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Best Seat in the House

Photography, sports and life as seen through the lens of Seattle Times photographer Rod Mar.

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March 31, 2008 10:18 PM

M's - Chilling Out on Opening Day

Posted by Rod Mar

Ah, the Opening Day of baseball season.

The green grass, the blue skies, the crack of the bat, the pastoral rhythm of America's pastime.

Whatever. (Sorry, Jim.)

Got ready to go to Opening Day for the Seattle Mariners, which was a 3:40pm start at Safeco Field.

Despite rainouts and postponed games around the country, Seattle's stadium has a retractable roof, so I knew we'd at least stay dry.

Staying warm, however, was a different question entirely.

I wore UnderArmour compression tights and shirt against my body for warmth. Added a lightweight fleece pullover, down jacket, jeans, wool socks, winter hiking boots and a hat and I was ready to go.

Whoops. Forgot handwarmers. Packed them, too.

Driving to the stadium I realized the last time I'd worn all this gear was in Green Bay for the Seahawks playoff game against the a driving snowstorm.

Ah, Spring!

Opening Day is both hard and easy to cover, all at the same time.

It's easy because everything is scripted (okay, except for the outcome). There's red, white and blue bunting hanging everywhere, military flyovers, high school bands and choirs, fireworks, balloons, and even barbershop quartets.

And really, who says you can't find a good barbershop quartet these days?

Opening Day is hard because if you've shot it once, it's really challenging to find unique ways to shoot the same event year after year.

Of course, I'm just whining. The shooters in Kentucky find great photos every year on Derby Day, why can't I do the same on Opening Day?

We had two other shooters staffing the game with me. Both are great photographers, both have lots of experience with baseball.

We should have been fine. But we weren't. We were unprepared and we paid the price.

Now, that's pretty ironic (no, pathetic?) if you take into account that three days ago I'd given a presentation to fellow pros in Illinois about the importance of...being prepared...for each and every game we shoot.

We had the basics down. I would shoot from first base, Jim Bates would shoot from third base, and Steve Ringman would look for feature photos.

But past that, we didn't have a plan and I can take the blame. I didn't know our deadlines, our space needs, whether or not we had a photo page or not. Usually our editors do that, but I can't expect them too. They have lots of details to manage themselves.

I'm the lead sports photographer — I should have known to prepare a backup plan.

One challenge for us is that while most of the pregame ceremony takes place at home plate, the Mariner players enter from right field along a red carpet. It's not new, they've done it for years now.

I went out to try to make a photo of the introductions. I realized we didn't have a written plan so I hastily emailed Jim Bates from my Blackberry to let him know to cover everything at home plate before the game.

Meanwhile, I tried to set up a remote to get a shot of the players entering the field. It didn't work, for myriad reasons. The camera kept firing even when I wasn't triggering it, and I only had a couple of seconds to place it and get out of the way, so the focus was off.

Sure, I'll show you my ill-conceived, ill-timed, out-of-focus remote shot (there goes my credibility as as a photo lecturer, and, by the way, because of deadline pressures, none of these photos have been color-corrected):

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 lens @ 17mm, ISO 1600, 1/400 sec., f2.8)

The good thing is that I was also shooting from behind, and made this frame, which ended up on our A1:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 24-70mm/f2.8 lens @ 25mm, ISO 1600, 1/400th sec, f2.8)

Once the game began, there was only one story line. Okay, maybe two.

The first was the bitter cold that permeated the stadium. I knew it would be a story, so I tried to make a couple of frames that would illustrate that.

Got the requisite cold kid wrapped up in a blanket:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark II, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 lens @ 23mm, ISO 1000, 1/320th sec, f2.8)

But then managed to improve on that in the later innings when I found this woman holding a handwarmer against her nose to stay warm:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 1600, 1/400th sec.,f2.8)

Baseball-wise, there wasn't much to see. Newly acquired pitcher Erik Bedard made his first start as a Mariner and pitched well, even though he didn't earn the win:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 1600, 1/640th sec, f2.8)

Made an interesting frame as Seattle third baseman Adrian Beltre fielded a ball with a baserunner in his way:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 1600, 1/640th sec, f2.8)

Texas infield Hank Blalock tried to make an acrobatic catch in foul territory but couldn't hang on:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 1600, 1/640th sec, f2.8)

And when Bedard left the game, I worked hard but only made these two very mediocre pictures:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 lens @ 32mm, ISO 1600, 1/250th sec, f2.8)

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 lens @ 32mm, ISO 1600, 1/250th sec, f2.8)

In the world of baseball photography, I'm not much of a fan of "high-five" photos in the dugout, and also double-play pictures.

I hate high-five photos much worse. At least double-play photos can be acrobatic and athletic. I did move a photo of a double-play when Seattle's Raul Ibanez slid wide enough to disrupt the Texas second baseman, allowing the batter to be safe at first. This allowed the go-ahead run to score for the Mariners.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 1600, 1/640th sec, f2.8)

We had trouble transmitting from the stadium using our wireless cards, as did most media outlets. Too many people flooding the Verizon system? Maybe. But not mine to worry about. I was only worried about the best way to get photos back to the office. Also, we didn't have a schedule for which of us was to transmit at which point in the game, so that someone would always be shooting the game while another was editing and transmitting.

