Ok, so I didn’t necessarily break the internet, but I did have a blog post go insanely viral. You can read the original post here.
After covering the Eagles game against the Lions in absolute white-out conditions, videographer and “Anything Once” star Ashley Barnas, got on me to do a blog post for our “First State Focus” photo blog here at The News Journal. I have to admit, I’m the worst member of the blog team when it comes to getting stuff up. Anyone who follows this blog knows how long it takes me to do a post, and even then I do them in clusters. But, this game was pretty neat, and a challenging experience for me shooting, so I made it a point to get a post done.
It took me all day, literally it was approaching midnight before I got the post up. It seemed every time I sat down to do it, something came up: A backlog of editing I needed to get done, a last minute assignment, a deadline change on a story, a shooting. It was nuts.
I decided to do a post on the challenges I faced shooting the game to give readers an idea of how I do my job, much like I post here. I figured a dozen people who are interested in how we do our job might read the post, but when I woke up I had half-a-dozen emails from other bloggers asking to repost my original post. I had a ton of tweets where people shared the story. Before the end of the day I found out I’d made Reddit and the post had started climbing the photography threads, before it took over the NFL thread.
The next day PetaPixel picked up the post, and linked to our gallery of game images. The gallery did literally 100 times better than any normal Eagles gallery, and was our top viewed website item every day the entire week. When we corrected an error in the site metrics that prevented the photo blog hits from being counted, the blog post ranked second the rest of the week.
When it showed up on Deadspin, SI’s Extra Mustard and The Verge, our blogs actually crashed and went down for about an hour. Whether that’s a coincidence or my fault, I don’t know, but it was insane.
Through all of it I’ve received praise and criticism. Some commenters lauded the images I was able to create in such a mess, some boasted they’ve used manual focus exclusively their whole lives and didn’t get the big deal. Some questioned how, as a professional, I got a job having rarely ever used manual focus. I’m secure enough as a photojournalist to know none of those people are professionals, because I don’t know one who would opt to shoot any NFL game with manual focus over auto. When I read what Sports Illustrated’s Al Tielemans (who shot that week’s cover image of Nick Foles at the game) had to say of his shooting experience, and how he found the shooting situation just as challenging, I felt even better that I wasn’t alone.
Through all the commentary, the coolest thing was getting a friend request and congratulatory message from Dave Burnett, who has covered everything you can imaging. From Bob Marley to the Olympics (over and over again) to the Iranian Revolution in 1978, he’s seen everything. “The ole “manual” focus thing sometimes is a giant blessing,” He messaged me. “Nice work.” He even noted how he enjoyed looking through them, with a caveat: “Fun pictures to see, especially from my warm living room watching the game, knowing I wasn’t freezing my butt off.”
And it was freezing.
I can remember midway through the fourth quarter shivering on the sidelines, soaked through, saying to myself, “I’m making the best photos of my life, but this is really starting to turn into work.” My hands were starting to stiffen up, my knees were starting to ache. I can’t put into words how good it felt to get into the photo room when the game was over and just get warm.
Through it all it was the most fun I’ve ever had shooting a football game. I hope I get a chance to do it again, despite how hard it was, and how miserable I felt physically by the end of it. The images I produced put a new bounce in my step and have really fueled me through the rest of the month and into the new year. Doing a lot of the daily newspaper grind you can get bogged down, burnt out, frustrated. You start producing the same images over and over again. But when you do something like that snow bowl, where everything but the kitchen sink gets thrown at you and you meet the challenge head-on, it just recharges your batteries. You need one of those every once in a while.
November wasn’t my best month shooting. I’m not sure what drug it down, maybe the assignments, maybe us getting a bit short staffed leaving less time to devote to the assignments and find the hidden gems. Maybe I was just in a rut. Where I did make good images though, I was happy. Most of those instances came shooting sports, because honestly, if I’m shooting a sporting event it’s just hard for me to complain.
I covered the DIAA State Soccer Championships in Smyrna in the middle of the month. Delaware only has two divisions (1A and 2A) to it’s high school sports. I find that a little funny since Wyoming has half the population, but goes from 1A-4A, and for football even has a 1A Six-Man division. Regardless, though, it does save a lot more of my sanity when championship season rolls around. Indian River started my coverage off after they defeated St. Elizabeth’s to win the Division II championship in what was a closer game than the 3-0 score let on. St. Elizabeth’s mounted a good fight through the first half, but just couldn’t keep up. Salesianum took home the title in the Division I game, and I didn’t realize until after the game, finished as one of the top ten teams in the nation. Salesianum’s game was nowhere near as competitive. Though they gave up a goal early to Appoquinimink, they rolled to a 5-2 victory that was never in doubt.
