Election Night

Tuesday was election day in Duval County for mayor, sheriff and several city council seats.  This was actually the second election in the process.  I had been part of the Jacksonville Daily Record team when we covered the first election. In that one, I was assigned to get photos of two of the mayoral candidates and two of the candidates for sheriff, plus anyone else I might find along the way.  Luckily the mayor hopefuls had their watch parties down the street from one another, so I spent a good part of the evening running between the two locations in the rain to see if I could get anything interesting.  Both were successful in making it to the run-off election, so I captured their moments of victory. The one running for sheriff made it, so I headed across the river to grab a few photos of him.  The other was out of contention early and his people headed home early so there was no point in tying to get some images there.

And this is what appeared in the paper the next day.....

Marilyn, the editor of the JDR asked me then to keep the date of the next election open so that we could do it all over again.  Of course I told her I was in.

So, yesterday, I was ready.  I started my day off casting my own ballot.  Like only about 36% of eligible voters in the county.  As I see it, you can't bitch about the election or politicians or the government if you don't do your part in the electoral process.  So many of these races ended up being so tight that if just another ten percent of voters came out, several of them could have gone in the opposite direction. Imagine what would happen if twice as many people actually voted.  We could have a completely different situation in this county and in this country.  Something to think about, eh?

Marilyn had told me that she was trying to get permission to spend the day following the mayoral candidates on election day to document what they did and see what the process was like on the last day of the campaign.  I think it would have been very interesting.  I waited for the call, but it never came.  They decided that it wouldn't be fair to the other news outlets to grant us that access.  I disagree, but what can you do.

Instead, we all got together in the office a little after six and we talked about our assignments.....and had Papa Johns.  You can't cover an election without pizza; it's some kind of unwritten rule. I was assigned to get photos of Lenny Curry (mayor), Ken Jefferson (sheriff) and council hopefuls George Spencer, Lisa King and Scott Wilson.  Once the polls closed (and I'd had my fill of pizza), I headed out.

My first stop was George Spencer's headquarters in Springfield. There were a few people there when I arrived, but more kept coming. The only one not there was the candidate. I was told he'd be 10-15 minutes, so I waited and took a few pictures. Form what they were showing on TV, the race was neck and neck would probably come down to the wire.  Then I heard that Spencer would be just another 10-15 minutes. I told them that I had other places to be and I'd try to stop back later.

Next, I headed up Main Street to Junior's Famous Sandwiches where Lisa King was holding her watch party.  When I got there, a lot of people were gathered in the parking lot and they seemed to be having a party.  As I walked up with my camera gear on, Ms. King called out good-naturedly to me that she didn't want to talk to me.  I said I didn't care; I was only there to get pictures. I had no idea that she hadn't done well in the voting.  But she and her people were surprisingly upbeat. She vowed that she would run for office again, but next time it would be for something county-wide. For them, tonight was about celebrating with family and supporters on a well fought campaign.

After this, I was off to Scott Wilson's gathering at the Elks Lodge on West Road off Beach Boulevard.  This council race was over pretty much after the polls closed, with Wilson getting over sixty percent of the votes.  I found him on the phone getting a congratulatory call from a friend.  Then he sat down and chatted with some of his remaining supporters.  A lot of his folks had already gone after the victory had been assured. He quipped that the campaigning had been long and hard, and he had the worn-out shoes to prove it. But he said that the real work is yet to come and he was anxious to get started.

I had to get to the Hyatt downtown to see if I could get some shots of Ken Jefferson and then on to the Curry soiree. But first I thought I'd swing back by the Spencer headquarters.  When I got there, only a few people remained.  And I didn't see the candidate. What I learned later was that the election didn't go their way.  So, I took off for the Hyatt.

I entered the hotel and followed the signs for the Jefferson party.  By the time I got there, it was a little before 9 and he had already conceded the race to his opponent, Mike Williams.  And his area of the third floor was pretty much a ghost town at this point. I didn't think anyone would be wanting to be photographed.

I walked into Lenny Curry's party and the mood was the exact opposite.  There were a lot of smiles and laughing, including the representatives of the state Republican party in the corner.  The campaign had pulled it off and this candidate that had never run for anything had beaten the incumbent mayor.  I got my gear together and made my way to the front of the stage.  I made sure all my settings were right and just waited.  I could see that I would have a great view of Curry as he entered the room. After some words by his father and his wife, Curry came out.  What I couldn't anticipate was this 80 year old woman would get in front of me and hold up a sign blocking my perfect shot.  Oh well.  I adjusted and started getting my shots.  These are some of my favorites.


Then it was back to the Daily Record to sort through my photos and compare notes with the reporters and editor.  And have a little more pizza.

And this is what it looked like when the paper came out this morning....

It was a challenging evening and a lot of fun. And I look forward to doing it many more times in the future.

So, that was how I spent my election day. How did you spend yours?

To Photograph or Not To Photograph

Recently, someone asked me if I ever just go to something to enjoy it and not photograph it.  I do.  But it's not easy.

Or in Cindy's words, "Can't you just go to something to enjoy it without a camera in your face?  There's more to life than taking pictures, y'know."

This is something I struggle with all the time.  Cindy takes it for granted that I will photograph EVERYTHING. Doesn't matter where we go or what we do, she figures she's going to play second fiddle to my camera.  She basically becomes a photography widow.  There are times she's OK with that.  Especially if it's something that I'm sure I can interest someone in and I can sell.  Or if it's something that she knows I have really wanted to do or it's something that will add to my skillset.  Sometimes, like at concerts, she knows I'll only get to photograph the first two or three songs, and I'll be there with her for the rest of the show, so that's sort of OK.  Sometimes she just doesn't bother to go with me to whatever it is because she just doesn't want to be there by herself while I'm off snapping away and giving in to my addiction.

