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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Anticipating Victory

The best photos of kids' sports capture their emotions, reactions and expressions.

Acton, Ma. Girls’ softball players react as their team explodes for six runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to rally for the win in a Youth League tournament game vs. Woburn, Ma. (© Michael Maher, The Lowell (Ma.) Sun).

The Photo:
Nearly all the action was over when I arrived during the final inning of a girls’ softball game, but I didn’t want to settle for the boring picture of last resort -- a pitcher throwing the ball. Luckily for me, this Acton girls’ softball team was in the midst of rallying after trailing for most of the contest. I had never before seen a group of kids jointly react so strongly in anticipation. The players on the bench got increasingly more excited as their team scored six runs to win. Throughout Acton’s rally, these girls showed their excitement and amazement in an increasingly animated way. I didn’t take my focus off the bench players because I knew their facial expressions would far exceed anything I could shoot on the field and, therefore, I didn’t need to photograph any action plays during this game.

3 Tips:
1) Periodically focus on the faces of players on the bench or in the dugout.
2) Use a longer lens to provide close-ups of players’ facial expressions.
3) Keep shooting until you have a powerful photo of animated expressions.

Friday, December 9, 2011


Friendship among children often creates warm, touching photo opportunities.

Three friends walk arm-in-arm together in Lowell, Ma. (© Michael Maher, The Lowell (Ma.) Sun).

The Photo:
This may have been the easiest children’s photo I ever shot. As I returned from taking another picture, I saw these three kids with their arms around one another, walking ahead with their backs to me. I stopped the car, put on a long lens, and walked behind them, following until I got the photo I wanted of them walking in a group embrace. The only hard work I had was catching up to them and getting their names for the newspaper caption. It was a warm, touching moment of three young kids genuinely showing affection for one another.

3 Tips:
1) Children often show affection for one another in a way that provides strong photos.
2) In most cases it’s better if you capture the kids’ faces, but sometimes the warm embrace is powerful enough without facial expressions.
3) These types of photos need to be shot candidly, without interrupting the touching moment.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

4 Faces of Cowens

The emotions and facial expressions of basketball coaches often provide better photos than the game action.

Boston’s Dave Cowens displays a range of emotion and intensity during his debut as player coach against the Denver Nuggets, as the Celtics won to end a six-game losing streak (© Michael Maher, The Lowell (Ma.) Sun).

The Photo:
Dave Cowens of the Boston Celtics was one of the NBA’s most emotional players. As a 6”9” center, he needed to play with intensity to be successful against opposing centers who were much taller and stronger. Earlier in his career, Cowens was called for a series of cheap fouls during a game, and he ran across the court hard into the Rockets’ Mike Newlin, knocked him to the floor, proclaiming to the referee, “Now THAT’S a foul!” He once took some time off and drove a Boston cab because he wanted a break from the intensity of NBA life. So it was no surprise when Cowens, who was in his first game as Celtic coach while also still a player, leaped off the bench to exhort his teammates and direct referees during a tense time of a tight game. Positioning myself between the team benches, I used a long lens to capture several close-ups of Cowens’ many expressions, and published the four best. (I was a bit too close on one picture where I missed the tip of Cowens’ index finger.) The photos also reflected how frustrating it was for Cowens to play for and coach the Celtics that season, after John Havilcek had retired and before the Larry Bird era. These photos were transmitted via the wire services around the country, and you will still occasionally see one of them published whenever there is a story about Dave Cowens. Good close-up photos of famous people will often be reused for years.

3 Tips:
1) Emotional coaches can provide outstanding sports feature photos.
2) Sit near the player benches and concentrate on the coach for an extended period of time.
3) Close-ups are the best pictures, so use longer lenses as much as possible.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Face of An Archer

Close-ups of archery can provide very strong images, as I learned the first time I photographed the sport.

Archer never loses his concentration as the bow mangles his face during an archery championship at U. S. Olympic Festival (© Michael Maher).

The Photo:
I never shot archery before, and with little advance warning to do any preparation for the event, I had to learn as it unfolded. The first thing I noticed was how tightly the archers pull the strings against their faces before they shoot. All the world class archers in this event seemed to do it, although some made much more interesting pictures than others. I shot several photos of them releasing the arrows, and reacting to their shots, but I kept thinking back to the scrunched-up faces – there was nothing better visually that day to convey their intense concentration and the difficulty of the event. I found one archer who had the best face of all, for he never wavered in his concentration, no matter how much he distorted and abused his poor face with the bow string while aiming. I don’t remember his exact place in the event, but he was easily the top archer for concentration.

