing, you really can’t argue in that situation with the person controlling your access…..you just have to say yes ma’am and move on. I knew we had some nice frames already, ( thanks in large part to Simone’s perfect technique on the first few frames – thanks Simone!), so we pivoted and quickly moved on to available light practice shots.
The new family-run gym, World Champions Centre in Spring, Texas is an incredible facility. Simone’s parents and brother work together managing the facility and they do it with class and good humor. We were surrounded by a steady stream of youngsters training at various stations who I’m sure were hoping to someday be the next Simone. A “WARNING” sign near the lockers read, “CHILDREN LEFT UNATTENDED WILL BE SOLD TO THE CIRCUS.”
Buzzfeed recently ran an extensive story and collection of the photos here. I thought the story and presentation turned out great! Because of the virtually unlimited space they were able to run many more photos than you would typically see in a normal magazine layout. We in the newspaper/magazine journalism world have been talking about this advantage for years….it was nice to finally see a media outlet exploit the web format to full potential.
With the help of a generous friend at Canon, I was really excited to spend a few days last week shooting with a pre-production model of the highly anticipated, brand new Canon EOS 5DS camera. The 5DS is Canon’s newest camera, with a whopping 50MP sensor (8688 x 5792 pixels). Many Canon shooters have been on waiting lists for several months to get one of these in their hands.
For commercial photographers, landscape photographers, and others who grew up shooting medium format film (and more recently, RENTING crazy expensive medium format digital systems), this camera is the one we’ve been waiting for, and based on my very preliminary testing, it’s a game changer on the order of the EOS 1DS Mk II.
My initial impression of this new technological development can be summed up with this classic front page from the Onion. (This is a family photo blog, so you follow the link at your own risk).
A little bit of camera history: though many of my photojournalist friends were VERY EARLY adopters of digital camera technology (anyone remember the lovely Kodak NC 2000?), most of my sports magazine shooter brethren arrived late to the digital party. Although early digital was “good enough” for newspapers and wire services, magazines still needed and demanded, high resolution images for magazine spreads and covers.
My Sporting News colleagues and I made the switch to the first EOS-1D (4.15 MP!) camera in the Fall of 2003 for most of our action photos. We clung to our medium format film cameras for portraits though, and we were still hanging Hasselblads up as remote cameras in NBA arenas as late as 2005. The original EOS-1DS (11.1 MP) was an improvement over the regular 1D, but it was slow, and still produced a file that was not up to medium format Velvia scanned on a fantastic Hell drum scanner.
The BIG game changer for me (and most of my colleagues) was the Canon EOS-1DS Mk II. I began using this camera in 2005, and it clocked in at a pretty impressive 16.7 MP (4992 x 3328 pixels). That’s roughly an 11 x 16.5 inch photo at 300 PPI. For reference – at that time, we were making 50 MP drum scans of our Hasselblad chromes. I remember shooting a test and looking at two files, side by side on the same monitor, one shot on film, and one out of the EOS-1DS Mk II, and my colleagues and I quickly decided that this camera was the one to finally allow us to become an all-digital publication.
It wasn’t just The Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, and other magazines…..this camera changed things for just about every commercial photographer I knew. When this camera was released, the price of medium format gear dropped like the 1987 stock market crash. Waiting for Polaroids to develop became a completely unnecessary ancient photography ritual.
I went out on my own in 2006, and my EOS-1DS Mk II cameras were the cornerstone of my corporate and advertising photography business. Things quickly improved even more in 2007-8 when the EOS-1DS Mk III was announced. I sold my Mark II’s and upgraded to the new 21.1 MP chip (5616 x 3744 pixels).
I LOVED my DS bodies. I loved the professional grade finish, the weather sealing, the EOS-1 ergonomics and standardized controls, the robust build quality, and the 1/250 flash sync. When the 5D Mark II was released in 2008, I was impressed with the full HD video capabilities, but the actual still resolution was unchanged. I didn’t like the prosumer body form factor. I did not buy one.