There are times when I don't take a camera with me.  I make the conscious decision to leave it behind.  It is rare, but it does happen. I may be making "neuro-chromes" in my brain the whole time and thinking "that would have made a great shot".  It may be a bit uncomfortable for awhile.  But I do survive. 

One time just recently, I was approved to shoot the Russian Ballet Company's performance of Swan Lake at the Times-Union Center.  And not just the first fifteen minutes or whatever; the tour manager had seen my dance work and said that I could shoot the entire performance.  I was ecstatic.  I was ready to make some phenomenal images.  I could only imagine how beautiful these would be.

With the photo approval, I'd even been given two tickets for Cindy and me.  They were OK seats in the back.  Because I'd have to shoot the show from the rear of the theatre.  As advanced as cameras have become, they still make a bit of noise and it could be disruptive to some of the other patrons during a performance like this.  So, it made sense to put us in the back where fewer people might get annoyed.  However, if I decided not to photograph it, we could have much better seats....much, much better.  And I wouldn't be bothering anyone.

And I could enjoy the whole thing with Cindy.

So, what do you think I did?

As uncharacteristic as it might be, I enjoyed the entire performance from the great seats we were offered, with Cindy beside me, my camera in my lap and my bag between my legs.  I didn't take one photo.  That's right, not even one.  Sure I wanted to, but it was more important to me to enjoy the performance with Cindy and let everyone around me enjoy it as well.  And I did.  We all did.

And I'm glad I did it.

And I lived.

Will I make the same decision next time?  I can't say for sure.  Maybe.  We'll just have to see.

My Saturdays

When I set out to write a blog post a day for seven days, I forgot about my Saturdays.  While most folks work their hardest during the week, Saturdays are the craziest days of the week for me.  I can go a day or two during the week with very little to do, but come that first day of the weekend, I always start early and finish late.

Take last Saturday.......my day started at 7AM.  I had an interview and pictures to make of a beekeeper and her class of hopeful beekeepers for an article in First Coast Magazine. I did the interview and then sat in and learned with the class about having honeybees in your own backyard. Having been a farmer for many years, this was really pretty cool. I got all the photos I needed....or way more than I'd ever need. I had one casualty before I left; one of my most used lenses sustained a bit of damage while we were outside learning about the hives. So I had to head back home to pick up a backup before I could move on.

Then I was off to my next assignment, the Jaguars Rookie Camp for the Times-Union.  For me, the big talk with my photo buddies was about the photos I had gotten the day before of Dante Fowler, Jr and that the AP had picked them up and they were appearing across the country.  This was the second time in two weeks that this had happened. But, you're only as good as the photos you got today. So, I went about getting images of the guys that the Times Union  writers said that they'd be needing in the coming weeks.

After the rookie camp was over, I walked over to the Collective Con event that was going on at the Fairgrounds for my next TU assignment.  There were all kinds of people in cosplay costumes and vendors catering to collectors of all sorts of that kind of stuff.  And there were meet and greets with the stars and artists of this world that the attendees got to meet and take photos with.  It's not something that's easily described in words.  Pictures do a much better job.

I had to file my photos with the Times-Union, but I also had to get down to St. Augustine to be able to shoot that little ol' band from Texas, ZZ Top.  These guys are at the top of my concert photo bucket list, so there was no way I was going to miss this.  I figured I'd be able to get down to the amphitheatre and send my photos in using their wifi.  It sounded like a plan.  And if I left then, I might be able to avoid the traffic congestion that is normal before a concert at the St. Augustine Amphitheatre.

Yeah, that didn't happen.  I got stuck in it even though I was early. Actually, after getting through the traffic and backing into my parking spot, the radiator in my Jeep blew up.  Literally. I lifted the hood, and there was a big old three inch hole in the top of it.With water and anti-freeze and steam all over the place.  But I didn't have time for that. I had pictures to get in. As soon as I was sure of what the problem was, I went in to the amphitheatre.

At first I went to the media tent to work on my photos, but it was so bright, I couldn't see anything on the computer screen. Uh oh. I tried, but it was pretty pointless. So, I got permission to sit in one of the offices behind the ticket office  to get it done.  Success! And it was quite comfortable too.  I did however miss the guy who had been added as an opening act, but I was there to see Jeff Beck and ZZ Top, so I didn't really worry about that. My pictures got transmitted and that's what mattered at that moment.

Then it was time for the show......and it was a good one.  Camera angles weren't the best, but the music was.  We got the first two songs from Jeff Beck and first three of ZZ Top. 


I had finally gotten to see ZZ Top again.  It had been awhile.  And this was the first time I got to do it with my camera in hand.  Yeah, I was happy.

Then it came time to deal with the reality of my radiator with the big hole in the top of it.  Luckily, Cindy's daughter's boyfriend is a mechanic. He picked up a new radiator and brought it down.  It was a bit of a struggle to replace it in the empty parking lot, but we got it done and I was able to drive my tired Jeep on home.  By the time I got there and crawled into bed, it was about 2:30 in the morning. About then I realized I hadn't eaten anything all day, but I was too tired to deal with it.  And I had church and another assignment for the TU in the morning.

But that's pretty much how my Saturdays go.  Yesterday, I shot little t-ball, soccer and basketball players for an I9 league for eight hours, went home, grabbed something quick to eat, got myself cleaned up, and I went off to shoot the prom for a small Christian school.  It was a lot of fun....but I didn't get home till almost midnight. At least we didn't have to do any major mechanical work this week.

And I'll be ready to do pretty much the same kind of thing next Saturday.

Assignment: Mothers Day, Later

While getting the photos of the new baby gorilla and mom were a big part of my Sunday, it's only half the story of the day.   The actual story for the paper was about Mothers Day and the universal connections between mothers of every species.

When Derek, the reporter, got to the zoo, we started to talk about the direction he thought he'd like to take in the article.  The idea was to find and interview some moms at the zoo and contrast their stories with some of those newer moms at the zoo.  Finding human moms at the zoo was fairly easy since they were all over the place as the zoo offered them free admission to celebrate Mothers Day.  It was nice to see so many families out there having a great time.

