More than paper

(Originally posted January 2012)

I was pointed to http://fototails.wordpress.com/2012/01/02/a-letter-on-my-doorstep-portraits-are-more-than-paper/¬†earlier today and thought it worth sharing. Obviously, it’s been a while since I wrote anything here and while you may not believe it, I have been meaning to and have a short list of items I want to blog about shortly.


This photographer is luckier than most. I seriously doubt that many get these thoughts about his/her work put into writing, and delivered to their doorstep. What a gift! If it weren’t so sad what is going on in the customer’s life, you would probably ask them permission to use this as marketing for your photo business.


Don’t get me wrong. I see the emotion involved here and the emotional blackmail angle that some would point out to anyone hoping to make bank from this letter. I also know that the point the letter writer is trying to make is that life is sometimes short and memories are often all we have left of those we love. Having lost both of my parents already, I cherish the photos that I have of both of them.


How many times do you take a pass on a great photo purchase, thinking that it is too expensive? Can you really put a cash value on a memory?

 

Opening Day

NWC_31600


After a cold, snowy winter season, the first day of spring blew up on us with a beautiful 80 degrees! Saturday, March 20, 2010 was Opening Day for the North Wake County Baseball Association at the Factory Fields in Wake Forest. One of the largest local leagues for youth baseball, the NWCBA has been our client since just last year. We enjoy a great relationship with them thanks to Tim Wheeler, Mike Marshall, Ken Shuey and many coaches and team managers we’ve worked with over the past year.


NWC_31564


Opening Day festivities include appearances by Wool E. Bull, mascot for the Durham Bulls (at bottom) and the Chik-Fil-A Cow. There are inflatables, a monster truck, clinics and contests for all who attend. The first pitch, or pitches are thrown out by alumni of the Association. This year five former players, all headed to college to play ball did the honors.
The season runs through the spring, with another season planned for the fall. We’ll be shooting lots of games, so look for more of the NWCBA here before too long. Play ball!


NWC_31554

 

Daytona 500

(Originally posted March 2010)

DSC_0015C

One of the biggest events I’ve been fortunate enough to cover was the Daytona 500 in 2001. Writer Paul Ensslin and I set out from Nando Media to cover the big race after launching a new website we created specifically to cover NASCAR, not knowing the incredible drama we would witness after the race had ended.

RockinghamNASCAR2000

We had both covered races in North Carolina previous to this trip (That’s Rockingham from the previous year, above). In fact, it’s tough to get a credential at Daytona if you haven’t. We arrived, got our credentials and drove under the track to the infield where we had the chance to walk around as fans the day previous to practice. We signed our names on the finish line, and Paul even kissed the pavement. He’s a big fan. I like shooting NASCAR, but I’m not kissing anyone’s asphalt. Paul’s son is a big Tony Stewart fan, so we made sure to get a photo of Paul with Smoke’s car. We also stopped by the tent with a Dale Earnhardt car, because that’s just what you did back then. Everyone seemed to be a fan of the number three car…well, except those OTHER fans.

DSC_0048D

As the drivers walked out to their cars, photographers had their last chance to get a shot close to the drivers, and I was very fortunate to find myself just opposite Dale Earnhardt as they were calling us off the track. I was the last to leave the side of his car, and took this shot just before I jumped back off of pit road.

Shooting a race all alone can be quite daunting. At Daytona, the track is so huge, it is impossible to cover it well all by your lonesome. My theory was, start at turn one, spend some time on that back straight way, hit turns three and four and then focus on pit road leading up to the finish. Sounds logical, right? Of course, I was on the lookout all day for other stuff going on like fans in the infield or the officials in the 76 ball turret on turn two.

DSC_0091A

For the latter part of the race, Dale Earnhardt had been blocking for his son Dale, Jr. and teammate Michael Waltrip who were in the lead. Junior had yet to do all that well on his own, as had been hoped, and it was certainly a “feel good story” to have his dad protecting him from the field.

