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Archive for April, 2009

Here, we finally say goodbye to Utah. Thank you, beautiful Utah, for taking up four entire blog posts and hundreds of photos.

Now, we enter Colorado!

  • DAY 5 (Friday, March 27) — cont’d.

So, have you ever heard of Black Canyon of the Gunnison? None of us had. My older brother Matt and two of his friends hit up 20 national parks in 33 days last summer, and Black Canyon was one of them. When, back in October, I asked him what he recommended, he wrote the following on my Facebook Wall:

I spent 33 days in the American Southwest. Here are things you don’t want to miss:

I know you hate lugging it around, and I know you think it spoils the moment so often, but do yourself a favor and don’t leave your camera at home.

Big Bend National Park (specifically the Santa Elena Canyon). Great Sand Dunes National Park. Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Monument Valley. Goblin Valley. Arches. Bryce. Zion (the Angel’s Landing hike). Death Valley. The Grand Canyon (go to the South Rim and do the Skywalk). Yosemite (hike Half Dome). Also, Las Vegas.

In February, when Esten, Jeff and I were going over possible routes and places we wanted to visit, I mentioned Black Canyon of the Gunnison. It wasn’t until I showed them photos that Matt had taken that we became excited about it. Even then, though, I wasn’t expecting too much from the canyon.

I’ve never so enjoyed being wrong about something.

After we fixed up the hotel situation in Montrose and dropped off our things in our room, we headed out to the park. We were pleasantly surprised to see a sign posted in the entrance guardhouse that announced no admission fees during the winter.

The view from Gunnison Point on the south rim.

The view from Gunnison Point on the south rim.

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The weather this week has been pretty miserable. Fortunately for Joel, Michelle, Ivy and me, we completed our “painting with light” assignment on the one night it hasn’t rained yet this week (Tuesday).

Painting with light? Huh?

It’s a pretty fun technique wherein you…

…make a photograph at night or darkened rooms, utilizing time exposure with light added to reveal something that otherwise would be unobservable at this time of day. Examples are unlit monuments, buildings or features of the landscape; movement of machines, people or animals; and illustrative or imaginary concepts and constructs. This is a photograph which is really a picture of light — because there would be no picture without the light.

Originally, we wanted to photograph the Renz Correctional Center — a women’s maximum-security prison outside of Jefferson City that was discontinued after flooding in 1993. But the property owners weren’t too keen on letting us on-site, much less in the dark.

So Michelle contacted the superintendent of Ha Ha Tonka State Park, which is about two hours south of Columbia and has castle ruins.

That’s right. Castle ruins. In Missouri.

You can read about why the hell there are castle ruins on a cliff in the middle of Missouri if you click HERE.

Anyway. Although Nancy the superintendent was initially reluctant to allow us to stay in the park after dark, which is when the gates are locked, she gave us permission to remain until 10 p.m.

We arrived at the park at dusk, when we could explore the castle ruins and scope them out. We also checked out the water tower, an old stone construction that is on the other side of the parking lot and about half a mile away from the ruins.

So here’s what we did: We could see the water tower from the ruins if we stood at a certain point near the ruins’ balcony. Joel had two-way radios with him, so we decided that one team of two people would remain at the ruins with the camera and a few strobes, and the other two people would go to the water tower. This way, we could light up both the castle ruins and the water tower within the same frame.

The exposures averaged about three minutes apiece. Ivy and I illuminated the water tower using strobes, and Michelle and Joel lit up the castle ruins and “ghosted” Michelle with strobes. It was a lot of fun, although we had a few scares involving bats, howling dogs in the distance and the superintendent’s surprise visit.

Here’s the result, which I screen-captured from Joel’s blog:

High on a hill in Ha Ha Tonka State Park, Mo., it's easy to imagine that ghosts might haunt the ruins of the old Snyder mansion, built by a wealthy Missouri businessman who died long before his dream retreat was completed. The castle-like structure was gutted by fire in 1942, while the nearby water tower survived until vandals set it ablaze 34 years later. Photo ©2009 by Joel Kowsky.

High on a hill in Ha Ha Tonka State Park, Mo., it's easy to imagine that ghosts might haunt the ruins of the old Snyder mansion, built by a wealthy Missouri businessman who died long before his dream retreat was completed. The castle-like structure was gutted by fire in 1942, while the nearby water tower survived until vandals set it ablaze 34 years later. Photo ©2009 by Joel Kowsky.

We were at the park for about two hours and only got seven frames. But hey — we had a concept, and we were able to lit up two structures, one of which was half a mile away from the other. I think we did pretty well.

By the way — Ha Ha Tonka State Park is beautiful. I highly recommend that anyone in the mid-Missouri area take a day trip there.