I covered an absolute shootout of a Division II football game between St. Georges and Indian River the night before the state soccer finals. St. Georges was the No. 1 seed in the Division II tournament but had been upset as the top team the year before. The game was non-stop back and forth, but St. Georges edged Indian River out to advance to the next round. They lost, though, in the state championship game, getting shut out by Hodgson 38-0.
Of course there was Veterans Day coverage and I managed to make a few nice frames from an event held at the Bridge War Memorial near the base of the Delaware Memorial Bridge. Every Delaware elected official you could imagine attended the annual ceremony, from Governor Markell to the Congressional delegation. Each offered thoughts on the day, paid their respects, and reaffirmed the importance of hiring veterans. I found it a little difficult to make photos outside the politicians there. I made three solid images but people just refused to give me their names. I constantly fail to understand that. I seem to have more success at crime scenes getting people to talk to me than I do in everyday life, it’s baffling.
And I got to kick the month off with a Sixers game when they played Golden State at home. A the time the Sixers were trying to match their best opening in a decade, but unfortunately I think I proved to be unlucky for the team, as they quickly returned to Earth after losing to Golden State that night 110-90. The team was projected to be one of the worst in the NBA this year, but rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams has blown away his preseason projection as an average player and carried the team when he’s been on the court. Much of the team’s recent downfall can probably be attributed to MCW’s absence with an undisclosed illness, but he returned to the court tonight and dropped a double-double (19 points, 12 assists) on Milwaukee in a 116-106 loss.
For months I worked on a project on Wilmington’s violence and drug problem. The two go hand-in-hand, as much of the violence in the city stems from the infiltration of hardcore drugs from Philadelphia, Chester, Baltimore and the surrounding areas. Wilmington’s position off of I-95 makes it a hot bed for traffickers between the major markets of Philly and Baltimore. The same could be said for Chester, which has also had many of the same issues for years.
I can remember interning here in 2009 and stabbings and shootings seemed like such a big deal. Looking at crime statistics for this project, they certainly happened often then, but now they just seem so commonplace. Wilmington has had at least 150 people shot this year, surpassing it’s previous record of 142 victims from 2010, and the year isn’t over yet. Look back 15 years to 1999 when “only” 57 people were shot and the rate has nearly tripled. Granted, ’99 was a bit of a low anomaly. The 90’s shooting averages were still closer to half of what Wilmington sees now, though, and the city currently ranks as one of the most violent in the nation for a city of it’s size.
Reporter Andrew Staub and I followed a group of citizens working to curb some of this violence and stand up to take the city back. Gina DelleDonne and Tami Duonnolo organized the “One Corner at a Time” group and began holding sit-ins on street corners with known crime issues. The duo spread the word each week before they held a sit-in to hopefully draw local residents out to join them. Their hope is that if the neighborhoods begin putting their foot down, the people causing the violence will find they cannot operate in those areas anymore. All this in response to their belief the powers that be in Wilmington, were exhausting options.
Wilmington’s mayor, Dennis P. Williams, vowed he wouldn’t “hug thugs” when he campaigned for the office, and shook up the police department installing his own handpicked police chief. The Wilmington City Council, though, has had a tumultuous relationship with the Mayor, and talks of a “shake up” in the police department from Williams a few weeks ago left some in the department saying Williams micromanages them. Needless to say, this has left many citizens frustrated as they look for answers from those tasked with solving the problems in the city.
Interestingly enough, and a bit of a side note here, I’ve seen several members of the Council publicly active in working to fix the city. Councilwomen Sherry Dorsey Walker and Maria Cabrera joined the “One Corner at a Time” leadership at, I think, every corner we covered them at and I think Councilman Robert Williams was there for at least one. Councilman Nnamdi Chuckwuocha has been working personally with youth in the city to paint boarded up buildings in an attempt to beautify blighted neighborhoods. I followed Councilman Darius Brown as he walked through neighborhoods in what are DEFINITELY Wilmington’s roughest areas with police and talking with residents about what can be done to make it safer (actually on this assignment was followed for two blocks by a woman screaming at me for taking photos on her street and the police eventually had to send her on her way).
The first time we were ever to meet Gina and Tami was at 5th and Scott Streets. I got there a good thirty minutes early and decided I might as well grab a sandwich while I waited. Andrew arrived just five minutes or so after me, but decided to wait there. It wasn’t long before he was approached by someone who threatened if Andrew didn’t leave, he would regret it. When I came back and Andrew told me the story, I knew this group was in for an uphill fight.
