Ok, so I didn’t necessarily break the internet, but I did have a blog post go insanely viral. You can read the original post here.
After covering the Eagles game against the Lions in absolute white-out conditions, videographer and “Anything Once” star Ashley Barnas, got on me to do a blog post for our “First State Focus” photo blog here at The News Journal. I have to admit, I’m the worst member of the blog team when it comes to getting stuff up. Anyone who follows this blog knows how long it takes me to do a post, and even then I do them in clusters. But, this game was pretty neat, and a challenging experience for me shooting, so I made it a point to get a post done.
It took me all day, literally it was approaching midnight before I got the post up. It seemed every time I sat down to do it, something came up: A backlog of editing I needed to get done, a last minute assignment, a deadline change on a story, a shooting. It was nuts.
I decided to do a post on the challenges I faced shooting the game to give readers an idea of how I do my job, much like I post here. I figured a dozen people who are interested in how we do our job might read the post, but when I woke up I had half-a-dozen emails from other bloggers asking to repost my original post. I had a ton of tweets where people shared the story. Before the end of the day I found out I’d made Reddit and the post had started climbing the photography threads, before it took over the NFL thread.
The next day PetaPixel picked up the post, and linked to our gallery of game images. The gallery did literally 100 times better than any normal Eagles gallery, and was our top viewed website item every day the entire week. When we corrected an error in the site metrics that prevented the photo blog hits from being counted, the blog post ranked second the rest of the week.
When it showed up on Deadspin, SI’s Extra Mustard and The Verge, our blogs actually crashed and went down for about an hour. Whether that’s a coincidence or my fault, I don’t know, but it was insane.
Through all of it I’ve received praise and criticism. Some commenters lauded the images I was able to create in such a mess, some boasted they’ve used manual focus exclusively their whole lives and didn’t get the big deal. Some questioned how, as a professional, I got a job having rarely ever used manual focus. I’m secure enough as a photojournalist to know none of those people are professionals, because I don’t know one who would opt to shoot any NFL game with manual focus over auto. When I read what Sports Illustrated’s Al Tielemans (who shot that week’s cover image of Nick Foles at the game) had to say of his shooting experience, and how he found the shooting situation just as challenging, I felt even better that I wasn’t alone.
Through all the commentary, the coolest thing was getting a friend request and congratulatory message from Dave Burnett, who has covered everything you can imaging. From Bob Marley to the Olympics (over and over again) to the Iranian Revolution in 1978, he’s seen everything. “The ole “manual” focus thing sometimes is a giant blessing,” He messaged me. “Nice work.” He even noted how he enjoyed looking through them, with a caveat: “Fun pictures to see, especially from my warm living room watching the game, knowing I wasn’t freezing my butt off.”
And it was freezing.
I can remember midway through the fourth quarter shivering on the sidelines, soaked through, saying to myself, “I’m making the best photos of my life, but this is really starting to turn into work.” My hands were starting to stiffen up, my knees were starting to ache. I can’t put into words how good it felt to get into the photo room when the game was over and just get warm.
Through it all it was the most fun I’ve ever had shooting a football game. I hope I get a chance to do it again, despite how hard it was, and how miserable I felt physically by the end of it. The images I produced put a new bounce in my step and have really fueled me through the rest of the month and into the new year. Doing a lot of the daily newspaper grind you can get bogged down, burnt out, frustrated. You start producing the same images over and over again. But when you do something like that snow bowl, where everything but the kitchen sink gets thrown at you and you meet the challenge head-on, it just recharges your batteries. You need one of those every once in a while.
November wasn’t my best month shooting. I’m not sure what drug it down, maybe the assignments, maybe us getting a bit short staffed leaving less time to devote to the assignments and find the hidden gems. Maybe I was just in a rut. Where I did make good images though, I was happy. Most of those instances came shooting sports, because honestly, if I’m shooting a sporting event it’s just hard for me to complain.