3 Tips:
1) Because archery is about shooting the arrows at a target far away, the best photos capture the archer, not the target.
2) Archers provide great photos as their faces concentrate very intently before shooting.
3) Another terrific photo is the archer in the act of letting the arrow fly, but avoid being in the line of fire.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Overturned Shopping Cart

Kids are often so intense in their play activity that you can take photos without them even noticing.

Make-believe “king” directs his friendly subjects to pull their makeshift rickshaw, a shopping cart equipped with mattress and rope, until he leans back too far, the cart tumbles over, and they must right it to start over (© Michael Maher, The Lowell (Ma.) Sun).

The Photo:
Passing a school playground, I saw three boys playing with a shopping cart. I stopped and watched as they took turns letting one kid climb into the cart and get pulled along by the others. As I pointed my camera, one boy started acting like a king, ordering his subjects to pull him along. The other two boys pulled him extra quickly and extra hard, to get it moving very fast and teach him a lesson. As it raced along and they yanked it again, the cart fell back and the boy playing “king” fell backwards out of the cart. This gave me a funny series of three pictures -- the boy being pulled, the cart tipping as the boy riding in it fell out, and the three boys trying hard to right it. Either the first or last photo alone would be strong by itself, but the series told the most interesting story. I briefly interrupted to tell them I took the pictures and get their names, but they immediately went back to their fun, and my shooting turned out to be a minor interruption. I didn’t stick around to see if the “king” got revenge on his friends later.

3 Tips:
1) Spend enough time watching kids play to see if a great photo opportunity happens.
2) Try taking candid photos without the kids noticing you or interrupting their play.
3) Sometimes a series of photos tells a more compelling story than one single shot.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Shower of Rice

You can find many great wedding photo opportunities, but one of the best is the newlyweds being celebrated as they exit the ceremony.

Groom and new bride happily exit the church after being married as they are showered with rice and confetti (© Michael Maher).

The Photo:
There are many traditional photographs to take at weddings, but you should create your own original ones, too. From early in the day as the bride and groom get ready, to the actual ceremony, through the reception, there are limitless photo possibilities, but aim for a mix of expected and unexpected pictures. If possible, during the ceremony, you want pictures of the bride and groom exchanging vows and rings, the first kiss after being pronounced man and wife, and any spontaneous reaction or facial expression that occurs. You can also photograph them exiting wherever the ceremony is held, being congratulated by well-wishers, climbing into the limo and waving as they head away. Then there are all the options at the reception. At this wedding in Cape Cod, I took many photos, but one of my favorites was the newlyweds leaving the church, smiling as they are showered with rice and confetti by joyous well-wishers. The situation was ideal – a bright overcast day without harsh sunlight shadows, a perfect alignment of people waiting on both sides of the church entrance, and an unobstructed view of the couple and well-wishers so I could get a clear photo.

3 Tips:
1) At weddings, take a mix of expected/traditional photographs and unexpected ones.
2) Photo opportunities abound -- as the couple gets ready before the service, during the ceremony itself, at the reception festivities, and practically every step in between.
3) To fully capture the happiness of the day, be certain to include the both wedding guests and the newlyweds in your photographs.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Ted Kennedy For President

Photos of politician require props, gestures or spectators to make them interesting.

Ted Kennedy addresses his supporters after winning the 1980 Ma. Democratic presidential primary over President Jimmy Carter (© Michael Maher, The Lowell (Ma.) Sun).

The Photo:
Ted Kennedy seemed like a strong candidate for the 1980 Democratic Party presidential nomination, until his candidacy was derailed by a terrible Roger Mudd TV interview and Jimmy Carter’s strategy to remain in the White House during the Iran hostage crisis. On this March evening, he had won the Ma. primary, and I shot many photos of him speaking very animatedly to his followers about his vision for the country. He didn’t interact with the crowd, leaving quickly after he spoke, so I had to settle for the traditional shot, speaking at the podium. When covering politics, it’s essential to get close-up photos of the key people, preferably with compelling gestures or expressions, and Kennedy was at his best that evening, speaking with passion, vision, and confidence to his supporters, while providing animated gestures for all the photographers. I also included his famous nephew and niece, John, Jr. and Caroline, supporting him in the background.

3 Tips:
1) Politicians, because they are famous people, are great subjects for personality pictures.
2) Gestures demonstrate personality traits and make ordinary photos more powerful.
3) Include elements like the podium, other supporters, family and signs to provide more detail and depth.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Me and My Shadow

Shadows enable a whole new dimension of creativity as a photographer decides whether to include the subject, only the shadow, or a mix of both.

Eric Bradbury glides through the air on his tree swing, as his shadow follows his every move (© Michael Maher, The Lowell (Ma.) Sun).

