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Friday, October 29, 2010

His Master's Finger

Finding the right shooting angle lets you selectively exclude elements from a photo, and make it far more compelling.

“Stay,” says the dog’s master with his finger, and the dog obeys, outside the Tewksbury, Ma. Middle School (© Michael Maher, The Lowell (Ma.) Sun).

The Photo:
Kids’ relationships with their pets can provide both warm and humorous pictures. After searching fruitlessly for over an hour seeking a feature picture, I entered the parking lot of a local school to turn around and reverse direction. I spotted a dog sitting outside the school’s rear door, with the arm of the dog’s owner pointing out the back door telling the dog to “stay”. I immediately thought of the famous picture of the RCA dog cocking his head at the sound of his master’s voice coming from the phonograph (“His Master’s Voice”). In this case, the dog seemed to be devotedly obeying the arm and finger, not the voice, of its master because, from my vantage point, all I could see was the dog sitting obediently as its master’s hand protruded from the door pointing “stay”. Had I been viewing this from another angle, like in front of the school door, I would have merely seen the back of the dog and face of the owner, which would be far less interesting. Leaving out most of the owner’s body, except his arm and finger, made the picture far more effective. I shot a few variations of this scene, and came away with a pretty unique photo (later an award-winner), which seemed to require the title, “His Master’s Finger”.

3 Tips:
1) Children with their pets provide a range of interesting picture possibilities.
2) The angle from which you view a scene can determine whether it is a strong photo or not.
3) Omit elements you would normally include to sometimes make your photos more unusual and compelling.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

We Need Help -- Now!

A sign can be a valuable prop when it conveys a humorous meaning to the activity in your photo.

These two shovelers weren’t the only ones who needed help when winter’s first storm dumped six inches of snow on the ground. Barry Meuse, left, and Rich Silk do their best to clear the driveway of the gas station where they work on Rte. 38 in Lowell, Ma. (© Michael Maher, The Lowell (Ma.) Sun).

The Photo:
A good photographer always keeps his or her eyes open for humor, and one approach is using signs that convey a funny meaning to what’s going on. This photo jumped out at me as I drove along on a very snowy evening, and I spied two gas station workers shoveling the entrance to their station next to a “We Need Help” sign designed to attract new employees. These two shovelers definitely needed help that night, and when I saw this shot, the only way I could photograph it was with a flash, for it was too dark to shoot otherwise. The heavy snow also meant the light from my flash wouldn’t travel as far, so I had to shoot from closer up. The sign made the picture far more interesting than it would have been with just two people shoveling snow.

3 Tips:
1) Inclement weather photos are almost always newsworthy.
2) Use signs to make your photo stronger by conveying an alternative meaning to the activity in the picture.
3) If you need a flash to take a bad weather photo, position yourself close to the subject because the light from the flash won’t travel as far as usual.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Remembering John Lennon

When crowds of people publicly display their emotions, it can provide very powerful photo opportunities.

Hundreds of thousands of people flocked to mourn slain Beatle John Lennon during a 10-minute silent vigil in New York’s Central Park, while some also surrounded Lennon’s home, the Dakota, where he had been shot by an alleged fan (© Michael Maher, The Lowell (Ma.) Sun).

The Photo:
Like many people, I first heard about John Lennon’s death when ABC Monday Night Football broadcaster Howard Cossell interrupted a game to inform football viewers. When a 10 minute silent vigil was held the following Sunday in New York City’s Central Park, journalists had to canvass the entire Central Park and adjacent areas to capture the expected outpouring of emotion because the best, most moving photos could conceivably be found anywhere. Starting at the Dakota where Lennon was slain, I encountered an enormous crowd of mourners surrounding it, (didn’t they know they were supposed to be in Central Park?) and it took quite awhile to wade through the people and realize the most compelling photo there was the immense crowd surrounding his famous residence. Proceeding to Central Park, I slowly walked through the masses looking for images and people to convey the day’s feeling of sadness. At the front of the crowd, it’s easier to find close-up, emotion pictures in such a mass of humanity. I discovered people with touching signs (“Imagine John Lennon Lives”), but the strongest pictures came when the official 10 minute silent vigil started, and people in front began sobbing and consoling one other. It can be difficult to find great photos in the midst of a large crowd, so I was fortunate the best pix were right up front without any obstruction. At this type of event, look for all three types of photos -- overalls (the large crowds near Lennon’s Dakota residence), mediums (mourners holding up signs), and close-ups (fans weeping and consoling each other).

3 Tips:
1) Photograph the three major types of photos – overalls, mediums, and close-ups – at crowded public rallies, to get a wide variety of pictures.
2) Canvass the whole area because you can find strong photos almost anywhere.
3) The most reliable place to look for emotional photos is at the front of a large crowd because your view is unobstructed and the most passionate attendees usually push to the front.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Bucky Dent's Home Run & Sad Yaz

Sometimes you can't get the shooting position you want but end up in the best possible spot.