The park is also where Ha Ha Tonka the band gets its name. (Read the band’s reasoning here.) No one paid me to say this, but I really enjoyed the band’s performance as one of the opening acts for the Avett Brothers in the last Summerfest 2008 event in Columbia. If you like the Avett Bros. or a hard-to-describe mix of country, blues, rock and college band-esque music, you should definitely check out Ha Ha Tonka.

The end.

(Thanks to Michelle for the idea for this post’s subject!)

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So it’s been a while since I last posted. This past weekend, I went to St. Louis for a Taylor Swift concert (yes — I am a very big fan), and yesterday I was pretty busy in Jefferson City bureau.

But this is a pretty quick post anyway.

  • DAY 5 (Friday, March 27)

Our campsite along the Colorado River was beautiful, but the canyon through which the river winds is virtually a wind tunnel. Thursday night was our one night of extreme camping. On more than one occasion, the wind blew the side of the tent so hard down that the tent wall was squashing me from my head to my waist. Plus, it was pretty cold.

So in the morning, we packed up in a hurry — mostly to keep ourselves warm! Then we drove further down along the river to take sunrise photos of the river bluffs.

Then we re-entered Arches National Park for a quick morning of taking photos. We weren’t in any particular hurry: our final destination for the day was Montrose, Colo., which is the closest city/town to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and a mere 171 miles away from Arches.

Nevertheless, we decided to hit up some of the closer formations instead of those further within the park.

For example, the Windows formation.

I am pretty sure this is one side of one of the Windows.

I am pretty sure this is one side of the North Window.

The North Window, from the other side.

The North Window, from the other side.

Both the Windows (south on the left, north on the right) in their formation.

Both the Windows (south on the left, north on the right) in their formation.

Nearby is also the Turret Arch, but we didn’t go there. As Esten said, once you see one arch, you kinda see them all.

I did want to go to the Turret Arch. But I was also pretty cold. It was at least 35 degrees and windy.

In retrospect, my focus point shouldve been on the arch and not on the pathway. That said, I did set my focus point intentionally on the pathway. Oh well.

In retrospect, my focus point should've been on the arch and not on the pathway. That said, I did set my focus point intentionally on the pathway. Oh well.

Then we hopped into the car and drove off and out of Utah. We hit up Pablo’s Pizza in Grand Junction, Colo., for lunch. But other than that, a fairly unremarkable trip. Which was fine by me, after photographing out the window every five minutes during Day 4′s drive across Utah.

  • COMING NEXT: Ever heard of Black Canyon of the Gunnison? Me either

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So — Day 4 was a really long day, as you might have guessed. But this is the final blog post to contain photos from Day 4, which (at least, photographically) ended on a high note.

  • DAY 4 (Thursday, March 26) — cont’d.

After making it out of the 108-mile stretch of I-70 with no service stations, we turned off of I-70 onto US-191 toward Arches National Park and Moab, Utah. The sky was dreary, and the snowfall from the previous night’s blizzard was still dusted on the landscape.

On US-191, going toward Arches National Park.

On US-191, going toward Arches National Park.

We arrived at the park, where all the campsites were already full. So we set up camp along the Colorado River, at the Negro Bill Camping Area right outside the park. Then we headed back into the park, since the sky was finally clearing up and we were ready to take some sunset photos at the Delicate Arch.

In the last third of the hike to the Delicate Arch.

In the last third of the hike to the Delicate Arch.

The hike there was pretty tough. The first third of it is fairly easy, but then you get to a large, exposed rock surface where the trail is marked by small rock cairns. It’s also a bit steep. The last third of the hike is a series of ups and downs on more rock surface before you arrive at the Delicate Arch.

But, as over-photographed as it is, the Delicate Arch is completely worth the hike. Especially at sunset.

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By my reckoning, I have seven or eight more spring break roadtrip photo blog posts coming up after this one. They’ll all be staggered a bit, though, over the next six or seven days.

Get excited!

This post is a bit longer than some of the others. And this is only the middle part of Day 4. I’ve already posted some photos from the morning of Day 4, but there are still evening photos yet to be posted.

Get more excited!

  • DAY 4 (Thursday, March 26) — cont’d.

As you can probably figure from the subject of this blog post, Utah is simply stunning. The terrain changes are frequent, at least as far as we saw along our drive on I-70 from Panguitch (where we began our day) toward Arches National Park (our final destination for the day).

After we ate lunch in Richfield, we continued east. Between Salina and Green River is an 108-mile stretch of I-70 with no service stations whatsoever. Which means that you better fill up your gas tank at whichever endpoint you start at and that you can expect absolutely gorgeous scenery on either side of the interstate.

We went from snowy mountains…

…to vaguely snowy mesa-like things…

…to desert-like canyonlands.

Again. Utah is incredible.

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I am finally starting to overcome my apprehension about using strobes on the field!

I never really articulated this apprehension in this blog. Basically, at the beginning of this semester, I was horribly squeamish about using my strobe out in public because (gulp) I have this irrational fear of being perceived as an Asian tourist loaded with fancy camera gear.