The Photo:
When I saw a boy playing on his tree swing, I noticed how the bright sunlight left a clearly defined shadow on the ground under him. To capture the shadow I needed a high vantage point, so I climbed the tree above him and his swing. Now I could shoot down at the shadow and the boy on the swing. I made the shadow the central focus of the photo, with the boy and the swing secondary-- the opposite of a typical photo where the subject is central and the shadow secondary. The image came out wonderfully, and I learned the value of finding unusual ways to employ shadows in pictures. This is an example of a photo where the unusual perspective made people wonder where I was standing when I took the photo.

3 Tips:
1) Using shadows creatively will make unusual photographs.
2) Try making the shadow the primary subject of the picture.
3) Use a high angle for a shadow on the ground, or line the shadow up against a wall background.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Foul Ball

Sometimes a clever caption creates an additional meaning to make a picture more powerful.

Foul ball gets batter right where it hurts during high school baseball game in Pelham, N. H. (© Michael Maher, The Lowell (Ma.) Sun).

The Photo:
I wanted an unusual photo of a batter, so practically all I photographed at this high school game were hitters swinging. Close-up photos of baseball batters making contact require a little luck because it’s difficult to precisely time when a hitter’s bat and a pitched ball meet. You’re shooting at shutter speeds of 1/500, 1/1000, or 1/2000 of second, while both the bat and ball can be moving over 100 miles per hour at the moment of impact. Framing the batter’s full body, using a 180MM lens and a 1/1000 shutter speed, I repeatedly tried to time the swing of different batters to capture the ball being hit. The key is to take the picture as the batter begins to swing the bat forward. I already had some strong images of the batter making contact with the ball, when this high schooler hit the ball and fouled it off his protective cup. I timed it just right to get the picture, but what the photo doesn’t show is that it barely grazed him, and he wasn’t hurt at all. He only reacted slightly, mostly in surprise, instead of falling to the ground and needing medical attention as you might expect. When you publish a shot like this, a creative caption helps convey the humor – we eliminated bad ideas like “ball three” – but “foul ball” summed it up.

3 Tips:
1) Always photograph some hitters batting.
2) Time your photo as the batter starts to swing.
3) Use a very fast shutter speed (1/1000 or 1/2000 if possible) to capture both the bat and ball in motion).

Friday, August 19, 2011

Bird in Flight

A pro basketball dunk usually has both a powerful facial expression and acrobatic action, all in one shot.

Boston Celtics forward Larry Bird slams one down at the front end of a fast break during the season opener against Cleveland (© Michael Maher, The Lowell (Ma.) Sun).

The Photo:
Larry Bird isn’t normally associated with slam-dunks because his strength was shooting and passing. However, early in his career, he would finish off some Celtic rushes down court with a slam-dunk, albeit not too frequently. This game was the season opener, and Bird was excited to start a year in which the Celtics would contend for (and later win) the championship, so the first time he got a breakaway down court, he dunked to charge up the Boston crowd and his teammates. On this shot, I sat perpendicular to the basket with a longer lens to catch his drive to the hoop and facial expression. Strangely enough, during the years I covered the Celtics, I shot several photos of Bird dunking, and he had his eyes closed like this in every one.

3 Tips:
1) Sitting perpendicular to the basket gives you a great angle to photograph players driving to the hoop.
2) Use an 85MM or 105MM lens and focus on the rim area.
3) Look for shots with players in the air showing intense facial expressions.

Friday, August 5, 2011

First Lady Rosalynn Carter

Avoid harsh lighting effects and instead create a natural look by bouncing your flash's light off the ceiling; then eliminate eye shadows by flaring a little extra light toward the subject’s eyes.

First Lady Rosalynn Carter speaks to a group of supporters in Pelham, N. H. at a campaign visit for her husband Jimmy Carter a few months before the 1980 Granite State Presidential primary (© Michael Maher, The Lowell (Ma.) Sun).

The Photo:
During the 1980 Democratic Presidential primary season, President Jimmy Carter did not go out on the campaign trail, remaining in the White House to concentrate on the Iran hostage crisis. In Carter’s absence, the First Lady repeatedly campaigned for her husband, and on this evening, she was addressing several Democratic supporters at a private home in Pelham, N. H. I arrived about 45 minutes before her, as the Secret Service cordoned off the area. Once inside I met the hosts and was able to help plan where she would be standing for her speech, to ensure the best pictures. The lighting was not sufficient to photograph without a flash, but I didn’t want harsh direct flash shadows, so I planned a bounce flash effect off the ceiling that looked like natural light. I also attached a piece of white paper slightly over the end of my flash to flare some direct light toward her and eliminate shadows under the eyes. I managed several photos of her, all nicely lit, and got a chance to meet and talk with her in this intimate surrounding. It was exciting to meet the First Lady, disappointing that it wasn’t the President himself, but rewarding that I had a natural-looking lighting effect. (Note: the President’s campaign strategy to stay in the White House worked for him in the primary, but not in the general election, when he lost to Ronald Reagan.)

