Breaking the bottle during the R/V Sally Ride christening.
Why was I feeling so much stress about capturing this photograph?
I was wondering during a recent assignment in Anacortes, Wash., while covering the christening of the Research Vessel Sally Ride if even seemingly easy assignments ever become routine.

I was just out there to photograph the christening ceremony of the R/V Neil Armstrong in March and I had no reason to believe that this event would be any different. Easy right? Probably the most important photograph during a ship's christening is the moment the sponsor breaks a bottle of champagne on the hull and during the Armstrong christening I got the shot, which was made even tougher due to the sponsor having to strike the bottle three times before it broke.

Having already covered the christening of the R/V Neil Armstrong should have mitigated any stress I was feeling about covering the same ceremony for the Sally Ride, right?
Having already covered the christening of the R/V Neil Armstrong should have mitigated any stress I was feeling about covering the same ceremony for the Sally Ride, right?
That photograph of the bottle break along with the other coverage I provided, meant that when it came time to christen the sister ship, Sally Ride, my inbox began began to fill with inquires about whether or not I would be available to take the assignment. Of course I wanted to, ship's christenings happen only once, and being able to photograph such historic events is one of the reasons I enjoy what I do. I also realize that I'm not the only photographer capable of pulling that shot off, so was it really necessary for me to cover this assignment.

Ship's sponsor, Dr. Tam O'Shaughnessy, co-founder, chair of the board of directors and chief executive officer of Sally Ride Science, delivers remarks during the christening ceremony. The whole time I'm shooting this I'm thinking about the one shot that truly counts, the bottle break.
Ship's sponsor, Dr. Tam O'Shaughnessy, co-founder, chair of the board of directors and chief executive officer of Sally Ride Science, delivers remarks during the christening ceremony. The whole time I'm shooting this I'm thinking about the one shot that truly counts, the bottle break.
The reason I questioned whether or not I would go and all the anxiety I was feeling was centered around the events timing. This christening fell right in the middle of a challenging two-week assignment that I knew would require my full attention. An assignment that took months of planning and presented a host of challenges that needed to be overcome in order to produce a product that would meet every one's expectations. I can't discuss that project now, but thinking about leaving right in the middle of that assignment to spend 36 hours in Anacortes, Wash., was a tough decision to make.

In the end I did agreed to cover the Sally Ride christening and was able to capture the shot needed to tell the story, but during the flight to Seattle and while waiting for the ceremony to start, I also spent a lot of time thinking about the topic of this post.

Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder, chief of naval research, delivers remarks. If I was going to lug my Nikon 14-24mm lens across the country, I was going to use it to capture at least one photograph.
Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder, chief of naval research, delivers remarks. If I was going to lug my Nikon 14-24mm lens across the country, I was going to use it to capture at least one photograph.
Why was I feeling nervous as I went over my camera settings and scouted shooting angles. Was it due to a lack of confidence in my ability or the fact that so many were depending on my coverage which needed to be transmitted within hours of the ceremonies conclusion? Or was it something else? Was I still focused on the larger assignment I had left.

I believe I've reached a point in my career where I'm confident that I can cover any photo assignment. But having confidence doesn't diminish the angst or the questioning of ability. Having confidence just means I believe I have the skills needed, skills that come from years of work, but also from constantly learning from others and a willingness to experiment and stretch my comfort zone.

So is there ever a time in ones photographic career that an assignment becomes routine, that the nervousness goes away, and the pictures just appear.

Well if there is, I'm certainly not there and I suspect that I never will be. I also suspect I'm not alone.


I spent three days this week covering the 2012 Office of Naval Research Science and Technology Partnership Conference at the Hyatt hotel in Crystal City. I've covered this bi-annual event many times before and know that it will require me to be in many places throughout the day, moving from the plenary session to the exhibit hall and then to the multiple breakout rooms. Additionally, since I provide images for our social media use, I know I will be downloading, captioning and transmitting twice, sometimes three times a day. All this means I'm pretty focused on getting each shot while already thinking about where I need to be next and when I'll get the chance to download.  What's the point of this post, and the title, Caught on Tape? Well this year, as we've done in the past, we had a dedicated video team consisting of a photographer and producer covering the conference. As part of that coverage, they produce a daily highlight video which is shown at the start of the each day.

So I'm in the back of the room at the start of the second day watching the highlight video from the first day and lo and behold I see myself on the giant screens in the front of the room. Not once, or even twice, but a total of five times. Now this is only a five-minute video mind you.

Well, I thought it might be fun to edit that five minutes down to a 30-second clip showing my first two appearances and insert the still images that I captured while simultaneously being captured myself. I'm normally very aware of cameras around me and try to stay clear in order to avoid having this happen. Not so much this time.

Is this a fail? Probably not, since I'm sure I'm the only one who noticed myself. Okay, it would be hard to miss me as I move in behind the vice chief of naval operations.


Friday, August 24, 2012, edition of the Wall Street Journal.

I'm sometimes challenged on why I need to travel in order to cover an assignment when a local photographer might be available. Wouldn't it be less expensive? The answer is not always. How would my coverage be different? Read on.

Don't get me wrong, sometimes it doesn't make sense for me to travel to an assignment, and in those cases I'm the first to admit that it may be best to see if a local asset is available. Or it might even make sense to hand a point-and-shoot camera to the writer or exhibit coordinator who is already attending the event.

