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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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May 23, 2008 10:19 PM

Folklife: Flippin' Sweet.

Posted by Rod Mar

Send a sports photographer to the Folklife Festival and what do you get?

Gymnastics, apparently.

My photo editor emailed and this appeared on my Blackberry:

"Attached are a few schedules for Folklife today (assignment to come). It's you're call...A1 needs a lead man".

Sweet, right?

But then the kicker came -- I'd have less than two hours to make the photo.

My shift started at 2pm, and I had to have photos back to the paper no later than 4pm.

Two hours. Is that a long time or a short time?

Given that most festivals are rich with imagery, it seemed like it would be easy to shoot a photo and get it transmitted back to the paper in that amount of time.

But A1? The editors are (rightfully) super-picky about images that go out there, and two hours seemed a little tight to get a compelling image that would leap off the page in the newsstands the next day.

So my strategy was "Don't (Mess) Around."

Walk. See. Don't waste time on boring crap.

(Sorry, that's not to say that much of Folklife is crap...on the contrary, much of it is lovely. But what one sees as lovely in one frame of reference can also be very likely seen as craptastic by a bunch of demanding A1 editors and designers).

Walked through the food booths (Chicken satay? Hmm. A little chicken on a stick never hurt the hunt for the elusive A1 photo. There goes 15 minutes...dang).

Past the very few musicians (remember this is Friday afternoon, and the festival is just starting).

Wade through the throngs of teenagers (yes, 13-18 year-olds) gathered in circles on the lawn north of International Fountain, many of them smoking from Hookahs.

Teens? Smoking? In public?

I wouldn't deign to guess what was being smoked, but the air around the area near fountain did have a distinctive, slightly sweet, sligtly acrid aroma about it that smelled reminiscent of an NBA player's limo.
Just sayin'.

Okay, stopped to shoot some photos there, but then made the executive decision that those were photos that people wouldn't want to wake up to with their coffee and scones on Saturday morning.

Marched on.

Neared the Fisher Pavilion and found photo nirvana...breakdancers. Members of Project Seattle, to be exact.

They didn't have much of an audience, but they all of a sudden had me!

Plus, I'd approached from the north, and the background was all right there for me, as huge banners noting the name of the festival were stretched across the adjacent building.

One guy was getting serious air doing backflips, so i put the camera on the ground to see what i could get.

Risk and reward. Risk that by putting the camera on the ground, I'd shoot too high or too low. Crop off part of his body, or get too much sky.

Reward that the low angle would put him high against my background, hopefully "clearing" him into the sky for a cleaner image.

The first try was pretty much a grab -- he was about to do the flip and I just laid the camera down and fired. Had no idea what I was capturing in terms of background at all. A test shot, really, but knowing these guys wouldn't be backflipping all day long (that's gotta take a lot of energy, right?), I was hoping for the best.

This man's name is Brian Ung, and he's getting some good air:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 lens @ 31mm, ISO 400, 1/640th sec./f2.8)

I was right about the energy thing, because just after I made that frame, he took a breather. While he rested, another dancer named Alejandro Luna-Juliano started doing his moves. He stayed mostly on the ground, and I tried to get the Space Needle in the background for a reference point:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 lens @ 16mm, ISO 400, 1/1000th sec./f2.8):

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 lens @ 16mm, ISO 400, 1/1000th sec./f2.8):

Ung took to their makeshift stage again (okay, it was a patch of concrete that they eventually covered with a piece of scrap linoleum ), and executed two more flips. Having studied his takeoff points, I tried my best to center him against the signs behind him. I was hoping to be close enough to him so that when I aimed my camera up from the ground his body would be higher than the signs, but it wasn't to be.

On the first try, he jumped out of the frame (or, more accurately, I aimed too low):

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 lens @ 16mm, ISO 400, 1/1000th sec./f2.8):

And on the second, I got a frame I liked:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 lens @ 16mm, ISO 400, 1/1000th sec./f2.8):

Just after that, a light rain began to fall, and it got too dangerous for aerials and even basic breakdancing, so they taught a clinic to some passersby. By this time, it was 3:45pm, so I whipped out my laptop and transmitted from right where they were dancing. A light jacket makes a great cover for a computer in the rain!

Of course, I hauled ass to transmit photos by 4pm and then emailed the editors to let them know I'd done so.

And wouldn't you know? My 4pm deadline had gotten soft. The email reply (sent at 4:31pm) read:

"We're all still in meetings man. We'll ck em soon. I'm sure they're stellar."

Hmm. Stellar? I'd hoped so. We'd see as soon as the paper came out the next day, and for this day at least, the photo was good enough for the cover.

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