For those of you who know NASCAR, you know what’s coming. With only a few laps to go, I was at turn four. There were only a handful of guys there right in the corner. It had taken longer than I expected to get there, and I hesitated to move too quickly to the pit area without shooting what I wanted in turn four. My friend Bill had loaned me his PRN Radio headsets to listen to the radio traffic during the race. I listened as they told about an accident sending Tony Stewart airborne over other cars, causing a twenty car pileup. Logically, with so many cars needing repairs, I figured that action would provide me with images I ought to have. So I bolted for pit road. This would be close to a half mile sprint, with all my gear on my back.

So when I arrived at pit road only to hear of another accident on the very last lap, I was disappointed to say the least. I shot the finish, Waltrip and then Junior. It was then I heard Dale, Jr.’s voice on the radio say “how bad is he?” Looking up towards turn four, I could see the smoke. Turned out, there was some bumping and Dale, Sr. had hit the wall right there in the corner of turn four. I had been just yards from where it happened just minutes before. The photos published of the crash were taken by the guy about ten or twelve feet from me before I bolted for pit road. Ugh.

RockinghamFeb. 25, 2001

Some would say “why would you want to be there when someone dies?” or “why would you want to see someone get hurt?” The answer is, I don’t. Nobody wants to see any of that. However, as a photojournalist, your job is to get that shot. Your job is to show people what happened. As a photojournalist, if you could only get one image that day, the image you wanted was the number three car hitting that wall.

This ain’t my first rodeo

(Originally posted March 2010)

Gilliland_07.04.02_087

Back in 2002 I was lucky enough to have an opportunity to attend Rich Clarkson’s Sports Photography Workshop in Colorado. Rich Clarkson is a very well known photographer, who had shot every NCAA basketball championship since dirt. If you’ve seen a photo from one of those championship games, chances are excellent that you’ve seen his work. Several other well known shooters mentor those attending. Mark and Joey Terrill, John McDonough, Bob Rosato and Dave Black. Mark is an Associated Press staffer out in Los Angeles, while brother Joey is a freelancer also living in California. McDonough and Rosato shoot for Sports Illustrated. Dave Black is well known for his Olympics work especially in gymnastics and figure skating, but is also known for his “light painting” work (he’s also a bit of a cowboy).

Gilliland_07.04.02_084

I had some very nice things said about my work by these photographers, and some things I should work on in the future obviously. I hope I have made good use of these pointers, and would welcome the chance to have that theory tested some day with another review.

Among the opportunities afforded us at the workshop, besides these portfolio reviews, was to work alongside these guys in their element. Dave Black shoots a lot of skating, so I had hoped to shoot a figure skating exhibition with him, but failed to sign up in time. I did get to shoot swimming at the U.S. Olympic Training Center where he taught us about using strobes. I also got to work shooting a couple of quick environmental portraits using only speedlights (flashes) with Joey Terrill, known for his lighting skills.

The biggest thrill for me, at the time anyway, was the chance to shoot the Greeley Stampede in Greeley, Colorado. I had heard of this rodeo many times, living in Oklahoma for many years. I had attended lots of rodeos with my family growing up. I had not, however, ever had the chance to shoot one and now I had the chance to shoot one of the best known in the country.

Gilliland_07.04.02_060

Packing so much gear for the flight out to Colorado, I didn’t have room for my cowboy hat or boots. If you have ever been to a rodeo, you may have noticed that everyone associated with the rodeo dresses the part of a cowboy. Even the photographers make some attempt at fitting in, if they want to do it right. I was unaware of this, and showed up in shorts and a big ol’ floppy canvas hat. Nice. After strolling around trying to find interesting shots of competitors getting ready, stock shots and detail stuff, I set up next to (if not behind) a fence post up against the grandstand.

Turns out, luck was with me. I had obtained a credential prior to the trip out through work. The folks from the workshop that showed up, were corralled in an area like a box seat on the front row, sort of raised up a bit from the arena floor. I got an interesting angle on some of the events, and a much better angle on the calf roping. That is what lead to the shot up top, a favorite of many in my family. You may have noted the calf’s expression in all three of these is somewhat interesting.