Coming up with some zoo residents with their offspring was a bit more challenging. Lucas, the PR guy at the zoo was trying to recall all of the most recent births.  Obviously, we had Madini and her newborn.  Not far from there were the three lion cubs that were born in September, 2014.  When we went over to the lion area, this was pretty much the only shot I could get....

Cute, but not exactly what I was looking for.  Lucas mentioned there was a mandrill born recently too, but we had no luck in locating it in its area.

Then Lucas put out the request on the zoo radio network and we were given several ideas.  So off we went to look for babies.  We went cruising in a golf cart behind the scenes at the zoo  to try to find them.  There was a wallaby which I thought would have been cool....but it was still in the pouch and we couldn't figure out in whose pouch it was. We also went to one of the nurseries where they had some really cute Orinoco goslings, but mom was a bit aggressive and was in the adjoining pen. They were able to imprint and model mom but there was no real connection. Again, cute, but not exactly what I was looking for. 

Then there were three Kory Bustard chicks to consider.  These are the largest flighted birds and they are endangered. Believe it or not, they are being slaughtered in the wild because their feathers make great fishing lures. The zoo is one of only a handful of zoos that have a breeding pair of these birds. The chicks were hatched about three weeks apart from each other because that's how often mom lays a fertilized egg.  Unfortunately, mom isn't the motherly-type; she sits on the egg for about an hour or so and then doesn't bother with it again.  So, the zoo takes over and incubates the eggs.  But the important thing is that these three were born and the species continues.

I was successful in finding Luke, the baby bonobo that was born in October, 2014 and his mom, Jo T.  Luke wanted to be out and about, but mom wasn't having any of it.  The temperatures were already climbing and she was interested in taking it easy.  I can imagine that little Luke will be tearing it up before too much longer.

I figured I had enough for the paper.  But I thought I'd give the lion cubs one more try.  This time, I got exactly what I was hoping for....

The whole family was now out there looking very regal and King of the Jungle like.  After a bit though, Tamu, the mother lion decided that one of her cubs needed a little cleaning and attention. Not sure if it was Michael, Matthew or Sriracha, but I guess the little one didn't wash behind their ears.

Once I had all the images I needed of the animals, Derek interviewed a couple of young moms for his article.  I wanted to be sure that I had some photos of them as well.  And their little guys were very cute and extremely personable.

All in all, it was a great afternoon and I was very satisfied that I'd gotten images that would illustrate the article well and that people would like to see.

And the journey continues.....

Assignment: Mothers Day

Just recently, I've started doing some shooting for the Florida Times-Union.  At this point, it's only a few assignments a week, but I've been really enjoying it.  It's given me the chance to do some different kinds of stuff once again.  And it gives me a totally different and much larger audience for my images.

This past Sunday, I was given an assignment to cover what was supposed to be a high tea at Sweet Pete's for Mothers Day. I had this vision of these moms and their kids all dressed up and having a high class time to celebrate the day. There was only one problem.  I got to the venue and as I was about to get out of the Jeep, I got a call from Dede, the TU photo editor. There had been some miscommunication on this one and there was nothing going on.  But the reporter was on his way to the zoo to do something on moms at the zoo, both the human and non-human kind.

Oh, and they had a baby gorilla born last night.  Wait.....what....a baby gorilla born on Mothers Day Eve?  Would I be interested in heading to the zoo?  Oh heck yeah!

I arrived at the zoo before the reporter. Since he was going to be about forty-five minutes, Lucas the PR guy for the zoo and I headed off to see if I could get some shots of the newborn.  On our way there, we ran into a buddy of mine who does some volunteer photo work for the zoo.  He showed us some of the shots of the mom and her baby that he'd gotten earlier.  But he said that was awhile ago when they were more out in the open.  As we got to the gorilla enclosure, we found the new momma and baby were way back in the corner, far from the observation window.  There was no way to get a decent picture.  My heart sank. 

Then I asked Lucas if there was somewhere else we could go to get a better view.  So he contacted the keepers for the primates to see what we could do.  They said there was another window toward the back near where Madini had moved with her little one. So we checked it out, but mom had her back up to it.  She glanced back at us once and then moved a bit up the wall so that we couldn't see her real well.  That wasn't going to work.

Then the keeper said, "well, we could go up on the roof."  Really?  OK, let's try that.  Lucas was totally surprised. In the time that he'd been with the zoo, he'd never been on the roof and didn't think it was an option.  Oh, the access you get when you're "media"!  The roof she was talking about was on the building where the animals go when they're "inside" and not out in their enclosure.  It's right at the back of the gorilla's outside area.  So, up on the roof we went.  I went right over to the side, and there they were.....along with the other momma gorilla and her three month old son.  Success!

 Bulera with baby George in the rear and Madini with her newborn in front

Bulera with baby George in the rear and Madini with her newborn in front

The two moms weren't too happy that I was up there pointing that big eye at them, but I think they figured if I was with the keeper that they knew, it was OK.  Besides I couldn't really get close to them from up there.  They moved around a bit, but I knew that I would get something I would be proud to share. I pulled out my longest lens and added an attachment to increase it's magnification.....and just followed them with my camera. 

 Madini and her newborn

Madini and her newborn

 Bulera and George

Bulera and George

 George looking for his mom.

George looking for his mom.

 Madini and her baby

Madini and her baby

I texted the photo editor "you're gonna love me." I was very happy and excited with what I got.  After all, I wanted some great images of the new baby, but I also wanted to impress Dede with what I could do for her.  I sent her the images as soon as I got home and out they went.

In the end, this is the image that I really liked.