It got so bad that the paper ended up using a photo from one of our reporters on the home page. This greatly frustrated me because even though the bandwidth issues were making transmitting a much slower endeavor, that was for large images destined for the paper. Had I known no one had transmitted sucessfully yet, I would have instructed a photographer to size a version down to 6 inches x 72 dpi. This would create a very small file that we could have transmitted easily.

I thought it really embarrassing that we had three photographers at a game but we couldn't do our jobs while a sports reporter did ours for us. Bottom line, however, is that it doesn't matter whose name goes under the photo, and kudos to the reporter. We looked bad having a point-and-shoot photo on our homepage for Opening Day, especially because photographer Steve Ringman had a beautiful photo that we couldn't publish right away.

In time, the Powers That Be in the office had someone drive to the ballpark to pick up compact flash cards, and the editors did a good job working under pressure to get the paper out on deadline.

Solving the wireless problem for the rest of the season will take up some of my time when the Mariners hit the road next week.

There wasn't much in action photos for Opening Day, but that's baseball. I did manage a good enough image for A1. We did an okay job, but had we been more organized, we would have been better.

The sad thing is that Opening Day comes once a year. We had a chance to make it special and I don't think we hit the bar this time.

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March 28, 2008 2:12 PM

A Brief Taste of Champaign

Posted by Rod Mar

While it's snowing in Seattle, I'm basking in the sun and clear blue skies of Champaign, Illinois.

To be fair, while making the 2 1/2 hour drive down from Chicago, we encountered snow, hail, heavy rains and blustery winds.

But today, it's nice and clear.

I was invited to Champaign along with three other photographers to be speakers and contest judges at the Illinois Press Photographers Association annual convention.

Scott Strazzante, a rockstar of a photographer from the Chicago Tribune, invited me to speak. Scott recently won, among other things, the Community Awareness award in the Pictures of the Year International competition. His project can be seen here on the POYi website.

We spent today judging their contest and we each speak to the group tomorrow.

I'll be speaking about sports photography (of course). The other speakers are Lori Grinker and Jessica Dimmock, both freelancers, and David Stephenson, a newspaper photographer who works in Lexington, Kentucky.

Here's Jessica's, and make sure to check out her amazing multimedia piece from her "Ninth Floor" project.

David recently won "Best Multimedia" in the Pictures of the Year contest, with his "A New Dawn?" story.

Here's a link to Lori's work.

You should definitely check them out.

All will be presenting amazing multimedia pieces, which I'm excited to see and learn from.

Judging contests is always fun and educational. Seeing fabulous work always gets my creative juices flowing and makes me want to go out and shoot pictures.

Here's a photo of Lori, David and Jessica doing some judging. We're alternating take a category off, so I'm doing a quick blog post while they look at pictures.

The judging is open, which means that people can watch and listen as we determine the winners. The categories are the usual suspects in photojournalism contests — spot news, general news, feature picture, portrait, sports action, sports feature, nature and environment and pictorial. There are also multi-photo categories for picture stories and portfolios.

How it works is that each judge has a switch box with two buttons, one black and one red. As each photo is shown on the screen, we can silently press either button to vote "yes" to keep the photo or "no" to eliminate it. It goes pretty quickly until we get down to the last few remaining, then we have discussions (sometimes passionate) about the merits of respective photos. We assign places and sometimes also award Honorable Mentions.

Like I said, it's fun and educational. A lot of the images in any contest will be similiar and some of it of average quality. But the ones that stand out and become winners are usually all amazing photographs.

I find contests for newspaper photographers weird, and I don't enter them very often. Mostly this is because hotos that are successful in the newspaper aren't often successful in contests, and vice-versa. For example, in sports, the most meaningful photo of a Seahawks game might not be the most hard-hitting action, as I'm seeking to tell stories with my images. In contests, those stories are often lost as the photos are judged solely on their photographic merit.

To put it another way, a photo of a third-string player scoring a touchdown for the losing team might have fabulous action to it. To the newspaper, it'd be a pretty meaningless photo because it doesn't tell an accurate story of the game, nor does it lend meaning. The only thing that photo could say to the reader is, "this really cool thing happened near the end of the game, but it meant nothing to the story whatsoever".

In a photo contest, the story of the day doesn't matter nearly as much as the photographic excellence of the image.

That's certainly not my way of saying that contests are not important. Of course they are. But my main concern every day I shoot for the Seattle Times is to provide readers compelling and storytelling images. To just make pretty pictures wouldn't be serving the readers, it'd only be serving myself.

End of rant :)

I'm just here through the weekend and then back in Seattle for the Opening Day of baseball season.

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March 25, 2008 11:01 PM

The Foul Line, the Three Point-Line and the Thin Blue Line.

Posted by Rod Mar

So many lines in basketball.

There's the foul line, the three-point line, the midcourt line, the sidelines and the end line, and the two forwards and center combined are known as "the front line".

At the Sonics game against Portland last night, we were able to add " The Thin Blue Line" to that collection.

If you follow Seattle sports, you know that the Sonics were recently purchased by a businessman from Oklahoma City, and whose intent is to move the team there. Most of Seattle has been, up until recently, pretty apathetic about the possibility of losing their team.

The Sonics have 40 years of history here, but a terrible team, combined with no marketing effort to speak of, has placed the basketball team squarely in the shadows of the Seahawks and Mariners.