In fact, after several other attendees presented their best rodeo shots to the workshop each morning, where all the professionals critiqued our best three shots of the day, mine got the best reaction. “Now THAT’s a rodeo shot!” was the one I remember best, for obvious reasons. Not sure who it was that said it though. I do know that they liked the expression on both the cowboy AND the calf, the sharp focus, and the moment captured. This was a highlight of my photo career. That may sound silly, but think about it. Hearing your peers, especially those with that amount of expertise, say that your work stands out…that’s strong stuff.

Gilliland_07.04.02_122

Curling

(Originally posted March 2010)

Curling clubFactory Ice HouseWake Forest, NCFriday, January 23, 2009

While I don’t claim to understand it, and certainly can’t understand why someone would spend HOURS watching the sport intently, I can absolutely see why someone would enjoy playing this sport. Every four years, it becomes the topic of the day at local water coolers. People are either fascinated by the sport, it’s fashions (those Norwegian pants), or why in the world Canadians hoisted this sport on everyone.

Curling clubFactory Ice HouseWake Forest, NCFriday, January 23, 2009

The goalie on my ball hockey team is Sue Mitchell, who you can see pictured here. She was kind enough to invite me out to shoot the Triangle Curling Club in North Raleigh a few months back. She is a sort of spokesman for the group, and tells me they are currently inundated with requests to come out and learn to curl. They’ve had people all the way from Pennsylvania ask to come all the way down to Raleigh just for the opportunity to give it a try.

I think I’ll wait until all the hubbub dies down a bit, but I think I can picture myself throwing a few stones. Just don’t ask me to wear those pants.

Olympic Gold

(Originally posted March 2010)

canes_3474

The Olympics are one of my favorite sports to watch. Unfortunately, they only come around every four years. Every two years if you enjoy both summer and winter versions as I do. The Winter Games just ended, and one of the biggest events this year was the men’s hockey tournament. Here in North Carolina, we are lucky enough to enjoy our very own NHL team, the Hurricanes. Four of our players brought back medals. Two bronze from Finland players Joni Pitkanen and Tuomo Ruutu, a silver from Team USA’s Tim Gleason, and a gold medal won by Hurricane captain Eric Staal.

canes_3442

Staal was the Hurricanes’ first round draft pick back in 2003. He’s already played in two All Star Games (named MVP in one), won a Stanley Cup in 2006 and just recently took over as captain after Rod Brind’Amour stepped aside. He’s come a long way mighty fast, and it hasn’t seemed to affect him in public. He comes across as humble in interviews, and only calls attention to himself through his exuberance when he scores.

I have been lucky enough to cover the Hurricanes frequently for the Associated Press, European Pressphoto Agency, and as team photographer for a time. For Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Finals in 2006, the Hockey Hall of Fame hired me to shoot for them. I was on the ice when the Cup was presented and in the locker room as Staal and his teammates took their first drinks from Stanley’s Cup. Quite a night to remember. One of many in, what we hope, will be a long and storied career for the newest gold medalist.

canes_4223

All grown up

(Originally posted February 2010)

winterfest_REC450

Wow, long time without a blog. I can bet you’re already going to wisecrack about the title being about my kids growing up in the time it took me to write this one.

Many of you know that I own a small business that shoots a lot of youth sports. My predecessor built a set of clients in the figure skating arena that we have strengthened, hopefully, and have enjoyed immensely. We set up a booth including viewing stations where people can view images captured only minutes previous to their visit. Sometimes we print on site, sometimes not if the event is smaller. The image above was taken at the Winter Festival on Ice at the Reczone in Raleigh this past December.

sectionals_DSC_5282

This past weekend, we covered the 2010 Eastern Adult Sectionals. The winners in this competition go on to compete at the national level. In fact, Amy Entwistle who is one of our contacts with this club, won at nationals last year. (Congrats Amy!) We also cover the Central Carolina Skating Classic each spring, hosted by the Central Carolina Skating Club based at the Triangle Sportsplex in Hillsborough, NC.