I covered the DIAA State Soccer Championships in Smyrna in the middle of the month. Delaware only has two divisions (1A and 2A) to it’s high school sports. I find that a little funny since Wyoming has half the population, but goes from 1A-4A, and for football even has a 1A Six-Man division. Regardless, though, it does save a lot more of my sanity when championship season rolls around. Indian River started my coverage off after they defeated St. Elizabeth’s to win the Division II championship in what was a closer game than the 3-0 score let on. St. Elizabeth’s mounted a good fight through the first half, but just couldn’t keep up. Salesianum took home the title in the Division I game, and I didn’t realize until after the game, finished as one of the top ten teams in the nation. Salesianum’s game was nowhere near as competitive. Though they gave up a goal early to Appoquinimink, they rolled to a 5-2 victory that was never in doubt.
I covered an absolute shootout of a Division II football game between St. Georges and Indian River the night before the state soccer finals. St. Georges was the No. 1 seed in the Division II tournament but had been upset as the top team the year before. The game was non-stop back and forth, but St. Georges edged Indian River out to advance to the next round. They lost, though, in the state championship game, getting shut out by Hodgson 38-0.
Of course there was Veterans Day coverage and I managed to make a few nice frames from an event held at the Bridge War Memorial near the base of the Delaware Memorial Bridge. Every Delaware elected official you could imagine attended the annual ceremony, from Governor Markell to the Congressional delegation. Each offered thoughts on the day, paid their respects, and reaffirmed the importance of hiring veterans. I found it a little difficult to make photos outside the politicians there. I made three solid images but people just refused to give me their names. I constantly fail to understand that. I seem to have more success at crime scenes getting people to talk to me than I do in everyday life, it’s baffling.
And I got to kick the month off with a Sixers game when they played Golden State at home. A the time the Sixers were trying to match their best opening in a decade, but unfortunately I think I proved to be unlucky for the team, as they quickly returned to Earth after losing to Golden State that night 110-90. The team was projected to be one of the worst in the NBA this year, but rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams has blown away his preseason projection as an average player and carried the team when he’s been on the court. Much of the team’s recent downfall can probably be attributed to MCW’s absence with an undisclosed illness, but he returned to the court tonight and dropped a double-double (19 points, 12 assists) on Milwaukee in a 116-106 loss.
For months I worked on a project on Wilmington’s violence and drug problem. The two go hand-in-hand, as much of the violence in the city stems from the infiltration of hardcore drugs from Philadelphia, Chester, Baltimore and the surrounding areas. Wilmington’s position off of I-95 makes it a hot bed for traffickers between the major markets of Philly and Baltimore. The same could be said for Chester, which has also had many of the same issues for years.
I can remember interning here in 2009 and stabbings and shootings seemed like such a big deal. Looking at crime statistics for this project, they certainly happened often then, but now they just seem so commonplace. Wilmington has had at least 150 people shot this year, surpassing it’s previous record of 142 victims from 2010, and the year isn’t over yet. Look back 15 years to 1999 when “only” 57 people were shot and the rate has nearly tripled. Granted, ’99 was a bit of a low anomaly. The 90′s shooting averages were still closer to half of what Wilmington sees now, though, and the city currently ranks as one of the most violent in the nation for a city of it’s size.
Reporter Andrew Staub and I followed a group of citizens working to curb some of this violence and stand up to take the city back. Gina DelleDonne and Tami Duonnolo organized the “One Corner at a Time” group and began holding sit-ins on street corners with known crime issues. The duo spread the word each week before they held a sit-in to hopefully draw local residents out to join them. Their hope is that if the neighborhoods begin putting their foot down, the people causing the violence will find they cannot operate in those areas anymore. All this in response to their belief the powers that be in Wilmington, were exhausting options.
Wilmington’s mayor, Dennis P. Williams, vowed he wouldn’t “hug thugs” when he campaigned for the office, and shook up the police department installing his own handpicked police chief. The Wilmington City Council, though, has had a tumultuous relationship with the Mayor, and talks of a “shake up” in the police department from Williams a few weeks ago left some in the department saying Williams micromanages them. Needless to say, this has left many citizens frustrated as they look for answers from those tasked with solving the problems in the city.
