Conservation of Greatness

March 31, 2011 

My friend Dan Hawthorne always talked about "Conservation of Greatness" during pick-up ultimate frisbee with the Desert Lorax. The popular ultimate concept says that if you perform an amazing play, you likely will make a poor throw after, restoring karmic balance in a self-officiated sport that places a lot of weight in sportsmanship and the "spirit of the game."

I have certainly fallen prey on many occasions, and judging by my work on last Friday's assignments, it can apply to photography as well.

The day started with me checking out some demolition at the old Kennewick School District building near the office. With no major wrecking ball action, I almost thought they had shut down for the day, but found a couple guys handling the building's metal guts. After rethinking a potentially painful shooting angle,

I actually got a moment I kinda liked with the two guys chucking duct work:

After that I had to shoot a portrait of Naoko Kobayashi, who is working on raising money for tsunami relief in her native Japan. Her plan includes the Japanese tradition of folding paper cranes, and I had a basic idea for what I wanted to do. I usually try not to be too committed to any particular idea because you never know what kind of surroundings you may find, but when I saw the large dining room window, I was pretty excited. Starting simple, I went with one light on Naoko and another to highlight the cranes:


It's pretty close to the moody look I wanted, but I wasn't feeling the doghouse in the backyard. Opening up the ambient exposure level added a bright haze that ruined some the nice shadows inside, so I stuck a third light in the yard shooting back toward me:


It's still pretty rare for me to shoot something so close to how I conceptualized it, and this may be the first time I actually made a better frame than I had hoped. It was enough to tip the story onto the Sunday front page, where it got great play, and my only regret was not toning the photo a little more to make sure that little bit of lens flare reproduced better.

My evening assignments were the first playoff game between the Americans and Vancouver, as well as something from the Badger Mountain Challenge's 100-mile Ultra-marathon. The marathon photo request was for the finish on Saturday, but there were already a slew of assignments, the finish time was uncertain and I wanted to try shooting something at night.

I had been in touch with the two local competitors, but since one of them had never even run a regular marathon before, I banked on Kennewick's Jason Reathaford who was attempting a 100-mile race for the second time. With help from race organizer Brandon Lott and Jason's wife Julie, I figured out where his upcoming aid station was and a rough ETA. Unfortunately, it was all the way out in Prosser. I did some quick driving calculations and figured I could make it back in time for the Ams. The bonus was that the aid station was up on a hill along Highway 221 (potentially providing a cool overlook of some city lights) and that Jason's arrival should coincide with either a sunset or some nice blue light.

I was hoping it would be the latter, since darkness would mean headlamps, and what I wanted to do was drag the shutter as he approached, getting a nice bouncy squiggle of light before popping some flash on him. It's the same concept as the photo I did for Blithe Spirit, except I would have far fewer chances to nail it.

I set up where I thought the runners would approach, but apparently misunderstood the aid station workers. The first of many uttered profanities kicked off as I noticed faint silhouettes in an unexpected place, so I grabbed my camera, tripod and a flash on a light stand and ran across the highway, up some loose soil, through some barbed wire and scrambled to figure out a new composition. The problem was that I no longer had a nice dark hill to place the runners against. Afraid of ghosting, I tried to adjust to a high enough angle that the subject would be entirely in front of the ground. Barring that, the sun was setting to my right, so there was a chance he'd pass through a dark enough spot to prevent that.

Nope:

I also couldn't do a true second-curtain sync with my radio triggers, opting to manually set off my flash, closing the shutter soon after. As you can see by the laser unicorn horn protruding from his head, the shutter was open for a bit longer, dragging out the light from his headlamp. I was already pushing my self-allotted time frame, but figured I should take another crack after driving all that way, so I went past the aid station and tried to get runners as they left. The problem was that they all ran on separate paths, making it impossible to set up for the shot. Juggling a light stand and tripod, adjusting focus and tripping the shutter early enough with the right aperture to properly expose the ambient light while aiming the flash correctly is pretty friggin' hard to do by yourself, as I discovered, botching my ensuing attempts:

I don't know what I felt worse about, failing or needlessly blinding those poor runners 47 miles into a 100-mile run. There wasn't any time to dwell, though, as I high-tailed it back to Kennewick, arriving with 15 minutes left in the third period. When the game pushed into overtime, I was somewhat relieved with the extra time to shoot, but simultaneously disappointed about my ever prolonging shift.

Without live TV coverage, I opted to shoot from the designated media spot. It's a pretty bad angle to shoot from, but you're covered on both nets, which I figured was the smart play for sudden death. We ended up running this shot inside since Vancouver goalie Mark Segal made an absurd 44 saves, including this one-on-one attempt by Carter Ashton:

And here's the main shot of Connor Rankin celebrating after Ashton's game-winning goal with 2.2 sec. left:

A potentially cooler shot happened moments later, when Segal, who had been so good all game, reacted to his last-second lapse in brickwalledness while Ams fans and players celebrated:

From my angle, it's a awkwardly loose frame, with lots of wasted space and missing the home team element, which is why I went with the shot of Rankin's celebration. The shot that ran has its own compositional problems, born from the same mid-ice angle. In hindsight I should have gambled on an Ams win and set up closer to the visitors' goal. The Ams had been much stronger offensively and had the momentum of scoring the tying goal on top of home-ice advantage. I likely would have missed out on anything usable if Vancouver won, but I already had a couple shots that would work for that outcome. Brendan Shinnimin getting his shot double stuffed would have been appropriate:

As would this shot of Vancouver's defense out of position while Mason Wilgosh begged for the puck:

I think all that wide open space actually works in this frame. The sad thing was that I had all this in mind while shooting overtime, but let my earlier disappointment in photographing the ultra-marathon made me hesitant to take another risk.

Instead of remembering that earlier failure, however, I should have remembered that, like in sports, you have to be willing to take chances in photography, but also be able to move on when something doesn't work out. And while I'm disappointed that the shot didn't turn out as I had hoped, it felt strangely good to end up in a position that used to be much more familiar. As I've gotten better at what I do, wandering out of my comfort zone has become less and less frequent. Often pressed for time, I usually play the odds in my favor and go for easy and adequate. If I want to keep improving, that will have to change — conservation of greatness be damned.

~~~~~

kyau@tricityherald.com
(509) 585-7205
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