3 Tips:
1) For very famous people with tight security, map out the event and plan your photo in advance.
2) If the light is low, avoid direct flash if at all possible, using bounce flash instead.
3) Famous subjects may be reserved about showing expressions, so watch for gestures to help bring their personality to life.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Best in Class

Crew races often require a little extra creativity to make your photos interesting.

The championship trophy beckons as a winning crew team rows back to the boathouse after a race during Boston’s annual Head of the Charles Regatta (© Michael Maher).

The Photo:
My assignment was to photograph the Head of the Charles Regatta, the largest 2 day rowing race in the world, held annually on Boston’s Charles River. Our college photography class was set loose on this event, and most of us knew nothing about the sport. At the time, I owned only a camera with a 50MM lens, and doubted I would get any good action photos since all the races were held in the middle of the river, out of my lens range. Nevertheless, I photographed from bridges over the river because it got me close enough to the rowers passing under to shoot with my relatively short lens. I also sought more human interest-type photos from the boathouses on shore, looking for rowers getting ready or returning from a race. None of these were particularly great pictures, so I sought out the championship trophy, and climbed high to the top of one boathouse where it sat by the window. Rather than wait around and settle for a boring shot of the formal trophy presentation, I framed a photo with the trophy, a boat of winning rowers and the river. The handicap of my 50MM lens forced me to find an unusual perspective, and gave me a superior and unique picture of the event.

3 Tips:
1) Even when you are handicapped by subpar equipment for photographing sports action, you can always get strong sports features or human interest photos.
2) Not having the optimal equipment forces you to be more resourceful and creative.
3) If you can’t get close up human interest, look for unusual perspectives or juxtapositions, like a championship trophy with top competitors or winners.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Surprised and Delighted

Kids' birthday parties will often spur terrific expressions of happiness and surprise.

Colleen Maher, 6, reacts with joy as she opens the birthday gift from her grandmother, and gets exactly what she wanted (© Michael Maher).

The Photo:
I frequently aim my camera on people as they open gifts to try and capture an unexpected reaction or great facial expression. Often you don’t get anything spectacular, but occasionally you will. The trick is to do this regularly and be in position to get the terrific photo when it happens. For this birthday, I knew the gifts my daughter Colleen would be receiving, and had no idea if her reaction would be anything special. Nevertheless, I positioned my camera in front to clearly see her expression, and slightly off to the side so the gift would not block her face. She opened several gifts, some which I expected would bring her great joy, but she showed no unusually special expression. However, when she unwrapped this present from her grandmother, and saw a Snow White video, she was overwhelmed with joy, and I was able to capture the delightful reaction on her face.

3 Tips:
1) Kids opening birthday gifts can provide outstanding photos of reactions and facial expressions.
2) These photos don’t happen all the time, but you should almost always be prepared and in position to get the picture when it does occur.
3) Be in front with a clear view of the child’s face, and slightly off to the side to avoid the open gift blocking your view of the reaction.

Friday, June 24, 2011

“Take That, Great One”

Hockey body checks provide great picture opportunities with players being knocked off their feet and into the air.

Boston Bruins forward Steve Kasper (11, left) checks Edmonton superstar Wayne Gretzky into the air, but Gretzky’s Oilers inflicted the biggest hurt by defeating the Bruins (© Michael Maher, The Lowell (Ma.) Sun).

The Photo:
Body checks can often provide outstanding hockey photos as one player gets knocked in the air or to the ice. Boston Bruins forward Steve Kasper made his career out of being a strong defensive forward, and he was renowned for his ability to shadow and control Edmonton Oiler superstar Wayne Gretzky, who scored very few points in his career when facing Kasper. Shooting from above ice level, I watched Kasper and Gretzky throughout this game, but shadowing a superstar does not typically make great photographs, for Gretzky usually was too fast and agile to be body-checked. On this play, Gretzky was racing down ice after a loose puck, no doubt hoping to break in quickly and put the puck into the Boston net. However, Kasper saw him coming and stuck out his hip, while Gretzky was still looking elsewhere. When they made contact, Gretzky was knocked into the air, and I timed my photo perfectly. Had I been at ice level, the photo would have been stronger because Gretzky would have seemed to be higher in the air off the ice surface.