Almost five years after the DS Mk III, Canon combined their EOS-1D lines (previously the high resolution, but slower DS and the lower resolution, but faster Mark IV) into one camera: the EOS-1DX. The 1DX is a fantastic camera: faster than hell autofocus, 12 FPS motor, great ergonomics, wonderful low light capability, and solid professional build quality….it’s awesome….BUT, wait a minute…..they went DOWN in resolution to 18.1 MP! (5184 x 3456px). A new 5D Mk III was also released, but with a disappointing 1MP upgrade over the previous 1DS Mk III. UGH! I eventually gave in and switched out my aging 1DS Mk III bodies for the extended dynamic range and higher ISO capabilities of the 5D3.
And there we’ve sat for the past 3 years. While Canon shooters were waiting, Nikon came out with the D800 (36 MP), and then the D810. Sony came out with their A7R (also 36 MP). I toyed with switching systems, but had a ton of money invested in Canon glass, and after testing the D800 with my Lightroom workflow, I decided that I actually preferred the color rendition of the Canon sensors better – particularly on skin tones. I also loved using the X bodies for faster moving objects, and since I use both types of cameras, I didn’t want to take another step backward in MP size since Nikon’s similar competitor to the 1DX was the D4 at an even lower 16 MP. (Again, different cameras are tools for different needs…if you are a photojournalist shooting in low light, the 1DX or D4 might be just the camera for your needs).
All of this said, please remember that pixel counting is mostly for photo gearheads. Your clients probably don’t notice a difference between photographs shot between 16, 18 or even 22 MP. It is nice, however, to have options, and the option to recompose and do a ridiculous crop from a wider frame is pretty useful at times.
There were a couple of times where an ad agency requested bigger, non-interpolated files, and we had to rent a Phase system. The quality can be absolutely amazing, but incorporating medium format into my average job workflow definitely requires a slower, more methodical way of working. Shutter lag was also an issue, and I had a really hard time timing shutter release delay on sports portrait images.
So after some frustration, I was excited when I began hearing rumors about Canon’s new high res baby. I was ecstatic when I finally got my hands on one in late May.
This won’t be a scientific review, you’ll have to go to DP Review or another site for that, but I wanted to convey a few first impressions. First, if you are an EOS 5D Mk III user, this will be a seamless transition for you. Unlike virtually EVERY new camera I’ve ever purchased, the physical size of the 5DS is relatively unchanged, which means the battery grip from the Mk III is the same! It uses the same batteries and charger! That’s great news, as I can just use the same grips I already own, keep plenty of extra batteries around, and I don’t have to buy new Really Right Stuff tripod plates. In reality, I’m told there were some physical changes made to the body – Canon strengthened the area around the baseplate and tripod screw to make the camera more stable. I’m just glad they designed it to accept the same grip and batteries.
Inside the camera, the menus are very similar, but there are a few new features, including one where you can set a slight shutter delay after mirror lockup to dampen any mirror vibration before the actual shutter release. This is very useful if you’re locking down the camera and shooting long exposures on a tripod. Since I shoot a lot of industrial facilities stopped all the way down with 20-30 second exposures, this is something I will definitely try. (My solution, prior to this was, to hold my hand or a black card in front of the lens at the beginning of the exposure).
The flash sync is 1/160, which is very disappointing (why is 1/250 so difficult?)…..my solution to this is to use hypersync and high speed sync more and start incorporating that feature into my location work with my Profoto lighting gear.
A long overdue feature is the incorporation of a USB 3.0 port, which will be a huge help during tethered shooting. The Nikon D800/D810 have had this feature for some time.
Other than that, the 5DS and 5D Mk III are very similar, I went right to work with it without as much as reading the manual. I’ve warmed up somewhat to the 5D form factor with the grip (it still doesn’t feel quite as good as the 1DX), and I sometimes get irritated that critical buttons are in different locations than they are on the 1DX series cameras (like the button to light up the LCD display for example). For 50 MP at 3700 bucks, I’ll make that trade off gladly, but I will still hold out hope that the DX series continues in higher resolution form at some point.
It’s not exactly scientific to show you resolution testing results on a (decidedly low resolution) blog. However, I am here to tell you that this is a transformative development that we haven’t seen since that EOS-1DS Mk II. I purposely made some very loose compositions during my week with the camera, just to see what it would do, and the 200, 300, and even 400 % crops are just stunning. I’ve included some samples, but like I said, it’s hard to compare skin texture and noise from my 30” monitor to your mobile phone screen. To become a true believer, you’ll have to try it out for yourself.