 Madini relaxing and embracing her little one

Madini relaxing and embracing her little one

This is the one that the Times-Union went with.  And the Jacksonville Daily Record.  And the Jacksonville Zoo in their birth announcement.  And I'm not sure who else.  Actually, it's probably one of my most shared images that I've ever posted on Facebook. 

This was another one of those times that made me very happy to be able to do what I do and the access I get. 

52 Portraits-3

This wasn't a week where I had the chance to do much in the way of portrait work.  Saturday was the baby shower for Cindy's daughter and she wanted me to get some photos of the "big sisters" so she could frame them and put them in the new baby's room.  Two of the girls, Katelyn and Kendall, are the daddy's girls from a previous relationship and live a few hours away with their mom.  The other is Alyssa, who is mom's from another time.  All of the girls are excited about the new baby and learning to be a "family". This way they could be with the baby even when they can't actually be there.

So, we did a little impromptu shoot out on the front lawn.  All the girls were dressed in pink for the shower, so it worked out well.  They had already been playing and running around together, so their hair wasn't perfect and they didn't look like they were going to get their picture taken.  But that was alright with me.  This is how they are and how they are supposed to be. We had fun with it.  They weren't sure about doing it at first, but they did.....especially since it was for Mimi. 







I shot these in full sun at about 11AM.  But I did it with a portable speedlight flash with a grid on it on a stand to the right of the camera. The flash was about the height of the girls and fired toward their faces.

Of course I got asked why I was using a flash outside in the sun.  Here's why.....

In the first photo, the flash hadn't fired.  In the second, it had.  It's a subtle difference, but Alyssa's face in the second image is brighter than it is in the first.  It has a bit more definition to it.  The first photo is a bit "flatter".  The second appears a bit more three dimensional.  That's what the flash did.  Yet the flash had no effect on the rest of the image.  That's the reason you use one in the sunlight.

Next week, I think I will try something a little more involved.....

52 Portraits

This is the time that everybody starts planning for the new year with resolutions and projects and such. Well, I've decided that my personal project for 2015 will be one of those 52 Portrait Projects. I plan on doing (at least) one portrait a week in a variety of styles, using different types of lighting. I haven't got anything specific in mind right now, but if you'd like to be a part of it, send me a message or email. I'm really interested in doing environmental portraits of some sort with different kinds of folks in a variety of situations. If you know someone that might be a great candidate or has a particular skill or a cool uniform or an amazing room in their home or business or ???, please let me know. I am open to all kinds of possibilities right now and I'd love to hear your ideas. Old, young, athletes, dancers, musicians, business people, politicians, police, fire, teachers, strange occupations, interesting or not, leaders, followers.....whatever. This time next year I want to have amassed an incredible body of portraits.

This is the first one in my 52 Portraits Project. We took Alyssa to the beach yesterday, and as always, she was non-stop from the minute we got there. The beach is definitely her happy place and she was in her element. I think this captures her well.


To start the project, I wanted to do something environmental using all natural light with the D750 that Nikon lent me. Probably my favorite thing about the camera so far is the movable LCD screen. It let me get a really low angle of view without having to lie on my belly. I took this holding the camera a few inches above the water. I think it really makes a difference and can foster some creativity.

Here are a few more shots from our time at the beach using the D750...

Oh, and critiques are welcome!

Jaguars and Falcons Before the Final Cut

Thursday night, the Jaguars took on the Falcons at Everbank Field in the last preseason game of 2014. Granted, the last preseason game means pretty much nothing. Most of the starters aren't even suited up. Nobody wants to take the chance of one of them getting hurt in a game that doesn't count and most people don't even watch.

But for a lot of those second and third stringers that took the field, it may be their last chance to prove that they should be still part of the team when the season opens next week. That's what makes it interesting to me. I saw some guys that I thought had real potential out there, and I'm hoping the coaches see it too. We'll see.

In any case, here are some of my fave shots from the game.  Hope you like them.


If you'd like to see more, you can always head over to my gallery website. www.photoguyofai.com. There are a lot more game pix over there.

Oh and just a word of advice.....you don't want to fall asleep in the stands at a Jags game. You can't say that you haven't been warned!

Ride 'em, Cowboy!

Somedays, you just sit back and think about how one thing leads to another and you never really figure out how you got here from there. My time in Kansas had some really interesting twists and turns like that. I ended up with some different experiences that I never expected.

One of those was my new found love of rodeo.  Now, I'm sure most of you don't equate rodeo with Kansas.  I know I sure didn't. But there are a LOT of cowboys in Kansas.  It's a major beef producing area of the country. It's where they used to do the cattle drives in the spring to feed the herds on the grass of the plains and hills. When you think of "the old West", what comes to mind?  Dodge City? Boot Hill?  Wyatt Earp? Marshall Dillon?  Lonesome Dove?  The covered wagons? The Chisholm Trail? Yeah, we're talking Kansas. It never crossed my mind that all these things were a part of Kansas history. National Geographic even has The Wild West, Kansas as one of their Drives Of A Lifetime. It surprised the heck out of me because I never even considered it when I moved out there.

A lot of folks do what they can to keep those cowboy traditions alive. And one of those things is rodeo.

Now, I had watched all of this stuff growing up in Philly, and I wished at times for the cowboy lifestyle, but it was only something I saw on TV. In my whole life, I never went to a rodeo.  Not until last summer, in of all places, St. Johns County, Florida. Not a place I would have associated with cowboys. But people came in their western wear, hats and boots. And it was a helluva lot of fun to be there. I posted the photos from that night in this http://www.photoguyofai.com/Events/A-Night-At-The-Rodeo  on my other website. I honestly thought this would be a one and done kind of thing, or maybe I might get to come back next year.