We were fortunate that Wilmington Police officers were there every night the group was out. That alone probably kept most anyone from bothering them, but I noticed as each week went by, and we got into seemingly rougher areas, the number of officers grew. Where we had two the first night, we had four in Kosciuszko Park. A few weeks later at 6th and Madison Streets (just a about six blocks from where my wife and I just bought a house) we had at least eight at one point.
Sixth and Madison was an eye-opening experience for me. Again I arrived way earlier than the group, this time we had a timing miscommunication. I was left sitting on one of the city’s more dangerous street corners for an hour before anyone showed up. As I got out of my car a group of men shouted at me to come over to them. Figuring the odds I’d get shot in broad daylight were low (I know now that was foolish having covered at least three shootings before 3pm) I walked over to talk to them. They asked why I was there taking pictures, I explained who I was and the group I was covering. They laughed at the thought the group would do anything. One man, through heavy laughter responded, “good fucking luck.”
The weirdest part of the exchange, though, was the number of times they asked me if I was a cop. As if police officers walk around bad neighborhoods in plain clothes with two cameras hanging off their shoulders and just hang out. I reassured them I wasn’t, but there would be several when the group arrived. It wasn’t long after I walked away that the officers tasked with standing with the “One Corner at a Time” group arrived and many of the people I had talked to disappeared.
I had a few other nights with the group as the story sat waiting for a chance to run. We’d head back out here and there to freshen the art, or grab more video. It was November when the story finally ran, and it was a relief to see it in print after months of work. I’ve run in to Gina and Tami since it was published and they continue to hold sit-ins, though they aren’t staying as late now that it’s gotten cold. I may venture back out and sit with them myself once the wife and I finally move and become real Wilmingtonians.
The Friday before last the Philadelphia 76ers played a preseason exhibition game against the Boston Celtics at the University of Delaware. The venue shift from Wells Fargo Center was to help promote the franchise’s new D-League team, the Delaware 87ers, who will play their home games at the University of Delaware’s Bob Carpenter Center.
This was a first for Delaware so I wanted to do something different from the standard floor shots we always get from basketball. I first thought about doing an overhead remote camera from the catwalk, but with increased security for the game, it would mean setting the camera up 36 hours before the game and I’d have no way to turn it on the day of the game, let alone get the card out in time for deadline.
Instead I settled for a backboard camera and had my SD card clot on my 1DmkIII not failed I would have had some amazing shots of the 76ers flight crew going nuts on the basket I set up at halftime. Unfortunately, I didn’t get anything from the end of the first half onward from the backboard remote.
The game itself had to be a success as far as the 76ers were concerned. They announced a sellout crowd (though the arena was probably only 80% full) and the 76ers won pretty easily. The Celtics aren’t exactly the team they were four years ago, or two years ago for that matter, but the 76ers are in a major rebuilding phase, so any wins are a plus for them.
I also got my season credential at the game, so hopefully that means some more games in the future.
Sunday before last I woke up at the crack of dawn to drive to East Rutherford, N.J. to cover the Eagles game against the New York Giants. It was the second time I was covering an Eagles game at MetLife Stadium in the past two months, but the last one was the final preseason game of the season against the New York Jets.
The Giants were trying to avoid an 0-5 record, the Eagles were trying to avoid falling to 1-4. Who knew that by the end of the game, the Eagles would have a share of first place in the division.
As NFL games go, I had one of my best days shooting. When Michael Vick was injured in the second quarter, I was in the right place to grab the shot. When Jason Avant decided whiff on a touchdown reception, sending safety Antrel Rolle careening into a photographer, I was in the right place not to get obliterated.
Probably the oddest event of the day, though, came just as I was walking in at halftime to transmit images. Across the PA system came the introduction of the halftime performance: The Ohio University March 110. I couldn’t believe what I had heard, until I heard the signature rolling drum beat of the 110 as the marched on to the field. It brought a tear to my eye to see my college marching band I hadn’t heard since covering my last football game at OU in 2009. I snapped a few shots to have, and rushed in to send images. I still have no idea what they were doing there, but it was a great surprise.
Overall, the game was a fun one to cover. The Eagles came away with the win, I came away with some solid shots that fit our stories well, and for once a gallery from an NFL game did decent, but pro sports gallery numbers on out site.
Just a few Super Bowl notes: MetLife is a nice stadium, and should be a good host for the Super Bowl. I can warn you now, though, they need to make some serious internet upgrades before they’re ready for 100 photographers trying to transmit at once. Getting images turned in was a major challenge. The sidelines also aren’t the deepest in the league, so I’m wondering how they’ll stack up with that much traffic. The light in the stadium, though, is super bright. Any photographer shooting a night game like the Super Bowl (while they’ll be freezing) won’t be complaining about lack of light.