On the campaign trail

Tri-City HeraldAugust 31, 2012 

Four years ago I had an idea. Inspired by Melissa Lyttle's unconventional take on football portraits in her Football in the Sunshine State series, I wanted to tie our football preview to the presidential election year. Seeing a lot of hurdles ahead, I even contacted Melissa for advice on how well-received their photos were in February 2008 — just a month after being hired. My lack of newsroom political capital made that a fool's errand, especially since the preview section was run back then by somebody who was against photo themes.

While I ended up shooting the cover and several inside photos anyway, I felt like we had missed a good opportunity. Frustrated, I stewed and worked and waited as I continued to get inspiration from A Photo A Day, a listserv started by Melissa. I paid especially close attention to the sportrait work of Corey Perrine and Matt Roth on the list.

Our "Summer's Over" cover shot two years ago got the ball rolling and last year's water-themed series drummed up some excitement in the community and at the paper for a well-produced portrait series. Plus, I brought up the campaign idea every once in a while with the sports staff, trying to hide my bitterness from the failure of my freshman proposal.

Things were starting to look dicey again this year as the school year ended. I had always envisioned involving various high school clubs and cheer squads to help make props and use school-themed settings for the photos. As we finally had a little breathing room after boat races, I dove in and started to shoot the 12 photos for our feature stories and special section the second week of August.

So instead of my usual step-by-step replay of how each shoot went down, here's my edit of Football Campaign 2012:

Prosser quarterback Ryan Fassler, center, and receiver Danny Raap will be a tough ticket for the rest of the CWAC to tackle as the Mustangs duo pitch their campaign platform to fan Kris "Boomer" Hogaboam. Prosser quarterback Ryan Fassler, center, and running back Danny Raap will lead the Mustangs' offense this year. Photographed with Kris "Boomer" Hogaboam.

Chiawana linebacker Alex Weber is the leader of a young Riverhawks team that features only three seniors. After losing in the regional playoffs during last season's 8-1 campaign, Weber and company plan on making it to the state playoffs this season. While the presidential candidates are traveling the road to the White House, local football players are campaigning for a trip to the Tacoma Dome and the state championships.

Pasco running back and linebacker Luis Murillo doesn't lack for votes as one of the most valuable Bulldogs, but it never hurts to kiss a few more babies in the bid for office.

There's no debate that River View's Kyle Hall and Columbia-Burbank's AlanMichel "Bug" Hyde will trade barbs on both sides of the ball as two-way linemen on the SCAC East rivals.

There isn't much secret about the service that Hanford's Joe Douglas, left, Zack Gaston, Xavier Johnson and Cody Kowalski provide, as they are the front line in protecting the Falcon end zone.

Southridge's Trey Tutt is expected to read opposing defensive fronts as well as the flow of the offense as one of the Suns' top two-way linemen.

Liberty Christian's Tyler Morris will help lead a Patriots team. The senior also built display boards for Camp Patriot as part of his Eagle Scout project. Photographed at the Benton Franklin Fair & Rodeo Micah Clark, founder and executive director of Camp Patriot, center, and Bill Clark, member of the board of directors for Camp Patriot.

Kennewick's Devven Ramos, left, and Bodie Simpson know how to press the flesh as savvy veterans, with five years of starting experience between them coming into the season.

Zach Whitby may have switched parties a time or two, but the junior is finally in a leadership position and will call the shots on offense for the Richland Bombers.

Walla Walla running back Jonah Hoe is ready to serve up some touchdowns for the Blue Devils. Photographed at Taqueria Yungapeti in Walla Walla with cook Jorge Frutis and Blue Devils center Jon Blanc as photographer.

Kamiakin's Johnny Jansen is the latest in a string of standout linebackers charged with being the Commander in Chief of Tim Maher's vaunted Braves defense.

There is no question that Joe Douglas is one of the top players in the new Mid-Columbia Conference. He has "front-runner" written all over him as a unanimous first-team all-league pick at offensive tackle who may be even better on the defensive side of the ball.