Then came the relocation to Kansas.  At the end of my second month there, we started gearing up for the K-State Rodeo and their Bull Bash.  My partner wasn't really interested in all of this stuff, but boy I sure was.  I got to be a kid again re-living all those things I dreamed of when I was playing cowboy. And then there was all the cool action to be photographed too. It was a trip. I went to all the Bull Bash events and then when the K-State Rodeo hit town, I was all over it too.  I was back behind the scenes and roaming around the area where the competitors had their trailers and their horses, watching them practice and getting up close and personal with the bulls. It was pure fun to me. And then when they hit the arena, I was even more excited to see them do their thing and make those shots.


A whole new world opened up for me then, that's for sure.  I will continue detailing this love affair with rodeo in the next post.  Stay tuned!

Picking Up The Conversation

It's been almost a year since I posted anything on this blog.  It's not like I've had nothing to say or nothing to write about.  I can't say for sure why I pretty much abandoned this thing.

Believe me, my life went through some major changes in the last year.  I picked up and moved halfway across the country to Manhattan....no, not that one.....to Manhattan, Kansas.  Located in the scenic Flint Hills of Northeast Kansas, Manhattan is a city of about 50,000 and probably the best town of all the ones that I visited while I was out there.  For most, the Little Apple is known as the home of Kansas State University and the Wildcats.  You get used to seeing a lot of purple.  Every shade of purple that there ever was.  But a lot of cool stuff goes on there and there is usually something happening somewhere in the area.  It's not a move I regret in the least.

Now, most of the 10 people who may read this know why I headed for the Heartland in the middle of the Winter Snowstorm Armageddon last December, but for those of you who don't, it wasn't because I had this unfulfilled need to listen to all the Oz jokes and dire tornado alley warnings.  Quite simply, I was offered a job.  But not just any job.  It was the Dream Job.  The job that I've wanted for a very long time.  I got to be Animal from The Lou Grant Show.  Or Peter Parker, although I didn't get the spidey senses that he had.  I got to be a staff photojournalist at a daily newspaper, The Manhattan Mercury.  It was not an easy job to get.  They had tons of people that applied.  And they chose me.

On my very first morning out there, before I even had been in the newsroom, I got called out to a shooting incident in a local motel parking lot.  What a way to start. 

Literally, I had found my calling.  I knew it.

For eight months, I got to talk to and shoot all kinds of people and things and events.  From people like Harry Belafonte and Senator Bob Dole to the neighbor down the street.  From the Wildcats and Jayhawks to kids playing in the community pool, From traveling Broadway musicals to the high school production of Bus Stop.  From the governor's State of The State address in Topeka to the Wooden Nickel Day Festival in Watertown.   I got to experience new things that I've never done before or not been as up close and personal with as I did through the newspaper.  The paper needed photos every day and I did my best to provide the readers with photos they wanted to see every day.

Sure, I've gotten to photograph a lot of cool events and some pretty big names in my time, but I never had more fun making photographs than I did in Kansas.  Was this a step down from the "exciting life" as some people asked?  Oh hell no!!!  This is life.  This is America in all her glory.   This is America at her finest.  It's the day to day of people and their lives and their struggles and their triumphs and their celebrations that makes us who we are.  I basically got to focus on everything that makes us who we are. 

You can put it down or overlook it if you like, but I embraced every bit of it.  I relished every opportunity I got to cover every story.  People are absolutely fascinating.  If you take the time to find out.  They may not think so, but I do.  They've all got a story.  People want to talk to you, and they will.  They are looking for someone who will pay attention to them and take an interest in them and what they have to say. They all want to make that connection and tell the world their tale.  For me, it was a major part of my job to tell those stories to the readers through my photographs.  I wanted to make those connections.  I wanted them to like what I did. and the way I did it.  I hope I did them justice.

I read somewhere that being a photojournalist is a license to be curious.  Well, maybe it's also an excuse to be nosey.  I got to be curious and ask questions and make those photos and show people stuff that they might have wondered about but never got to ask about.  I got to show them things that they may have never seen or thought about.  I got to be their eyes and their connection.


I did some really good work at The Mercury.  I made some photographs out there that I think are some of my best.  Some of which never even made it to the paper.  I grew.  I learned how to connect with people in a hurry; something I've never been really good at.  My photographic skills and abilities improved.  I learned new ways to do things and different ways to capture and tell the essence of a story.  I became a much better photographer.  More than that, I think I actually became a photojournalist.  I can honestly say that I have never had more fun working in my life than I did doing my job at the paperThat's not an exaggeration.  There was no bigger high than going out and shooting those photos.  And seeing them in print.

Even though I kind of found my niche at work, it wasn't quite so in my personal life.  I had left everything behind me to pursue this dream.....including the one person who loves me and supports me and understands me and shares more with me than pretty much anyone on the planet.  Cindy.  We've been together (although not always in the same area code) for seven years.  She didn't like me going, but she let me and encouraged me to do it.  She didn't want me to live with a "what if..." or an "I should have...." hanging over me or between us.  She's like that.  She's a doll.  And I have never had a woman like her in my life.  And I doubt I could ever find another.  We talked pretty much every day.  Except those nights when I got in late from an assignment and she'd fallen asleep waiting.....damn that time difference thing.  The plan had been that I would get back to Jax every now and then and she would fly out west for a weekend, but that never happened.  We just couldn't afford the cost of the flights, and driving for two days each way was just out of the question.  I only got back one time in the eight months I was out there.  And that was because a client basically paid me enough to afford the airfare.

Eventually, I began to feel like she was starting to drift away.  Not because she wanted to or was trying to, but more because of the reality of our situation.  Long distance relationships are just damn hard.  When she had to face something huge by herself, without me to lean on, and she didn't even tell me about it till a little while afterward, I knew that I had ridden this train as far as I wanted to go.  Sure what I was doing was fun, but there's no way I wanted to take the chance of losing her.  No way I was going to let that happen.  When it came down to it, I could live without doing this job; I didn't want to live without her.

I also couldn't get to see my kids and their kids from where I was.  While the drive from Florida to Maryland isn't a hop, skip and a jump, it's not as bad as the trip from Kansas.  It's doable in a day.  The grands are growing up without seeing the old guy enough and that started to wear on me too.  They need to know me and wrestle with me and hug me......and I need it too. 

