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Splash Photography

When I was in high school, I probably couldn't have told you who the starting quarterback of the varsity team was. I attended an occasional game, but I didn't care about the team. Fall sports revolved around water polo, which I played.

Now, fall night shifts are all about the football. Because of the schedule rotation, I was heavily invested in last year's season, starting with production of the football preview cover, through the season and culminating in two tough losses for our local teams at state.

As I had hoped, last year's toe-dip into quality photos for our football preview led to increased and earlier involvement in the planning of this year's special section. And in a scenario I had dreamed about while lobbying for creative input since joining as a staff photographer, the sports crew invited Paul and me to sit in on their preview planning meeting where we came up with a water theme for this year's photos. As a result, I'm spending the this week writing about what went into this year's shots instead of half-assedly slapping together feature shots based on last-minute photo requests set during practice time a couple days before publication.

I was originally inspired by seeing a SportsShooter feature a few years ago about the St. Petersburg Times' "Football in the Sunshine State" series by Melissa Lyttle and my desire to do a thematic portrait series intensified after the Augusta Chronicle's spectacular "Dream 16" feature by Corey Perrine last year.

The broad water theme allowed for flexibility in our first year trying to do something like this and fit the Mid-Columbia with the rivers and agriculture that help define the area. One early problem was that last year's touchdown machine Matt Hadley was selected as the cover player and he lives in Connell. Serendipitously, reporter Kristi Pihl was writing about a veteran couple from Connell for a World War II feature, so we got a two-fer.

It turned out that Matt not only lived near Scooteney Reservoir, but also grew up on a farm. We started at his house and I wanted to work in the irrigation spray with him amid the corn field. Unfortunately, I didn't realize how swampy it gets out in those fields and this was about as close as we could get before I lost my shoes in the quickmud:

It doesn't quite work since the water is so distant and I felt extra stupid since my galoshes were in the car and I nearly ruined a new pair of shoes. He, unlike most football players, wanted a smiling shot too, so here's that option:

The water is even less apparent in this one. The shortcomings kept coming once we got to Scooteney, where my bad habit of not doing test runs beforehand screwed me yet again (when will I learn!?). The original idea of Matt exploding out of the water from a top-down view didn't create a splash like I had envisioned,

so we switched it up a bit and I had him stomp up a splash before going into a pseudo running motion:

It's OK, but not quite the effect I had in mind, so we shot a couple more options,

and this one ended up being our cover shot:

Next up was another traveling double-dip, as I squeezed in a portrait session with Hermiston's Rique Cardenas before shooting the Farm-City Pro Rodeo. While talking to him about photo ideas, he mentioned how he used to jump the canal at his grandmother's house as a child. The area was overgrown, the water was much deeper than I had hoped and I struggled to find a good angle. This was an almost, but would have taken some more lighting to make it work:

I opted for a closer, front-on look, but wasn't communicating to Rique how I wanted him positioned so he wasn't blocking his face:

Finally, I got one of him in the proper position,

right as one of my greatest photo nightmares came true.

Rique rolled his ankle.

Thankfully, it wasn't serious, and he brushed it off, saying that it wasn't anything some hot tub time wouldn't fix. Initially, he even offered to jump again after a brief rest. A second panic washed over me as I worried about having screwed up my focus or timing. Both of those looked OK on my camera, but I snapped a lame-o backup shot just in case the tiny screen was deceiving me:

I wish I would have popped a little light onto the water to make it shine a bit more, and if I could have gotten a few more reps out of him, I would have worked on his facial expression. I'm just glad he wasn't seriously hurt — especially since he missed most of last season with a broken collarbone.

A couple days later, I met Kamiakin's senior offensive line at the Kennewick Fire Department's Fire Training Center. The five showed up on time with full gear, but the gate was locked. Repeated panicky phone calls to Fire Training Officer Matt Worman revealed that the firefighters who were supposed to be training that evening were called out to an actual fire, but that he'd get somebody to let us in. The idea was to have the linemen manning a different kind of line that would open up the cutline to a punny gem like, "and their job will be to keep the heat off of Kamiakin quarterback Jason Hutchison."

After I noticed Joe Hunt's hilarious pose,

I asked him to switch it up because the last thing I needed was another Kamiakin sportrait kerfuffle. I was happy with the fairly clean angle I got that worked OK with how the light was coming in,

but tried a few on the stairs:

I didn't work this angle too hard since I wasn't happy with how the light was coming in and was nervous about the safety of any lights I set up as well as the possibility of the firefighter needing to leave in case of emergency.

Special thanks to him,

whose name I unfortunately can't remember, and Matt Worman for being so helpful in making this happen.

After a quick dinner break, I met up with Braves teammates Drew Oord and Zach Umemoto. The pair of linebackers also run the ball a lot and my original idea was to have them crashing into a pool toward each other to create big walls of water. That was nixed since they have new uniforms this year, so chlorine was a no-go. An audible the morning of the shoot relocated us to the Lampson Pits.