I also don't take it personally. However, if you have a professional photographer on staff and you don't use them, are you really saving money? Will the images be used beyond Facebook or internal publications? Is there national media interest or will there even be something to photograph? These questions need to be asked.

As an example, I was looking through the Friday, August 24th edition of the Wall Street Journal and immediately recognized one of my images. It was a photo of the Combat Tactical Vehicle technology demonstrator that I took during an assignment at the Nevada Automotive Test Center in Carson City, Nev., in 2008. It was being used to illustrate an article about companies competing to build a successor to the Humvee.

The combat tactical vehicle as it appeared in the Wall Street Journal.

How does this relate to the theme of this blog? When I travel on assignment for my employer, everything I do, from the way I approach the assignment, caption the photographs or edit the video, is designed to tell their story. This isn't the first time that photos taken during one assignment and for one purpose were used time and time again, often for completely different reasons. The key to this happening is that the photos were professionally taken along with a detailed caption containing enough key words that the photo can be found while doing a search, especially on a broad range of topics. That is best accomplished by a staff photographer.

As a staff photographer, from the time I receive the assignment and begin my research, I know the story, why it is important to my client and who the key players are. That all translates into how I market the image which makes a huge difference down the road.

In the end, a staff photographer is always going to have your best interests in mind and not be distracted  by other things going on around them. So when asked if I need to travel, I respond that you can't afford not to send me.

Another key that I will write about in the future is to have an approved travel budget and the ability to demonstrate what your employer is getting out of that budget.


IMAGE 1: The six selected images seen in Lightroom 4.
As I looked back through images from the FLIP assignment, I realized that I never really discussed the real reason I was sent to San Diego in the first place. The assignment was to cover the 50th anniversary ceremony. It included FLIP going to sea and flipping, which I previously wrote about.
So I thought I would give a few insights into how I covered the actual ceremony. The first thing I noted was that the ceremony was scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. so the sun was going to be high in the sky. Not the best light, but it does give you the option to photograph from almost any direction without worrying about shooting directly into the sun. I also took time before the ceremony started to walk around and check out what angles I was going to shoot from and what, if anything, would be distracting in the background.
IMAGE 2: Wide shot with banner, presenter and model after audio speaker was moved.
While I would never alter an image to remove something distracting from the background, I will physically move something prior. In this case there was a speaker placed in front of the FLIP banner that was affixed to the brow. I previsualized IMAGE 2 above except that the speaker was right next to the platform. I explained the photograph I envisioned to the audio specialist and asked if he could move it to the left. I did not insist or interrupt him while he was busy setting up, but rather waited until he was almost complete. Don't try and move someones equipment without talking to them first. You can see the new location of the speaker in the lower right frame of IMAGE 1.

I talked to the keynote speaker about his speech prior and learned that I would have about five minutes to photograph him and I wanted to get as many views as possible. I made 56 images total and selected the six shown in IMAGE 1 above to submit. You can see I captured a variety of views from multiple angles. I used both a Nikon 70-200mm and a Nikon 14-24mm.
IMAGE 3: Scene setter photo taken from deck of R/V Melville.
The scene setter photo in IMAGE 3 was actually taken from the aft deck of the R/V Melville (seen in lower right frame of IMAGE 1) which was docked on the other side of the pier. I knew that would take at least two minutes of my time to go aboard and make my way aft in order to get off a few shots, but having scouted the location prior, I knew it would be a nice angle to capture the speaker, audience and ship in one frame.
In this case zooms helped me get some different views, but there is no substitute for using your two legs to move around. Work fast and be deliberate. The audience doesn't want to be distracted by a photographer running around.


Archived photograph of FLIP.
FLIP photograph from the ONR archives.
I'm preparing to leave for another assignment. Nothing very different about that except this is an opportunity I have been hoping for since I began working for the Office of Naval Research (ONR).

The research vessel FLIP, or Floating Instrument Platform, will be celebrating its 50th year of operation June 29th and I will be covering the ceremony, but more importantly, I will get a chance to photograph FLIP doing its thing at sea the next day. Now it probably won't be the most interesting thing I've photographed in the past eight years, or even the most technically challenging, however, I have always thought that FLIP was really cool.

I came close on two previous occasions to photograph this one-of-a-kind 355-foot research vessel, owned by ONR and administered and operated by the Marine Physical Laboratory at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at University of California, but both times plans changed or missions were scrubbed.

So when this opportunity arose, I made sure that I was included. One big decision needed to be made though. Would I ride aboard FLIP or with the VIPs aboard the tugboat Diana G. where I would get the best view of FLIP, well actually flipping? Tough decision, but only because I really wanted to be aboard FLIP. In the end it really seemed to be a no-brainer to ride aboard the viewing vessel if it was photos I needed.

At least I thought it was a no-brainer. In a staff meeting this week I was briefing the upcoming assignment when a co-workier asked if there weren't already a million photos of FLIP from the perspective that I would be shooting from. That really made me think and the more I thought about it the more it troubled me because she was right. What would be different about my photos? Could I have done something really creative and different if I had made the decision to ride aboard FLIP?

Too late to change my decision, which brings me to the title of this post. It will be my personal challenge to bring back something different that nobody has seen from a vantage point that many have shot from. I'll get all the standard "beauty shots," but I will really be looking around the edges to get something very different. My goal will be to return from this assignment and show that even if hundreds have photographed something before, I can produce something just a little different.