Monday, July 27, 2020

2020 Negatively Positive

For many of us I feel confident in saying that 2020 has been anything but normal.  In fact its probably been the weirdest year of my life.  Theres been countless times in the last couple months that I have just stopped and thought, is this for real?

  Unfortunately it does seem to be the reality, I was off work for 6 weeks, as timing would have it I sold my house last November and decided to live in my sweet  Winnebago for a few months.  Honestly I loved it but I never imagined when I decided to do this that I would have to spend almost two months living in it without being able to really escape.  But my girlfriend and I made the best of it.  We found a basketball court only 10 minutes form the Winnie where we spent many days there playing Horse and Tip It.  Before we could leave she made sure to pick up all of the trash others has left the days prior.

But being locked in a Winnebago isn't the story here, most of us  had an extended time without work, without our usual day to day routine.  The first week or two wasn't that bad but then my brain started saying, don't waste this time. Learn something.  So I started thinking about all the skills I had wanted to learn in the past couple years.  Luckily I had written most of them down.  From Real Estate lighting to working with masks in photoshop to studying to get my drone license.  One by one I started checking things off.

   Food photography was first,  I reached out to my favorite restaurants and explained I wanted to help out by sharing what they were offering through the pandemic.  For me though this was a chance to highlight some amazing people that put their heart and soul into their restaurant.  I thought I was just going to photograph food but I soon realized the people behind the food were the real stories.  From a couple that moved from NY to NC who now operate Ghostface Brewing with multiple locations. One of the most touching stories though was at Big Tinys BBQ!  This is a place I have gone to since John and Elizabeth Maddox opened in 2016.  Maybe because John came from the motorsports industry, so I admired him for taking the leap to pursue his dream.  The real story though was Yvette, a long time employee of Big Tinys. It took about 4 minutes to see that Yvette had become the heart of that restaurant, her personality is infectious! She drew people in to say hello and get some delicious food.

   My second skill I wanted to learn is one that is in the middle of a changing industry, Real Estate Photography.  A couple years ago I tried to shoot a couple houses for a friend of mine Mil Elliot.
I realized quickly that it was a whole lot more than trying to find what was beautiful.  The lighting the composition, noticing all of the details, like toilet paper on the roll and all the crap on the counter,  so I hadn't done it again but in March I reached out to her again to see if she had any houses we could try.  She did, this time I had a good camera Flash, I thought YES I can do this now.   I shot the house room by room, trying to remember the things I had learned on Youtube University.  I got back to the Winnie, uploaded the pictures and soon realized that I was still missing something. I was missing some techniques, so I went back to studying, trying to figure out why the photos didn't look like I wanted them to look like.  I realized I needed to get better with my blending to be able to get those bright windows calmed down.  A month later she asked if I was up for another house!  I said absolutely! So we went there and started shooting this brand new beautifully built house.  Jalene went through the house and I started shooting.  This time I had in mind what I needed.
 One by one I checked off the rooms. I left there knowing I still needed some more powerful lighting but I was excited about seeing them come together.  I opened the photos up and started editing.  Although they weren't perfect like I want them to be they were 100x better and I learned more of what I need to do next time but this time comparing them to some other homes I had viewed I feel like they were comparable to the rest.  The next one though is going to be right and I can't wait to see it come together!

   The third skill to me is one of the hardest but most important things Ive learned. Photoshop I know that over time I have learned a lot of things that have helped me in editing but for the past year I knew there was something missing.  I was lacking knowing some key things but I hadn't been able to sit down and learn what I needed to do.  I stumbled across a Photoshop course on Phlearn, it was a 30 day course on all kinds of ways to edit in photoshop.  A few of them were even catered to exactly the things I had been wanting to learn so I dove in.  Its one of the best things I've ever done, I learned so much in those 30 courses that I hope from here on out my photos will be better.  I have gone back and re-edited a bunch, Ive been amazed at the difference.  It has taken me to the level that now I feel like I have so much more to offer to everyone whether its in my quality or hopefully passing this knowledge on to others.  I can't thank Aaron Nace enough for that course. If you have ever wanted to learn how to edit I strongly recommend you look Phlearn up.  Their courses are super informational and Aaron has a way of explaining them in a way that we all can understand.