3 Tips:
1) Body checks provide strong photos of players being knocked into the air or to the ice.
2) Follow the players who have consistently been tough checkers.
3) Also watch the fastest skaters, who are frequently the target for opponents looking to check and slow them down.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

#3,000 -- at Last!

Achievement of a sports milestone provides a mix of emotions and activities to photograph.

After going hitless for several games, Boston Red Sox star Carl Yastrzemski swats his 3,000th hit at Fenway Park vs. the Yankees and is honored on the field (© Michael Maher, The Lowell (Ma.) Sun).

The Photo:
For five days, some 40 photographers squeezed into Fenway Park’s small media pit near first base, seeking pictures of Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski (“Yaz”) slugging his 3,000th career hit. After he collected three hits in a game to put him at 2,998, cameramen from all over the country crammed in with the photographers who typically cover a Red Sox home game, leaning over and into each other every time Yaz batted. However, it took him two more games to get number 2,999, and he went hitless another two games. Photographers pursued him after the games for disappointment photos, and the pressure Yaz felt was evident as he sighed, “I just want this to be over.”
Yaz’ big moment finally came against the rival Yankees, and before the game, all the optimistic photographers autographed a baseball to be given to him when he got his hit. A first base side shooting position meant that when Yaz got his milestone hit, he would run toward first, enabling me to capture any emotion he showed, plus it provided quick access to the field for photographing the celebration ceremony the Red Sox planned. Most of the great photo opportunities would be spontaneous reactions, so I stayed ready to react quickly. Yaz came to bat in the eighth inning, and the cameras again fired on everything he did. On the first pitch, he swung, I shot two pictures, and a roar from the fans told me the batted ball found its way between first and second base for hit #3,000. I kept the camera on him for an expression of happiness, but he was more relieved than happy. The Red Sox mobbed their captain at first base while Yankee right fielder Reggie Jackson, who earlier joked that he hoped he didn’t misplay Yaz’s 3,000th hit into a double, brought him the ball. As he displayed it to the crowd, accepted a trophy from the Red Sox, and thanked the fans, photographers filmed every gesture, searching for the right expression to sum up the event. A weary Yaz was glad this pressure-packed event was finally over, but I think the photographers were equally relieved.

3 Tips:
1) Position yourself to get the initial emotional reaction when the milestone is first achieved, and look for any subsequent range of emotions.
2) Remain flexible to react to the events as they spontaneously transpire.
3) If there are high expectations or pressure for achieving the milestone, try to convey it visually (crowds, media, strain on face of player, etc.).

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Laughing Audience

Never pass up the chance to photograph happy children, laughing heartily.

An audience of children enjoys a puppet show at the Morey Elementary School in Lowell, Ma. (© Michael Maher, The Lowell (Ma.) Sun).

The Photo:
An elementary school puppet show usually provides a few photos of puppeteers with puppets either performing or interacting with children in the audience. On this occasion, the audience was the best part of the show, as the children were intently watching, laughing, cheering, gasping, giggling and yelling back to the puppets. I shot only one photo of the performers, but many great audience expressions and reactions, and this was the best. The only problem was the poor lighting required I use a direct flash for every shot, creating harsher lighting on the faces than if the auditorium had more adequate overhead lights. However, the facial expressions were so strong, the flash effect really didn’t detract from the powerful reactions. Many times, as in this case, the audience is the most photogenic part of the show – there was really no need to photograph the puppeteers.

3 Tips:
1) Expressions of children watching and reacting can be much stronger pictures than a shot of the event they are viewing.
2) If the lighting is not sufficient for naturally lit photos, don’t hesitate to use a flash, for you don’t want to miss a powerful picture.
3) Photograph a wide range of kids’ facial expression because you’ll often get increasingly better pictures.

Friday, May 13, 2011

“Here, You Take It”

Watch basketball action closely, stay ready to shoot, and you can sometimes photograph a behind-the-back pass.

Boston Celtics’ Chris Ford throws the ball back to teammate Rick Robey after being pressured by Seattle’s Dennis Johnson (© 1980 Michael Maher, The Lowell (Ma.) Sun).

The Photo:
It’s always worth trying to get great photos by shooting from the sideline near center court because occasionally you might see some unique action pictures. On this evening, Boston Celtic Chris Ford (42) encountered Seattle Supersonic Dennis Johnson (DJ - #24)), who was one of the NBA’s best defensive players. When DJ jumped to block any Ford shot and bar his path to the basket, he quickly passed back to Celtic teammate Rick Robey (53), and I had an unusual photo of the ball being passed midway between the two players. Ironically, Johnson later was traded to Boston and became a key member of the famous 1980s Celtics’ championship teams.