Our TA in Advanced Techniques in Photojournalism told me I have to overcome this fear, which I knew, and suggested that I capitalize on the possibility of being perceived as an Asian tourist. Meaning, I should let myself loose and let people think I’m an Asian tourist, which would let me get away with using every piece of equipment in my bag.

I’m not quite over this fear. But I’m getting there.

For our latest assignment in the class, we were to use rear-sync curtain flash and panning movement to create a blended image:

Working with artificial constant source light (tungsten or fluorescent). Shoot people in an active situation and blend your strobe with the existing artificial light — being sure to think about the color temperature of that light and using the appropriate gel so the image is color correctable. Use of a slow shutter sync combined with panning or other cameras or subject movement to convey a sense of movement or action.

So I shot a drag show at MU.

It wasn’t nearly as elaborate, technical or hilariously raunchy as last year’s affair. The show was in a common area of Memorial Union, where the overhead tungsten lights were dimmed and there were no stage lights. Which was unfortunate for me, since there was very, very little artificial constant source light with which I could blend my flash.

But the show was still fun to shoot. I set my white balance for tungsten, gelled my flash accordingly, got my exposure right, set my flash for rear-sync curtain and fired away.

Here’s my select:

Columbia College student Wayne Boykin II performs as drag queen Amanda Lay at a drag show in Memorial Union on April 18. Boykin was crowned MUs Miss Diva 2009.

Columbia College student Wayne Boykin II performs as drag queen Amanda Lay at a drag show in Memorial Union on April 18. Boykin was crowned MU's Miss Diva 2009.

I learned pretty quickly that using the blending technique is a hit-or-miss deal. Whether I caught a good moment seemed to rely on how well I could anticipate a good moment in time to snap the shutter and trigger the rear-curtain flash so the flash’s light would stop the drag queen/king’s action in that moment I anticipated.

Make sense?

Thought so!

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Today was such a strange day in the Jefferson City statehouse. I can’t/won’t go into too many details because of several ongoing developments, but suffice it to say…

  • Least productive Wednesday since the beginning of session? That could be a fair assessment. Today, the House, Senate and (the self-titled) “Kinder Mafia” played softball, so everything adjourned abnormally early. I suspect this is why the big bills (stimulus?!) weren’t brought up — because what’s the point of starting the floor debate if everyone’s going to engage in healthy athleticism in the early evening?
  • I really hope Monday is the last day I need to haul my camera bag to the Capitol building/would finally get to take the photos I need. I’d like to think I’m tough, but carrying a camera bag, thick leather portfolio, big handbag full of budget books and my laptop can be a bit much for me to handle all at once, especially when I’m in heels.
  • Today’s lesson for some of the bureau reporters: If you’re going to stake out the hearing room where the majority caucus is having a closed-door meeting, make sure you cover all the doors. Two teams of two reporters each waited outside the two main/public doors to Hearing Room 3. The legislators made it out into the halls without the reporters’ catching them. Nobody knew how this happened until I pointed out the back door designated for legislators and legislative staff only.

But hell, if the sunset wasn’t pretty as Abby and I left the Capitol building today!

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Let’s take a break from all the spring break roadtrip photo blog posts I’ve been putting up. Here’s my latest assignment for Advanced Techniques in Photojournalism: multiple flash.

Okay, I have to admit: I was TERRIFIED of having to use multiple flashes for this assignment.

The assignment:

Team up to assist each other in photographing an active situation using at least two strobes, one of which should be slaved or fired remotely. Just about anything can be fired using multiple flash, but good candidates for this assignment are things like sporting or cultural events, dance rehearsals, fashion shows and competitions — term projects.

Originally, my partner Matt and I were going to strobe up a practice at Hulett House (more about them in this blog post), as part of our group’s final project. But I wasn’t feeling well, and he had a paper he had to write anyway. So we ended up meeting on Monday — the night before the assignment was due, of course — and trying to figure out what to do.

After a stint at Capen Park didn’t work out and calls to other places didn’t go through, we ended up at Billiards on Broadway, where a few groups of people were playing pool. We chose to photograph Mike Smith, Chris Schulz and John Stone, who played several games. Fortunately for us, they didn’t mind being flashed with three strobes as they struck out billiard balls.

That’s right. Three strobes.

For my shots, here’s what I did:

  • I had an off-camera strobe (my 580EX II) attached via my shoe cord. Set on manual mode, this usually served as my key light. If I didn’t want it to be my key light, I’d simply aim it a little higher to trigger the other two strobes, which were optically slaved.
  • We had a Mini Morris, which is an optical slave whose power can’t be adjusted. Because of that, we simply sat it on nearby tables or the bar. Depending on the angle of my shot — which depended on where the players moved around the table — the Mini Morris acted as a backlight for some photos, a key for others and a side/fill for still others.
  • Matt set his strobe to act as an optical slave, and he would move around the table to accommodate my lighting needs — either to fill or highlight my shots.

