Back to the Feature Part IV

August 26, 2010 

Without a real Michael J. Fox/Christopher Lloyd joint to draw inspiration from, I’m not sure where to start, but really, I’m not sure where this idea even came from.

Perhaps Inception is possible...

On June 9, 2008, I headed out to Ringold for one of the first wildfires of the season. It’s about 40 minutes away, so crews had it under control by the time I got there. While I was driving toward the smoke, however, a sign prompted me to stop:

The funny thing is (besides the HILARIOUS visual pun, of course) is that I remember thinking that this was an opportunity I had been waiting for. I don’t know if I had noticed such a sign before while covering a fire or if I had always thought it would be interesting to see flames behind a sign purporting low fire danger. What I do know is that the smoke is so sparse and distant that the marginally humorous joke is further marginalized, like several of the feature-length Saturday Night Live character movies.

A couple weeks ago, some kids were playing with fire and set a small field ablaze. Despite only being a few blocks away, crews had it mostly extinguished:

You might even say it was 90 percent off. Needless to say this shot suffers the same fate as the Ringold one.

Last Wednesday, Jump Off Joe Butte was burning, and when I found my safe place to park, I saw the sign:

It’s got flames and an accurate sign, so why am I not considering this a successful return to the feature? First, it took an embarrassingly high number of revisits during the fire to get this shot. The wind was blowing right toward me most of the time, so all you can see in the first few takes is a grayout of smoke. Some active firefighting in the background would make for a stronger frame, as well, but at this point, crews had their fire lines in place and were starting to light their back burns, content to let this little patch burn itself out.

Here’s the shot that ran of the actual back burn,

but this moody apocalyptic aftermath shot is my favorite from the day:

I had a more redemptive Saturday last week. After covering the Aquaman Duathlon Friday, I started my day back at Howard Amon Park in Richland with the Titanium Man Jr. Triathlon. Unfortunately, I also had to cover the Benton Franklin Fair & Rodeo Parade, which started an hour later in downtown Kennewick.

I figured that if I couldn’t actually cover the triathlon, my photo from it should be cool, so I took another crack at shooting the swimming start from in the water. As an intern in 2007, I took a dip for the start of the Righteous Richland Sprint Triathlon. As I moved into position, somebody yelled at me that I was going to get run over. I moved closer to shore and got this shot of Tess Jenkins, then 13, as she participated in her first triathlon:

Aside from the memorably brisk morning river bath, covering this sticks out in my mind because I ended up spending at least an hour showing people the back of my camera to try and get an ID of the swimmer. I was also disheartened to see, once I got back to the office, that the shot is a little backfocused and my exposure was a little hot. Also, for a photo of people hurriedly splashing into the river for a race, it feels kind of static.

I was determined not to make the same mistakes this time around. Since it was a junior triathlon, with less serious competition, I went out a little farther in the hope that I could get a shot in the middle of the action. The race was broken up into two groups, with older kids starting first, so I had a couple shots at it. The smaller, more aware group of teens and pre-teens did their best to avoid me — a courtesy that has restored a little of my faith in humanity’s future, but still an unwelcome one because of the boring shot I ended up with:

I hustled ahead to the second starting area and picked a similarly reckless spot in the thick of where the action should have been. I really wanted a good in-your-face kind of shot, so I leaned about as low to the water as my comfort allowed. The cameras we have are weather sealed, so a few splashes aren’t a big deal, but submersion, even in fresh water, can be disastrous. As the first wave went by, the tiny triathletes made surprisingly big splashes:

I adjusted to a slightly higher angle to keep my camera semi-dry and captured this shot, which ended up being the shot we ran:

After that first wave, I moved a little closer to shore just to mix up my angles. I figured I’d put together a photo gallery and tried to get a little visual variation:

True, this one is a little more in-your-face, but what I liked about the shot I picked was the foot kicking past me in conjunction with the girl on the left and the mob of competitors waiting on the shore with their families and friends. Unfortunately, this shot was slated for a black and white page and the lack of fleshy colors makes that foot detail all but disappear, even with some toning to up the contrast:

It’s disappointing, for sure, but if I got mad every time a photo I liked didn’t run large and in color, my blood pressure would have spiked to the point of squirting blood out of my fingertips by now. With so many pieces that have to somehow fit together every day, it’s selfish to think that mine warrants preferential treatment. Plus, the digital platforms on which we can publish our work helps soften the blow when a successful return to the feature isn’t featured prominently in print.

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