Interestingly enough, and a bit of a side note here, I’ve seen several members of the Council publicly active in working to fix the city. Councilwomen Sherry Dorsey Walker and Maria Cabrera joined the “One Corner at a Time” leadership at, I think, every corner we covered them at and I think Councilman Robert Williams was there for at least one. Councilman Nnamdi Chuckwuocha has been working personally with youth in the city to paint boarded up buildings in an attempt to beautify blighted neighborhoods. I followed Councilman Darius Brown as he walked through neighborhoods in what are DEFINITELY Wilmington’s roughest areas with police and talking with residents about what can be done to make it safer (actually on this assignment was followed for two blocks by a woman screaming at me for taking photos on her street and the police eventually had to send her on her way).
The first time we were ever to meet Gina and Tami was at 5th and Scott Streets. I got there a good thirty minutes early and decided I might as well grab a sandwich while I waited. Andrew arrived just five minutes or so after me, but decided to wait there. It wasn’t long before he was approached by someone who threatened if Andrew didn’t leave, he would regret it. When I came back and Andrew told me the story, I knew this group was in for an uphill fight.
We were fortunate that Wilmington Police officers were there every night the group was out. That alone probably kept most anyone from bothering them, but I noticed as each week went by, and we got into seemingly rougher areas, the number of officers grew. Where we had two the first night, we had four in Kosciuszko Park. A few weeks later at 6th and Madison Streets (just a about six blocks from where my wife and I just bought a house) we had at least eight at one point.
Sixth and Madison was an eye-opening experience for me. Again I arrived way earlier than the group, this time we had a timing miscommunication. I was left sitting on one of the city’s more dangerous street corners for an hour before anyone showed up. As I got out of my car a group of men shouted at me to come over to them. Figuring the odds I’d get shot in broad daylight were low (I know now that was foolish having covered at least three shootings before 3pm) I walked over to talk to them. They asked why I was there taking pictures, I explained who I was and the group I was covering. They laughed at the thought the group would do anything. One man, through heavy laughter responded, “good fucking luck.”
The weirdest part of the exchange, though, was the number of times they asked me if I was a cop. As if police officers walk around bad neighborhoods in plain clothes with two cameras hanging off their shoulders and just hang out. I reassured them I wasn’t, but there would be several when the group arrived. It wasn’t long after I walked away that the officers tasked with standing with the “One Corner at a Time” group arrived and many of the people I had talked to disappeared.
I had a few other nights with the group as the story sat waiting for a chance to run. We’d head back out here and there to freshen the art, or grab more video. It was November when the story finally ran, and it was a relief to see it in print after months of work. I’ve run in to Gina and Tami since it was published and they continue to hold sit-ins, though they aren’t staying as late now that it’s gotten cold. I may venture back out and sit with them myself once the wife and I finally move and become real Wilmingtonians.
The Friday before last the Philadelphia 76ers played a preseason exhibition game against the Boston Celtics at the University of Delaware. The venue shift from Wells Fargo Center was to help promote the franchise’s new D-League team, the Delaware 87ers, who will play their home games at the University of Delaware’s Bob Carpenter Center.
This was a first for Delaware so I wanted to do something different from the standard floor shots we always get from basketball. I first thought about doing an overhead remote camera from the catwalk, but with increased security for the game, it would mean setting the camera up 36 hours before the game and I’d have no way to turn it on the day of the game, let alone get the card out in time for deadline.
Instead I settled for a backboard camera and had my SD card clot on my 1DmkIII not failed I would have had some amazing shots of the 76ers flight crew going nuts on the basket I set up at halftime. Unfortunately, I didn’t get anything from the end of the first half onward from the backboard remote.
The game itself had to be a success as far as the 76ers were concerned. They announced a sellout crowd (though the arena was probably only 80% full) and the 76ers won pretty easily. The Celtics aren’t exactly the team they were four years ago, or two years ago for that matter, but the 76ers are in a major rebuilding phase, so any wins are a plus for them.
I also got my season credential at the game, so hopefully that means some more games in the future.
Sunday before last I woke up at the crack of dawn to drive to East Rutherford, N.J. to cover the Eagles game against the New York Giants. It was the second time I was covering an Eagles game at MetLife Stadium in the past two months, but the last one was the final preseason game of the season against the New York Jets.
The Giants were trying to avoid an 0-5 record, the Eagles were trying to avoid falling to 1-4. Who knew that by the end of the game, the Eagles would have a share of first place in the division.