Here are the three runner-ups, with explanations why I didn’t choose them as my select.

    While I like that we can see Mikes eye and utter concentration here, we can also see Matts flash in the lefthand side. Combined with that and the Mini Morris, the highlights in left side of the photo are blown out.

While I like that we can see Mike's eye and utter concentration here, we can also see Matt's flash in the lefthand side. Combined with that and the Mini Morris, the highlights in left side of the photo are blown out.

I like this photo. Its a bit dramatic, which I really dont mind. And I dont mind that you can see the Mini Morris in the righthand side (sitting on the bar). But I dont think Rita or Catalin would appreciate it, so this ones out.

I like this photo. It's a bit dramatic, which I really don't mind. And I don't mind that you can see the Mini Morris in the righthand side (sitting on the bar). But I don't think Rita or Catalin would appreciate it, so this one's out.

Disclaimer: I would have cropped this photo if it were my select. That said, its not my select because the red-striped ball is blown out and the yellow-striped ball in the foreground isnt lit well enough.

Disclaimer: I would have cropped this photo if it were my select. That said, it's not my select because the red-striped ball is blown out and the yellow-striped ball in the foreground isn't lit well enough.

So what does my select image look like? It’s not perfect, by any means, but I think it has the best combination of technique and composition.

Caption: MU student John Stone gets ready to strike the ball in a game of pool at Billiards on Broadway on April 20. Billiards on Broadway was previously located on Ninth Street. My only criticisms: You cant see Johns eyes, and the highlights in the lower righthand corner are a bit blown.

Caption: MU student John Stone gets ready to strike the ball in a game of pool at Billiards on Broadway on April 20. Billiards on Broadway was previously located on Ninth Street. My only criticisms: You can't see John's eyes, and the highlights in the lower righthand corner are a bit blown.

Overall, I feel a lot more comfortable with using multiple flashes. At first, it was pretty hit-and-miss, but I think Matt and I did a fairly decent job by the end.

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This post really begins with Day 3, despite what the post subject will tell you. Determining which photos will be posted together is a bit tough, since I want to show the amazing/ridiculous variety of terrain changes we beheld but would rather not flood any post with more than six or seven images.

Aaaah, decisions, decisions.

  • DAY 3 (Wednesday, March 25) — cont’d.

So we left Grand Canyon National Park, with our night’s destination being Panguitch, Utah. It was a bit of a drive on Hwy 89, and we’d heard reports of an incoming blizzard — all the more reason to hurry.

The way there, though, was pretty. At least, it was pretty while there was light still out.

I think this might be Red Mesa, along Hwy 89.

I think this might be Red Mesa, along Hwy 89.

We didn’t arrive in Panguitch until around midnight, by which point a light snow flurry was falling.

  • DAY 4 (Thursday, March 26)

We awoke to find a blanket of snow outside our hotel. Fortunately for us, the roads were in excellent condition and we were able to head out and hit the road at a reasonable pace. Our destination for Day 4: Arches National Park, located just within the eastern border of Utah.

So, another ambitious day of driving. And on this day, we discovered that Utah is one crazy state. The terrain changes were simply incredible. You’ll see this for yourself, over this and the next few posts.

This was our first turn back toward the East in the trip.

Soon, we encountered the Rocky Mountains.

I promise there had been more snow than is evident in this photo.

I promise there had been more snow than is evident in this photo.

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  • DAY 3 (Wednesday, March 25) — cont’d.

As soon as we arrived at the South Rim entrance (or, one of them) at the Grand Canyon National Park, I knew we were in for something. Of all the national parks we visited over spring break, the Grand Canyon was the most organized — dare I use “regimented”? — and similar to Disney World. It was also teeming with tourists, which was somewhat surprising to me.

“It’s March! It’s cold! Why are there people there?” I exclaimed when I saw the queues of cars and vans and all the people milling around.

Apparently, there are even more people in the summer.

We drove past the first viewpoint, where — even from the road — we could snatch fleeting glances of the Grand Canyon. When Jeff pointed it out, I looked out the car window for myself. Sure enough, beyond the parked cars and wandering visitors and short barricades, I caught my first glimpse of that big hole in the ground.

“OH MY GOD, IT’S HUGE!” was approximately my reaction.

We stopped at the third or fourth big viewpoint for a little bit. There, at the overlook/gift shop, I bought a postcard for my best friend since kindergarten. I also took photos and was even more blown away by how magnificent the Grand Canyon really is.

Part of the South Rim, taken from the first viewpoint we visited.

Part of the South Rim, taken from the first viewpoint we visited.

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This is kind of an awkward post, because there are only three photos and they’re not the most stunning from this trip. But the next post will be all about the Grand Canyon… and it would be even more awkward to include these three with photos of that big hole in the ground.

Hence, this post.

  • DAY 2 (Tuesday, March 24) — cont’d.