(We won't even get into the whole thing of Mother Ocean calling me back....)

So, I made the decision to head back east.  Once I thought about it, the choice was obvious. 

It's not that it didn't work out.  It's quite the opposite.  I haven't given up the dream.  On the contrary, I've learned how awesome it can be.  But I've got to make it happen here.  This is where I belong.  This is home for me.  Next to Cindy (and the ocean).  I will treasure every experience I had shooting for The Mercury.  I learned so much about the dream job and my craft and me.  The fire to follow that dream burns brighter than ever.  I just have to make it happen.  Somehow.  Some way.

And I will.

Breaking Boundaries

A few weeks ago, EU Jacksonville asked me to stop by the Florida Theatre if I was going to be taking in ArtWalk for August. (In case you don't know it, I love the theatre; I think it's one of the coolest places in Jax.) EU was working on the Performing Arts issue and thought that I might be able to get something interesting as the Jacksonville Dance Theatre and Braided Light Dance Project were going to be performing outside the theatre for the folks at ArtWalk. Since I was going to be downtown for the Biebster, I figured that it may be cool to check it out.

When I got there, the ladies were constructing a dance floor on the sidewalk outside the theatre.


While I couldn't get any decent shots of their performances, since I had to be somewhere else then, I did get a few of them practicing once they got the floor assembled.


It was quite interesting to see what they were doing.  I'm sure the performances were really cool.  When I was talking to them, I thought that I might be able to get to one of their Friday afternoon practices at JU, but they also told me about an event they were having the first weekend in September in the Swisher Theatre at JU.  Unfortunately, I couldn't make it to the practices and EU decided that they had what they needed to feature the dancers in their performing arts guide.

But that didn't stop me from taking in Breaking Boundaries, the major performance at Jacksonville University.  Cindy and I needed a different kind of night out, and this sounded like something we'd both like.  I don't get the chance to photograph many dance performances, so I'm always happy to get the opportunity.  And this show was pretty different from what I, an admitted dance novice, expected.  Sure it was a bit challenging to shoot, but it just amazed me what these dancers could do with their bodies.  They moved in ways I don't think I could have even have imagined.


All in all, it was a great performance.  I was really enthralled by their movement and was left wanting more when they'd finished.  I have more images from that night on my website.  Click on over and check them out.  I hope to be able to photograph more dance in the future, and I hope these ladies will invite me to shoot more of their performances.


Up The River

One of the unique features of Jacksonville is that it is truly a River City.  The St. Johns River runs all through it.  The entire downtown is built around it and there are seven major bridges that go across it, connecting the different areas of the city.  I love the river.  It's amazing.  And beautiful.  It is the backdrop for so much that goes on in Jacksonville.  I think it's one of the best features of the city, and believe me, I think there are many.  One of the coolest facts about the river is that it runs south to north, unlike most rivers which run north to south.  I don't know why it does, but that definitely makes it different.

But like most rivers that run through major cities, the river is in trouble from years of neglect.  That is changing, thanks to the efforts of folks like the St. Johns Riverkeeper. Their mission is to work on behalf of the community for clean and healthy waters in the St. Johns River, its tributaries and its wetlands, through citizen-based advocacy. And they do a heckuva job. Because of their efforts and so many more people in Jax, the condition of the river is improving.

This past Saturday morning, some folks from JumpingFish put on the Up The River Downtown event, which was a 10K on the river community event for swimming and paddling. JumpingFish advocates for the river through athletics. These intrepid swimmers swam almost ten miles in the river, accompanied by a flotilla of kayaks, paddleboards and even two Jacksonville Dragon Boats . They began at Jacksonville University and ended their swim at the Riverside Arts Market.  Through their efforts and sponsorships, they not only brought attention to the plight of the river, they also brought support to some area Special Olympic swimmers which will help them be able to compete. It was a totally fun event and so much fun to be a part of.

And here are some of the pix of the day....


The one thing that I should mention is that more swimmers were scheduled to make the swim, but the river is experiencing an algae bloom right now, and for some folks, it created a health risk to take part.  Yes, that's one of the reasons we need to take care of the river.  So we don't have things like this...


All in all, it was a great event, and I think they did a wonderful job.  If you'd like to see more pix, click on over to the website. I'm sure these fine folks will be doing much more to advocate for the health of our river, and I intend to be there. Hope you will be too.

Jags Preseason Guide

Last week I posted some of the pix that I was able to shoot at the Jacksonville Jaguars Training Camp.  Well, EU Jacksonville was putting together a preseason preview and guess whose images they used to illustrate it.  Yeah, if you happen to pick up the August issue, please check this section out.  You know the one with Shawn Fisher and Jordyn Jackson on the cover?

To be honest, when I saw it, I thought Rachel Henley, the graphic design maven at EU did a helluva job.  I think the two page spread really pops.  And you should read the entire article by Richard David Smith III to know more about The Big Cats.

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If you'd like to see more of my images from the Jaguars training camp, check out the 3 galleries of them <a href="http://www.photoguyofai.com/Sports" rel="nofollow">here</a>.

The first preseason game is this Friday night.  I hope you plan to come out.  I'll be there on the sidelines, loving every minute of it!  If you see me, please say hi

Editorial Photos for Clean Water Music Fest

I got the email on Friday afternoon.  EU Jacksonville, the magazine I shoot for most,  made some last minute changes for the new edition that was going to hit the streets next week.  They decided to make their story about the upcoming second annual Clean Water Music Fest the lead article and they needed art to illustrate it.  And they needed it by early in the week.  Did I think I could do it?  Sure, I could.

