Sunday, December 29, 2013

Behind the Lens: My 2013 Post-Christmas Photo Essay

Dear friends, family, and cyber-stalkers...

The time has come for the obligatory 2013 recap, and for the second year in a row, I have opted to do it in photo essay form. This blog almost bit the dust in 2012 (I only posted seven times all year), but for some reason I decided one of my goals for 2013 was to publish one decent post a week. As of this posting, I have reached that goal (cue mild applause). Still, in spite of my weekly posts, I feel like I barely scratched the surface on this year, so maybe these images will fill some of those gaps:

(To see more images from each of these shoots, check out my Facebook page, and feel free to "like" it while you're there. Unless you don't like it, in which case I apologize, and will try harder to produce better images in 2014.)

"Pimping 'Lincoln?'" Park City, Utah, January 2013

In January I covered my first Sundance Film Festival for the D-News, spending a day up in Park City watching a number of indie flicks. In the early evening, I took a break from all my screenings and grabbed my camera for a few shots on Historic Main Street. We were already past the "Celebrity Sighting" phase of the festival at that point, but I did come across a familiar face or two. I don't know if this guy was trying to drum up Oscar attention for "Lincoln" or if he just thought wandering Park City dressed as the famous ex-president was just a natural use of his spare time.

"Baldies Buffing," South Jordan, Utah, April 2013.

While I was wandering around Sundance, my old "KJZZ Cafe" boss called to recruit me to do weekly film reviews for the KJZZ Movie Show with host Melanie Nelson and Standard Examiner critic Steve Salles (we air every Sunday at noon and 10pm). As a result, I spent a good part of the year bouncing around to different Megaplex theaters taping review segments, and of course, seeing lots and lots of movies (over 50 this year). It was a lot of fun getting to know my new co-stars and crew, and reacquainting with some old KJZZ friends as well. Even when they had to go through the weekly ritual of buffing down my too-shiny head prior to taping.

"Operation Smile Celebrity Ski Challenge," March 2013, Park City Utah.

In March I was able to team up with T-Squared Action Sports to photograph a charity ski race up at The Canyons in Park City. It was a benefit for Operation Smile that featured Zachary Levi from "Chuck," Mark Eaton from The Utah Jazz (back in the '80s), and several Olympic-level skiers and athletes whose names escape me, such as the aerodynamic-looking fellow in the shot above.

"Niko at the Depot," Salt Lake City, Utah, April 2013.

I really only photographed one concert this year, but it was special for a few reasons. It was my first shoot at The Depot, and over the course of the evening I got pictures of four different bands. The first act was a local band named King Nico, notable (for me, anyway) because their new drummer was a student of mine at SLCC a few years back. Call it bias, but I went out of my way to make sure I got some good shots of a role that is traditionally the most difficult to photograph in a live setting.

"Thunderlips Promo Image," Farmington, Utah, April 2013.

Later in April I was able to do something I hadn't done in over ten years: get a paying gig for one of my own bands. Thunderlips made its professional debut at the Orchard Lanes bowling alley in North Salt Lake as part of their weekly Rock and Bowl Series. We did a special group photo shoot to mark the occasion, and were good enough that we got invited back for a repeat performance in June. You can see highlights of the show on YouTube.

"Supercross Chaos," Salt Lake City, Utah, May 2013.

Another opportunity via T-Squared came later in the spring at the Supercross Championships up at Rice Eccles Stadium. "Chaos" is the only word that feels appropriate to describe an event that has so many simultaneous subjects performing at once, especially right after the opening gun, when pileups like the one pictured here are liable to occur.

"Bon Voyage," West Valley, Utah, May 2013.

Yet another example of how my teaching experience spills over into other aspects of my life. In May, one of my former students joined the Navy, and asked me to cover a farewell party for her friends and family. The party was pretty routine until she and her friends got into a water fight. This little present from her boyfriend was a surprise, and I was just grateful I was in the right spot to catch it.

