Read, Whine and Boo-Hoo

July 15, 2011 

After a refreshing change of pace last Fourth of July, I was back on a familiar saddle this year, rehashing Pasco's Grand Old 4th Parade before snapping some pretty firework photos. But what usually is a busy weekend looked to be surprisingly light in my fifth year of holiday coverage.

July 3 started with some fun and sun on the disc golf course, where I tagged along with Keith Wilson of Richland, Sean Templeton of Kennewick and his brother Jeremiah, 11. I was disappointed by the lack of some Tri-Cities-trademark puffy clouds, but glad that Keith threw a nice contrasting orange disc from hole #14:

And when Jeremiah gave this frame a little spastic little-kid flavor in addition to some funky shadows and nicely arranged putting positions,

I called it a morning and offered the two as a front-page photo package to advance the upcoming 15th annual Nuclear Meltdown disc golf tournament on July 16-17.

I was pretty happy with the take considering my past failures at photographing disc golf in an interesting way. All I had left that day was the final game of the series between the Dust Devils and Spokane. The local team had won handily the previous two nights, and I decided to hang in the dugout to change things up.

It's fun being at field level, but easier to get blocked or end up on the wrong side of the action. Up above, you get cleaner backgrounds and can move more easily, but don't always get interesting compositions. I struggled with my action shots but had fun snapping the promos, fading light and crowd dancing:

I planned on making another gallery to follow up the previous night's game since I had such a light day and it's fun to work around the edges of the game. Our galleries of local pro sports generate a fraction of the traffic that high school sports attract, so producing them isn't expected or worth the effort if time is a factor.

That plan changed when reporter Michelle Dupler called to let me know West Richland was burning. Scanner chatter on the firework-fueled Fourth holiday is a pain to deal with. Obviously we don't hate it as much as the firefighters who respond, but there's always a bunch of little flare ups going on at the same time and it can be hard to distinguish the real threats from the quickly extinguished. She wasn't sure how severe West Richland was, so I said I'd wrap up the inning and check back in.

It was still going on when I left, so I headed out to West Richland not knowing exactly what was going on. A shed caught fire in Pasco while I was driving over, and I resisted the urge to head toward that column of smoke. I was glad I made that decision as I approached Flat Top Park in West Richland and saw the scorched hillside. I stopped at the playground to get some shots of Blake Shinkoethe, 5, taking another look at the fire as her father Winston pushed the swing,

before the police told them the park was closed and I turned my attention to the hill, where firefighters were starting a backburn:

What seemed crazy to me was that fireworks continued to explode as a fire in the middle of town threatened homes and businesses. While I never saw a situation where I could include both (likely) cause and effect, I was happy with this shot at the command station:

It's not uncommon to feel a sense of dread when you're surprised by a late breaking-news assignment. There's usually a point in coverage, however, when the newsworthiness of the scene comes into focus. Seeing and hearing non-stop fireworks while a fire that was likely started by fireworks continued to burn for hours was that moment for me. What was a head-shaker to me must have felt like a slap in the face to firefighters.

When I asked Benton fire district 4 Captain Bill Cherwien what he thought of it, he laughed and said he was afraid that I would print his quote verbatim if he spoke his mind. He gathered his thoughts and said, "This is really troublesome. People have their rights to enjoying their holiday, but...there are businesses that are imminently in danger. It's troubling and disturbing." I hoofed it down Van Giesen Street after that to see just how close it had gotten, and Cherwien wasn't exaggerating:

That's also when I saw a quiet scene develop as crews got the fire under control. I tried to put out some psychic vibes as a firefighter paced around while keeping watch on the backburn.

Come on back to the left...

A lull in the windy night also let some smoke and and heat waves waft and shimmer in front of the moon:

I rushed back to make deadline and had to decide which photos to use.

The obvious choice is the wide shot of the burning hillside, but that's mostly backburn. The photo was going in the gallery, of course, so after bouncing the idea off copy editor Nancy Luzovich, we ran the moon shot with the firework one. I still had baseball to figure out, though, and my original plan was to feature reliever Ching-Lung Lo throwing out Spokane's Trever Adams:

It's different from a typical baseball shot and I liked the tightness of the frame. Also, it was a chance to feature the lone Taiwanese player and justified my being in the dugout for five innings — a position I'm sure annoyed some of the Dust Devils. Things changed when I checked out the box score and saw that Lo had only pitched to four batters, allowing two runs and three hits.

Apparently I had captured his one good deed of the day, and it was far from spectacular enough to justify running the photo with a story about Tri-City's 3-2 loss.

The same goes for the rest of my game action:

Ultimately, I went with the most boring, straightforward shot you can make at a baseball game — the pitcher photo:

This one doesn't even have some layered batter or intense facial expression. It's basically an action mug shot chosen simply because Spokane's Victor Payano torched the Dust Devils for nine strikeouts, only allowing one hit and walking a batter during his shift. Settling for a photo like this happens fairly frequently, but this one stung extra because I had spent so much time at the game and also because I felt like I had done a good job at the West Richland fire as well as snapping something funky

and a decent play at home

in the two previous nights of baseball coverage. Further, my disc golf photos were understandably usurped by the fire and went from a front-page package to an inside solo photo five days later.