I was at last year's festival.  It's a great charity event.  Local musicians Jordyn Jackson and Shawn Fisher of Flagship Romance put this together to support efforts to get clean water to developing countries around the world. While we take access to clean water for granted, for millions of people around the world, it's not that easy to get the water they need.  Many spend their entire days trying to get enough water to survive on.  They may have to walk hours and hours, miles and miles to bring it home.  And that water is dirty and disease infested.  It is a major cause of death and illness in these areas, especially among children.  If you'd like to know more, please visit www.charitywater.org  The extent of the problem is mind boggling.


For their first event, Jordyn and Shawn with the help of friends, fans and local businesses were able to raise $12000.  So what happens with that money?  Well, with each $20 collected, it gives one person clean water for about 20 years.  That's HUGE.  Just from what they did last year, 600 people will be getting clean water.  Which means that they can turn their attention to other things, like caring for their families or working to support the family or getting an education.  It makes a difference. It really was a great event. And the music was damn good too.

So, getting back to this year.  We all started trading ideas back and forth about what kind of images to make for this.  It was a combined effort for Rachel, Will and Shelley at EU, Shawn and Jordyn, and Cindy and me.  We were brainstorming by email.  By late Friday night, we had several ideas for me to work on.  The next morning, I started to scout for possible locations.  I headed downtown,  looking for fountains, water pumps and scenic places along the river.  Cindy suggested some children that we might be able to put into the pix  too.  By early afternoon I had several places in mind.  I had even talked a Jax fireman into turning on one of the red hydrants down by the river to give us some kind of rushing water.  And I put it out on Facebook that I was looking for a pitcher pump or something similar that we might use in the photos with kids.  I then firmed up with Shawn that we could meet on Sunday and we'd get it done, at least their part.

Then he said two things to me that changed everything.  He had some dear friends whose children he thought would be perfect for this.  Sure I said, please bring them along.  And he asked if I'd considered shooting this at Guana Nature Preserve.  The bells went off.  Guana has a burnt out section that I envisioned would give us a perfect background for this.  The pieces were falling into place quite nicely.

I arrived a bit early at Guana the next afternoon to scout out some locations.  My vision for this shoot was trying to make it look like Shawn and Jordyn were in a developing country, not looking like they were standing somewhere near a Florida beach.  And this place had it all.  Right next to the section of burned vegetation was a boat ramp for launching canoes and kayaks.  No concrete or anything like that.  Even Mother Nature was cooperating as a storm was brewing off to the west and creating some great clouds.  Even a little gear snafu wasn't going to spoil this one.  When they all pulled up, and I was introduced to Mary-Anne and Steve, I knew that this was going to work out perfectly....well aside from Steve's Old Navy shirt.

We were able to get several different looks accomplished in about an hour.  I shot the kids by the water and in the woods, then had Shawn and Jordyn join them.  The kids were a joy to work with and they really got into it, giving me the emotions that I was asking for.  It was great fun.  And I was so happy with what we were getting.  I don't think it looked like Florida much at all.  Then I had them cup their hands while Shawn poured water into them from one of the big yellow water cans.  We did get a little rain, but we were able to get done and get out of there before the storm hit.


There were more, but I think we accomplished what I set out to do.  Working with Jordyn, Shawn and the kids was a blast and they'd done so well.  I was excited.  This was one of the best editorial shoots that I think I've done.  On the way home, I texted Cindy "wait till you see".   I couldn't wait to show her the results.  EU was quite pleased too.  Here's the cover that they chose....

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And, the article....

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So, what do you think?  Did I accomplish my goal?  I'd appreciate your thoughts and comments.

Throwback Thursday - Salisbury WWII Veterans

This Throwback Thursday is about something that happened just a few months ago.  It was one of the first stories that I got to cover when I was working for The Daily Times in Salisbury, MD.  One of the coolest things about doing the photojournalism thing is that I get to meet so many people with so many interesting stories.  On this night, I got to shoot 3rd - 5th grade students at North Salisbury Elementary School who had interviewed and made video documentaries about the lives of area WWII veterans.  They were presenting their final projects to the vets and their families at a ceremony at the school.  And they were quite good.  The excitement was rampant and I was so happy to be there.


One of these groups of children was fascinated by the stories of their veteran, Charles Mowbray, but they noticed that he only had pictures of the medals that he had earned during his service.  So they asked him why he didn't have the medals.  Seems that the Navy had never sent them to him.  He thought they'd get around to it, but they never did. So these kids took it upon themselves to right this wrong and get Mr. Mowbray his medals that he'd waited 67 years to collect.  One of the girls, Leanna Morris, wrote a heartfelt letter to her Senator to make it happen.  And she accomplished her mission.


But what Leanna and Mr. Mowbray didn't know was that the school arranged another assembly the next week where he would be presented with his medals, and she'd be the one to give them to him.  When I heard about this, I knew I wanted to cover it, and my photo editor told me to go for it.  These two thought it was going to be just another part of the project.  The surprise was evident when Mr. Mowbray and Leanna walked in.  All their family members were there for the presentation, along with lots of local dignitaries and several representatives from the Navy.  There were heartfelt speeches and lots of hugs.  It was quite an occasion, and it brought a lot of tears to people's eyes.


But something else occurred for me personally.  Although I'm always taking pictures of the famous, I'm not the kind that likes to have his picture taken with celebrities.  But this day was an exception.  I got to chat with one of my news heroes, Steve Hartman of CBS News.  He does the On The Road segments on the national news on Friday nights.  He was there to cover the awarding of the overdue medals to Mr. Mowbray and the story behind it.  I've never seen one of Steve's stories that I didn't like.  They're always heart-warming and fascinating, and he has a way of presenting the story that just gets to you.  What a great guy to chat with.  I handed my camera to his cameraman for this one.  It's one of those moments I'll never forget.


Oh, and here's Steve's feature that was on CBS News.  You may see a certain photographer doing his thing as you watch.  Yes, I love this stuff.