Oh, how I'd love to tell you what I really think about the situation, but that wouldn't really follow the mission of this blog, so I'll spare you the time and effort.

Anyway, a group called "Save Our Sonics" was holding a pregame "rally" of sorts at a bar near the arena. Among other activities, someone hired a small plane to fly a banner around the arena before the game with a statement calling for the team to stay in Seattle.

The press release called it a "photo opp", and that was the subject of the email I got from a sports editor telling me to be on the lookout.

I try really hard not to get bogged down by semantics, but there are no two worse words to a photographer's ears than "photo opp" (okay, maybe "no food" or "no beer" might come close).

To me, "photo opp" means, "well, this isn't really interesting enough for a reporter to write about, but maybe we can sucker some photographers to show up and we'll get some publicity anyway".

Let me be clear that this is certainly NOT what I think the authors of press releases imply when they use the term — but it's very close to what photographers infer when they read it on an assignment.

Of course, I digress.

I headed over to the bar and found 30-40 people milling around. There was a brief speech, a mention that the night would be peaceful and celebratory (celebrating what, I wondered), and they dispersed. They had met to get tickets they had purchased in a block of seats. There was plenty of media around waiting for something interesting to happen, but nothing did.

I thought they'd at least walk together with their signs and t-shirts to the arena, but they weren't that organized, even with three television crews waiting to put their efforts on the news.

Outside the bar, I looked up and found the airplane and banner. Airplanes and trailing banners can be good visuals to fans approaching the arena, but they make really boring photos.

I trailed a group of about a dozen fans as they walked to the game, and made a quick frame or two. This one was best:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 lens @ 16mm, ISO 400, 1/40th sec.,f11)

Once the game began, it was clear where the group was sitting, and they took advantage of the first timeout of the game to get noticed:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark IIN, EF 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 115mm, ISO 1000, 1/200th sec.,f2.8)

Meanwhile, I was also shooting game action, since the Sonics were playing Portland, and the game was scheduled to be the sports centerpiece of the newspaper ("UNLESS SOMETHING GREAT HAPPENS AT THE RALLY", the email from my editor instructed. Uh, no.).

Seattle vs. Portland is really interesting because the Sonics, who belong to Seattle, don't feel like Seattle's team with all of the Oklahoma City talk going around. Portland, however, formerly one of Seattle's staunchest rivals, features two players who grew up and played in Seattle (Brandon Roy and Martell Webster), and a coach who is known around these parts as "Mr. Sonic" (Nate McMillan) for all he gave to the franchise when he played for Seattle, which, incidentally, was his entire career.

Got some decent action early as Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge came over the top of Seattle's Nick Collison on a rebound right in front of me.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 24-70mm/f2.8 lens @ 30mm, ISO 1600, 1/500th sec.,f2.8)

It was after a series of chants that grew throughout the arena "SAVE OUR SONICS! SAVE OUR SONICS!" that I realized there was a larger number of police around then usual.

Normally, there are uniformed police around the bench area, and a few others wandering around. The only obstacles to the playing floor during most of the games is uniformed ushers who have fancy vests and sweaters, but not Tasers and firearms.

There were rumors that some sort of "civil disobedience" might occur at the game, as one national columnist suggested that irate Seattle fans "walk on the court" during a break in the game to make a point to the league that franchises with long histories shouldn't be allowed to change cities at the whim of an owner.

So, we had what is known as a "heavy police presence". I gently teased a couple of the officers who regularly work the games that their superiors obviously didn't trust them because they sent 50 uniformed backup for relatively unimportant game, and they laughed. However, the cops on the floor were totally business. Not sure how serious they thought the threat was, but they had their game faces on, lest any fan get a crazy idea.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 24-70mm/f2.8 lens @ 24mm, ISO 1600, 1/250th sec.,f2.8)

No trouble was to be found on this night, unless you were the Portland Trailblazers and you lost to the Sonics, who earned only their 17th win of the season (against 54 losses). Former Husky standout Brandon Roy managed only 11 points on 5-17 shooting, and I made a frame of him getting blocked on the way to the basket in the fourth quarter, which turned out to be our centerpiece photo. It's always nice to get the former local star in the paper, especially since he is one of Portland's best players and the photo tells the story of the game.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark IIN, EF 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 90mm, ISO 1000, 1/500th sec.,f2.8)

Here's the sports cover:

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March 24, 2008 10:36 PM

Just Another Hurdle, But Not Just Another Hurdler.

Posted by Rod Mar

Was assigned to shoot one of the top high school hurdlers in the state yesterday for our Prep Focus page.

Garfield High School's Stephone Jordan won multiple state titles as a junior and is going after state records this season as a senior.

The assignment told me it was going to be published as a color photo, even though it was inside the section. It's a weekly page that is devoted to prep sports, and the display space is pretty good.

One great thing about hurdlers is that their sport is photogenic.

Shoot long with a telephoto lens of 300mm or 400mm, and you can compress the hurdles around your subject as he flies over them.

That's the image we often get at track meets. But much in the same way I like to shoot angles that are impossible to get during actual competition, for this practice photo I chose to use a wide-angle lens very close to the subject.

I considered having him hurdle right over the top of the camera, but the way he pumps his arms as he runs was covering his face.