As NFL games go, I had one of my best days shooting. When Michael Vick was injured in the second quarter, I was in the right place to grab the shot. When Jason Avant decided whiff on a touchdown reception, sending safety Antrel Rolle careening into a photographer, I was in the right place not to get obliterated.
Probably the oddest event of the day, though, came just as I was walking in at halftime to transmit images. Across the PA system came the introduction of the halftime performance: The Ohio University March 110. I couldn’t believe what I had heard, until I heard the signature rolling drum beat of the 110 as the marched on to the field. It brought a tear to my eye to see my college marching band I hadn’t heard since covering my last football game at OU in 2009. I snapped a few shots to have, and rushed in to send images. I still have no idea what they were doing there, but it was a great surprise.
Overall, the game was a fun one to cover. The Eagles came away with the win, I came away with some solid shots that fit our stories well, and for once a gallery from an NFL game did decent, but pro sports gallery numbers on out site.
Just a few Super Bowl notes: MetLife is a nice stadium, and should be a good host for the Super Bowl. I can warn you now, though, they need to make some serious internet upgrades before they’re ready for 100 photographers trying to transmit at once. Getting images turned in was a major challenge. The sidelines also aren’t the deepest in the league, so I’m wondering how they’ll stack up with that much traffic. The light in the stadium, though, is super bright. Any photographer shooting a night game like the Super Bowl (while they’ll be freezing) won’t be complaining about lack of light.
Continuing my path to catching the blog up, here are my favorites from September. I felt like I hit a bit of a rut in August, but September brought some good images and assignments my way.
This frame from my first Friday night high school game of the season – actually my only Friday night high school game of the season now that I think of it – is one of my favorites. I watched as the gorgeous evening light started to fade while Sussex Tech’s band (seen in the background) played before the game started. The game looked like it would stat late and by the time it did, nearly the whole field was in shadows. I saw this patch of light and prayed to the photo gods, and they rewarded me. On the second play of the game Henderson streaked through it. Five minutes later there was no golden light left.
While covering a group of Wilmington residents holding a sit-in on the corner of one of Wilmington’s most dangerous neighborhoods, a shooting broke out at an equally dangerous neighborhood across town. A police cruiser streaked through the intersection I was working at, and since the group was wrapping up, I decided to follow. I arrived to find a crowd gathered, shooting photos with their phones, and emergency responders working to save Buford’s life. Unfortunately, he did not survive his wounds, and was pronounced dead at the hospital.
It was an odd scene, I guess because shootings have become so commonplace in Wilmington now. People gathered around, laughing, taking photos and videos while a man was dying just a few feet away.
I covered my first regular season Eagles game, their home opener, on September 15th with Daniel Sato. We had to get their early for a second story we were doing on the cheerleaders and their new uniforms (I know, tough life) and had the task of shooting the game after. Because we were in the stadium early, we missed out on much of the outside tailgating photos common of the first-game-of-the-season assignment, but made up for with a good balance of action and crowd and atmosphere shots. The Eagles, unfortunately, seemed doomed by their own hand in the game. When they tied the game with two minutes left, thanks to their fast-paced “blur” offense, there was too much time left for San Diego to kick a field goal.
I shot the NASCAR race at Dover for the third time in my career in September. I realized then that it was REALLY hard to not keep making the same photos at a NASCAR race that rarely features a crash anymore. I made a nice candid frame of Ryan Truex before the race started, but most everything else, sadly, was something I’d done before. Maybe with more shooters there I could have experimented more, but with just Suchat and myself to cover the race, I had to make sure we had what we needed before I could take any risks.
I covered the 153rd’s final training exercises at Fort Dix before their deployment this past winter, and I didn’t have a good feeling before they left. Not only is training the Afghan Uniformed Police one of the most dangerous operations in Southwest Asia now, but the team looked like they needed a lot more practice before they left. The training exercises didn’t exactly go smoothly.
The 153rd blew me away, though, when they completed their mission early and returned every member home safely to Delaware City. Covering their homecoming was awesome since I’d seen them the last time they were home, and right as they were returning. I couldn’t have been happier every one of them came back in one piece.
Continuing the month-favorite blog posts, here’s my August favorites together into one post in an effort to catch the blog up and hopefully get back on track again.
