Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sunday, December 12, 2010


A few weeks ago, Michelle shared with me her idea about how to raise funds for the Shelby Humane Society (Shelby Co., Alabama) of which she's a board member and a volunteer. Shelby Humane Society's Shelter Partners Program moves rescued pets from Shelby County, which is experiencing extreme animal overpopulation, to shelters in New Hampshire where the success and enforcement of animal and spay and neuter laws and initiatives limit the number of pets available for adoption. With rare exceptions, the dogs and puppies transferred are placed with adoptive families within a few days of becoming available for adoption at the NH shelters. Obviously, the trip costs money (about $50 per dog), and Michelle wanted to find donors who would sponsor individual pups' trips up north by buying Christmas tree ornaments containing the picture of the particular dog they would like to sponsor.

So, I volunteered to take "studio portraits" of shelter animals. I photographed about 80 dogs and cats in a small room at the shelter, using a black piece of fabric as a background (or the bare white wall for the darker dogs) and two strobes shooting through umbrellas. Now, that's easier said that done, because those guys are not gonna keep still on the exact spot where you want them to be. It actually was a huge exercise of imagination and patience and I could NEVER have done it without the help of Leon and Amber, who work at the shelter. Leon was great holding the dogs while keeping himself out of the frame, and so was Amber, who did all sorts of things to make the pets look (more or less) in the direction of the camera.

All sorts of things happened during the photo shoot, most memorable of which was the funny pitbull who, as soon as he entered the room and before any of us knew it, peed all over my camera bag and then came to lick my face as if nothing had happened (thank God the bag was closed and there wasn't any damage to report about...)

Then, we needed a campaign poster and they chose George as the poster boy (the 2 first pictures above). The idea was all Michelle's. There's no photoshop involved: I wanted to do everything real, on camera. George is a pitbull that had been in the shelter for 10 months and, therefore, was risking being euthanized. A couple of days after the campaign kicked off, George was adopted.

I'm not a "pet photographer," mind you, but this project was really worth it. In less than two weeks since the campaign started, the shelter has already reached more than half of its fundraising target, and even some of those dogs have been adopted, meaning that their tickets to New Hampshire will be used by other dogs.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Monday, November 8, 2010



A little video piece I did for the upcoming opening of the Alabama Robotics Center, a big deal, which happens to be in our town. Since I couldn't film inside (they're really anal about secrecy), I shot these lights that everybody can see from Hwy 31 in the evening (for the "special effects" I used a lensbaby and moved quite a lot while filming).

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Sunday, September 26, 2010

ONLY IN AMERICA VIII (or is it only in the Deep South?)

Auburn head coach Gene Chizick (upper middle) prays with both teams at the end of the game between Auburn and South Carolina at Jordan-Hare Stadium Saturday, September 25, 2010.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Saturday, September 18, 2010


These portraits were published in our weekly photo column. The text I've copied below accompanied the pictures.

On Saturday, September 4th, I had the assignment of taking pictures of the Civil War battle reenactment at Point Mallard Park. Since my coworker Gary Cosby Jr. had already covered the event extensively (and very well, as usual) the previous day, I thought of doing something different that wasn’t necessarily focused on the battle itself. And so, the night before, I came up with this idea of doing a series of old-looking portraits using a lensbaby.

Lensbabies are small, compact lenses mounted inside flexible ridged rubber tubes, much like vacuum cleaner hoses. The front standard can be manipulated off axis to move the sharpest area of focus (called the "sweet spot") to almost anywhere in the frame. Therefore the important part of the subject can be rendered fairly sharp with everything else out of focus, even if it is the same distance from the camera.

I did take a couple of pictures of the battle, but this only confirmed that I should go with my plan, because the light was terrible: the bright, high summer sun at 2 p.m. kept all the actors’ faces in the most absolute darkness, and whenever I tried to change my angle in order to get a better light, the parking lot and baseball fields appeared in the background, which obviously didn’t fit in a Civil War scene.