This will not be my high-ISO camera, so I didn’t even test those features….everything I shot was between 50 and 250 ISO, most of it portraiture with studio strobe, and it is fantastic at those ISO’s. If I need to shoot low light, high ISO photos, I’ll use the 1DX.
Some people have asked, if Canon’s 35mm lens designs will still hold up at 50MP of resolution. Resolution that high will certainly magnify any design flaws in your glass. Again, these are first impressions, with a pre-production camera, but I feel like the results were good with my workhorse lenses: the 24-105/4L, and the latest version of the 70-200/2.8. I didn’t have time to test every lens in my bag. I know that Canon has been steadily redesigning most of the lenses in their arsenal over the last few years with higher resolution sensors in mind.
I had no issues with filling the buffer, but I was shooting the way I usually do….portrait subjects with strobe, so I was not motor-driving like a typical sports photographer. Again, there are different tools for different jobs, and if you want to motor drive all day, you’re better served getting a 1DX.
I don’t do a ton of video, and I didn’t really test the video capabilities of the 5DS, but with the new addition of the USB 3.0 port there is now no room on the camera for a headphone jack. Those of you who are full time video shooters will want to hang on to your 5D Mk III cameras for now.
Another big question: 5DS or 5DSR? There are two models of this camera available. The normal 5DS , just like every Canon digital camera we’ve discussed, has a built in anti-aliasing filter in front of the sensor. The R has a “self cancelling” optical low pass filter. This is the same thing Nikon did by releasing two versions of the D800. Anti-aliasing filters on the sensor inherently soften the image, but also prevent moiré patterns in things like football uniforms, herringbone suit fabrics, etc. If you shoot landscape images you might prefer the R version, as there is little chance of getting moiré patterns in that type of work. I was not able to test the two cameras against each other, so I reserve the right to change my mind, but I was pleased with the sharpness of the regular 5DS using my regular workflow, which adds a nominal amount of capture sharpening in Lightroom. I ordered the regular 5DS for now.
I’ve heard a fair amount of moaning on the internet about the “lack” of dynamic range in the 5DS. During my brief time with the camera, I had no issues, and at the risk of sounding like “HEY, you kids get off my lawn” – does anyone remember shooting Kodachrome? How much latitude did we have then, like maybe 1/3-1/2 stop? How about medium format Velvia? It was a little better, but still required critical exposure skills. There are times in the past where I’ve wished I had more range….like a portrait with a blown out sweaty forehead hotspot, or an aerial at sunset that would call for a split neutral density filter back in the old days. Honestly though, I’m pretty amazed at what we can do now with these sensors, and the amount of control I have in Lightroom with highlight/shadow sliders is nothing short of amazing.
I’m sure that the higher bit depth of a five figure medium format system results in higher dynamic range – there’s no doubt…but, keep in mind that this is a 3700.00 camera, versus a 20-50K camera, and it’s doing something amazing that’s never been done before at that price. Sometimes it’s like hearing someone comparing the relative shortcomings of Gisele Bundchen to Alessandra Ambrosio…..when they are both supermodels! Keep things in perspective folks.
I just got word as I’m typing this that my wait-listed camera is in a Fed-X box, on the way to the studio, so I’ll definitely be reading the manual and checking out and utilizing some of the new features, but for now, I’m just blown away by the increase in resolution. This camera is a game changer.
Last week, I had the incredible honor of returning to speak at the 26th annual Eddie Adams Workshop in Jeffersonville, NY. Eddie Adams was an incredible photographer, and although he was most well known to the general public as the Pulitzer-winning war photographer who took one of the most famous photographs of the Vietnam War, he was also a very successful commercial photographer, and had a long standing partnership with Parade magazine as their cover photographer for many years.
Twenty six years ago, with the help of his friends, all heavyweights in the photography world, he established the Eddie Adams Workshop, a tuition free workshop for the 100 best young photographers in the country at his farm on the edge of the Catskills in New York. The students were either college students, or professionals with less than two years of experience, and Eddie’s vision was to give them the chance of a lifetime: a weekend shooting and working with the best photographers and editors from the likes of Time, LIFE, National Geographic, etc. His hope was for he and his peers to pass along their collective knowledge and to help students fast forward their careers several years by introducing them to a who’s who of the industry.