3 Tips:
1) Sitting at center court gives you a unique angle on unusual photos.
2) Using a long lens enables you to isolate key players or specific plays from the busy background.
3) Be patient from this vantage point, because players will be running in front of you constantly, and photo opportunities will be less frequent.

Friday, April 29, 2011

End of the Rainbow

Although there was no pot of gold, this end of the rainbow provided a strong photo.

Tourist exults as he poses for a photo beneath a rainbow on the big island of Hawaii. (© Michael Maher).

The Photo:
Rainbows are challenging to photograph, not because taking the picture is so difficult, but because it’s tough to find brightly colored rainbows to make a strong photo. It’s hard to predict when a rainbow might occur, so you must be ready quickly when you see one. Driving along a vast open field on the Big Island of Hawaii (in the state of Hawaii), a light rain was falling, the sun came out, and a large rainbow appeared. I stopped the car and took several photos of the rainbow over the horizon, but there was nothing in the photo to illustrate the size of the rainbow. To make the photo stronger, I needed to put a person -- myself -- into the picture. I set my camera’s automatic timer, lined up the photo I wanted, ran into the open area, and posed under the end of the rainbow (where there was no pot of gold to be found), as the camera took the picture. There was no special trick to capturing the rainbow in a photo, for what you see is exactly what you get. However, rainbow colors are not always bright, so you may often need to add a little color enhancement to make the rainbow stand out more prominently in the picture.

3 Tips:
1) Rainbows are easy to photograph but difficult to find.
2) Include an object or person so the picture communicates the size of the rainbow.
3) You may sometimes want to enhance the rainbow colors in the final picture, since rainbows don’t always appear as bright colors.

Friday, April 15, 2011

“I’m SO Big”

Grandparents make especially great photographs when they act like kids while playing with their grandchildren.

Grandmother Catherine Maher plays mimicking game with granddaughter Colleen (© Michael Maher).

The Photo:
Grandparents love almost nothing better than playing with their infant grandchildren. One of the most popular games with infants is asking them “How big are you? You are so big,” and throwing both arms high into the air to demonstrate how big they are getting. Do this often enough, and the child begins to mimic your arm motions, extending their arms overhead, even if the child is too young to say the words. After my mother Catherine (called “Nana” by her grandchildren) found this to be a game that she and her new grandchild could play together, they did so over and over. All Nana had to say was, “How big is Colleen? She’s so big (emphasis on the ‘so’),” and Colleen threw her arms high overhead. After a while, she didn’t even need to look at her grandmother, just hear the words. I took this picture as they played this game multiple times one evening in the kitchen, when I was able to capture both of their faces and body language all at once.

3 Tips:
1) Grandparents playing with their grandkids can make for warm or funny pictures.
2) Include both the grandparent and grandchild’s facial expressions and/or physical body language in a way that shows the enjoyment of their interaction.
3) One photo opportunity is the grandparent and grandchild playing the “So Big” game as they both raise their arms high over their heads.

Friday, April 1, 2011

“Thank My Nine Lives”

Life-saving photo opportunities are extremely rare, and in this case, it was an animal, not a human.

Spectators check on a cat that was revived by receiving oxygen from firefighters after it was overcome by smoke during a Lowell, Ma. house fire (© Michael Maher, The Lowell (Ma.) Sun).

The Photo:
Every photographer dreams of getting a life and death spot news photo, but one of my personal favorites was saving an animal, not a human. It was a slow evening until a fire call came over the police radio. Arriving at the scene, I saw firefighters exiting a house from which smoke was billowing and from which most occupants had been evacuated. One firefighter came out holding a cat, placed it in the corner of the front porch, and raced back into the house looking for additional occupants. There was no one else inside and he came out alone, walking more leisurely because he thought the danger was over. Some spectators alerted him that the cat didn’t seem to be moving, so he picked up the cat, put an oxygen mask on it, and laid it gently on the ground. Children gathered around to watch as the cat began to stir slowly, they touched the cat to feel it breathing, and it quickly recovered in good health. The firefighter’s oxygen saved it from smoke inhalation. (Note: the dark, wet spot on the pavement is condensation from the oxygen mask, not blood.)

3 Tips:
1) Life-and-death photos can be taken of animals as well as humans.
2) When possible, capture the concern expressed by rescuers, onlookers, or loved ones.
3) A photographer should always be ready to offer help before taking the picture.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Direct Hit

Inclement weather can provide many great photo moments, such as kids having fun in the snow.

Jason Wood, left, ducks and manages to score a direct hit on his friend Shane Fabian during a snowball fight in Westford, Ma. (© Michael Maher, The Lowell (Ma.) Sun).