My big discovery that day was Wendell R. Decker (in the first picture above). This photographer from Bowling Green, Ky., takes vintage pictures with a "sliding box" camera from the 1850s (on his right in the picture). The camera hasn't been modified and Decker uses the same technique that was used during the Civil War. He makes his own tintypes or ferrotypes (a direct positive on a sheet of iron metal) and ambrotypes (on glass sheets). He travels with assistant Suzy McGill across the country, from one Civil War reenactment to the next, taking pictures of both re-enactors and the public. I got so excited listening to him, learning about his work and the way that old camera works that I almost forgot that the battle had begun…

Like the lensbaby, old portrait lenses of days of yore frequently had a lot of spherical aberration, which gives the effect of concentrating your attention to the in-focus area (the "sweet spot). And this is why I thought I could get a more "old photography" look if I used one of them.

And this I promise: my next post, whatever it is, won't be about portraits...

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Sixty nine year-old Ethel Jones poses with her .38 caliber snubnose revolver behind the glass door window she shattered when she fired three shots at a burglar who broke into her house Monday, August 30, 2010 in Decatur. An 18-year-old suspect was taken to Huntsville Hospital with a gunshot to the abdomen.

I asked her to be behind the broken glass with her revolver, and she stood there aiming that pistol straight at me!

- Excuse me, Mrs. Jones, is the gun loaded?

- Of course, what's it good for if it's not loaded?

- Ahem... Is the safe on?

- Oh, don't worry. Like I say, guns don't shoot if you don't pull the trigger.

- Well, in that case, could you please point at some other place? You can hold it like James Bond if you want...

Thursday, September 2, 2010


Jamie Hall, center left, waitress at The Brick Deli & Tavern, won tickets to Los Angeles and the Emmy Awards. Hall is taking with her coworker Jasmine Young, center right. They will be on the red carpet watching the stars walk before the show.

A couple of days ago, the life styles editor asked me to take a picture of two waitresses who had won tickets to be at the Emmy awards in L.A. They would also be allowed to be next to the red carpet watching the TV stars walk by. The image of two Decatur women being on the red carpet in Hollywood surrounded by paparazzi and fans came to my mind. We asked them to bring some of their friends to the photo shoot to be Hollywood extras. My plan was to give them cameras with strobes that I would triggered with a remote so as to have all the flashes firing at the same time. In order to be on the safe side, I took with me an "Alien Bee" light with a soft box to be used as the key light and thought of using the strobes just as secondary lights, but when I got to the Princess Theatre, the place I secured as a shooting location, I changed my mind: "What the hell," I said to myself, "let's use only the paparazzi strobes and see what happens..." And the picture above is the result.

On a side note, the subjects forgot to tell their friends about it. When they showed up without extras, I asked them to go back to the bar (it's only a block away) and bring at least 6 of their customers. It was easy. "Free beer for whoever comes to play as an extra" was all they had to say...

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Sports Illustrated covers...

No, no. These pictures are NOT Sports Illustrated covers, but like I said to one of the kids photographed for this project, "dude, this is most likely the closest you'll be to being featured on a SI cover, and probably the closest I'll be to shooting something similar to an SI cover; so, let's take some pictures that may have the feel of it" (like a good and polite Alabamian teenager, all he said was, "Yes, Sir!").

Like last year, I was asked to do the portraits for the cover of my newspaper's high school 2010-2011 season football preview special edition. The theme for this year was Alabama's football blue collar tradition. The players featured both on the cover and inside would be hardworking footballers. So, I came up with this idea of photographing them with blue collar job props. I love it when you can control your portrait shoots, decide the time, the location and how you're gonna do it. Besides borrowing the tools and props (big thanks to Decatur Utilities, the Fire Station #2 and Mike Weems, the maintenance manager at the apartments where I live), I also got permission to shoot in an impressive location: an old warehouse with lots of really cool backgrounds and amazing light. It would also have made things much easier to have all the kids at the same time in the same place, as opposed to spending a couple of weeks traveling to different towns to get the job done. But guess what? The building was condemned and shut down by the city the day before the shoot! Eventually, I had to look for 4 different locations and the day of the shoot, there was this procession of cars (photographer, kids and some parents and grandparents) going from one spot to the next...

But hey, after all, I did feel like an SI photographer: between the kids and their family members, I worked with 8 assistants!





Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Newspaper photographer's emotional roller-coaster

These pictures were taken within an hour. Above, graduates walk with candles towards a future of hope. Below, in a road rage shooting, a 20-year-old's future disappeared when he was killed by the guy being arrested (the kid crying inside a police car was either the victim's brother or friend).