"Bizarre Bazaar," Bountiful, Utah, June 2013.

This summer I was recruited to do a little volunteer coverage of my stake's Youth Conference event. Before heading up the canyon for the full event, the kids participated in an elaborate bazaar staged in the Stake Center's gym. That's where this happened.

"Bracing for the Burnout," Bountiful, Utah, June 2013.

This is easily the least action-packed image I caught at Bountiful's annual "Burnout" event, but it's probably my favorite. For the uninitiated, the event is little more than a bunch of cars with big engines taking turns squealing their tires and trying to create as much smoke as possible. Judging from the reaction of Tiger-Boy here, it's a pretty loud event. Big thanks to my old roommate Rhee for scoring me the press pass on this one.

"The Happy Fishmonger," Seattle, Washington, June 2013. 

At the end of June I joined the Cheetahman for my third trip to Seattle in four years, which was my justification for seeing movies on two of the days we were there (in my defense, re-watching Vin Diesel's flying "Fast and Furious 6" head-butt at Seattle's remodeled Cinerama was a noteworthy event). This time, instead of spending 20 minutes trying to freeze airborne fish at Pike's Market, I tried to get a wider perspective on the spectacle. I love this one mainly for the expression on the employee's face.

"The Shriners," Centerville, Utah, July 2013.

I wasn't able to photograph the Bountiful Days of '47 Parade this year due to a schedule conflict, but luckily I got my fill of "zany people parading in public" earlier in the month at Centerville's 4th of July event. I'm not sure the Shriners even participate in the Bountiful parade, so I might have gotten the better end of the deal.

"Lightning on 89," Bountiful, Utah, July 2013.

When I first moved into my loft apartment in Bountiful back in the summer of 2012, I thought my west-facing deck would be an ideal spot for photographing electrical storms. But I didn't get a decent shot until July of this year, and even then it only happened because I went outside and pointed my camera south over Highway 89.

"The Wild Ones," Bluffdale, Utah, July 2013.

Later that same month I did my first official engagement shoot, for my buddy Jeff (Thunderlips guitarist) and his fiancee (now wife) Allison. I wanted to do something a little different, and they wanted to do something a little different, and that's how I wound up hanging out the back of a speeding SUV in Bluffdale one night, trying to hold my telephoto steady enough to get some action shots of the happy couple on Jeff's motorcycle. When we finally wrapped up, it dawned on me that I'd been doing the whole shoot without my neck strap on. Sometimes you dodge bullets, and sometimes you dodge really expensive bullets.

"New Niece," Kaysville, Utah, August 2013.

Just before leaving for my annual trip to Island Park in August, I got the best news of the year: I was an uncle...again. Congrats to my sister and brother-in-law, and condolences to all of my Facebook friends who will continue to be inundated with niece photos for the foreseeable future.

"Rodeo Rejection," outside West Yellowstone, Montana, August 2013.

Even after years and years of visits, somehow I can always find something new to shoot in the Island Park/Yellowstone area. This year I visited plenty of old haunts, but before calling it a trip, I was able to shoot my first rodeo at a spot outside West Yellowstone one night. The lighting was rough, but I still caught some chaos.

"Sad Jedi," Salt Lake City, Utah, September 2013.

Photographing Salt Lake City's first-ever Comic Con event was like shooting fish in a nerd-shaped barrel. I got so many images I wound up creating separate Facebook albums for the "posed" shots and the "candid" shots. I also met Lou Ferrigno, but that's another story. Of all the images I took, this might be my favorite, though. The turnout on Saturday was so massive that hundreds (if not thousands) of people had to be turned away. I don't know if this aspiring Jedi ever made it in or not, but man…he just looks so darn sad.

"Terror at the Fair," Salt Lake City, Utah, September 2013.

There was a common theme operating in many of the shots I caught at the State Fair this year: abject horror.

"Christmas Chill," Salt Lake City, Utah, December 2012.