Attendance at figure skating events have dwindled a bit over the past couple of seasons, due in part to the struggling economy. It also seems to be a bit cyclical, running in parallel to the Winter Olympic four year rotation. With the Olympics currently in Vancouver, we thought interest might be up. Attendance was about the same as last year, but we sold more photos, so maybe interest was up, but the increased interest was from the same basic group of folks. A funny note, the television sets at the rink were set to NASCAR during part of the competition…so you know you’re in the south.

sectionals_DSC_6468

No offense to the skaters, but I’d rather be shooting hockey. That probably is due in part to my personal interest in the sport. I play ball hockey, and have covered the NHL for a good while in the past. The difference in the two sports is quite marked. Hockey is all about speed, conflicting forces and a score while skating is more about artistry and precision.

sectionals_DSC_7387

That brings me to the reasons I enjoy shooting figure skating. As an artist, seeing the human form used in an artistic fashion, especially in an athletic forum is of obvious interest. Seeing someone pursue this with precision means photo opportunities. Furthermore, one thing that many customers like about my work, is the expressions that I capture. When a skater lands a particular jump, or completes a perfect spin, they often display their emotions openly. Sometimes the emotion can be a surprise to the athlete as well as to the rest of us. With the level of concentration it takes to do some of these moves, it is no wonder I get the expressions that I get. Sometimes the emotion may be something outside the concentration on their routines. At the adult level, there were more dancing competitors than we typically see at other competitions. No doubt these adults spend many, many hours together and they MUST like each other at least a little bit to accomplish the moves we see.

sectionals_DSC_6610

One thing that I try to do at all of the competitions we shoot, is to get closeups of the competitors when possible. The lighting in these rinks is quite horrible, and to make it worse, unevenly horrible. Often, the skater will make their best moves in the darkest spot on the ice. Take that, in addition to the sodium chloride lights cycling through a range of colors sixty times a second, and you get a photo tech’s nightmare. You can see a closeup image here that worked out pretty well. Lucky me.

sectionals_DSC_7333

This year at the Sectionals, we were also lucky enough to see one of the long-time coaches that we see at just about all of the competitions we work with. Mary Jo Bullin skated competitively for the first time in thirty years (she must have been about four), to a tune that her father had suggested for her a long time ago. Her father has passed, and she skated the program to honor him. As a coach, you never want to compete in front of your players/students and not perform at a high level, and that was obviously not a concern for Mary Jo. As I told her later, her routine was smoking hot. Her father would have been extremely proud, no doubt. Her students also will never be able to say those who can’t, teach. Mary Jo can.

A Fair day

(Originally posted October 2008)

The State Fair of North Carolina is a little different from other states where I’ve lived. Here, if you haven’t gone to the fair at least every couple of years, it seems you are an outsider. Enter my wife, Alice. She hasn’t been to the Fair here since, she thinks, her senior year in high school. (That’s been quite a while.)

Certainly, I remember going to the Fair as a kid here back in the sixties and seventies. Yeah, I’m old too. The excitement of the rides, the crowds in the exhibit halls and all the junk we’d pick up in bags for the after-fair contest with my brother and sister to see who picked up the most stuff. It wasn’t COOL stuff, just stuff. I would venture to say that none of that stuff still exists in my possession or that of my siblings.¬†I was disappointed in the “stuff” handed out at the fair. The “got milk” sticker was the best thing we found, and that’s not saying much.

Then there’s the food. Alice tried some souse (you don’t want to know) and quickly regretted it. I tried a deep fried Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, and wasn’t totally revolted. The ham biscuit, sausage and onions, funnel cake and cinnamon roll we had were all good fair fare. Hey, it’s only once a year.

fwk_6168

The weather was great for our trip, slight breeze with a temperature in the mid-sixties. We didn’t ride any rides, but I did take the camera and try a few fireworks shots. As you can see, my position wasn’t all that great as I underestimated the distance from the launch to our spot behind Carter-Finley Stadium. Perhaps I’ll go back later this week to try again.

Everyone loves mom

(Originally posted October 2008)

Our friend John Lawrence, who owns Imagine the Possibilities video production company, asked us to shoot his sister Teresa’s wedding to Kevin Carlton last week. His co-owner Travis was unable to get back early enough from a previous engagement to do the shooting, so while we sat around between skaters at this year’s Falling Leaves Figure Skating competition in Richmond, John asked if I was available and willing. I’m so glad I had the date open.