I've gotten to do a lot of really fun things lately as I pursue more editorial photography and photojournalism. Working at the Salisbury Daily Times brought me some really interesting opportunities. I wasn't there long, but I learned a lot and it's inspired me. Doing this kind of work is challenging, fun and extremely rewarding. It's allowed me to be creative in ways I didn't think I had in me. I did a shoot yesterday with some great folks in support of a charity doing great things, and it may be one of my best to date. I'll have to wait till it goes to press this week to show you what we did, but I think I can post just this one......


ESPN Friday Night Fights


This is another one of those different kinds of things that I get to do that never seem to end up on the blog.  For those of you that don't know, I actually get to shoot a lot of sports events in Jacksonville.  I've shot the Jaguars in the past and hope to be on the sidelines again this season.  I've also shot the Suns, the Sharks, the Bullies, the LFL Breeze, and had a really bad experience shooting the Giants.  I've covered basketball, football and golf for UF, JU and UNF.  I've also been lucky enough to shoot the last two Gator Bowls.  I've even been courtside for the Harlem Globetrotters and up close for the Monster Trucks and WWE when they hit Jacksonville.  And let's not forget shooting barrel racing and bull riding which got me some of the most views on my website that I've ever gotten.  While I was up north, I covered high school golf, baseball, and softball, as well as minor league baseball and stand-up paddelboard races.


Most people start out shooting youth and school sports and work their way up to the bigger stuff.  Not me.  The first sporting event I ever covered was a Jaguars game.  And I was hooked.  One thing has led to another, and through my association with EU Jacksonville, I have been able to expand my capabilities into so many areas.

Again, for no good reason, none of it has ever been on the blog.

Recently, ESPN brought their Friday Night Fights to town.  This was a big deal.  It had been more than a decade since a professional boxing match of this magnitude was held in this town.  Part of the credit goes to Alan Verlander, the city's man in charge of bringing sporting events of all kinds to Jacksonville and putting us on the sports world's radar.  He's been working hard to bring more of these kind of events to town.  And it appears to be working out well.

There were several bouts that night.  And several had local guys from Jacksonville competing.  The first bout was more about dancing and prancing and strategy than it was about landing blows.


The second bout was totally different.  It was a slugfest from beginning to end.  By the final round, you had to wonder where these guys were getting their ability to keep on going.  They had both laid it all out in the ring and had nothing left at the final bell.


The third bout was completely different.  It was over in less than a minute.  The two boxers were still dancing around, feeling one another out when the one connected and the other hit the mat.  It was over by a knockdown as the second fighter couldn't get his legs to work right after that.  It went so fast that I didn't even get any good pix of it.


Then came the two bouts that ESPN was broadcasting live.  They were both hard fought and ended up in split decisions.  The fighters in both were pretty evenly matched.


Oh, and for those of you that would like to see some of the other goings on that night....


On the whole, it was a very challenging night.  We were allowed on the floor, but we weren't allowed to get really close to the ring.  So, if you were on the floor, you had to shoot through the ropes, which does not result in great images.  I chose to move into the stands instead so that I could get cleaner photos, but it created an angle that I'm not crazy about.  I also had to shoot with a longer lens that isn't as good as some of my shorter lenses.  All in all though, I'm pretty happy with the results of shooting my first major night of fights.  I hope you are too.  If you'd like to see more of my images from that night, please click on over to my website.   As always, I welcome your comments.

Throwback Thursday - The President's Visit

Sometimes you really have to work for what you want.  Sometimes getting to do this stuff isn't as easy as it looks.

The word got out that President Obama was going to be in town on Thursday to make a re-election campaign stop.  This was about noon on Tuesday.  And I wanted to be there.  Are you kidding?  How could you not want the opportunity to photograph a sitting president?  I don’t care what your politics are, the man is the President of the United States.  I had covered several visits of the Romney/Ryan team, so I had a bit of experience at doing this. I actually got a real fever for this political theatre when I was lucky enough to shoot the Republican Presidential Debate at the University of North Florida a few months before.

So, I went down to the local campaign office and got a ticket to be part of the audience; if nothing else, I wanted to be there.  Then I contacted the publisher of the magazine I shoot for to see if he could get me credentials.  By that evening, he’d gotten no response to his inquiries, and told me that it probably wasn’t going to happen.  That was unacceptable.

I started to email anyone I thought might have an in or some contact that I could approach.  I told anyone connected to me on social media that I wanted to be there for this. I kept it up all that night and the next day.  Oh, and I prayed that I’d get this opportunity.  I had a lot of support and good wishes.  Then, a friend gave me contact info for the White House, so I gave it a shot.  Within an hour, I had a response from them that they would give me access to photograph the President at the airport, but that’s the best they could do.  Not really what I was hoping for.  But they did give me someone to contact in the campaign with an email address.  So, I fired off an email.  And waited.  And waited.

Thursday morning came, and still nothing was confirmed.  But I wasn’t going to let that stop me.  I grabbed my gear and went down to the convention center.  I had my regular press credential and my admission ticket, just in case I could only get in that way.  I got down there early and just started talking to anyone and everyone I could.  With my gear on, at least I looked impressive, and looked like I should be there.  There were local news folks that I knew, and people that I’d never seen before.  They'd come from all over North Florida and South Georgia.  I told my story to one lady from a Tallahassee newspaper. She listened attentively and immediately got on her phone.  After she’d talked a few minutes, she gave me the phone and told me to tell my story.  So, I did.  On the line was the guy who was in charge of giving out press credentials.  He told me he’d meet me at the media door.  When the Secret Service started letting in the media, he came out and told them that I was a late addition.  And he handed me my White House Press Pool credential.  Yes, I was in!  And I’ve got the photos and the credential to prove it.

This is one of those experiences that I will always remember.  Not everyone gets to do this.  But I did.  If you'd like to see more of the photos from that day, click on over to my website


Oh, and that little piece of paper that I treasure, here it is....

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