FLIP celebrating 50 years of operations by "flipping."
As photographers we have to make decisions and choices all of the time. Decisions such as camera and lens choice, f-stop and shutter speed, white balance, RAW or JPEG and a whole host of other things that go into making pictures.

Admit it, this is what you were thinking when you read the title, right?

And you would be right that for 90% of my assignments these are the biggest photographic decisions I make. But they are certainly not the toughest decisions. Given time and experience those decisions start to become second nature. The toughest decisions I have to make is where I'm going to photograph from.

Two assignments come to mind, but there have been many others over the years.

The first was an assignment to photograph the Navy's Floating Instrument Platform (FLIP) off the coast of San Diego, Calif., where I was given the choice between riding aboard FLIP or riding aboard a tug carrying media and VIPs. My first instinct was to ride aboard FLIP because that would be the cool thing to do. Very few people get that opportunity and it's something I've wanted to do since I started working at the Office of Naval Research. But deep down I knew that I needed to get photos and video of FLIP, well flipping, and that would not have been possible if I were aboard.

It would not have been possible to capture this photograph if I choose to ride aboard. the best case would be that I could do both, but that is not always possible.
Then just recently I was assigned to photograph the Navy's only manned airship, or blimp, located at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. Like FLIP, I've wanted to ride in this for some time and thought I would finally get the opportunity. But again I had to make a tough decision; am I going to get the best photos of the blimp from inside the blimp?  And like FLIP, I wanted to be aboard because that would be a very cool thing to do, but I knew that the best chance to photograph the blimp was to stay on the ground.

We make photographic decisions all the time, but the easy ones really are camera and lens, f-stop and shutter speed and all those other things you thought really mattered.

When I reflect on these two assignments, I know I made the right decisions and the images speak for themselves. In the case of FLIP, the video has been used by Discovery Channel, National Geographic and others and the photos continue to get published even one year later, most recently by the weather channel.

Navy Airship by John F. Williams on 500px.com
Photo of the Navy's airship that has been added to my portfolio on 500px.
Too soon to tell if the blimp photos will take off, but I'm very happy with the results and even used one in my portfolio. That's when the right decision pays off.

So is there ever a way to be in two places at one time? You might have noticed if you watched the FLIP video that there is onboard footage shot as FLIP transitions from the horizontal to vertical position. I did have the opportunity to mount a GoPro camera aboard and then coordinated with an on board scientist to trigger the camera just before operations began. He came through which proves that it is possible to be in two places at once, virtually at least.

You can also use a remote trigger on a second camera if you are close enough. If you are too far away to trigger a remote, then set the camera's timer to fire a frame at certain intervals. Who knows, you may get lucky as I did when I set a GoPro to shoot one frame every 30 seconds during a satellite launch in Kodiak, Alaska. I was three miles away when the image was made.
Two places at one time. GoPro camera allows me to capture launch while I'm three miles away with a 600mm.
Two places at one time. GoPro camera allows me to capture launch while I'm three miles away with a 600mm.


In my previous post I talked about pushing myself creatively and specifically pushing myself to create an image while covering the 50th anniversary of FLIP that hadn't been seen before.

That was lofty goal and in the end, I probably did not come away with that photo. That's not a bad thing because I did push myself and produced solid content that is still generating traffic. As of this post the video above has received 8,900 19, 400 (updated 7/26/12) views on the USNavyResearch YouTube page and a b-roll version of the same video has over 3,600 views on the usnavy YouTube page.

Something else I've talked about on this blog is previsualization, the idea of actually seeing your images before they are made, and in the same sense just knowing that you are pushing yourself creatively helps you before you even begin the assignment.

That thought process keeps you from just going through the paces, it helps you get there early and stay late. It means you might carry additional lenses or extra gear, because if given the chance, it means you have opportunities to create something different. It also means that you remember that you are not on vacation, but are working.

GoPro attached to railing aboard FLIP captured the transition from horizontal to vertical.
Arriving at the location early allowed me to place a GoPro camera aboard FLIP in order to get some point of view video. And in the end, while I didn't need the 300mm 2.8 lens I had lugged across the country, it was there if I needed it, and that was somehow reassuring. However, I did make a decision not to pack a video camera for this trip and challenge myself to shoot all video with the Nikon D3S. This is only the second time I relied solely on a DSLR for video needs and I'm getting more and more comfortable with the idea.

The title of this post is Producing. In the end that is what I get paid to do. But just producing is not enough in the long run. To go the distance means you have to not only produce, but do so time and time again. In the end I think pushing myself to think creatively means that I'm still having fun. And seeing results, translated into hits or views, of what I produced hopefully means others find the content compelling and interesting.


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.