I was fortunate enough to attend the 6th EAW in 1993. It was a formative experience for me, and it’s been incredible to watch my fellow students from that year grow and prosper in their careers. Among my classmates, were great photographers like Alex Garcia, Adrees Latif, Allison Smith, Chang Lee, Ami Vitale, Jay Janner, Chris Assaf, David Bergman, and the late Chris Hondros. I wrote a little remembrance of that 6th workshop on Chicago Tribune staff photographer and EAW 6 classmate Alex Garcia’s great photography blog.
Twenty years later, I was invited back last week to speak and show my work. It was an incredible honor, a very humbling experience, that left me nervous and intimidated. It was incredible to hang out with many photographers who I still look up to, hang out with many talented colleagues, and to get a glimpse of our future through the eyes of this year’s students. Eddie is gone now, but his wife Alyssa keeps inviting everyone back, opening her home to a cast of characters each year, and the great people at Nikon continue to generously fund this incredible experience. Over the years, it really has become a family. Some of the faculty, like the great SI editor and former Newsweek DOP Jimmy Colton, have been to virtually all the workshops, and many members of the black team (volunteers) come back year after year.
One of the things that Eddie did really well, and what really sets this workshop apart from all other photojournalism workshops and seminars, was the fact that he always wanted students to be exposed to all types of photography. Instead of it just being a love fest among hardcore photojournalists and newspaper photographers, Eddie liked to cross pollinate with different visual genres and get your mind working. When I was a student, we were exposed to Gordon Parks, Joyce Tenneson, and Pete Turner. Last week, we were treated to fine art photographer Robin Schwartz, Josh Weaver from Google, advertising and fine art genius Stephen Wilkes, legendary portrait photographer Gregory Heisler, and Marco Grob, a multi-talented guy who recently added video to his repertoire of elegant portraits and still life. You never know where your photography career will take you, and it’s great to see people communicating with photography in different ways.
Among my favorite memories from this year:
-Being back at the farm with my old Houston Post colleague and EAW 6 classmate Adrees Latif, now a Pulitzer winner at Reuters, who was working as a team leader.
-Seeing my good friends from Sports Illustrated: DOP Brad Smith, staff photographer Robert Beck, and former editor Jimmy Colton, who makes one helluva MC/Scout leader. I’m forever grateful for his kind words and encouragement, and for making this workshop less like a classroom seminar, and more like an intimate family gathering.
-Meeting some incredible photographers and editors for the first time: Mary Calvert, Maura Foley, Elizabeth Krist, Bruce Strong, Gerd Ludwig, Patrick Witty, as well as seeing some great old friends like Deanne Fitzmaurice, Tim Rasmussen, Nick Ut, and John White.
-Getting to break bread and share drinks with my ASMP colleagues Shawn Henry and Ed Mcdonald. Their generous invitation brought me back.
-Meeting Mirjam Evers in person. She did an incredible job of producing a huge and complicated event, and graciously handled being bombarded with questions from students (and instructors!). She is a class act.
-Watching the students trying to channel Gerd Ludwig’s scarf wearing prowess.
-Chatting with, and watching the presentation from one of my all time lighting idols, the great Gregory Heisler.
-Meeting some of the best photographers in our military, who volunteer to work on the black team: Super cool and talented people like Jeremy Lock, Bennie Davis, Annie Berlin Elis, Etta Smith, and former military photographers like Stacy Pearsall and Bob Houlihan.
-The emotional ceremony for fallen war photographers, which now includes my EAW 6 classmate Chris Hondros, who died in Libya.
-Seeing National Geographic photographer Jodi Cobb’s autobiographical show, which encompassed her incredible globe-trotting career.
-The contagious passion of Marco Grob and John White. I feel like I need to ramp it up after watching those two speak so passionately about the craft they love.
And my favorite part? Helping out with portfolio reviews until the wee hours at the 11:30 club, back at the hotel. I’m most inspired by seeing and hearing about what the latest class of EAW students are up to. It’s fascinating to think about what they’ll be able to accomplish in the next 20 years.