The Photo:
When a snowstorm hits, photographers usually trek out in search of pictures that will illustrate the severity of the snowfall. After one storm, I saw two young boys throwing snowballs at one another, close enough that I could capture them both in a single photo, which is unusual. They were also playing next to a plain cement wall, which made for a very clean background to make the picture even stronger. I stopped quickly to get their pictures with a long lens, but they stopped momentarily when they saw me. However, I encouraged them to continue, and as I got ready to shoot, their battle resumed. Once they did, one kid got hit straight-on in the face, which hurt a bit. He stopped, yelled something to the other kid, and ran home. I got their names from the boy who remained, and told him to tell his friend I hoped having his picture in the newspaper would make him feel better. I felt a little guilty that the first kid got hurt, even though it was just a little bit, but it was a great photo.. The boy who stayed told me he was certain the fame of being in the paper would help his departed friend get over being mad.

1) Playing in the snow creates many different types of photo opportunities.
2) Snowball fights can make compelling photos, especially if you have both sides of the battle in your picture.
3) Look for a clean, clear background so all components -- the snow and the kids fighting – are clearly distinguishable in the picture.

Friday, March 4, 2011

“Open Wide”

Environmental portraits show people working in their typical professional environment, surrounded by their tools, customers, co-workers, etc.

Veterinarian works on cougar’s mouth at Boston’s Franklin Park Zoo operating room (© Michael Maher).

The Photo:
I elected to shoot a picture story of the head veterinarian who tended to the animals at Boston’s Franklin Park Zoo. Although he agreed I could follow him around and photograph him working, he would not make special arrangements or accommodations to set up photos for me because he was so busy. When he treated this cougar’s teeth, the background was a bright window, which created glare and made it hard to get a good photo, but he would not stop to close a shade or reposition himself to help my shot. However, I was able to maneuver around enough to get a clear shot against the bright windows of him working intently on the cougar. The animal was sedated, strapped still on the table and a device held the cougar’s mouth open, while an assistant also held its head. This is an example of one powerful type of portrait -- people doing their jobs -- for while it is not a facial close-up, the work and surroundings clearly convey their personalities.

3 Tips:
1) Occupational photos are one distinct type of environmental portrait.
2) Not all portrait and personality photos need to be facial close-ups.
3) Show the subject in the act of doing his/her job and, if possible, a facial expression.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

"It's a Boy!"

A fan's reaction can often provide a far better photo than the athletic competition.

A gymnastic fan expresses her surprise as she spies one of the only boys participating in the Lowell Recreation Department gymnastic competition (© Michael Maher, The Lowell (Ma.) Sun).

The Photo:
While shooting a gymnastics meet, I concentrated on the gymnasts doing their routines on the balance beam, parallel bars, and floor exercises, but didn’t take much notice of the crowd of spectators. However, when a boy was announced and began his routine, one spectator jumped up and expressed her surprise when a boy was participating in what was usually a girls’ gymnastics competition. The spectator had a wonderful expression, and it was so spontaneous, I don’t think she could ever repeat it if I missed the photo. Her reaction lasted long enough that I had time to change my focus from the event to the stands of fans in time to capture this wonderful moment.

3 Tips:
1) Fans can be very intense while watching a sporting event and potentially provide very strong photos.
2) Scan the crowd of fans periodically to look for compelling expressions or behavior.
3) If possible, include some element of the competition in any photo highlighting fan actions or reactions.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Salute to Number 4

Professional athletes often control their emotions, so it's challenging to convey the sentiment when they are being honored.

Former Boston Bruins hockey star Bobby Orr thanks the fans during pre-game ceremony retiring his number and raising it to the Boston Garden ceiling (© Michael Maher, The Lowell (Ma.) Sun).

Bobby Orr, Orr number retired, Boston Bruins retire number 4, 1979 Orr retirement ceremony

The Photo:
Bobby Orr was one of the most revered athletes in professional sports, especially in Boston. He was that rare combination of being the best player in his sport and an approachable, modest person, whose career unfortunately ended early from knee injuries. When his number was to be retired before an exhibition game against the Soviet National team, the photographic media massed onto the ice to cover the festivities. The pre-game retirement ceremony was long, and good pictures were tough to get. Orr didn’t stand near the banner with his name and number that the Bruins were hoisting to the rafters, and he worked hard to hold back his emotions, so photographers struggled to find one definitive image summarizing the moment. I shot Orr speaking to the crowd, joking with the current Bruins’ players, interacting with his wife, and biting his lip to hold back tears, and the strongest photos were the close-ups of him, even without visible tears, for he did occasionally let the happiness show. The best photo came when he put on a Bruins jersey, so we could photograph a happy Bobby Orr smiling in the uniform he had starred in for so many years.