In an effort to add some depth to the shot, I also chose to use fill-flash and to balance it with the sunny ambient afternoon light.

I always like to get a "safe" shot in the camera, so I can feel comfortable taking risks. In this case, posing him by the hurdle and adding some light to his face established the safe shot.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 lens @ 16mm, ISO 100, 1/300th sec., f9.0)

So I would not make him hurdle more than a dozen times for me, I made tests while he warmed up, jogging by, then lightly hurdling a low height. This way, he could do his warm up and I could do my testing.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 lens @ 22mm, ISO 100, 1/300th sec., f11)

By the time he was ready to shoot, so was I. I really try to respect the subject's time, whether it be a high-schooler or pro. They have goals they want to accomplish during every practice, and if they're kind enough to share their time, I don't want to overstep my bounds and take too much advantage.

While I was shooting I was messing with various shutter speeds, experimenting as I went along. The great thing about shooting digitally is that you get instant feedback with the preview screen. The important thing to remember is to check the histogram that tells you your exposure, since the screen always looks good, even if the exposure is off.

Some tries were too close:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 lens @ 24mm, ISO 100, 1/50th sec., f22)

And others were imperfect like this one, where I realized his arm was swinging in front of his face:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 lens @ 21mm, ISO 100, 1/50th sec., f22)

In order to combat the arm in front of his face, I had to get a higher angle, and I found something I liked:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 lens @ 22mm, ISO 100, 1/30th sec., f22)

I applied a tighter crop and this was the result:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 lens @ 22mm, ISO 100, 1/30th sec., f22)

He only had to hurdle about eight times for me, which both he and his coach assured me wasn't a problem.

Of course, I edited and transmitted the photo back to the newspaper and when I saw the print version today it appeared in black-and-white (as they used to say on Seinfeld, "not that there's anything wrong with that").

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March 21, 2008 1:34 PM

Change of Seasons.

Posted by Rod Mar

"You know...chillaxin', which is chilling and relaxing at the same time."
-- Evan, "Superbad".

I'd like to be able to tell you that I've spent the past week chillaxin', but I really haven't. I just haven't been blogging much.

This is that odd time of year between sports seasons where I seem to be doing plenty of work, just none of it is getting published right away, and so I can't blog about it. Much of what I've been working on is for our baseball preview section, which doesn't publish for another week or so.

Also, I've been preparing to help out at a photography conference.

Got back from Arizona, where I spent a week shooting spring training.

While I was tempted to go out and sample the fine desert nightlife, I instead chose to stay in my hotel room and geek out, sharpening my multimedia skills.

"Sharpening" might be a stretch, since I really had no multimedia skills to begin with.

For photojournalists, the word "multimedia" is a blessing and a curse.

It's curse because when we don our black berets and turtlenecks, sling a camera around our necks and stare thoughtfully around, we think of ourselves as "artists".

Artists don't carry around camcorders and audio recorders. They clash with our berets.

It's a blessing because for visual journalists, utilizing more ways to tell stories can only help us communicate. Obviously, our world is more visual than ever, and video has joined film and still photography as powerful ways to show images.

More importantly, the multimedia train has come to the journalism station. Those who don't jump on will be left standing.

Another reason I'm embracing these tools is that it allows me to retain creative control of my stories. I don't mind editing help, or production help, but in the same way that I shoot, edit and caption my own photographs, I want to be able to control the process when using multimedia tools. It's not a matter of not trusting anyone else, it's more a matter of knowing what I want and doing my best to bring that vision to the viewer.

I created an audio slideshow while at spring training. I won't go into all the details, but I recorded audio on a digital recorder with an external mic, then edited the audio and put it together with still images in a program called Soundslides.

Mariners reporter Geoff Baker was writing about a class where minor leaguers from the Dominican Republic are taught English lessons and American culture. It was a good subject for audio and still.

The teacher's name is Becky Schnakenberg, and you can read about her here.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 100mm, ISO 1600, 1/100sec.,f2.8)

You can see the final project here, entitled "Baseball School".

I'd be interested to know what you think.

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March 17, 2008 8:42 AM

Be The Ball. Watch the Birdie.

Posted by Rod Mar

Baseball's spring training is obviously a time for players to get prepared for the regular season, and as such, the play is not as clean as it will be as the season gets underway.

Pretty much anything can happen in exhibition games. For example, only one foul ball came close to me in the six games I covered, yet I was nearly hit by four overthrown balls during infield warmups between innings.

I saw the Mariners get thrown out on the bases more than I saw them steal safely. I saw Ichiro get picked off, and I saw Yuniesky Betancourt get caught in three rundowns

And, of course, I saw a team president cost his team an out.

Over the course of the week I managed to acquire a nice little collection of images where fielders are having trouble either catching the ball.