New York Yankees shortstop Bucky Dent, left, is greeted at home by teammates Chris Chambliss, center, and Roy White after scoring ahead of Dent’s three-run, seventh inning homer that put the Yankees ahead for good in their 5-4 victory over the Boston Red Sox in the 1978 AL East Playoff Game at Boston’s Fenway Park (© Michael Maher, The Lowell (Ma.) Sun).

Buckey Dent Home Run 1978 Playoff Yankees vs. Red Sox by Michael Maher

Boston Red Sox star Carl Yastrzemski sits disconsolately in the clubhouse after popping up in the ninth inning to end the game with the tying and winning runs on base during Boston’s 5-4 loss to the New York Yankees in the 1978 American League East Division playoff game at Fenway Park (© Michael Maher, The Lowell (Ma.) Sun).

Sad Carl Yastrzemski of Red Sox after popping up to end 5-4 playoff loss to NY Yankees in 1978 by Michael Maher

The Photos:
This was the deciding game of the greatest baseball pennant race ever, the 1978 American League East battle between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, a one-game playoff at Boston’s Fenway Park to determine which of these teams would go on to the playoffs. However, with scores of TV and still news photographers covering the event, there was no room in the only field-level photographers’ pit by first base, adjacent to the Red Sox dugout. Since I couldn’t get the photographers’ normal shooting position, I moved to the third base side to have the sun over my shoulders for the best lighting, at the front of an aisle, adjacent to the field, behind the Yankees’ on-deck circle. Now I had the advantages of better lighting, a different vantage point from nearly everyone else, and a more comfortable spot since other photographers weren’t crowding me. The only risk was I could miss a photo or angle that all the other cameramen got.
This game would be a great story, no matter who won. If Boston won, they would successfully end their archrivals’ season-long comeback attempt from a 14½ game division deficit, but if the Yankees won, it would be the greatest baseball comeback of all time.
In the 7th inning, the Yankees, trailing 2-0, had two runners on base when Bucky Dent, their weakest hitter, came to bat. He fouled a ball off his shin, and the trainer came out to check his leg, while a teammate handed Dent a new bat. Oddly, Red Sox pitcher Mike Torrez didn’t warm up during the long delay, which risked making his pitches more hittable. When the weak-hitting Dent stepped back into the batter’s box, he hit Torrez’ first pitch, a fly ball that became a home run in Fenway’s short left field. I had a perfect angle on the celebration of a season-changing hit, and one of the most famous home runs in baseball history. Roy White and Chris Chambliss, who were on base and scored, greeted Dent at home, and the score was now 3-2 Yankees. This photo told the story of the game from the Yankees’ point of view -- their weakest hitter being congratulated for a homer that put them ahead for good. With the sun over my shoulder, I had a clear, well-lit photo of Dent’s homer, while most other photographers were on the first base side, shooting into the sun and couldn’t get as good a picture.
The Yankees went further ahead and the Red Sox rallied, but New York won 5-4 as Boston captain Carl Yastrzemski (“Yaz”) popped up to end the game with the tying and winning runs on base.
The Boston side of the 1978 playoff story could be seen in Yaz’ sad face after what he described as the most disappointing moment of his career. For Boston fans, this was the key photo that summed up the game, and nearly every Boston-area newspaper published some version of this on the front page. The Yankee perspective is best seen in the elated faces of Dent, Chambliss, and White. While I shot many compelling photos of game action, as well as the Yankees hugging and celebrating after the final out, this photo said it all. Combining the photo of Dent’s homer with the shot of a disconsolate Yaz told the full story, from both the winner and loser perspectives.

3 Tips:
1) Photograph both the winner and loser’s emotional reactions.
2) Close-ups of key participants convey the emotion of the moment and tell the story.
3) Be confident enough to position yourself with the sun over your shoulder, no matter what other photographers do.

Friday, October 1, 2010

A Wink and a Puff

Look how a facial expression or gesture can bring your subject's personality to life.

John Creatch shows his personality with a wink and a cigar puff in Malden, Ma. (© Michael Maher).

The Photo:
I was photographing a reunion for residents of the Edgeworth section of Malden, Ma., which I expected would be boring photos of people standing and chatting, or posing in groups around tables. I shot several photos of people interacting and most were indeed rather boring group shots. One man asked me to take his picture, but I expected nothing special, just a headshot of this one attendee. However, as I aimed and began shooting, he winked and took a puff on his cigar. When I shot several photos, he commented, “There, that should be good enough to get me in the newspaper,” and he was right. It was a great personality shot, and by far the strongest picture I got that night. Sometimes the subject provides everything you need to capture his/her personality – in this case it was both the wink of his eye and the cigar as an important prop.

3 Tips:
1) Give a subject the opportunity to express his/her personality.
2) At large gatherings or events, look for close-up facial personality photos.
3) In addition to a compelling facial expression, sometimes add a physical prop to convey more about the subject’s personality.