It’s Only Rock and Roll

The recent announcement of The Rolling Stones’ upcoming Dallas dates took me back to when I ended up a few feet from them and learned something from it.

When I graduated with a photojournalism degree in 1997 and landed my first job at The Paris News in Paris, Texas, I knew there was a lot to learn. I just didn’t realize how quickly the lessons would come or that they would stick with me for so long.

Within the first few weeks, I was tossed into a regular rotation of high school sports, storm chasing (“Oh, okay…that’s what a wall cloud looks like!”), car wrecks, house fires and a plane crash on a major highway. You know, the normal stuff.

Then came Mick and Keith.

keith300pxI was working in the newspaper’s photo office one day when the chief photographer stuck his head in. Apparently he had put in for a photo pass for the Rolling Stones’ show at the (then) fairly new Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth and couldn’t make it. Did I want to take it?

I had spent my late high school and early college years in the Deep Ellum area of Dallas, cutting my photography teeth by shooting bands in what was then a burgeoning music scene. Aside from photography, music was one of my main loves in life and I dug every second of combining my two loves. So getting the change to shoot the freaking Stones?

Yeah, I could give up a Saturday night for that.

Once I arrived at the show, I quickly started thinking that maybe I was in a little over my head. I got my credentials and joined several other photographers in the staging area outside the Speedway, covertly checking their press passes: Associated Press. Dallas Morning News. Fort Worth Star-Telegram. And then there was green-as-you-could-get, 23-year-old me. Yikes.

I decided to just play it safe and hang back. Stay out of the way and just try to get something, anything, in focus.

The stage was in the infield area, so we boarded a van and were shuttled to the backstage area. We all filed out and were taken to the side stage are for the briefing. Essentially, it went like this: These are the lenses the tour photographer is using each night, so you might consider those. You’ll be split into two groups, one on the right side, one on the left. Mick and Keith know you’re there and will play to the camera, so don’t stress about getting shots. You’ll have the first two songs to shoot (which was and more or less still is the norm). The first song would be “Satisfaction”, so once the house lights went out, listen for the opening riff. Now the important part: The pyrotechnics that would be going off in front of us (!). Yes sir, you have my attention.

Along with listening for the iconic opening riff of “Satisfaction”, we were told to close our eyes and look down. We would hear a hissing sound, which would be the pyro getting ready to go off. Once we heard (and felt the heat of) the pyro, we were free to shoot away. If we looked up to early and saw the explosion, we would be blinded for the next few minutes and wouldn’t be able to shoot anything.

We were split into our groups in the photo pit in front of the stage and the luck of the draw put me with photographers from the A.P. and the Dallas Morning News. I knew both guys’ work and was intimidated beyond belief. We spent the short period before the show chatting and it turned out they were great people. Professional-level digital cameras had just come out and we were using them, commiserating about how bad the quality was (Google “NC2000e” and then thank whomever you choose for your iPhone camera). I was shooting film as a backup and they were somewhat envious that I still had that option.

The lights went out, the crowd roared and our adrenaline started flowing. Time to go to work.

We survived the slightly less than thermonuclear blasts in front of us and started shooting what still is one of the highlights of my career. In short time, I went into automatic mode: Once a card on the digital went full, I let it download to the disk and went to film. When the roll was done, I let it rewind and started shooting on a new card with the digital. Back and forth through “Satisfaction” and “It’s Only Rock and Roll (But I Like It).”

stones300pxIt was over far too soon and we were ushered backstage to hop in the van and be ushered back to the entrance. On the drive back there was a lot of banter about being that close to the pyro and how well the band moved for a bunch of old guys. Me? I was just happy I survived.

I processed the film and downloaded the images the next day, surprised at the number of keepers I had managed to capture. Almost 20 years later, I still have one of the images of Keith Richards shot on the film camera in my portfolio. The funny thing is I don’t even remember shooting it. It just showed up.

The lesson I took away from this was not to get caught up in what you don’t know or what you might screw up. Just do what you know how to do and everything else will work out.

After all, it’s only rock and roll.