Seattle's Jeremy Reed came up short on this would-be catch in shallow right field against San Francisco. Spring training is great for experimenting and this is a great example. I usually shoot using one autofocus point in the center of my viewfinder, but I messed around trying 45-point autofocus to see if it would be better. It's way easier to let the camera use 45 points instead of me trying to keep one tiny point on the play, but as this frame demonstrates, 45-point isn't perfect. This photo is soft because it's backfocused (point of focus is slightly behind the subject):

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 250, 1/1000secs, f7.1)

San Francisco's Rajai Davis and his shadow couldn't do anything about a home run ball hit over the left field wall:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 250, 1/1000secs, f5.6)

Seattle's Raul Ibanez made a valiant effort leaping towards the wall on this blast, and was charged an error (!) on this play against the Giants:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 400, 1/1000secs, f7.1)

Milwaukee's Rickie Weeks lost this pop-fly in the sun against Seattle:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 400, 1/1000secs, f3.5)

Finally, I'm not saying the Spring Training games get boring towards the later innings, I'm just saying that this bird alit on the infield dirt and when I took a photo of it, all the fans sitting behind me were more interested in it than they were in any of the baseball photos I'd taken:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 400, 1/1000secs, f5.0)

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March 16, 2008 11:23 PM

Good Luck, Chuck!

Posted by Rod Mar

I think it was Thomas Edison who famously said, "Success is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration."

Among all of his other accomplishments (the lightbulb...whatever), Edison must have not been a sports photographer.

Because if he was a shooter, he'd have said something more along the lines of, "Success is 50% really expensive equipment, and 50% luck".

Today, I had a measure of success that was pretty much all luck. But luck is what's worked in my career so far, so really, who am I to argue?

Let me set the scene. I was shooting the Mariners spring training game against the visiting Milwaukee Brewers. It was cold (for Arizona), and windy, which made it worse. I was as cold as I was during the Seahawks' loss to Green Bay in the snow last January. Okay, I lie, but I was kind of chilly today in my shorts and t-shirt.

By the sixth inning, most of the regulars had left the game, and I could hear a cup of coffee calling my name somewhere. But today was my last day in the desert, and I still had one major player left to shoot — Seattle closer J.J. Putz.

And so I waited around, hoping Putz would enter the game before the ninth, since it was starting to snow (just seeing if you're paying attention).

Putz entered in the eighth, and I set about shooting file stuff of him for use in our upcoming baseball preview section. A Milwaukee batter fouled one back of home plate, slightly towards the Seattle dugout. Jamie Burke was in at catcher, and so I followed him as he tracked the ball, knowing I'd probably need a photo of him, too.

Burke's back was to me, which wasn't helping, but he was getting neared to the stands, so I started shooting in case he fell over the little railing while trying to make the catch.

Just as Burke reached over for the ball, a fan sitting in the first row got up and tried to catch the ball. The fan wasn't leaning over into the field of play, but you could see that he and Burke made contact, and the ball ricocheted away (I can't spell richocet, should I just use "bounced"?).

Mariner fans immediately booed, and the visiting Milwaukee fans behind me were instantly figuring the guy was a Brewers fan. One man in a Chicago Cubs hat said it was probably Steve Bartman, drawing laughs all around.

Now, I was shooting from well up the right field line, and so this play happened quite a ways from me, and in the shadows.

I was pissed because now the game would be one out longer, and my cup of coffee was getting cold somewhere.

I checked the LCD screen on the back of my camera to see the play, and discovered that the interfering fan was none other than Mariners team president Chuck Armstrong!

Upon closer inspection, the man standing up behind him and across the aisle was owner Howard Lincoln.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 500, 1/1600 sec.,f2.8)

Armstrong gestured towards the Mariner dugout, which was no doubt ribbing him.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 500, 1/1600 sec.,f2.8)

Myriad questions ran through my mind:

— Did Armstrong reach into the field of play? (He didn't appear to.)
— What must have Jamie Burke thought when the guy in his way of a possible out was his bosses' bosses' boss?
— If I show people this photo, will Chuck Armstrong ban me from Safeco Field this year (for the record he has a GREAT sense of humor and is a funny, well-liked guy)?.
— And finally, how does the team president have better seats than the owner?

After the game, I was back in the media room on the Mariners side of the joint complex they share with the San Diego Padres, and no sooner had I downloaded the cards when Mariners officials came in asking if I had gotten "The Shot".

I showed them, they laughed, demanded prints and one executive told me, "that's the best shot you've ever taken!".

I've never seen Tod Leiweke (Seahawks president) down a punt, and I've never seen Karen Bryant (Storm president) deflect an inbounds pass, but now I can say I've seen Mariner president Chuck Armstrong cost his team an out.

Ah, Spring Training exhibition games...the fun and frivolity of it all.

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March 13, 2008 11:16 PM

More from Peoria

Posted by Rod Mar

It's always such a dramatic change from football season to basketball season to baseball season.

Football games are always such extraordinary events, filled with speed, power, violence and a crowd thirsty for the kill. That segues into basketball season, which brings me back indoors. The crowd are raucous but in an entirely different way. The game is still fast and powerful, but less violent and more graceful.

Winter gives way to spring and baseball season reappears. The pace is so much slower than the other sports. It's really more like golf than basketball or football. I find as a photographer that I really have to slow my mind down to the pace of the game in order to really "get into it" the way I feel I need to be successful.

Arriving at spring training can feel like taking a car going 65 mph on the highway and suddenly exiting to a side road and driving at 25 mph instead.

The Mariners share a spring training stadium in Peoria, Arizona with the San Diego Padres. Each team has a separate practice facility with multiple fields on either side of the stadium.