(Major thanks to Eugene Mopsik, Shawn Henry, and Ed McDonald for inviting me to attend on behalf of ASMP, and to Alyssa Adams, Mirjam Evers, and Mark Kettenhofen from Nikon for graciously continuing the fine tradition of the workshop. )
I recently photographed 2012 Cy Young Award-winning pitcher David Price of the Tampa Rays for the cover of Sports Illustrated’s baseball preview issue. Each year, SI publishes several regional covers for the baseball preview, along with a centerpiece story, and of course all the usual team specific preview spreads. I was fortunate enough to do the Price cover and the opening centerpiece spread story on the Rays pitching staff. Legendary Sports Illustrated Staffer Walter Iooss and longtime staffer Robert Beck shot the other regional covers , so I was in good company!
This was a team effort with different photographers shooting covers in different cities, yet the magazine wanted them to look the same. I was sent a rough comp with a pitcher following through in his delivery, on black, with the broken glass added to the foreground in post. This is not an uncommon assignment, especially in the advertising world, so being able to interpret a comp and match what other photographers have done previously is a useful skill.
The first critical task was finding a place to shoot. Since we were trying to keep these consistent, we needed a large room where we could essentially set up a studio. Spring Training in Florida is often super bright, super windy, and there aren’t many private spaces away from fans and other teammates to do this sort of thing. We essentially needed to build a black box of black fabric 12 x 12‘s to control light in the shoot area, and we were lucky to find a spot in the minor league clubhouse that worked well. Setting up an overhead, a background, and two side 12 x 12’s in the wind and weather was something I was trying to avoid at all costs. You would need a crew of 3-4, and a million sandbags to do that, and we were on a limited budget.
Since we were dealing with white uniforms, and the background was black, I decided to rimlight the pitchers from behind, using two large chimera strip banks oriented vertically on each side and fill from the front. Since we had left handers and right handers, I decided to use two small lightbanks on boomed C-stands positioned close to the ground in front of the pitchers (Chimera mediums I think…I normally use Plume stuff, but these were rentals). We had each light on it’s own Profoto 8A pack so we could shoot everyone fast. We didn’t know when we were setting up if we would get all five pitchers in rapid succession or spread out throughout the day, but we wanted to be ready so that we could maximize our time with them.
We varied the ratio slightly on the front lights depending on whether the pitcher was right or left handed (we just flopped settings on the packs accordingly). By doing this, we were trying to keep them from looking too flat. We also used cinefoil on the bottom third of the front lights to prevent the legs from getting too hot in the photo.
Since we were inside, and not on a mound, we drug the lights outside the night before the shoot and lit a practice mound in the same fashion so we would have foreground plates for the retouchers at SI to use.
We photographed all five pitchers throughout the day, in various stages of their delivery, but when it was David Price’s turn, we asked if he minded shooting a few photos outside. He was relaxed and said sure, so we promptly moved him out to a practice mound outside of the building we were in. We worked quickly and shot him with an Elinchrom Octabank at full power (2400 w/s) to overpower the high 1 PM daylight. Not an ideal situation, but you take David Price whenever you can get him.
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The next day, we finished the story on Tampa’s pitching factory, shooting a setup with the Tampa manager and pitching coach, and a young prospect, Taylor Guerrieri, mentioned in the story. When we were done with Taylor, we asked him to hang around and pitch in the foreground for us, which made a nice framework for the coach photo…and of course we shot “normal” stuff of both coaches as well.
My favorite Florida assistant, Cy Cyr, was nice enough to join me on this adventure, and helped us out tremendously by renting gear for us from Rummel Wagner at Central Florida Strobe in Orlando.
In the end, SI imaging changed everyone’s backgrounds to blue, and they used a different mound, which was lit a little differently. All the photos were opened up in the shadows so that they were a closer match. The coolest part about SI’s final presentation? If you looked at the magazine on an ipad, you hear breaking glass as the cover appears. Cool.
I’ve had a keen interest in military aviation since childhood…when other kids were reading Curious George and other children’s books, I was reading military biographies and books about World War II and Vietnam. I remember one summer day, when I was in about 3rd or 4th grade, while returning books to our local public library, one of the elderly librarians tried to usher me from the “grown up books” to the “kid’s section” on the other side of the building. One of the other librarians quickly corrected her, “He’s ok, Mabel….he just returned a book titled Guerilla Warfare and Terrorism. ” After that, Mabel left me alone. (I actually can’t remember what her name was…… Mabel just seems like the perfect name for an old lady librarian).
