Photography and photojournalism in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest

Photojournalism

Friday nights in September

Football is upon us for another year, and it’s a time I enjoy each fall as a photographer. The intensity of the competition really shows up in the images, and the rapidly evolving storyline of each game is different every time. This means unpredictable results in the best possible way.

I’m at a handicap with football on most occasions because of equipment. The longest focal length lens I own is a 70-200mm/f/2.8 and it suffices at football games for action that takes place between the hash marks and the sideline one is shooting from. With this lens, anything happening between the hash marks or on the far side of the field away from where you’re shooting usually is too far away to photograph effectively. So unless I rent a 400mm-f/2.8 Nikkor, which I’ll do on occasion, I have to be picky at football games.

The photo above, however, is an exception to the rule. It came at my first prep football game last Friday in Salem. I shot it at 200mm and barely cropped it at the bottom, yet it still tells an intense story of battle on the gridiron. The running back, Tanner Shipley, is being recruited by colleges including Oregon State, Brigham Young and other top regional programs. He stares intently at the defender, who has little idea he’s about to be blasted from his left by the charging blocker. You can see the play unfold in your mind while watching a still image. I love the way you can look at this scene and others like it and know you can’t see this with the naked eye.


Willamette Falls at Dusk

It’s true I enjoy shooting waterfalls and landscapes. But I’ve never shot a waterfall that is anything close to resembling Willamette Falls, which spans the Willamette River in Oregon between the cities of West Linn and Oregon City. This is the second largest waterfall in the United States after Niagra Falls when measured by the volume of water that passes over the falls. I had a hard time believing that, but all my trusty online sources assure me this is true.

So there I was tonight, a gorgeous, warm sunset fading away. I had just finished an assignment shooting photos from a boat near the dam shown here for a feature story. I actually saw this viewpoint as I headed up the hill to leave in my car and I immediately slammed on the brakes. I grabbed my tripod and camera, jumped out and spent the next 20 minutes shooting long exposures of the most industrialized dam I think I’ve ever seen. It’s a far cry from the Columbia River Gorge waterfalls I regularly visit, but it’s fascinating all the same.

Portland General Electric says the dam across the falls generates up to 14 megawatts of electricity, while white sturgeon live at the base of the falls under the 100-year-old Oregon City arch bridge that currently is undergoing restoration. The photo above shows just a fraction of the industry or history surrounding this stretch of the Willamette River. But the dam, as well as a seasonal temporary wooden dam, is visible in the light of the halide lamps.


Telling a story: A school’s fight against cancer

Although they aren’t scenic like the Gorge waterfalls I’ve come to love, photographing the faces of people has always been fascinating to me because of the memorable expressions or emotion. The photo above is a case in point. Taken during a fundraising assembly at Wilsonville, Ore., High School, it shows two girls who are donating their hair to Locks of Love, a non-profit group that uses those donations to craft custom wigs for cancer patients, especially children. When I first saw the image above, I knew at once I would be using it for my assignment for the Wilsonville Spokesman newspaper. The girl, senior Hayley Bird of Wilsonville, was definitely not used to having a foot of hair lopped off in one go, and it clearly showed. The combination of shock and joy was magnetic even as I released the shutter.

In a similar vein, chemistry teacher Jim O’Connell, right, volunteered to allow students to shave his head once they met a pre-determined fundraising goal of $4,000, to be donated to Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland, Ore. It didn’t take long to reach that mark, resulting in a string of students taking their turn to carve chunks out of what used to be a perfectly respectable haircut.¬†Sharing the same sense of shock and joy, I caught O’Connell laughing almost to himself as a student gleefully whacks away with the clippers. A successful photograph shares with the viewer a story. And to me, both these images richly fulfill that goal.


There is life after prison

I’ve been posting plenty of beautiful scenery in recent weeks, thanks to the Columbia River Gorge. But south of Portland, in the northern Willamette Valley, the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility houses over 1,100 women who do not get the same opportunity to enjoy the local landscape. At least not until they’re released from prison.

One small group of current inmates will have a much better chance at succeeding when that time comes, thanks to a coveted slot in the prison’s eyeglass recycling course, run jointly with the Lions Club of Oregon. Last month saw the graduation of the most recent crop of a dozen women, who now are trained and certified by the state of Oregon as optometric technicians. This, obviously, makes employment upon release much more feasible. It’s possibly the single biggest hurdle a former inmate must overcome in light of the reluctance of employers to hire convicted felons.

The occasion was marked by plenty of heartfelt words and a lot of tears. And afterward, inmates who at one time faced disgrace and ruin in a distant courtroom were able to embrace family members and loved ones in a moment of redemption.


DJ Steve Aoki hits up Oregon

My work as a photojournalist brings me into contact with a wide range of people, ranging from those just burned out of their homes to international celebrities. Steve Aoki, above signing an autograph, falls into the latter category.

A native of Southern California, Aoki is a savvy businessman, DJ and musician with a huge fan base. He recently stopped in the Portland metro area for an appearance at the Wilsonville headquarters of SOL Republic, a maker of high-end audio headphones, as well as a show at Portland’s Roseland Theater.

At SOL Republic, there was an elaborate party held for the occasion, as the firm showed off its Tracks line of headphones that now are sold by Apple, Best Buy and other prominent retailers. More interesting for my Nikon, however, were the photo opportunities offered by the colorful lighting and fashionable models, below.


Blue Angels revisited

 

I was cleaning out a hard drive at work today and came across a folder of photographs from the 2007 Hillsboro Air Show. It was the middle of the afternoon on an overcast day, but the Blue Angels and other performers routinely fly so low that capturing images of the planes in flight is not as difficult as some might think. I’ve always been fascinated with flight and airplanes of all descriptions. So shooting air shows like this, while rare, is something to be savored.

These images were shot from the tarmac at the Hillsboro Airport and are barely corrected for exposure or color. Little can be done about the overcast background, but it does cause the F-18 Hornets flown by the Navy’s premier acrobatic team to stand out pretty starkly.


Oregon prep swimming championships stir memories

I enjoy shooting sports, just as I have since I started working as a photojournalist years ago. This weekend’s Oregon state high school swimming championships at Mt. Hood Community College was no exception to this. It turned out to be one of the more enjoyable events I’ve shot this year, mainly because my primary subject, Wilsonville High School sophomore Christie Halverson (right), won her first state title in the class 5A women’s 200 freestyle.

The college’s aquatic center has two pools, a six-lane indoor 25-yard pool and a 50-meter pool that is uncovered during the summer and sheltered by a pressurized vinyl dome roof in the winter. It was the latter in which the state championships were held this year, with the pool divided into 25-yard lanes across its width.

Because the competition lanes were divided off from the warm-up area by a floating bulkhead, it allowed photographers better access to the action than when the meet was held in the smaller indoor facility.

Finally, the whole thing strongly reminded me of my own age group swimming experience, when I took part in numerous meets in the very same pool, including Oregon Swimming and Pacific Northwest Region 12 championships. I even trained for a summer at Mt. Hood with my club team when the pool was entirely outdoors. Then, as now, the Mt. Hood Swim Club called the facility home and was among the most respected club programs in the state.

Here’s a link to a larger photo gallery from the meet, with more photos of Halverson, Springfield High School All-American Carlos Hunnicut (bottom photo), 200 and 500 freestyle boys double champion Alex Seaver of Marist High School (Eugene, Ore.) (top photo) and others.