You never know how these things are going to go, especially when you jump in at a late date. The one person that I’ve always been afraid of when shooting a wedding is the bride’s mother. I had no reason to fear her in this case, she was a gem.

LWR_4473

John had provided me with a list of shots he wanted, and other than those group shots, he left me to my own devices. Since I was not familiar with the church, and only knew that they had some pretty clear outlines of where I could NOT go, shooting the ceremony was looking like a good time to rest my heels. Not so, the coordinators from the church were quite helpful and allowed us access to just about anywhere except on the dais…and who in their right mind would want to be up there?

The couple faced the audience during their vows, so not only did I get that, but was able to get their first kiss as well. Having the D3 certainly made all this easier, for even with the light we had it was still a bit dim in there. I love this camera.

LWR_4617

Following the ceremony, they allowed me to ride along in the limo with the bridal party. I only wish I had a wider lens, as the limo was SLAM full, and I couldn’t get everyone in the shot. Sitting next to Mrs. Lawrence, it was tough to get her into the picture with her daughter and new husband. The short drive did give me a chance to converse with Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence, who were both very friendly and excited about the whole thing. You could really see how much the Lawrence family loved each other. This makes for easy work on my part.

LWR_5089

I really like this shot of the toast. The bride and groom apparently chose their attendants very, very well. Bryan Nuckols, the best man, only spoke briefly but clearly touched both Kevin and Teresa as tears were clearly evident. The maid of honor, Christina Tillery, followed suit.

LWR_5246

Everywhere I looked Mrs. Lawrence was happily chatting with everyone there, and if they were willing, taking them onto the dance floor. I don’t think the smile left her face all day. Meeting the Lawrences certainly made my week. Here’s hoping the best for the bride and groom, and both their families!

LWR_5261

My crabby friends

(Originally posted October 2008)

Good thing I have great friends. They can take a little sarcasm and a lot of driving around during their visit. Steve and Sonya flew out from Oklahoma earlier this month just to see us and hang out for a week. Last time they visited, we went up into the mountains for some Fall color. This time we were off to the beach.

turtle_4283

Sonya hasn’t spent much time at the beach, and hasn’t developed a taste for seafood yet. She’ll get there eventually. We were told to avoid any sushi, but she dove right into the Calabash style stuff. She didn’t sample any oysters (Steve and Alice both love the fried oysters.) but she did try a fried clam I think.

We had a condo right on the beach at Pine Knoll Shores, near one of the state’s wonderful aquariums which we visited our first full day there. First up, was a meeting with a year old sea turtle. Sonya said he felt “leathery” but was too cute to keep her hands off of him.

jelly_4329

Tried a few quick shots of a jellyfish, which you see here. Also had a bit of luck with an octopus, but I’ll save that for another time. Alice didn’t get to join us (she said she didn’t feel well, but I think she was power napping at the beach).

Steve is the one guy, other than my Dad, who influenced my foray into photography. Dad built a small black and white darkoom for us when I was young, but Steve got me into journalism class and on the yearbook staff which is what got me hooked on the idea that I could do it for a living. Steve is also an unrepentant gadget guy. He owns (and will sell you one) these incredibly bright LED flashlights like the special ops guys might carry.

crab_4405

So one night Steve and I went Ghost Crab hunting with his flashlight and my D3 camera. There were hundreds of these little guys on the beach, and they seemed to freeze up whenever spotlighted by Steve’s LED mega-flashlight. Have no fear, no crabs were harmed in the process.

We ate lots of good southern cooking, good fresh seafood and for that reason, have visions of hours in the gym working off the extra weight. Worth every minute.Since you are probably still waiting for the punchline, here it is. Steve gave us his best Popeye impersonation while posing in the “crab suit” at the aquarium. Suits him well, don’t you think?

crabman_4340

In all seriousness, it’s great to have friends who not only fly cross country to see us, but also are so open to new adventures, even the small ones.