I thought being a fighter pilot would be cool, I even requested info on the Air Force Academy at one point during junior high or early high school. 20/400 vision, however, and projectile vomiting during a simple Cessna 172 plane ride with a friend conspired to keep me out of the ejection seat.
After photographing the Doolittle Raiders a few years ago, one of my friends from the assignment, Matt Jolley, of Warbird Radio recommended me to some of the nice folks at Wings over Houston, the annual airshow here in the Houston area. I had mentioned to him an idea about a personal project, trying to photograph environmental portraits of notable pilots. The people with the autograph tent at WoH were nice enough to let me set up in their area and shoot simple, white background portraits of the pilots who were there signing autographs. I was able to photograph Col. Bud Anderson (a triple ace in the P-51 during WWII), Col. Dick Cole (Doolitle’s co-pilot on the WWII Doolittle Raid on Tokyo), Gen. Boots Blesse (a famous Sabre jet ace from the Korean war) and several others during my weekend there. I was also lucky enough to meet and photograph former POW and Medal of Honor recipient Col. Bud Day.
The photos were interesting facial studies, but I lamented the limitations of the white background. I would have loved to have captured each of them with their respective airplanes, but during mid-day sun at a packed airshow, it was just not in the cards.
Several months later, John Simmons, one of my buddies from the WoH event sent me an incredible video of Bud Day, eagerly climbing into the cockpit of an F-100 Super Sabre just like the one he had flown in Vietnam and going up for a flight! The video was from the Collings Foundation, a non-profit foundation that owns and maintains not just World War II era prop planes, but also several Vietnam era jets, at….get this…..Ellington Field in Houston, Texas. The F-100, painted just like Bud’s Misty 1 Vietnam bird is one of two in the world in flying condition.
John went to work, getting us permission from Rick Harris of the Collings Foundation to use the airplane. We made arrangements to photograph Bud, who lives in Florida, during a visit to see his son George, a former F-16 pilot, who now works as a SWA captain in Houston.
A few months later, there we were before sunrise on a warm summer morning in Houston, pulling the F-100 out of the hangar and towing it to the proper spot on the taxiway. We had scouted a few days before, using the iphone app LightTrac to position the plane.
Bud showed up in his flight suit, with his boots and Nomex gloves on – he was definitely ready to fly the plane if necessary! His son George also wore his flight suit. Part of my plan was to do a nice group shot of the father and son fighter pilots together.
We started shooting before dawn – long exposures on a tripod with battery powered strobes. Nathan Lindstrom assisted on the shoot and did a great job. We used a Profoto 7B with a Plume Wafer Hexoval 180 on the side, and a Wafer 100 on another 7B boomed in front of the face as a fill.
We next moved onto the backlit side of the plane, and photographed the Col.’s Day together and also the elder Col. Day alone, again using the same lighting setup. Fortunately, the sun came out for a few minutes before going back under a layer of clouds. The sunrise was beautiful!
We next moved to a shot with a long lens looking at the signature angle of the F-100 – straight up the open nose air intake. We carefully framed Col. Day in the foreground and backlit him from each side with a Profoto 7B and a Wafer 100 on each side. We then boomed in a Chimera small strip bank powered by an Acute 600. Although 87 years old, and with his body ravaged by years of torture and POW abuse, in this pose, with this light, in front of the F-100, Bud Day looked like he could still kick some serious ass.
We finished with a 3/4 side lit portrait, with his glasses off, which showed off the MISTY patch on his flight suit.
We did some group shots with the Collings Foundation folks who had so generously donated their time and effort to showcase the plane, and some USAF U-2 pilots, who had gathered during the shoot. All USAF pilots go through survival training at the AF Survival School at Fairchild AFB, named in Col. Day’s honor. It was like watching a bunch of NBA rookies meeting Michael Jordan for the first time.
After packing up, the whole crew adjourned to a nearby Ihop for a truly memorable breakfast. I could literally sit and listen to George and his dad tell flying stories for hours. It was a fantastic experience.
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After the shoot, I sent a few of the photos to my editor at Air & Space magazine, just on the off chance that they might be working on a story related to Col. Day, MISTY, or the F-100. Several months later, as it turns out, there was a story on the MISTY program in the works. They eventually decided to use one of the photographs of Col. Day on the cover of the issue, with another one running inside.