The only thing worse was having to cover a parade the next morning. It was my fourth time shooting Pasco's Grand Old 4th Parade, a tedious task made even less bearable by my lack of sleep after staying out too late and being woken up by an early-morning phone call. Ten a.m. definitely seemed way too early to be hustling up and down Sylvester Street in the oppressive sun looking for photos, trying desperately to make something I hadn't seen before. Getting names and caption info is a pain when your subjects are on the move, too, and here are some of my favorites from the day:

Knowing that the photo would run secondary on the front page didn't exactly motivate me either. Front page may sound good, but running as the second element means it will be tiny, limiting options. This shot of Don Lamb and his mini horses is fun for the reactions,

but those expressions would be lost when squeezed into its hole. Don also didn't know how to spell his granddaughter's name. That's too bad since his won the best equestrian float and it's always nice to work that angle in when you can.

This shot of a marching band reflected in Bailie McEntire's sousaphone wouldn't work for the same size-restricting reason:

And while I liked the candy fling in this shot, I try to avoid highlighting a business entry unless it's awesome enough:

I went with Riverview Baptist Church's flag-draped float featuring Songs of Praise, a choir from Hyles-Anderson College in Hammond, Ind.:

I like the layers of flags, but really wish I would have stuck with them until I got a one without a power line shooting through that singer's head.

Aside from a quick jaunt out to Peachtree Lane in Richland for a minor apartment fire, the rest of the split shift was pretty uneventful until firework time. We try to switch back and forth between the River of Fire and Gesa Stadium displays to maintain some sort of photo neutrality. I shot the River of Fire last year, but covered it again this year because it was the 25th anniversary. Since I shot it from Columbia Park last year, however, I went with the Pasco side this year.

It's one of those things we're very careful about because it's just silly enough of a reason for people to write in and complain.

I gave Moore Mansion a try since I'd never photographed the fireworks from there and figured something must be going on. Owner and Franklin County Commissioner Brad Peck was nice enough to show me around and offer advice on where he'd photographed the fireworks before, and it turned out Dale and Megan Williams of Pasco had just tied the knot.

I did some test framing around the property as the light slowly faded, guessing where the fireworks might be, but those plans were worthless when the explosions in the sky were farther away and lower than Brad and I had expected. Wide shots with the mansion wouldn't work:

And going a little tighter wasn't much better:

Then I noticed that their wedding photographer Bill Watts was shooting some firework portraits of the newlyweds. I did my best to not blow up his scene, only firing my strobe when he was between shots. I even tried pulling out a bit to include him in the shot, but didn't like all the wasted space and didn't have a good spot to zoom in and compress the elements more:

While this kiss jumped out while looking over my take,

I opted for this one of the couple watching the show between photos:

It was a real moment within the contrived situation and I wasn't piggybacking off of Bill's lighting setup like in the previous two shots. I also kept my aperture at f/5.6 to keep the depth of field lower since I was shooting fireworks, not wedding portraits, and I wanted to make a different photograph than what Bill was working toward. I also liked the faint silhouettes in the background, though that little element was lost in reproduction — annoying, but not the same grim repro that took the life out of a previous Pasco firework photo.

The realities of deadline, traffic and the possibilities of night fires means the spectacular professional finales are always in my rear view mirror and my once joyous love of setting off low-brow pyrotechnics is slowly being replaced with curmudgeonly frowns and head-shaking. Five Fourths is three too many, so here's hoping this was the last one I have to work for a while.

For more photo fun...

Check out one of the greatest Rube Goldberg machines ever created. In addition to the usual engineering trickery involved, I love the creativity and multimedia they incorporated. I don't even care that the whole thing seems to have been created as an ad for some Canadian auction site.

Robots aren't just taking factory jobs anymore, they're taking photo jobs. OK, not really, but it will be interesting to see what kinds of photos this robophotog will make. I'm keeping expectations low based on this part, "The researchers taught it what makes a great photo by analysing the top and bottom 10 percent of 60,000 images from a website hosting a photography contest, as rated by humans." Not to knock all photo contests, but a lot of them only really show who has the best social networking skills and is able to walk the fine line of soliciting votes without pissing off friends. Here's hoping it's better than "Lewis", the wedding photobot from the early 2000s mentioned in the same PetaPixel article who can recognize faces, but not the distracting objects jamming into them.

If a monkey can do it, how hard can it be, right?

There was a disappointing turn in Tony Overman's situation at the Olympia this week, highlighting what seems to be a little-known facet of newsroom code of conduct. Many of the comments are in support of Tony, whose quote “The problem that I’m wrestling with is that I did the right thing as a citizen and I did the wrong thing as a journalist,” sums up the situation he was caught in. Read a fascinating article about the anarchist in question that interweaves Tony's incidents during and after covering these rallies here.

As much as we try to be flies on the wall to avoid affecting the situations we cover, that's not always possible — especially if you're the one who was under attack, as Tony was in another incident. It's hard to say how I'd react in a similar situation, but I will say that what Tony did is a lot different than sending a complete take of photos to the police afterward. Here's hoping he bounces back quickly from this and that the vandalism of his home and office is finally over. Strangely enough, the home of the anarchist arrested after being identified in Tony's photo had his home recently vandalized as well.

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