We continued on I-40 after being too late to enter Petrified Forest National Park. At this point, we were driving through what would have been some really pretty desert, but the sun was setting rapidly and we couldn’t really see.

So we drove on.

Winslow, Ariz. Everyone knows that refrain by the Eagles:

Well, I’m a-standin’ on a corner

In Winslow, Arizona

And such a fine sight to see:

It’s a girl, my lord

In a flatbed Ford

Slowin’ down to take a look at me

Somehow, we found that corner.

We wanted to, but only if we could find it within 10 minutes or so. But we had no map of Winslow on us, so here’s what we did:

  1. We chose a random exit off of I-40.
  2. We kept going down that street, even though it seemed pretty residential for a while.
  3. We turned left off that street onto another road.
  4. Miraculously, that street turned into downtown.
  5. Jeff spotted The Corner, which was on the lefthand side of that street.

Another miracle on Day 2: We did make it to Flagstaff. Somehow, we’d gone from the middle of the Texas panhandle, through New Mexico and halfway across Arizona in one day, and had a lunch stop and a two-hour photo break at Sky City.

  • DAY 3 (Wednesday, March 25)

After breakfasting in downtown Flagstaff and loading up on snackable goods at a grocery store, we headed north on Hwy 180 toward the Grand Canyon. Those photos will be in the next spring break blog post. But in the meantime, the area north of Flagstaff was nothing short of astoundingly pretty.

Another shot taken out of the car window. Aspens are my favorite kinds of tree - and there was snow sitting on the ground!

Another shot taken out of the car window. Aspens are my favorite kinds of tree - and there was snow sitting on the ground!

Humphreys Mountain, whose peak is 12,400 feet above sea level. This was our first time seeing mountains up close on the trip, and it was a wonderful sight.

Humphreys Mountain, whose peak is 12,400 feet above sea level. This was our first time seeing mountains up close on the trip, and it was a wonderful sight.

Then the woods quickly became desert. And then woods again.

Arizona is a very strange place.

  • COMING NEXT: The Grand Canyon is pretty damn grand

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Right now, I’ve got banana bread baking in the oven. But also right now, I’ve got a few more photos to share with you. More will come later today, as well!

  • DAY 2 (Tuesday, March 24)

We were out of Palo Duro Canyon by 8:30 a.m. and immediately hit the road. Our final destination? Flagstaff, Ariz. That’s right: Our plan for Day 2 was to exit Texas, cross the entire state of New Mexico and end up in the middle of Arizona.

Quite a drive.

The Sandia Mountains, as seen from I-40. These mountains border northern Albuquerque.

The Sandia Mountains, as seen from I-40. These mountains border northern Albuquerque.

The above photo was taken out of the car window as we drove down the interstate at the maximum legal speed. I should come out and say right now that I took quite a few out-of-the-car-window photos, and that quite a few ended up in the final edit.

As ambitious as our drive was for Day 2, we planned to make two stops. The first: Sky City on the Acoma Pueblo Native American reservation. The second: Petrified Forest National Park.

We stopped at Sky City and took their tour, but we didn’t make it to Petrified Forest until after hours.

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Finally, finally, finally! It’s been a few weeks, but I’m finally done editing spring break roadtrip photos. I’ve pared everything down and have 122 photos to share with everyone.

For the most part, I’ll be posting/sharing them on a day-by-day basis, because dumping all 122 photos at once seems a little like overkill. Not every single one of those will be posted on this blog, but you can find each of them at my Flickr — specifically, within this photo set.

And now let’s start the journey.

  • DAY 1 (Monday, March 23) –

At 5 a.m., Jeff and I arrived at the Tulsa Greyhound station, where Esten picked us up. We immediately began the journey from there.

Our first photo-taking venture was in Texola, Okla., where Esten had been before and knew of an interesting building we could photograph. An interesting building? Apparently it’s mentioned in a bunch of books about Route 66. It’s about two blocks from the highway.

We then sailed through Oklahoma and soon arrived in the Texas panhandle, which is home to…

THE BIG TEXAN. Which is home to the free 72-oz. steak. Which is free only if you eat it — as well as salad, rolls and a loaded baked potato — within an hour.

Everyone in Texas — and hell, a lot of non-Texans — know what The Big Texan is. I myself am Texan, born and raised. But I’d never stepped foot inside The Big Texan, much less eaten there. And now I’ve done both, and now I truly am a Texan.

We spent that night in Palo Duro Canyon State Park. Palo Duro Canyon is the second biggest canyon in the U.S., or so I’m told. But by the completion of this roadtrip, I was unconvinced of that bold claim. We saw some pretty big — and, dare I say, more magnificent — canyons later on in the week.

This is an HDR image, created from three bracketed images. Not entirely well done, but necessary because of the extreme shadows at sunset.

But Palo Duro was fine for our first day of touring the great American West, as well as our first night of camping.