When I picked up my submissions to the Fair's photography exhibit, I found out that one of my shots will be touring the state with the Arts Council this year. I caught it last December at Temple Square while shooting with my friend Dennis, who brought along a flash remote that produced some fun results. Arts Council-worthy results, anyway.

"'Supermassive Black Hole' - Live Muse Cover," Layton, Utah, September 2013.

Later that month Thunderlips (now modified to "The Atomic Thunderlips") played a benefit show with Shanna Taggart and Danny Wood up at the Ed Kenley Amphitheater in Layton. Thanks to some generous help from friends and family, I was able to get enough coverage to patch together a few concert videos, including this Muse cover featuring Shanna on lead vocals.

"Ms. Volleyball in Action," Layton, Utah, November 2013.

I did a number of portrait sessions for individuals and groups in 2013, but in early November I got one of my most unique opportunities. A friend from high school hired me to do an "in action" portrait shoot for her niece, who plays volleyball for Layton High. Lucky for me, her niece turned out to be Eliza Katoa, who went on to be named "Miss Volleyball" by the Deseret News shortly after her verbal commitment to play for the University of Utah next year.

"The Western Shore," Antelope Island, Utah, November 2013.

Early in November, Dennis and I teamed up with his uncle for a personal backcountry tour of Antelope Island. The shot above was taken on the west side of the island, and the little dots near the bottom of the image are a pair of riders on horseback. The funny thing about Antelope Island is that it is part of the backdrop of most any day along the Wasatch Front, yet few people realize the kind of natural beauty that is right in their backyard.

"Dinner Conversation," Kaysville, Utah, November 2013.

November saw another big family milestone as my parents celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary. To commemorate the occasion, my sister and brother-in-law hosted a massive dinner party up at their new home in Kaysville, stocked with the friends and family who contributed to the success of those four decades. I can't remember what my dad said that provoked this reaction from my mom, but maybe leaving it to the imagination is the better option anyway.

"Turkey Pull," Bountiful, Utah, November 2013.

One of my most satisfying experiences this year was actually playing in a football game without sustaining some kind of injury. After putting in my time at the 7th Ward's annual Turkey Bowl, I grabbed my camera to fire off a few action shots before moving on to my other Thanksgiving festivities. As you can see here, my teammates took a few liberties with the whole "flag" part of "flag football."

"Candid Christmas," Salt Lake City, Utah, December 2013.

By December, another busy year stayed busy even as it wound near its close. As fall semester wrapped up with a marathon grading session, I knocked out a few more photo gigs, including the last of several I was able to perform for the LDS Missionary Department throughout the year. I was kind of dreading my assignment--take close-up candids of people on Temple Square at Christmastime--for multiple reasons: 1) The air is terrible, 2) December was even colder than usual, 3) Getting recognizable photos of individuals on TS at night is almost impossible, and 4) If I do get a recognizable image, I have to ask the person permission to use it, and I'm actually a very shy person (which is what led me into the loner art of photography in the first place). But the shoot turned out great, and I even talked to strangers without any problem.

"Frigid Nativity," Salt Lake City, Utah, December 2013.

With the pro job out of the way, I returned to Temple Square with Dennis later in the month to work out our creative muscles a bit. He brought along his flash remote, just like last year, and also just like last year, it led to some gorgeous results. By the time I got done firing dramatic images of the reflecting pond Nativity, I could barely feel the fingers on my right hand. But as they say nowadays, "Pain is temporary; a high-resolution digital RAW image is forever, provided you back it up properly and avoid the inevitable crash or long-term deterioration of your hard drive."

So there you have it: a handful of heartfelt moments that represent the best of the year that was. As I look back through these images, I can't help but notice that I didn't wander too far this year in terms of mileage, but I think I made the most of what was going on close to home. I picked a lot of these images because of subtle details instead of showy presentation, and I do think there's a lesson there: often happiness comes from appreciating the little things instead of getting all the big things we want. 2013 was a year full of ups and downs, and at the end of it, I'm pretty happy with the ups I was given.

Here's to the best in 2014...