Drew was shorter than I remembered and the water was deeper than it looked in the day time, so more adjustments were needed as I flipped their orientation and lost the blue bridge. That probably worked out better since I had a nice clean dusky sky to work with and had Drew play the part of power and Zach portray his speed in just a few jumps in the brisk water:

I had set up the shoot for the pool idea at 8 p.m. banking on low light I could black out by overpowering with strobes, but the quickly fading light worked against me here. Knowing I wouldn't get too many chances meant I kept my lighting super simple. I'm shooting from the shore while my strobe with a 60-inch umbrella is sitting precariously on the dock to the right.

If you're wondering about the dark outline on Drew's left arm, that's because the sync speed with the strobe is only 1/250th sec. and the ambient light from the background meant the players were silhouetted without the flash. The flash pops, freezing most of the splash 'n' action, but Drew keeps moving, creating that dark line. You can see some more blurring on Zach's chest as well.

With more time and a better backup plan, I probably would have stuck another light to the left, but I'm actually pretty happy with how the simple one-light setup worked out.

Special thanks to sports reporter Kevin Anthony for making sure my light didn't turn into a paraglider and a tag-along teammate, second from left in the photo below, for sitting in front of the battery pack to keep it splash free:

I promised to take a picture of him too, so there you go. I'm a man of my word.

The same day I was scrambling to work on the two Kamiakin shots, I was also trying to line up a boat for Pasco lineman Zach Kreider the next day. After a few failed attempts, I called water safety advocate Mark Allen thinking he might know somebody who'd be available on such short notice. He did me one better and offered his 30-footer without hesitation. My original idea of water sheeting off of Zach's grimacing face didn't work since his hair was long enough to keep getting in the way:

I liked him spitting out some mist while shooting the photo, but I don't think the effect works very well:

I went with this shot, hoping it had a quiet determined feeling to it,

but I wish I would have pushed harder for a more intense expression. The rope wasn't as taut as I imagined, but believe it or not, he was actually pulling the boat in with a little help from the breeze. I also should have waded in and tried a couple closer wide-angle shots too.

A huge thanks to Mark Allen for helping out on this shoot.

The next evening was with Richland's Sawyer Powell. For the hard-hitting linebacker who already had a Division I commitment, I played off the cliché football-player-crushing-a-football photo and had him kersplode some water out of it instead. Learning from mistakes of the past meant I spared our poor photo studio (which still has some watermelon specks on its ceiling) and turned the Powells' driveway into a location studio:

Since we started at 8 p.m., it was no problem to overpower the ambient light. I also learned from past screw-ups and actually tried out the concept, which involved filling a party balloon with water after shoving it inside the bladderless pigskin. You can see that in this outtake featuring a prolapsed balloon:

We tried it a few times and had some fun options, but I picked this one despite its shortcomings:

The unfortunate bucktooth shaped drops in front of his face are a bit distracting and the way his shoulder pads cut off the lighting from his sides gives a funky shadow line. This close second doesn't have the same glorious spray, though, and it's harder to tell what he's crushing:

And this second runner-up lacks the impact of the first two:

Had I payed closer attention to the details of that first shot, I would have done a few more takes to get it right and that's something I need to improve on when working on shoots like this. Sawyer probably would have been down to do a dozen more if I had asked and it was his volunteering to run inside and fill the new balloon each time that gave me a chance to photograph the lighting setup for once — something I didn't even think to do during the other harried shoots.

Last up for me was Kennewick's Bryce Leavitt.

For him, I went with a moody rain theme I could write another punny cutline that referenced a "storm of questions about how the Lions would do after the departure of star quarterback Drew Loftus." After trying some throwing motion poses,

I agreed with Bryce's unfavorable assessment of the setup and went with a more statuesque look. His friends made it rain on him by spraying two hoses into the air over him. After working out the rain technique when I didn't like the fat drops they were splashing on him,

I got the shot I wanted:

I can't decide now if I like the bit of grass in there better or the lower, more heroic angle, but what I do know is that I wish I would have worked on the second light position a little better and maybe used a reflector to open up the shadows and give him better separation from the background.

Shortfalls aside, it was a blast to work on this series after trying to make it happen the past three years. I learned a lot about producing shoots like this and definitely look forward to improving the next chance I have. And while I hope that chance comes soon, my greater hope is that the players, coaches and our readers enjoy seeing them half as much as I enjoyed working on them.

Check out the other shots by Paul T. Erickson and Richard Dickin in this photo gallery of the whole series and keep an eye out for the print versions that come out Sept. 2.

Hitting the links

For a study of contrast, check out this powerful photo story by the Austin American-Statesman's Jay Janner about the ongoing Texas drought and this diverse edit of Hurricane Irene photos at The Big Picture. Not jarring enough? The take a look at "The Battle for Tripoli" by Yuri Kozyrev over at Time Magazine.

The Dayton Daily News' photo editor Larry Price became a photojournalists' social media cult hero on Tuesday after this story about how he opted to resign instead of laying off half his staff. The Pulitzer Prize-winning veteran has some interesting quotes in the story and is yet another piece of evidence ever tipping the scales toward "laughably no" in my did-I-choose-the-right-career self-questioning.

And if my tens of thousands of words have not yet convinced you that there's more to being a photographer than owning a nice camera, check out this funny blog with images that are worth 1,000 misspelled ones. Thanks to Gary Paulson for sharing this link.


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