 

Making a Big Deal Out of Small Business

Growing up, I was surrounded by entrepreneurship. Along with working a full-time job, my dad also owned a small business on the side (which became a full-time job after he retired). I started making my own money by starting a lawn mowing service when I was 12, building a roster of regular clients.

smallbiz250px

I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that I grew up to not only be a fan and regular customer of small businesses, but own one myself as well. This Nov. 30 on Small Business Saturday, check out a small business that you might not have before. You may become a regular as well.

Here are a few small and independent businesses that I support and fully recommend:

Etsy Fort Worth – Comprised of independent crafters in the Fort Worth area, they’re offering discounts in their shops from Nov. 30 – Dec. 2 when you use the code EFWHoliday. Check out the list of participating shops here: http://www.etsyfortworth.com/2013/11/small-business-saturday-sale.html

Roots Coffeehouse – The coffee here is so good that it made a coffee drinker out of me. Add in their lemon cake (and many other awesome pastries) that I would commit heinous crimes for and you can find me there on many weekend mornings. With free Wi-Fi as well, it’s an amazing the amount of work I get done there. They recently opened a second location in Highland Village.

The Kessler Theatre – There’s a series on YouTube called “Resurrecting the Kessler” that showcases local artists performing acoustically in the former movie theatre while it was undergoing renovation. “Resurrecting” is the perfect description, as the owners have given new life to this space, creating an incredible music venue and making it one of the best listening rooms in North Texas, maybe even the county. Add in the rest of the area (especially the Bishop Arts neighborhood) that’s going through a rebirth and you have a great evening out.

Fastfire Camera Straps – I first met owner and designer James Reeder several years ago at a craft show where I was a vendor. He showed me one of his straps and I was blown away by solid construction and use of quality materials. They have never let me down over several years of use. Unlike similar straps, Fastfire straps connect to a camera strap opening (and not the bottom of the camera), so you can leave the strap attached and put the camera body on a tripod. Overall, an excellent design.

Hummingbird Sweet Shoppe – When you spend an entire (and usually very long) day as a vendor at an arts event, food trucks become your best friend. Among the plethora of great trucks out there, Hummingbird Sweet Shoppe blew me away. After trying their cinnamon roll cupcake, I was hooked. They recently opened a storefront in Burleson, which is sure to be a success.

Fort Worth Camera – It’s somewhat ironic that FW Camera’s newest location in Grapevine occupies the former site of a Wolf Camera. While the large retailer has greatly reduced its physical locations, both locations of FW Camera are going strong and there’s a reason why: Great customer service and an amazing selection. I can’t think of a time when I’ve gone in here that I haven’t found what I needed or gotten the answer I was looking for.

Arlington Camera – For close to 20 years, Arlington Camera has been one of those places I go into for one quick thing and inevitably end up spending at least an hour browsing through their ridiculously large selection of gear. Whether it’s looking for a new bag, renting a lens or picking up a 9 ft. roll of red seamless at the panicked last minute (all of which I’ve done), they’ve done it without hesitation. It’s almost an understatement to call then an institution.

 

 

Trying to Find a Camera’s Melting Point

When I think back about it, the thing that stands out the most in my mind is feeling like someone had stabbed me in the lower back.

Not too long ago, I had the “what is your favorite image you’ve ever produced” discussion with an acquaintance. I’ve always had a problem answering this for a couple of reasons. First, since I’ve shot a number of different genres (corporate, scenic, music, sports, etc.), different types of images stand out. Also, I’m incredibly tough on myself when I edit my images. But what makes this particular image special is what I had to go through just to capture it.

My first job out of school was working as a staff photojournalist for The Paris News, a 12,000 circulation daily in northeast Texas. During that time, the photographers carried mobile police scanners that alerted us to breaking news situations, also referred to as “spot news.”

During the late ’90s when I worked there, the summers were incredibly hot with highs regularly over 100 degrees. On one particularly brutal Friday afternoon, I had an assignment to shoot an environment portrait of the assistant city manager with blueprints of an upcoming project. It was a quick, run-of-the-mill assignment, so I left my scanner in the car. Fifteen minutes later, we walked out the building to see a massive plume of smoke rising from the residential neighborhood approximately two blocks away. As we both stopped in our tracks, the assistant city manager looked at me and said, “Well, I guess we both know where your next assignment is.”

I jumped in my car and sped around the block as the scanner was going crazy with activity, calling for all fire units to respond. I parked down the street and began running down the block to see an older, two-story Victorian-style home engulfed in flames, what fire crews call “fully involved.”