The vigil for Goins was a tough assignment all around. I spend the afternoon with his parents, interviewing them for an hour about their son and how they learned of his death after people saw photos of his body on twitter. After the emotional interview, I came back to the office to edit the video to find the mic cable had gone bad and I had no audio. It was crushing, but thankfully stills from the vigil saved the assignment somewhat.
The deployment ceremonies for the 150th Engineering Company were the first deployment ceremony I’d covered. While filled with the emotion of the homecoming’s I’ve covered numerous times, it was hard to interrupt families this time for names, knowing I was taking minutes with their loved ones away. When I made the image above, I was hoping Staff Sergeant Hill was leaving, and saying goodbye to his daughter, but instead he pointed me in the direction of Sergeant Brittney Poore, and her wife.
Poore and her wife Bianka Desure were embracing just a few feet away in the crowd. Admittedly, I thought I had heard something wrong when Hill said “she” was saying goodbye to “her wife,” and then it dawned on me that I’m an idiot. Not only had “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” been over for almost two years, but Delaware had also legalized gay marriage in May, with marriages allowed to begin July 1st. That’s when it hit me that just two years ago I couldn’t have made this picture.
The Cal Ripken World Series is a familiar event for me. Growing up in Maryland, just a short drive from Ripken Stadium, I’ve been to a few as a fan. My dad even helped with signage for a few of the tournaments when they were played in the main stadium, before the little league complex was built. Covering a Delaware team in the series was nice way to forget I wasn’t headed to Williamsport to cover Delaware’s Little League World Series team.
Honestly the baseball in the Ripken series is better. The field is bigger, so every double isn’t a home run, and players can steal. But what really made it exciting was watching Piedmont attempt, and successfully execute, a suicide squeeze to win the game in extra innings, when a throw to the catcher went over his head.
Covering the Eagles/Jets final preseason game might sounds like a chore to a lot of seasoned photographers. No player you’ve likely ever heard of plays in the fourth preseason game. Most of the guys you’ll photograph won’t be in an NFL uniform again, and maybe a handful make the team. I’ll never complain about getting to shoot an NFL game, though, and getting to check another stadium off my list was awesome. I don’t know what the old Meadowlands stadium was like, but MetLife is a nice venue. They have a long way to go to get ready for the Super Bowl (the photo workroom isn’t NEARLY large enough, and internet connectivity is a challenge with just two dozen photographers) but the stadium has a ton of light.
It’s been months since I updated, again, but after layoffs hit the paper things have been far busier than ever before. Add in a new puppy at home and even outside of work, there’s always work to be done.
That said, here are some of my favorite assignments from July, with notes on each.
I love shooting baseball. I don’t care what level, majors, minors, high school, you name it. Most games happen in the evening in gorgeous light, the stadiums are rarely full anywhere I’ve worked (giving me ample opportunity to move around) and no matter how bad the game, there’s an opportunity for a nice image any time you go out. At this point in the season, the Blue Rocks were pretty bad. Any prospects had been promoted to the next level, and the team had no hope of making the playoffs. The light was nice though.
This image is one of my favorites from any homecoming. I didn’t realize it but I was stand next to these two daughters just before their dad came out from debriefing. They sprinted past me to their dad and I was left with a tough decision on which frame to use as the whole embrace was beautiful. Nothing makes you feel better than families being reunited after war.
This image came out of a “Fourth of July crowds at the beach” story. The waves were pretty rough in Rehoboth, at least by Rehoboth standards, and there weren’t many kids taking them on when I ventured down to the beach for some shots. Kellar showed no fear though, getting sucked under a couple waves but hopping right back on for more… right before he got enveloped by this one above.
Covering Paul McCartney is one of the highlights of my career. When I saw he’d be playing ing D.C., and I’d be on vacation, I decided to take my own time to cover the concert. At McCartney’s age, it’s hard to say if I’d ever have the chance to cover him again. It was a challenge getting credentials, and even came down to the day of the concert before I was sure I was in, but the hassle was worth it.