I didn’t want to jinx anything, so I didn’t mention it to Bud or George until the cover was posted online. I’ve worked for many magazines, and covers often get pulled or changed at the 11th hour.
It was really an honor and a highlight to finally be able to make the call to Col. Day and let him know that not only was there a story on MISTY in the current issue of Air & Space, but that he had made the cover! This was truly one of the coolest things I’ve been able to work on, and I’m grateful to A&S, the Day family, Rick Harris and John Simmons for making this happen.
A little background on Col. George “Bud” Day: He joined the Marines and fought in World War II just after high school. He came back to the US and earned a law degree, then continued in the Air Force flying fighter jets in Korea and eventually Vietnam. He miraculously survived a no-chute ejection the 1950’s. At an age and mission count when other pilots were retiring, he volunteered for another tour and came up with the MISTY Fast Forward Air Control (Fast FAC) program, of which he was the commander. MISTY pilots flew low and fast over North Vietnam, marking targets including SAM missile sites for other aircraft to attack. It was so dangerous that it was an all volunteer squadron.
During one of these MISTY missions in 1967, Col. Day was shot down and captured. Badly hurt and barefoot, he escaped after a few days and evaded the enemy for 12-15 days, subsisting on frogs and berries, traversing miles of enemy territory and crossing the river into South Vietnam. He was within a mile or two of an American base when he was shot twice and recaptured. He spent the next 5 years 7 months in the “Hanoi Hilton” being tortured along with other notable POW pilots like Sen. John McCain and Admiral James Stockdale. For his valor, he was awarded the Air Force Cross and the Congressional Medal of Honor. Today he is the most decorated living service member. After returning from Vietnam, he received 13 medical waivers and continued flying. He eventually amassed over 8000 hours – nearly 5000 of those in fighter aircraft. As if that weren’t enough, he retired and went to work as an attorney, eventually suing the US Government on behalf of veterans who were not getting promised medical benefits and won. As a result, millions of veterans (my late mother-in-law among them), have benefitted from the program, called Tri-Care for Life.
Here’s a cool behind the scenes video my friend John Simmons put together of the shoot:
On February 13, 2009, I took part in the Do1Thing project by shooting portraits of homeless teens at Covenant House in Houston. The project was the brainchild of photo editors Najlah Feanny Hicks and Pim Van Hemmen. They had previous success with the Heart Gallery project, in which photographers donated their time and talents to photograph teenage foster children.
Do1Thing grew from that project, and on Feb. 14, professional photographers and award winning photojournalists around the country came together to produce documentary work, portraits, and multimedia to highlight teen homelessness.
I was humbled to have been asked by Najlah to participate in the project. There were ultimately over 114 photographers involved, including 31 Pulitzer winners, and some of the top commercial and magazine photographers around the country.
In Houston, I was fortunate to participate with Dave Einsel, Smiley Pool, and Todd Spoth, each of whom tackled a different aspect. Our work is slated to be combined into a multimedia project featuring photographs and audio interviews with the kids at Covenant House.
To find out more about Do1Thing, check out the website here.
To donate locally to Covenant House in Houston follow the link here.
On April 17th, my colleague Brad Mangin and I will be presenting a slide show program of our work during the first annual “Photography Education Day” at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.
My good friend Brad is an absolutely stellar action photographer who lives in the Bay Area, and shoots baseball for Sports Illustrated and MLB. For over 20 years, Brad has been making iconic baseball images, and understands the game , players (and good light….) better than any photographer I know. I’m honored to be presenting this program with him.
I, of course worked at The Sporting News from 1996-2006, shooting over 200 covers for them, including many cover portraits of baseball players. I’ve had a couple of winning photos enshrined in the hall from the annual Baseball Hall of Fame Photo contest, so I’m looking forward to finally visiting their vast baseball archive in Cooperstown.
We were invited to give a joint photography presentation, with Brad handling the action photography, and me talking about portraiture. We’ll both tell stories of some of the great games we covered and of course, some behind the scenes stories about the famous (and infamous…) players we’ve both dealt with over the years.
Baseball photography has a rich history, and we’ll also be producing and presenting a short educational program on the History of Photography in Baseball.
Here’s a link to our program on the Hall of Fame website. For more information, please call 888-HALL-OF-FAME