Buildings are designed in the style of the southwest, so there's no mistaking when you pull up to the team's headquarters.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 lens @ 16mm, ISO 320, 1/250th sec.,f16)

I arrive early and head to the small media workroom to find our writers and talk about upcoming stories. The workroom is bland, but the writers don't spend most of their time there. They are usually at the fields, or, once games begin, working from the press box in the stadium.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 lens @ 16mm, ISO 1000, 1/160th sec.,f4.5)

Games usually start at 1pm, but the teams have workouts every morning that begin with stretching and long tossing before 9:00am. This is followed by fielding drills and batting practice, before the players get a brief lunch break before heading to the stadium for that day's game.

Each morning finds me cruising the major league practice fields, where I'm usually shooting file photos of players for upcoming stories, or, our season preview sections. There's always and handful of promising young players in the minor league camp, so I head over there as well to do some shooting.

Today, groups of minor leaguers were rotating into a sliding drill. It's obviously photogenic, and it was very accessible. I thought about shooting long with a telephoto lens to focus in on their faces as they slid (lots of smiles), but then decided to get closer with a wide-angle lens.

My thought-process was this — I will shoot thousands upon thousands of baseball photos with a 400mm lens this year, many of them sliding pictures. I will shoot NONE with a wide angle lens. As it has been a fantasy of mine to put a remote camera with a wide-angle lens next to second base for steals and double-plays, I'm pretty sure Bud Selig wouldn't go for it.

(And yes, I need to work on my fantasies...)

So, took a wide-angle lens, and after clearing it with the coach who was leading the drill, I was able to put my camera on the ground and take some worm's-eye views of players sliding. The backgrounds are pretty sucky, but it's truly a different look at a player sliding, wouldn't you agree?

(Canon EOS 1D Mark IIN, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 lens @ 35mm, ISO 200, 1/1600th sec., f9.0)

After taking some risks with the camera on the ground, I went to make a "safe" picture and shot it from above:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark IIN, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 lens @ 29mm, ISO 200, 1/1600th sec., f2.8)

(Yes, those exposures are vastly different, and especially in the first frame, underexposed. I was using a 16-35mm lens on my Mark IIN as a "grab shot" camera and was shooting shutter priority and neglected to adjust my exposure compensation. If you understood that, great. If not, you're probably better off.)

Even though those players are in the minors, it's almost more important that I make sure to shoot those players, because they will be spread all over the country playing for Seattle's minor league affiliates. We don't travel to shoot minor leaguers because it's not cost-effective. The big-league players I'll see during the games and can shoot them in action.

If you ever need evidence that the pace of spring training can be, well, glacial, just check out the pitchers during batting practice. Since the Mariners are in the American League and pitchers don't hit, when position players are hitting, pitchers are shagging. Well, they're supposed to be shagging anyway. These two appear to be...nodding off? (It's probably good that the uniforms don't have numbers on the fronts — otherwise I have a feeling these two would be doing some early morning running...

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 400, 1/4000 sec, f2.8)

By 1pm, I'm standing in one of the two photo wells, trying to shoot game action for the next day's paper as well as running down my list of players to shoot for file and the preview sections. The photo wells are luxurious, featuring leather reclining chairs, flat-screen televisions, chilled soft drinks, and jumbo prawns on ice:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark IIN, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 lens @ 16mm, ISO 200, 1/800th sec., f8.0)

Once the game ends, I head back to download cards and transmit photos back to the office. I try to squeeze in a workout before having dinner.

After dinner, it's usually back to the hotel to either edit, transmit, blog, or work on a multimedia project.

I was remarking to an editor today that life was simpler when I just shot pictures. The other tasks take more of my time, but they're good challenges and I need to constantly push to improve my skills.

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March 11, 2008 11:51 AM

Springing Forward to Peoria...Or Tucson, In This Case

Posted by Rod Mar

Arrived in Phoenix on Monday for spring training with the Mariners.

Being the expert traveler and scheduler that I am, I planned my trip weeks in advance.

On Sunday, while packing, I looked up the Mariners' schedule for the week, and saw that their games for the first two days of my trip were in...Tucson.

Tucson, for those of you who don't know, is a two-hour drive from the team's training facility.

Way to go, Rod.

So I did what any responsible photographer would do and I called up a reporter I know who's also covering Spring Training for a national outlet.

Me: "Where you going tomorrow — what game are you covering?"

Him: "Dunno. Haven't decided. Why?"

Me: "Sweet. I arrive at 8:30am. Pick me up at the airport and we'll go to Tucson together. A road trip! It will be fun!"

Him: "No way in hell."

After some further negotiation and a few guilt bombs by me ("I was in your WEDDING!"), he assented.

So, my first day was spent shooting the Mariners vs. the Chicago White Sox, and two hours in the car each way.

New Mariner pitcher Erik Bedard got roughed up in the first inning, but I managed to make some photos of him.

At Electric Park in Tucson, there's room to shoot from behind home plate, so I took full advantage of the front-on view (, front-on is not a word).

The umpire kept getting in the way, so I had to maneuver around and was able to frame Bedard in the triangle formed by the batter's arm. It's a very fleeting moment when he's visible, so it takes a number of frames to make it work.