Oh gosh. Our first night of camping. It was so windy. And canyon bottomlands can get quite chilly, as we found.

But the night sky was beautiful, at least for as long as we could bear the cold to watch and photograph it.

  • COMING NEXT: A city in the sky in beautiful New Mexico

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Yesterday, the Mizzou College Republicans hosted the Central Missouri Tax Day Tea Party in Jefferson City.

Yes, it was a tea party event — one of many in the national movement spurred by Rick Santelli’s call to action in February. Local legislators and several attendees spoke at the podium on the south steps of the state Capitol building. All but one were Republicans or like-minded as such.

I somewhat reluctantly covered the event for The Columbia Missourian.

“Reluctantly”?

That’s correct.

I’d heard about the event a few days ago and knew I would have to check it out and probably write up an article about it. But until I heard my editor Phill ranting and raving about the event and then found out The Missourian did want a story, I wasn’t very serious about covering the tea party.

Let me make this clear from the start: My reluctance had nothing to do with any of my personal political affiliations or fiscal beliefs, both of which I always do my absolute best to distance from the quality and breadth of my reporting. (Side note: as a political reporter, I make a point of not revealing either my political affiliations or fiscal beliefs in public forums.)

Rather, my reluctance was due to the nature of the event. Whether Republican or Democrat in nature, politically-oriented rallies hold very little journalistic attraction for me. Providing coverage to such rallies seems almost like providing free PR and media attention to politically like-minded people who happen to be exercising their First Amendment right to free speech in a public area.

Or, as Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, put it:

It doesn’t have any meaning. The whole reason they did it was so you and I would have this conversation. And you are buying into that by having the conversation. So it’s a clear media manipulation. You have been successfully manipulated.

Again — I cannot emphasize enough that I would agree without Rep. Kelly about political rallies organized by either Republicans or Democrats. My reluctance truly goes either way.

It’s a strange line to try and tread, that line between journalism and PR. I feel the same reluctance when I discuss certain bills or other kinds of legislation. One of the best ways for me to resolve any natural slant for the political party whose views are being strongly promulgated via a rally or legislation is to include comment from the opposing party. But it can be difficult to prevent the article from becoming simply a political crossfire.

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I photographed the Midwest Fight League‘s Battle at The Blue Note X on Saturday as part of the final group project for my Advanced Techniques in Photojournalism class.

It was not a piece of cake.

For our group project, we have shot a few practices for Hulett House fighters. Hulett House was founded by Rob Hulett and is Columbia’s representative in the Midwest Fight League — which was also founded by Rob Hulett. The big tournament was this Saturday, so naturally all four of us went there to photograph and record audio.

We had one remote camera set up, as well as a lit portrait set-up out in a back alley. The idea for the portrait set-up was to photograph “before” and “after” portraits of the Hulett House fighters.

This is the portrait set-up we had in the back alley of The Blue Note for the mixed martial arts tournament on April 10. Two lights (cant remember what their name is) and a 5D MkII. I manned the set-up for the first three hours overall and first two 2.5 hours of the tournament.

This is the portrait set-up we had in the back alley of The Blue Note for the mixed martial arts tournament on April 10. Two lights (can't remember what their name is) and a 5D MkII. I manned the set-up for the first three hours overall and first two 2.5 hours of the tournament.

I spent the first three hours out in that back alley. It was pretty cold, but I got to spend the rest of the time inside shooting the tournament after two of my group members relieved me of portrait duty. But by that point, there were only a few fights left, my lenses were fogged after coming in from the cold and I had no idea where I was allowed to shoot or how proceedings at the tournament worked.

So I had to make a quick study. It was a tough adjustment to make, and once my lenses were clear, I tried to get some good shots. Maybe I’m being too hard on myself, but this was not my best shoot. Below are three of my better shots from that night.

Mixed martial arts fighter Justin Kelly finishes greeting his fans from inside the cage after winning his bout with Darwin Hill in the Battle at The Blue Note X on April 10.

Mixed martial arts fighter Justin Kelly finishes greeting his fans from inside the cage after winning his bout with Darwin Hill in the Battle at The Blue Note X on April 10.

Tim Hillcock braces for a blow from Ira Mosely in a mixed martial arts fight during the Battle at The Blue Note X on April 10.

Tim Hillcock braces for a blow from Ira Mosely in a mixed martial arts fight during the Battle at The Blue Note X on April 10.

Mixed martial arts fighter and three-time champion Mario Vazquez raises his arm and Mexican flag after winning against Tim Hemmingway in the Battle at The Blue Note Xs final bout.

Mixed martial arts fighter and three-time champion Mario Vazquez raises his arm and Mexican flag after winning against Tim Hemmingway in the Battle at The Blue Note X's final bout.

So again: not really a piece of cake. I tried some other angles — namely, an above angle, from the stage rafters — but they didn’t really work out for me. I should have worked some other angles, such as from the balcony, but was still trying to get to know my way around the tournament in general.