So even though I am back to work the world isn't the same and likely won't be for quite some time, I hope you too have taken this time to learn something new.  I hope you have challenged yourself to do something that you couldn't do in 2019 and show 2020 that even though its kind of being a B right now we can turn it into a positive. I hope if you are reading this you are staying safe and healthy.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Following Her Footsteps

I remember when I was a kid, I traveled up and down the West Coast with my Mom as she took pictures for various Drag racing magazines, News Papers and probably whom ever would buy them.  Personally I don't know how she did it but I do know as a kid this was a dreamland.  I loved race cars and I ws in the middle of Drag racing like most kids will never know. I rode bikes with Ashley Force I sword fought with Scott Kalitta, I was taken to victory lane with John Force. I still cant believe I was able to do half the things I did.

   My Mom to me was one of the greatest Drag racing photographers there ever was (yes I'm biased) the only thing is she had me.  She couldn't put into the career she loved like the other photographers could because as a single parent she had a greater responsibility.  So as I got older it became harder and harder for her to pursue that career.  Until she finally stopped.  She did transition into other motorsports but I don't think it was where her heart was.

   As I've gotten older I've thought about what she put on the back burner for me, a part of me wants to finish what she started and take this gift she gave me to where she should have gone.  A year ago I went to the Drag races here in Charlotte at the Zmax dragway.  I of course brought my camera but I was stuck in the stands.  I had tried to sneak onto the sidelines but never made it very far. I knew there was something I had to do.  So soon as I left the track I started thinking of ways to get out there on the starting line.  I went straight to the top, and reached out to a friend that runs the drag strip. She said absolutely and to remind her in August. I did just that and she fulfilled her promise but I soon realized she was giving me tickets to her personal family suite.  As nice as that was it wasn't where I wanted to be, I needed to be on the starting line.  So I reached out to a friend whom worked for Don Schumacher Racing.  She never hesitated. She gave me the email to the person at NHRA that I needed to email.  Thats where I thought the road stopped, she sent me the request form and on that it said "Who am I shooting for?" "what credentials do you have?" Basically why in the world would they let someone like me shoot there? I thought that was it but my buddy Brian didn't let me take that as a no. He said send it, he went over me and reached out to Ashley himself, she said no tell him to send it we've taken care of the rest.

   So I did.  A few days later I got an email with full on photo credentials right down to the parking pass just like my Mom used to have plastered all over her old Mazda.  Yes I about lost it at that moment but that wasn't the pinnacle moment.

   I showed up at the track at about 11AM on Friday. I picked up my credentials and walked in.  Even though I have been to a hundred Drag races this one felt like the first time.  It felt like I was in uncharted territory. I was nervous.  Probably the first time in my life I've been nervous at a track.  That feeling of not belonging wouldn't go away but race cars were going down the track so I went and walked past the security guard that had turned me around the year before.  I went to starting line and put my bag down, grabbed my camera and started clicking.
The cars were one of the lower divisions. I don't even know what they were but it didn't matter.  Soon as those cars started up I forgot that feeling....until I got a tap on the shoulder and a fellow photographer said hey you cant stand there. See that yellow tape and the cone down there thats where we can stand.  It was a quick reminder that I didn't belong, yet.  So I moved down there and just tried to stay out of the way of the others.  Soon I was getting the timing down of these Super gas cars.  The came Top Alcohol.  They are loud compared to most other race cars. One by one they went by and I got the timing down.  I looked at the photos I had taken and knew I wanted to find something different.  So I changed lenses and focused on getting them going by.  Its tough the cars are so fast but its the vibrations that are what really make it tough.

   I noticed that the other side of the track I could get closer to the cars.  I moved over there knowing the Nitro cars were next.  I dropped my bag and waited for the track crews to get the track ready.  The Funny cars were first.  The cars fired up and it was a feeling that I will never forget. If you've never been to a drag race I strongly recommend you go just once.  The cars with over 11,000HP will shake you to your core. They will rattle your teeth to where its almost unbearable.  Now try to take a picture of one of them as they go by. In less than a second they are going over 100MPH. Let that sink in.  The thing is I didn't have much time to learn, I needed to get it done. I don't know how but I took to them, even more so than my camera, as some of the photos were sideways because my camera couldn't tell if it was upside down or right side up.  Every pass I felt like I got better and better.  Then Cruz Pedregon came up.  I had learned that the wide angle was giving me some really cool shots.  As he hit the gas I panned with him. Taking about 7 pictures in a second. One of which was this totally badass shot, flames coming up from the pipes and the tires trying to rip the pavement up.

Once the Nitro classes were done with their first round I went back to the pits and got to watch the crews up close, rebuilding them in their 90 minute time frame.
These guys are incredible. They literally rebuild these cars from the ground up after every single pass.  Everyone knows their role. Every crew member taking each bolt as meticulous focus. The next time I go this is going to be the story I focus on but I'll leave that for next time!