Finally, I found one that worked (I should mention here that I'm glad for digital in situations like this. If I was shooting film, I'd have shot four or five rolls, and still not have been sure I got the photo. But with digital, I was able to look at the screen and have reasonable confidence I had an image that worked.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens + EF 1.4x extender, ISO 400, 1/1250th sec., f6.3)

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March 8, 2008 11:03 AM

Two Views of the Same Plays Shot at the Same Time

Posted by Rod Mar

At the State 3A basketball tournament being played here in Washington this week, I was assigned to shoot the two boys semifinal games on Friday.

The games were played at Bank of America Arena on the University of Washington campus, which is where the Huskies play their games.

We've got strobes in the building, and catwalk access, so I was hoping to set up an overhead remote camera. But because it was a high school game, I couldn't get anyone to let me up to the rafters.

Time for Plan B. Because games were running right after one another, I couldn't do a backboard remote, so I used a floor remote for the first game, and a pole remote for the second.

To do this usually requires three camera bodies, which I have the luxury of having. I used a 300mm lens for one of my handheld camera, and a 70-200mm zoom on the other. For the floor remote in the first game, which was placed right next to the basket standard, I used a 16-35mm lens. For the post remote in the second game, I simply moved the camera setup and changed the lens to a 24-70mm lens.

Not only does using remotes give different angles and looks at the game, it also is completely self-serving for me because it increases my odds of getting a nice picture. I'm no math whiz, but I think it increases my odds by 50%.

I can always use the odds moving in my favor.

I wrote a little about floor remotes exactly one year ago today (how weird is that?).

(And yes, I know my archives aren't searchable past six months ago, but we're working on that. If you want to look further back, just change the year and month in the url header. I started this in September of 2006.)

I used Pocket Wizard Multimaxes with custom channels that only my remotes can "see". I placed one set to "receive" on the remote camera, and placed another Multimax set to "send" on the hotshoe of my camera with the 70-200. The advantage to this is that I don't have to have a separate trigger to fire the remote and so I can shoot two cameras simultaneously. The disadvantage is that I have a lot of blank and boring frames from the remote camera for when I'm shooting the 70-200mm away from the basket.

Helps to have large capacity compact flash cards. Then you can just blast away and sort it all out later.

In the first game, the floor remote was too wide for shots in front of the basket, but that's not what I was hoping for. What I wanted was a player driving, or falling, or crashing beneath the basket, along the baseline, so they would fill my frame. Setting the lens tighter would have made for more conventional shots, but since I was also shooting two handheld cameras, I wanted to take a risk.

You can see in this first frame that it's arty, but maybe too wide. Lakes guard Andre Winston, Jr. beat Seattle Prep's Jordan Hamilton to the basket. It's also a tad soft and most importantly, you don't get a good look at the shooter's face:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark II, Ef 16-35mm, f2.8 lens @ 16mm, ISO 800, 1/500 sec, f2.8)

The same play, shot from the corner of the court, seemed better to me:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 70-200, f2.8 lens @ 85mm, ISO 1600, 1/640 sec, f2.8)

In the second game, with the camera super-clamped to the basket standard, the lens is higher and the angle tighter. With a post remote you can choose to shoot horizontally or vertically. I though horizontal would add more of the environment that said "state tournament".

Here's a shot of me monkeying around with the post remote. It's sent to me by a good friend and very good shooter, Dale Garvey.

(Photo courtesy of Dale Garvey)

Early in the game, Rainier Beach's Ababe Dimisse scores in the paint as Squalicum's Kyle Hooper tries to defend. From the corner, this is a pretty ordinary frame:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 80mm, ISO 1600, 1/640 sec, f2.8)

The post camera reveals a shot with a little more depth. You get a strong sense of the environment as well as the action at the hoop:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark II, EF 24-70mm/f2.8 lens @ 24mm, ISO 800, 1/500 sec, f2.8)

Later, Rainier Beach's Aaron Dotson (21) drove to the basket but was fouled hard by Squalicum player Michael Greene. From the corner with the 70-200 zoom, his face was partially obscured Greene's arm:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 70-200mm, f2.8 lens @ 100mm, ISO 1600, 1/640th sec, f2.8)

The post remote sees the play differently even though it is the exact same moment, and the impact of the foul and the expressions are strong, especially when the frame is cropped:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark II, EF 24-70mm/f2.8 lens @ 24mm, ISO 800, 1/500 sec, f2.8)

Here's the sports cover from Saturday's paper:

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March 6, 2008 12:40 AM

Basketball Coaches Away From the Court, Part 2

Posted by Rod Mar

As I mentioned in the previous post, I was assigned to photograph a couple of local high school basketball coaches ahead of the state tournament here in Washington State. As I moonlight as a basketball official, this can make such assignments somewhat interesting.

Rick Comer, the coach of Renton High School is one of the best people you'll ever met. Great coach, treats everyone with respect, loves his family. Most importantly he doesn't scream at the officials. Well, I'm sure he does, but I sure don't remember many times.

Coach Comer didn't actually know I was a photographer for the Times when I knocked on his door to photograph he and his son, Ben. He only knew me from basketball. He quickly made the connection and invited me in and while we were making small talk made sure to thank me for working hard in his game a couple of weeks ago. I congratulated him on recently winning his 300th career game.

The reason for the story is that Comer had taken off most of last season to care for his 10-year old son, Ben, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He's had successful surgery and follow-up care. It's a heartwarming story, and I wouldn't dare to try and tell it to you in my mangled words, so you can read Craig Smith's terrific story here.