And why do I keep talking about cake? Because I just made some delicious chocolate cake with delicious chocolate frosting. I frosted the cake right after it came out of the oven, so that part of the frosting permeates the cake. It’s very rich and moist and chocolate-y, and per Jeff‘s request, I photo’ed the end result. And while he didn’t request that I use a single-flash and shoe cord in the process, to show the cake and the frosting without cutting the cake, I did.

Mmm, the richness.

Oh, and spring break roadtrip photos? They’re coming along. They really should be ready sometime this week. Check the blog later!

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Multimedia.

I first heard that word being slung around in mass use when I arrived at MU and started doing activities with my Freshman Interest Group (FIG — wherein you live in the same dorm and take at least three classes with about 15 other freshmen in your major). The faculty adviser for my “Women in Journalism” FIG was Lynda Kraxberger, who chairs the MU Journalism School’s convergence sequence.

And almost every journalism professor I’ve had since has gravely informed us journalism students how vital multimedia is as a dynamic informational and/or visual tool that we all must learn.

I don’t doubt it.

I’m glad that multimedia is going to be a large component of my summer internship at washingtonpost.com.

And on that note: For today’s 3:30 p.m. class in Advanced Techniques, we are to link to an audio slideshow that “you think are well done, or ones you think have some good points but could be improved,” according to the syllabus.

I saw this slideshow when it first came out on washingtonpost.com, back in October after the stocks plummeted and everyone — not just the insiders and reporters — realized that the housing bubble and credit bubbles had finally burst. I still like it. What can I say? I’m a dork about the economy.

Click HERE to view “Anatomy of a Crisis,” narrated by Frank Ahrens of The Washington Post.

I like this slideshow for a few reasons:

  • Unlike a lot of audio slideshows out there, it’s not simply a linear photo story about a singular subject.
  • It is a simple, highly informative piece dealing with noteworthy and newsworthy events and issues that affect the entire nation.
  • It integrates photos and infographics, often alongside each other.
  • It makes you wonder at the end how on earth the slideshow producer pulled so many different images of houses together and turn it into an engaging (and, again, highly informative) slideshow whose visuals work with the audio and never get boring.

Maybe this kind of economic stuff does bore people. But hey — this is the kind of audio slideshow I’m excited about: short, succinct, informative, visual and engaging. And hopefully that’s the kind of multimedia I’ll get to help produce this summer.

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Life’s ironic, ain’t it?

I really don’t think “irony” or any derivative thereof is the correct word for this, but basically: In my last post, I discussed how I think I’m a balanced reporter in that I both report and photograph as a journalist. But it’s ironic (or something?) that I’m struggling to do my best work in both areas.

Let me say this right away: I am capable of reporting and photographing the same event/issue for the same story. I’ve done it several times in the past few years, and I think I’ve done it well.

But this semester, I am in two journalism classes with “Advanced” in their course titles: Advanced Reporting and Advanced Techniques in Photojournalism. For Advanced Reporting, I report on the state budget out of Phill Brooks’ bureau in Jefferson City for The Columbia Missourian on Mondays, Wednesdays and the occasional Friday. For Advanced Techniques, I have two classes and a lab period every week, plus a weekly assignment that usually involves at least two different shoots. Tuesdays and Thursdays are my days for those classes and lab, plus my other schoolwork.

I don’t have any problems balancing reporting and photojournalism in general. But when I’m photographing assignments that have nothing to do with anything I’m already doing in the bureau, that’s when it gets tricky. It’s the time crunch.

But there was no way I couldn’t have not taken these two classes this semester. I needed to take Advanced Techniques this semester as part of my photojournalism degree path and to graduate on time. In the meantime, this legislative session has provided great reporting material, and I’ve enjoyed reporting on state finances to a degree that I doubt many other Missourian reporters would.

Somehow I’ve been making it work, although I haven’t consistently done my absolute best for either class. But I really do not recommend that anyone take Advanced Reporting and Advanced Techniques in the same semester, especially if you’re reporting out of Jefferson City, which is 30 miles south of Columbia.

THAT SAID — this assignment for Advanced Techniques was not my best. This was one of the ones where my work suffered a bit.

We were to complete a fill flash/balancing assignment, wherein we basically fill or balance a subject against or in sunlight or some other bright light. At the last minute on Wednesday — in the middle of writing a monster article about the federal stimulus funds — I went to the legislative library in the Jeff City statehouse yesterday because I knew there are big windows there.

Legislative library worker Hilda Hartling pulls up articles dating back to the 1800s from the State Historical Society of Missouri’s newspaper archive Web site in the statehouse library on April 8. Hartling said she does not know how she managed to get the desk with the best view in the library – “just luck,” she said.

