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Feel-Good Christmas Story No. 2,120

As I mentioned during last week's Grinchfest, the holidays are also filled with plenty of fun and heartwarming stories, so I figured I'd share some in a vain attempt to prove that my heart is not two sizes too small.

It was hard not to like last Wednesday's pair of feel-good stories. I started out at Deanna Cannon's house where her family and friends were whipping up some baked goods to benefit one needy family.

The kids scamping around made for some fun moments, like when sister Maiia, 7, left, and Lakiin Estrada, 5, performed some quality control tests while their mother Kori Cannon chopped up caramels:

I also liked Bear, the dog, hungrily waiting outside as Kyra Worsham, 9, and Lakiin wrapped candies:

And who could resist these peanut butter and chocolate balls?

I wanted to get the principle subjects in the photo, though, and here was a close option with Deanna and Kyra working the PB&C while Kori stirred the next batch of caramel:

It was missing Kristin Cannon, though, who had a brain tumor eight years ago. The community organized fundraisers to help pay for her medical costs, which is why the family has been holding these private bake sales for the last four years. I ended up going with this shot of Kristin, left, holding her niece Lakiin, who was playfully wrapping the grocery list around her neck as the group figured out what supplies they needed:

I'm hoping it conveyed some of the hectic hustle and bustle that went into the sale prep. I'm not sure it was all that successful, but the Cannons had a strong year, raising $1,100.

In the middle of shooting the Cannons, I popped over to photograph Wishing Star's special delivery for Enecia Campos. The 5-year-old is in remission from leukemia, but the family was a recent victim of burglary and the foundation got some goodies to brighten their holiday.

Enecia was a bundle of energy keeping us all entertained as we waited for her mother Liz to come home for the present ceremony:

It was a nice warm-up for me too, as I realized the two TV camera lights were going to create an ambient exposure nightmare, so I played it safe and started popping my flash. You can see the ceiling bounce regrettably reflected in the mirror of the photo we ran,

but I'll take that over including the other media members in the frame. And while this one is a little cleaner, and Wishing Star Tri-Cities Chapter President Brittany Bergsson has a better expression,

I liked including Enecia's family while she shook each present and asked if she could open it.

Not even a whiner like myself can complain about such a sweet kid and a sweet story — made even more interesting by the fact that Wishing Star was a victim of theft, as burglars made off with presents for the Campos family before donations refilled their charity coffers.

The next day, I went to photograph Danielle Cannon's tree house (no relation to the other Cannons). It was tough to pick out a spot with 36 decorated fake trees throughout her Kennewick home, but I settled on this setup in the kitchen, using a pink swath to frame her as her 4-year-old son Cavan kept himself entertained:

Kids that age are hard to direct, so I let it flow as much as possible, and when he showed off his "Monster Jam" cheer,

I figured it was the best I was going to get within his attention span. His exuberance helps make the photo, though, and I'll take an active, fun-loving subject over a sedate one any day. It turns out Monster Jam is the name of his favorite monster truck video, which he cued up after the portrait session, playing along with his own toy:

It made for a nice addition to the photo package along with this bacon ornament detail that payed homage to a food that's near and dear to my soon-to-be-struggling heart:

The Cathedral of Joy's annual Living Nativity was the day after that. I was a bit nervous going to photograph the pageant a day after an actor was burned, fearing that tighter safety restrictions would affect my ability to cover it, but only one person snarked me by asking if they were only newsworthy now that somebody had been burned.

A baseless accusation of sensationalism considering that we cover it every year.

Other than that, people were really nice and easy to work with. I always love historic costumes juxtaposed against modern technology:

I had a chance to include Interactive Media Director Andy Perdue's daughter Niranjana in the gallery,

and they even had some dogs:

I lucked out while photographing the pre-show prayer, capturing leads Mary and Joseph piously sandwiching a shepherd:

And though the parade of actors was in an incredibly dark situation, Joseph's torch made for a simple, but dramatic photo:

And for you photo geeks, that's me hand holding the 70-200/2.8 at ISO 1600, f/2.8 and 1/30 sec.

I'll wrap up this Christmas story with Lori Cramer, the postal worker who helps answer letters to Santa. I first met Lori and her daughter Sara, who helps translate each year's kid cravings, in 2009, when I thought "environmental portrait" was a dirty word:

Last year, I went with something a little more fun:

I was stumped going into this year's shoot. It's the same basic story, but like the reporters who write about Cramer, I try to change up annual traditions. Unlike them, I'm having to do it three years running. It's hard to avoid cheesy concepts with stories like this, so I planned on overflowing their mailbox with the letters and going outside.

Unfortunately, they share one of those mega-mailboxes, so Lori's stocking got stuffed instead. And to really mix it up, I buried Sara this year instead of Lori:

Oh, and there's a dog too.

Not my most inspired work to be sure, and though it always sucks when you're not able to top the previous year's effort, it's cute and gets the job done. It was fun to see them again despite the photographic challenge, and it felt good when Sara said she was glad I was back to shoot the photo.

It's easy to get into a shark's mentality in this job. The need for perpetual motion and growth amid day-to-day differences are what keep this gig exciting. Steady traditions have their merits, though. And while comfort is a dangerous feeling in this job, sometimes it's not so bad to sit back and let the holiday color do the heavy lifting.

Speaking of annual traditions...

Photo contest season is also upon us and the usual groans about over-processed images will pop up as sure as those dramatically toned photos with gritty content will win some top prizes. This feature about photo lab 10b Photography's work with Yuri Kozyrev's photos will rankle some people in that camp, and while I don't see an ethical problem with the extent that Kozyrev's photos are treated, I do bristle a bit at the opening caption that claims the photo was published "to critical acclaim by Time magazine, due, in part, to its tones colours and contrast."

There's really no sense in getting riled up over contests, though, like this self-proclaimed rant over at SportsShooter. My thought is that any contest in which a boring silhouette wins isn't worth getting mad about not winning, and frequent commentator Chuck Liddy's comment that "contests are for losers. unless, of course, you win." is spot on.

Also in SportsShooter land is Dallas Morning News shooter G.J. McCarthy's hilarious counter to ubiquitous-year-end-best-of galleries that highlights his 10 worst published photos of 2011. It's a theme I shamelessly ripped off last year. You can see his actual favorites at his blog.

And some troubling news out of Ethiopia, as two journalists have been convicted of supporting terrorism in what PDN calls a "show trial." That is despite "prosecutors' admission that video footage used against the journalists had been doctored." Here's hoping they don't end up serving the recommended 18-year sentences those same prosecutors are requesting.


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