It may not look like a whole lot of work, but I had to arrange and photograph them around my daily duties during a couple weeks when we were short staffed already. This meant scheduling a shoot or two on days off and spending off-hours looking for the right props. I also stretched my seldom-used and never-strong designer muscles to make the logo featured on that first photo and that would run with each story to help tie them together:

That ended up being extra necessary because a couple of the photos don't really work with the theme by themselves. I'm hoping they all make sense within the context of the series, though.

Those fake campaign signs didn't make themselves either and I tried to design them differently enough to be semi-believable. You can download the high-res ones here if you're a Prosser, Kennewick or Chiawana fan (more likely the specific players' parents) and want to print them up to keep this theme going throughout the season.

The biggest challenge was logistics, though. Thankfully, the players were all around town during this photo window, but arranging this many shoots was quite the juggling act.

Some photo ideas, like a player meeting a crowd while stepping off a private jet, fell through when I couldn't find a plane to use. I also struggled to find the right vehicle for the Hanford Secret Service photo before noticing that Herald Classified Supervisor Parker Hodge's Ford Explorer fit the Falcon colors nicely. A big thanks to him for making time for that shoot, printing out the glossy Chiawana signs and logo for the cover shot, as well as helping arrange Kamiakin's gym for the cover. More on that later.

I also ended up wasting a fair amount of time, like when I nearly superglued my hands to these earpiece props for the Secret Service shot. I thought it was a pretty clever makeshift design, but the cord is too thick for the earplugs to hold them in place, one of them broke and you can hardly see them in the final shot anyway:

I once heard director Akira Kurosawa brewed 1,000 pots of tea to add realism to a minimal prop in his movies. I'll just pretend I was doing the same thing.

Thankfully, Xavier Johnson stepped up big and got them all matching purple aviators and was a big help by being my contact with the whole defensive line. It's no secret that times are tough here and I spent less than $50 for all these shoots. Buying matching shades wasn't in the budget, and I was going to be content with mismatched sunglasses, but the uniform look adds a lot to final image.

We also had a small crisis a week before deadline when my lame idea of having a hand stuffing a flattened football into a ballot box ended up being even weaker than I had feared:

Sports writer Jack Millikin played hand model for that shoot, which would have fell well short of the quality of the rest of the photos. I was going to digitally add the logo to the side, but there was no polishing that turd to a respectable shine.

Dejected, we went out for a post-shoot beer at the Keg in Kennewick, where Jack tried to reassure me as I stewed about falling so flat so close to the finish line. That's when I grabbed a couple coasters and scribbled out some ideas:

With the aforementioned help from Parker, I got a hold of Kamiakin Athletic Director Casey Gant last Monday to arrange for the use of the gym, which has a huge flag that lowers from the ceiling. We'd tie in the previous idea of disembodied, roughed up and taped hands at the podium and actually print up the logo to stick on there. Another thanks to Kamiakin Principal Chris Chelin for helping make that happen too.

My girlfriend Kyla Haren, who also does hair, makeup and costuming for Columbia Basin College, was able to help on this shoot and did some great makeup on Jack's hands to give them that gritty look. Since he's obviously not a high school student and we didn't have a singled-out player for the cover story, I lit and shot it two ways so I could either crop his head out or silhouette him. We had some fun on the shoot and got some pretty good outtakes while mixing up my angles and the podium setup:

When it came down to the actual cover, I didn't really like how the silhouetted look worked out:

Having the logo so low made it less prominent and gave less usable design space. Plus, I had used the politician point a couple times already. Avoiding redundancy was the reason I went with the Tyler Morris photo I did instead of these faux grip-and-grins even though I like parts of these two better:

And partly why I didn't use these outtakes from the Kennewick and Joe Douglas shoots:

Those decisions had more to do with how the crowds lined up, though.

And I guess while we're on this outtake digression, I'll show a few more:

Back in cover land, I tried a few crops, but to make the image fit on the whole page meant slicing it pretty tight along the sides:

I played around with my rudimentary design skills some more, working with sports writer Kevin Anthony and City Editor Kristina Lord among others to come up with the final cover:

You can click on it, as with all the images on my blog, to see a larger version. I tried a few digital tricks to jazz up the podium and text, as well as trying to add a fake heavy duty flag texture to the stars on the bottom.