Legislative library worker Hilda Hartling pulls up articles dating back to the 1800s from the State Historical Society of Missouri’s newspaper archive Web site in the statehouse library on April 8. Hartling said she does not know how she managed to get the desk with the best view in the library – “just luck,” she said.

This isn’t quite fill-flash or balancing in the truest sense, since the light from the strobe isn’t competing with or framed against the light from the window. But I couldn’t remove the strobe’s reflection from the window glass when I tried a different angle. In the above shot, I bounced the flash off a white pillar that was squashing me against the wall to my right, to avoid the harshness of direct flash.

So, I’m not completely thrilled with how this assignment turned out, even though Hilda was really friendly and patient with me. I did have other options lined up, over the weekend and on Tuesday, but either I couldn’t make it to them or they fell through.

Alas.

I’ll do better next time.

It’s just a bit tough, because when my attention and time are divided between articles and photos that have nothing to do with each other, one wins and one doesn’t quite win. My article turned out wonderfully. My photo — ehh.

Once I’m actually in the field and out of school, though, I doubt that will be an issue any longer.

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I promise I’m a balanced reporter.

By that, I don’t mean I’m trying to reassure you that I report on all possible sides of an issue, etc. (But that said, I do my best to report on all sides of an issue!)

Rather, I’m trying to reassure you that even though this blog has gone severely photo-heavy in the past few weeks, I’m still trucking along as a political reporter in Jefferson City.

I’d prefer not to disclose details, but my editor Phill Brooks has had me working on a few features. Those are to be completed before the legislative session calendars truly become congested with hot bills and fast-paced action. There are only five and a half weeks left in session, so that doesn’t leave me much time.

One of those features is something Phill wants me to drop for now and instead pursue next semester, as an independent study project. It’d be a complete package: written story/ies, photos, audio, multimedia, everything. And, if I can get it right, it could be a very compelling story.

I already discussed this possibility with my Advanced Reporting instructor Tom Warhover. Here are the considerations and consequences we agreed I need to keep in mind when I make my decision:

  • I’m already registered for 12 credit hours (four courses) next semester. To complete this project, which would be fairly time-consuming, I would have to drop one of my photojournalism electives.
  • I need to make sure I’d have enough time to do Staff Photojournalism (one of my three-hour courses next semester, but it would require far more than three hours of work a week). That is a course I simply cannot put off any further.
  • Transportation? It’d really help to have a car.
  • If I did pursue this project, this would be my third semester with Phill as my editor. Which isn’t a bad thing at all, but my development as a reporter could benefit from working with a different editor.

That said, I haven’t made up my mind, at all. I don’t think I need to until May or so. But it’s certainly something I have to consider very carefully.

(more…)

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Every minute of my spare time this week has gone toward editing spring break roadtrip photos, of which there are many. I’m not done yet, alas, but here’s a snapshot of the variety of photos you’ll see on my blog and in my Flickr if you check back later!

snapshots

And those are just a few of the 107 digital photos I’ve edited (but not all 107 will be posted on-line!). I just got my film developed, so it’ll be a while before I have it scanned and edited. Currently, I’m working on the HDR images. Not sure how many of those I’ll have in the end.

Here are my thoughts about HDR (high dynamic range): Sometimes it can be done very well. I’d like to say that most of the time, it can be done very well. But some photographers (no names, no examples — that’s mean) really go overboard and create HDR images that just scream, “I AM HIGH DYNAMIC RANGE.”

Ideally, HDR images are created using five or more exposures that are bracketed, or taken at different exposures (typically via changing the shutter speed). But because we didn’t carry a tripod around with us everywhere on the trip, we took three bracketed exposures for our HDR purposes. So I’d find something I want to shoot, make sure my drive was set on hyper (to increase the speed at which the exposures were taken and decrease the probability of camera movement between the exposures), set my bracketing stops and fire off three exposures.

So even if I wanted to, I can’t create an HDR image that screams, “I AM HIGH DYNAMIC RANGE,” simply because I only took three exposures. But I don’t want to anyway. My approach is to create an image that looks like a normal exposure but with greater detail in the shadows and highlights. Why not just use Photoshop’s Shadow/Highlight tool on a correctly exposed image? Because, in many of the places we photographed, the sky was too bright and the shadows cast by/on the rocks and foliage were too dark to retain any detail in those areas.

In conclusion — I have a lot of work cut out for me still, what with scanning/editing my film and editing HDR. I want to wait until it’s all done before I start posting photos on-line, just for the sake of keeping everything in chronological order. So hopefully I’ll be ready to do that within the next week. But no guarantees.

In the meantime, you can check out the snapshots I provided above and be amazed by the variety of places we visited and passed. (More than a few of those photos were taken out of the car window as we sailed past at 65 or 70 miles per hour.) I’m still astonished that we were able to complete such an incredible itinerary in seven days. Although really, it was six, because on the seventh day, we drove back home through Colorado and Kansas. Terrible drive.

Anyway. Check back later for photos!

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