At the time, I carried a large camera bag to hold all of my equipment. As I sprinted down the street, the bag started to slide off my right shoulder and I turned my upper body to catch it. As soon as I jerked my body to the right I felt a “pop” as I pulled a muscle in my lower back and a sharp, shooting pain surged through my body. I staggered forward and managed to catch myself.

Slowly, I managed to walk slowly towards the scene as stiffness and immense pain hammered the lower right portion of my back. Thankfully, the adrenaline of the situation helped dull the pain enough so I could concentrate on shooting.

As I finally got close enough, I started working the scene by shooting the fire from different angles. The heat from the massive fire combined with the record triple-digit temperatures we were experiencing that summer made the entire area feel like an oven.

FIRE_3RD_SW_blogDuring all of this, Steve Bergin, the city’s fire chief, had arrived on the scene, running a couple of blocks over from his office. Apparently he had been attending some function that day and was still in a dress shirt and tie. Bergin jumped into action, helping to man a hose spraying down the front of the house. I was able to get close enough with a wide-angle lens to frame up Begin, the other firefighters and the inferno. After shooting a few frames, I lay down on the street, to get a slightly lower angle and also to provide relief for by back. At one point, Bergin turned his head to yell a command and I hit the shutter release. I shot from a variety of other angles including by a fence next to the house, where the heat from the fire was incredible (At one point, I began seriously wondering at what temperature a camera would start to physically melt). In the end, the frame of Bergin was the keeper that ended up making page one on Sunday and is still on of my key pj images in my portfolio. I suffered through a high school football game that night and spent the rest of the weekend on my couch taking way too much ibuprofen.

An effect from that day is that I stopped carrying camera bags during assignments. I was in my early twenties and was starting to have lower back issues. A little research determined that camera bags compress your spine and put unneeded pressure on your lower back. It also doesn’t help if you’re like me and carry everything including the kitchen sink on assignment. Although I still use camera bags for transporting my equipment, I started wearing waist packs to carry equipment on assignments and long term shoots. This puts the weight on my legs (where it should have been all along).

I still wonder, though, at what temperature a camera starts melting. At my age, I think I’ll let someone else figure that out.

When Good Publications Go Bad (Or Just Do Something Really Stupid)

“Wow, I expected better from PDN.”

The message board title on the photography website SportsShooter.com automatically captured my curiosity. “PDN” referred to Photo District News, one of (in my opinion) the leading publications that covers the business of photography. The magazine had launched a new digital publication aimed at female photographers, which was nothing out of the ordinary. Once a male dominated field, many women have now taken over and redefined several areas of the business including family portraiture, weddings and even boudoir photography.

PDN took the liberty of setting all of that back a couple of decades with the material they packed into this thing. A selection of article titles:

“Stay Smashing: Follow these tips from Smashbox Cosmetics global pro lead artist Lori Taylor and avoid makeup meltdown during arduous summer shoot.”

“Seasonal Flats: These flats will keep your feet covered, comfortable and cute while you’re on photo shoots.”

“Step by Step: Create these beautiful paper lanterns for your home or studio.”

“In Mint Condition: Stay on trend with these green accessories.”

Feel free to check out the rest of the train wreck here.  To their credit they were kind enough to throw in a couple of articles on technique and business (how progressive!).

The interesting thing, though, was the opinions professional articles had on the content. They ranged from anger over the subject matter to lack of surprise, saying that many photographers were focusing on fluff, rather than technique and business. Some even said that it really didn’t matter, since the target audience wasn’t able to compete and wouldn’t last in the marketplace.

Here are my thoughts:

1. This is a slap in the face to women in the industry. It’s like a respected business magazine running makeup tips for businesswomen. Interestingly enough, the week this came out I received two other photography magazines, “Rangefinder” (owned by Nielsen Business Media, which also publishes PDN) and “Professional Photographer.” Both magazines happened to run several articles featuring women and, get ready to be shocked, they actually focused on the business aspect of photography! No accessories to be found.

2. Yes, there are a number of photographers out there that value style over substance and couldn’t care less about the business aspect. While they might not be a direct threat to experienced professional photographers, it’s one more roadblock they have to deal with in doing business.