  So round two.  The sun had set. The cold air had moved in, I found my spot amongst all the other photographers and waited.  Finally the sound of the starter spinning over the motors could be heard.  The crowd all stood up and the cars began to roll through the water box before they finally hit the gas to do their burnout.  Flames 6 feet high are shooting out of the header pipes. The cars were flying by me but I wasn't phased. I was getting some shots that I loved.  I didn't feel like I didn't belong anymore.  I felt like I was exactly where I belonged.  I knew the camera setup I wanted, I made changes on the fly. I got some amazing shots and even ones that the teams liked. One of the Funny Car drivers even saw my photo of him on Instagram and asked if he could buy it!  This was the moment I had dreamed of and I don't think Ive ever felt closer to my Mom then at the moment John Force made his pass.  John was the one that gave my Mom her first opportunity to shoot, he's always been a hero of mine just knowing where he came from and all the doors he had to knock down to become the greatest NHRA driver ever.

  Just shooting the cars wasn't the only thing I wanted to capture though. In my mind I have always been fascinated by the photos my Mom took of the drivers with their helmets on and strapped in the cars. I had tried all weekend to get the shot in my head but I didn't have a long enough lens to get the shot I envisioned.  So with Sunday getting rained out and me having to work I wasn't sure I'd be able to get it but luckily my boss Norman is awesome and let me leave early enough to catch the last two rounds. As I said earlier I was there shooting "for" Don Schumacher racing and their driver Jack Beckman had made it to the Finals. As they got ready to start the car Jack was sitting in the seat and thats when I saw it. I moved over to just in front of the car, they fired it up and the crew was doing their thing.  I waited for Jack to look up and got it. This photo is the one I had dreamed of all weekend and I got it!

  This was the night where I found myself as a photographer, the questions of if I belonged were gone.  That doubt of if I could even get those shots were gone and I cant wait to go back and do it again!  Hopefully once all this Covid is over and life gets back to normal the drag racing community will be back stronger than ever! To those of you that helped make this dream come true I can never thank you enough!

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Death Valley in 4 hours.

Seems like most of my work trips turn into quick side trips to Here’s a link that can help you find yours. My trip last year took us to Death Valley.  I had never really thought about DV as a place that would have blown me away the way it did. I went there mainly because I had seen some cool pictures of sand dunes.
the nearest National or State Park.  If there’s one within 2 hours we are going to try and find the time to make it.  Vegas is one of those places that offers so many options!
  We got off work around 3 and made the two hour trip to the entrance of the park a little after 5.  I knew we had a few hours before sunset, so we didn’t have a lot of time to mess around.  We made our first stop at Zabriskie Point. It is on the east side of the park. It’s hard to imagine this whole area used to be a lake bed but that’s what created or left behind all the sediments and formed the cool colors you’ll see when standing here.  Manly Beacon is the formation you cant help but stare at.  The rock is filled with different colored rock layers.  It’s Beautiful and I can only imagine that sunrise and sunset are incredible from this view point.

 We left Zabriskie Point and set off for Badwater Basin.  This is the lowest elevation within the United States at 282ft below sea level.  Ironically its only 84 miles away from the highest point in the Contiguous 48 United States.  This place is the one place that probably blew me away the most.  To look up at the cliff side above us and see the line where sea level was, was kind of surreal.  The ground is basically a salty crust.

With only a couple hours till sunset we left there and headed north to Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.  The one place I had on my list to see. There is a 2.8 mile hike on we did most of this loop but I kind of ventured off once the sun started setting. The dunes here are incredible.  They were everything I had envisioned, the contrast from light to dark is incredible. The ridges look like they are perfectly formed.  If you’re into photography this is the place you’ll want to be.  Make sure you get to the tallest dune and shoot all of the colors you’ll see.  Also make sure you look in all of the directions, I know its easy to only look west at sunset but sometimes the best colors are going to be behind you. Also if you have someone with you have them walk along a distant ridge line and shoot them so you can tell just how small we are.

 I wish there was some clouds in the sky this night but don’t let that stop you from seeing the beauty that you’ll be surrounded by and even though there wasn’t any clouds to light up the sky, I was treated to some amazing color long after the sun had set.  The colors were broken up by the  Mountain ridges to the west. Luckily we didn’t leave too early.
So if you’re looking for a cool adventure only a couple hours from Las Vegas, don’t look past  yes its hot, just bring lots of water and sunscreen.  It’s one park that will leave you wanting to go back I promise!