3 Tips:
1) When a superstar’s number is retired, the player typically displays some tears or emotional sentiment.
2) The ideal photo has the player showing emotion adjacent to the uniform number before it raised to the ceiling.
3) If the player is too stoic to show emotion, look for a close up of the player smiling or waving to the spectators.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Water Skiing Dropout

It's tough to be a water skier -- the best photos of their sport are not when they perform well, but when they fall.

One member of a Tyngsboro, Ma. water skiing duo loses his grip and lands sideways while his partner tries to avoid him (© Michael Maher, The Lowell (Ma.) Sun).

The Photo:
A weekend water skiing show was scheduled on a lake in Tyngsboro, Ma., and I was asked to shoot a promotional picture a few days in advance. When I arrived, two performers offered to let me photograph a preview of their acrobatic water skiing. Before we started, the leader of the team remarked that he hoped I would publish a picture of them doing things right, not slipping or falling. Photographers, he said, prefer the shots of them falling, and those are the pictures most often published. Never having shot water skiing before, I told him I would try to emphasize photos of their successes. I climbed into the motorboat, as they jumped into the water, donned their water skis, and grabbed the ropes. When the boat accelerated, the two of them were pulled along on their water skis. They skied very impressively, exchanging positions, going over high jumps, one climbing on the other’s shoulders, and I got several pictures of their stunts. When they slipped on a very difficult stunt, I shot that photo, too. Sure enough, when I reviewed all the pictures, their fall was a far better shot than the photos of them skiing flawlessly. My newspaper published their fall picture big while the successful jump photo ran smaller. Later, a fellow photographer covering the actual water skiing show reported that both water skiers told him they really liked the shot of them falling.

3 Tips:
1) Water skiing can be a very acrobatic event, and the best photos are often when a skier slips or falls.
2) Shoot your photos from the back of the boat pulling the water skiers.
3) Another strong photo is when the skiers create patterns of waves with their skis.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Showdown at Seabrook

Some events like protests and demonstrations are announced in advance, creating great opportunities to shoot newsworthy photos.

Anti-nuclear protesters and New Hampshire State Police clash in hand-to-hand combat with mace and billy clubs during a protest at the Seabrook, N. H. nuclear power plant (© Michael Maher, The Lowell (Ma.) Sun).

The Photos:
In the late 1970s, there was widespread fear of the proposed Seabrook, N. H. nuclear power plants being built close to a densely populated area, because of the radiation danger, and of the ocean pollution risks it presented. (Only one plant was eventually built and the company owners ended up in bankruptcy.) As Seabrook became a national symbol of the struggle against nuclear power’s risks, protesters repeatedly descended on the plant over several years to confront local and state police authorities.

Close to 1,000 demonstrators were expected, so news reporters and photographers flocked to capture the drama of these skirmishes, since there’s nothing that attracts cameras like pre-arranged, guaranteed news action photos. The protest organizers planned for several waves of protesters to attack the fences in front and on one side, in an attempt to enter the compound where the power plant was under construction. They didn’t expect to succeed since the police were armed and well mobilized, guided by informers among the protesters and news media, but the organizers counted on the events generating favorable news coverage for their cause.

The first group tried cutting the side fence with wire-cutters, but police inside the fence squirted pepper spray at protesters’ eyes, repelled them with high-pressure water hoses, and smashed their hands with billy clubs when they touched the fence. I primarily stood back photographing with a long lens, but occasionally moved in closer to get better action pictures. The second wave of protesters at the front gate piled a large stack of tree branches and debris to prevent authorities from entering or leaving, but the police came out to remove the debris and fended off the protesters, who retreated after a few billy club blows or when the pepper spray temporarily blinded them. The only effective way for me to photograph this was by wading into the midst of the protesters, and throughout the battle, I kept focusing and shooting, and barely avoided being clubbed myself. During one heated moment, after I ventured deep into the skirmish, I held up a second camera with one hand to show I was with the press, so the police officers wouldn’t billy club me.

However, the protesters won the media battle because the powerful pictures were shot from the protesters’ perspective outside the fence, with the police appearing to come at them menacingly as the aggressors. To counter this in future protests, the police brought some media representatives inside the fence to make the protesters look more like the aggressors.

3 Tips:
1) Stand back with a long lens to photograph fierce protests.
2) Be prepared to photograph from up close at times, but avoid being hit or pepper-sprayed.
3) If you are shooting in the midst of protesters, provide a way for authorities to easily identify you as a photographer.