An interesting twist to this story is that not long after the uproar started, Nielsen Media released this statement:

Dear readers,

On July 10th The Nielsen Photo Group, parent company of Photo District NewsRangefinder and other publications and photography events, introduced a new, free digital magazine edition of PIX for photo enthusiasts. The content of this edition is specifically geared toward women who enjoy photography as a hobby, featuring articles and product suggestions intended to inspire women to shoot more and create better photographs.

An e-mail announcing PIX was sent to The Nielsen Photo Group’s entire audience including hobbyists, students, emerging and professional photographers. The e-mail introducing PIX mistakenly had the name Photo District News in the sender line.

We value your opinion and are dedicated to learning about what you want to see in future issues of PIX. Our success lies in understanding the needs of all photographers and continually innovating to meet your ever-changing desires. Please feel free to e-mail our marketing director, Michael Zorich at michael.zorich@nielsen.com with suggestions for what you’d like to see in future editions of PIX, the photography lifestyle digital magazine for women.

Thank you

Maybe if they would’ve taken this approach to begin with, this whole mess could’ve been avoided.

Red Hot Temperatures and Bluebonnets

If you’re just here for the bribe (giveaway, drawing, whatever), feel free to skip the brilliant prose and head to the bottom for details.

Someone once said, “There are two seasons in Texas: Summer and not summer.”

In 2011, that was proved true, as the seasons went somewhere along the lines of:

Not Summer (Winter): “Ahhhh, yes. This is why I love Texas.”

Not Summer (Spring): “Eh, a little warm for this time of year, but it’s still oka…RUN!!!! A TORNADO!!!!!

Summer: “Man, I miss the summer of 1980. Oh look! Another small woodland creature just spontaneously combusted.”

Not Summer (Fall): “Can I come out of my house now?”

For about 10 minutes that summer, the traditional Texas bluebonnets appeared before realizing that natures’ broiler had been left on 350 degrees. Within that small window of opportunity, I managed to find a small group of flowers along Interstate 30 in Fort Worth that hadn’t yet been reduced to ashes and decided to photograph them.

Many people assume that professional photographers hit the shutter release and through the grace of God and Canon or Nikon, beautiful photos appear. We wished it happened that way too.

One of the results of the adventurous photo shoot.
(Click photo to enlarge)

For the bluebonnet photo, I parked on the side of I-30 and hopped out of my car as other vehicles whizzed past me just below light speed. After hiking up a small slope, I set my bag down, grabbed my camera body, made the lens selection and hit the ground to get the bluebonnet photo to end all bluebonnet photos. Then the ants found me.

Some men attract good luck, some beautiful women, others large sums of cash. I attract insects. With stingers. And bad attitudes.

The ants proceeded to let me know that I was not welcome in their ‘hood and drivers along a major D/FW highway were treated to a man who appeared to miss his medication that day, flailing on his back and repeatedly slapping his right leg. Something tells me Ansel Adams never had to deal with this. If he did, his biographer was kind enough to leave it out.

Once the ants were satisfied with their conquest, I finally got down to the business of making photographs. I found a group of bluebonnets that looked healthy and had great color. Balancing my flash on my camera bag to produce nice, directional lighting, I composed a shot and started clicking away. There were clouds out that day, so I had to battle the changing exposure between sunlight and cloudiness. I was in “The Zone.”

Then Fort Worth’s Finest decided to stop by.

For the record, I truly have the utmost respect for police. As a photojournalist I had a front-row seat for many of the things they deal with and I will testify, it’s a tough, thankless job. But that day, I really didn’t want to get arrested for taking photos of flowers.

The officer pulled up to the stoplight on the access road above me and curiously looked down in my direction. I looked up, smiled weakly and nodded, hoping my body language communicated that I was far too fragile to go to jail and be some large man’s girlfriend.

While he had every right to haul me off to the pokey for committing a crime against photography (felony cliché picture taking of flowers), he simply shook his head and drove off once the light turned green. I tried a few more angles and figured that between sweating my way to dehydration and the vicious ant attack, I was done.

Getting home and editing the shots, I surprised myself by choosing a photo that didn’t have the traditional blue sky, but the shot you see above that had darker clouds which helped the flowers to really stand out. In hindsight, it was well worth the adversities.

Just don’t tell the ants that. They’re already a bit full of themselves as it is.