Sometimes portraits are hard to shoot, especially in someone's home or office. You don't have much time, and it's hard to make a connection with the subject while you're simultaneously looking for a place to shoot, evaluating the lighting, and thinking of composition.

I used the same off-camera flash with a small stand and umbrella that I used earlier that day to shoot Mercer Island coach Ed Pepple.

There was a big soft recliner in the living room and I asked Coach Comer to sit in it with Ben close to him.

As I checked the exposures and made some initial test frames, Comer leaned over and kissed his son on the cheek. It was a tender moment, and I knew there was nothing else I could do to make a better picture.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 24-70/2.8 lens @ 62mm, ISO 250, 1/125th sec, f5.6)

For backup, I made some frames with the entire family (dad, mom and son), but was soon on my way.

Sometimes it just works out. I'm thankful, as always for my subjects for giving me some of their time, and I couldn't be happier for the Comer family.

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March 4, 2008 11:59 PM

Basketball Coaches Away from the Court, Part 1

Posted by Rod Mar

Since I've already fessed up that I spend part of my free time working as a high school and college basketball official, I guess I can talk a little about it here.

No, we're not going to talk about the charge/block call, nor whether what constitutes an "over the back" foul (there is no such titled foul in the rule book, by the way). We're going to talk about when my two jobs collide.

To be clear, photography is my vocation; officiating is an avocation. Believe it or not, going out and getting yelled at by coaches and fans is a form of enjoyment for me (one of the best lines I've heard yelled at an official is "GO BACK TO FOOT LOCKER!!!").

Because I shoot sports for a living, many of the coaches I deal with on the court are aware of my "real job". (I should mention here that I am only able to officiate games during the season because fellow shooters — thanks, Erika! —are nice enough to switch some shifts with me.)

So when the occasional assignment has me photographing one of the coaches I work in front of, it's always a little interesting.

The great thing about most high school coaches is that even though we can disagree during a game, when the game is over and you see them on another day they're friendly and approachable. I'm sure that comes from the "teacher" aspect of their jobs. They understand that at their level, sports is important, but that they are there to shape young peoples lives first. They are to be commended.

Prior to the Class 3A Boys State Tournament in Washington, I was asked to shoot two different coaches for separate preview stories on each of them.

Ed Pepple has been the coach of Mercer Island High School for the past 41 seasons, and he's showing no signs of slowing down.

He preaches teamwork to his players, dresses them alike in maroon (the school color) blazers for games, and insists they all get similar haircuts. His program has been a major force in Seattle high school basketball for decades, and this season he coached his team back into the state tournament.

I wanted the photo to reflect all of those ideas. They were practicing, so the maroon blazers were out-of-the-question, but Coach Pepple was accomodating enough to gather the players around him for a quick portrait:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 zoom @ 24mm, ISO 500, 1/200 sec.,f9.0)

The kid at the far left had the wise idea to "strike a pose" for the shots, and I thought about telling him to knock it off. But a portrait is supposed to be an accurate reflection of the subject, so I let him go.

(And yes, this isn't the finest lighting job in the world. Off-camera flash on a tiny light stand with an umbrella. The umbrella obviously isn't high enough to light the players. I only had a couple of minutes and decided that the players were basically "props" surrounding the coach, so I lived with it. Also, the team was two days away from the state tournament and I didn't want to take too much of their time.)

Two days later, Mercer Island, the fourth-ranked team in the state, lost by 18 points to Columbia River, an unranked team. After the game, Pepple said his players confessed that they hadn't respected their opponents.

"They came out cocky," said Pepple about his team, who called the game "a bad dream."

Was the player at left reflecting that cockiness? We'll never know for sure, but the Islanders dream season ended the next day when they lost their consolation game as well.

Coach Pepple is truly a class act. He knowledgeable, he can be tough, and he has a wonderfully disarming sense of humor, especially off-the-court.

A number of years ago I was officiating a tough game at Mercer Island and my partner was none other than former major league pitcher Jeff Nelson (who was playing for the Mariners at the time and officiating for exercise in the off-season).

Coach Pepple was screaming for a five-second closely guarded call on the opposition that would have given his team the ball in a close game in the final minutes. Instead, "Nelly", as he's affectionately known, granted the opposing player a timeout, allowing them to keep possession. I was closest to Pepple and I knew he'd be mad. "ROD! ROD! HOW CAN HE GIVE THEM TIMEOUT?!!! THAT'S A FIVE-SECOND CALL!!!"

I walked over to him and said, "Well, coach, I don't know. He's a baseball player. You know, three strikes, four balls, maybe he doesn't know how to count to five."

Coach Pepple didn't miss a beat. He just yelled right back at me, "THAT'S NOT FUNNY!" and stormed back to his timeout.

Someday we both might be able to laugh about that one.

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March 1, 2008 11:48 PM

Impersonating a Blind Zebra

Posted by Rod Mar

Wondering where your loyal blogger has been?

(If you haven't been wondering, please don't answer — I'm clinging to believing in the idea that more than my wife is reading my blog....)

In case you were wondering why these meandering missives (love that alliteration, don't we?) haven't appeared lately, there are a couple of reasons why.

First, the flu.

Second, I spent a week doing this.

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