And while I'm never totally happy with my work and see things I'd like to improve on every shot and design, I'm as happy as I've ever been with a completed project. As much as I'd like to pout and throw out some I-told-you-so's in reference to my four-year-old project pitch, those years allowed my skills to catch up with the concept. Staff cuts and voluntary departures have thrust me into a part-time graphic designer role in the newsroom and more importantly, I am a much better photographer than I was in 2008. I didn't have the skills, confidence or equipment to pull something like this off back then.

Even a simple task, like turning the drab meeting room at the Kennewick branch of the Mid-Columbia Libraries into a stage would have fell flat back then. Here's a snap from a recent governor's visit to that room:

And with some simple lighting that I didn't understand then, I was able to get the shot of Zach Whitby almost entirely in-camera:

One semi-regret is not getting more wide setup shots during this process, but I was so concentrated on getting the actual photos to remember most of the time. In this case, I threw a bunch of zoomed-in flashes with orange and blue gels at different angles to simulate stage lighting and overpower the ambient light. Four years ago, I thought soft light was the only good light and probably would have lugged our three studio lights out with umbrellas and sweated my way through a crappy shoot, wondering how to drop out the background without a black backdrop.

Knowing the community, its locations and, most importantly, people here also made this possible. Even though I played art director and designer along with my usual photographer duties, I got a lot of help along the way.

Thanks to Kate Holloway for helping arrange things at the library for Trey Tutt's shoot, Customer Service Specialist Marta Russell-Hanes for letting us hijack story time for a few minutes and the library staff for being so helpful in arranging the meeting room.

Thanks to Kris "Boomer" Hogaboam for dropping what he was doing to help out with the Prosser shoot.

Thanks to the Camp Patriot people for jumping in and helping track down my extension cord after I left it at the fair.

Thanks to Taqueria Yungapetti in Walla Walla for letting us back in the kitchen for Jonah Hoe's shoot.

Thanks to all my friends, James Steffens, Angela Thomas, Brian Clowers, Dee Posey, Charlie Ramos, Mary Ramos and Shannon Hofstad for bringing their babies out for Luis Murillo's shoot. Thanks to former Herald photographer Molly Van-Wagner for putting the word out to some other new moms to help out as well as the random families I wrangled at the park.

Thanks to the sports and photo staffs for trusting me to pull it off and Kevin Anthony's powers of punservation on all the cutlines.

A big thanks to Ronn Campbell at CBC for letting us use the CBC theater for the debate and confetti drop photos. It came together pretty last-minute after arrangements with a couple school districts fell through. I'm guessing the timing was just bad for the facilities managers who were gearing up for the impending school year. The theater's catwalk ended up being the perfect spot to drop confetti from and the stage curtains worked great for both photos. Also thanks to Jack, Kyla, Craig Craker and his wife Veronica for helping with confetti, as well as Alex Weber's family for sticking around to help clean up:

Jack and Kyla were instrumental throughout the project, assisting me from the very first shoot with Johnny Jansen:

Kyla was on hand for all but a couple of the shoots and also helped me with buying props and making confetti. She also kept my spirits up when I started stressing about how little time I had to arrange and photograph all of these, especially when venues and photo ideas started falling through. Her theater and fashion shoot experience was also a big asset when figuring out posing and on-the-fly set design.

And of course thanks to players for showing up early or on-time to just about every shoot, helping arrange props and extras and being cooperative with what must have seemed like a strange theme for football photos. I was blown away by the crowd that the Kennewick players brought with them and Luis Murillo's extra eye blacks and tiny Bulldog shirt for the baby he's kissing was a great addition I hadn't thought of.

It was a rewarding experience and the creative drive and realization of a four-year project kept me going through a busy and trying time, and wrapping it up makes all the added stress of taking on this task feel justified. I hope our readers enjoy viewing the series as much I did putting it together.

For more portraiture...

Somebody seriously one-upped Noah Kalina's daily-self-portrait project with some really clever use of the stop-motion animated nature of flying through the years one self-portrait at a time.

Artists Stephan Hillerbrand and Mary Magsamen have a clever take on family portraiture over at Lens.

The Omaha World-Herald had a similar idea to my football preview.

Australian photographer Shantanu Starick is trading his skills to try and travel the world without spending any money.

And if you're mad that Facebook forced you into adopting Timeline, check out this fun take on how Photography's Timeline would look.


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