The Gold Cup was probably the most fun I’ve had in a downpour, but just getting to the game was probably the biggest challenge I’ve ever had. I had an earlier assignment in Southern Delaware at the State Fair and had to spring across the Bay Bridge and up I-97 to Baltimore to try to get to the game. Just like the last time I covered a soccer game in Baltimore (AC Milan vs. Chelsea FC in 2009) traffic was an absolute nightmare. I sat outside the stadium and listened to the roars from the crowd for 30 minutes of the first half of the U.S. taking on El Salvador. Luckily, I made it in for the second half, and Landon Donovan rewarded me. He scored a goal just to my right, and celebrated right in front of me.
I’ve let the blog fall behind again. I blame vacation and a busy work schedule again. It’s time to get caught back up.
Four the fourth of July I was sent down to Dewey Beach, Del. to cover the first ever fireworks the town had put on. Every year a much larger show in Rehoboth Beach, Del. overshadows anything in surrounding towns, and draws most residents and vacationers to Rehoboth’s beaches to see the fireworks.
Some enterprising club owners in Dewey, most likely tired of losing their crowds to another town, decided they would attempt to set a “world record” for most fireworks set off in a 10-minute period. The show was said to be a 10 minute finale.
I left for Dewey early, knowing parking would be limited in the small town that’s essentially just a small strip of land about four miles long and a quarter mile wide, between the Rehoboth Bay and Atlantic Ocean. I was lucky enough to find the last parking spot near the prime spot I wanted to set up. From there I waited.
I waited, and waited, and waited.
Finally, around 9pm, the fireworks started and began firing away.
I talked to former News Journal and National Geographic photographer Kevin Fleming earlier in the day to get some tips, as he’s produced amazing photos of the Rehoboth fireworks for years. His advice was invaluable, but with only a 10-minute show to look forward to, I didn’t have much leeway for trial and error to get the shots I needed.
It only took about one failed 30-second exposure to really get on track, but I only managed to get about half-a-dozen photos taken before the sky went dark. Only maybe four minutes had elapsed but that was it, the fireworks were over.
As the crowd dispersed most mumbles went along the lines of “publicity stunt.” That organizers were simply tired of seeing their profits go to Rehoboth and given the show didn’t come close to its billing, I can see their frustration.
Add on to that the massive traffic jam that had me stuck in the parking lot for four hours after the fireworks ended, and the traffic on Rt. 1 North that kept me from getting home until 4 a.m. and I think I can say I’ve had my fill of Dewey Beach fireworks for a while.
On Wednesday, June 26, 2013, The Supreme Court brought two big victories to gay rights advocates across the country. By ruling proponents of Proposition 8 in California did not have legal standing to challenge that the law should be upheld the court effectively re-legalized gay marriage in California. At the same time the court also struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, meaning the federal government would now recognize same-sex marriages across the country where they were legally performed. Before, while a gay couple might be legally married in Iowa, the federal government did not recognize their benefits for purposes of taxation, etc.
Melissa Etheridge, a vocal supporter of gay marriage, just happened to be performing in Wilmington the day the the decisions were announced. Etheridge announced that day that she planned to marry her long-time girlfriend, Linda Wallem, now that their marriage would be recognized.
With so much good news coming for Etheridge that day, she turned the performance at The Grand Opera House into a party celebrating the newfound rights she, her partner, and millions of gays in America were afforded by the Supreme Court that day.
Dozens of members of Equality Delaware packed the front of the theatre and held signs of support for Etheridge, one even read, “Congrats!”
Much like the information of new rights was a surprise that day for Etheridge, covering the concert was a surprise for me. I had just done The Rolling Stones a few days before and was actually photographing a relief group preparing to leave for Haiti for another trip to aid those still suffering from the earthquake that ravaged the country years ago.
I got a phonecall from our chief photographer asking when I was leaving for “the concert,” to which I had no answer. Somewhere in the shuffle of the day, the assignment had gotten lost and never found it’s way to me. I rushed back to Wilmington with just 45 minutes before the concert was supposed to start and got a drive-by hand-off of a 300mm lens from Suchat in front of the Opera House right before the concert was set to start.
I only got to shoot the first song, but there wasn’t anyone policing the two or three of us there, and I was able to sneak a few shots of Etheridge reacting to the crowd and speaking about the ruling earlier in the day.
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