Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Polar Plunge

    Before the plungers began jumping into Muskegon Lake I could the small ice crystals forming on the surface.  I think a person would have to be crazy to jump into water that cold.  The costumes, the crowd and mass insanity of the moment are the only things I can imagine turning normal people into plungers.
    My only goal going into this assignment was to get the names of a lot of people before the plunge.  After each person jumps into the water they get out and they run for the warm swimming pool next door.  The plunger's ditch their frigid costumes as fast as they can.  Without a name I cannot use a photograph in the newspaper without the names of the people in the photograph.  Once the plungers are wet all the energy of the event is gone, they just want to get warm, they will not stop to talk with me.  so I need to get the names of the plungers before the event starts.  I spent over an hour collecting the names of plungers.  My theory was that the people who dressed in the most outlandish costumes would also try to make the biggest splashes.
    My favorite photographs are the first and the last.  I think I must really like photographs of guys screaming right now.  I do like actions movies, maybe there is a connection.  The first photograph was not something I expected to create.  I thought I would photograph lots of people splashing and after their cold bath, but I did not expect any photographs I liked to happen indoors as the mass hysteria was building. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Pond Hockey

    Photography is not difficult because you need to know how to handle a camera.  Handling a camera is more simple than handling a large sail boat, and only slightly more complicated than driving.  What makes photography difficult is that when you create a "perfect" picture you really haven't accomplished the goal.  In most other professions if you do something perfectly you have accomplished your goal.  If a dentist creates a perfect filling then he has done a great job, or if a plumber fixes the leak he is done.  But if a photographer creates a perfect picture it is of not interesting unless it also has something eye catching.  I am always searching for different ways to look at things and for things that are a little weird.  This photograph has both, it has a reflection in the hockey player's visor that shows the pond hockey rink.  Plus the hockey player is yelling to encourage his teammates so it makes the photograph eye catching.

--Darren Breen

Motorcycles on ice


    What could be more fun than watching motorcycles drive around on ice?  As a photographer I often get sent to photograph assignments that are basically eye candy.  The challenge is to photograph the eye candy exceptionally well, because as a professional I need to create something  more impressive than people riding motor bikes. My plan was to use color, blur, and photographing multiple vehicles to create more exciting photographs.
    The use of blur is a well-tried convention for shooting motor sports.  The complexity was that this race was on ice, so everyone drives slowly to stay in control.  I had to lower my shutter speed to a point where I was creating camera blur even when the motorcycles where stationary.  The benefit of the ice was that the colors stood out more vibrantly against the white ice than they do against the usual dirt or asphalt.  After some panning practice I began to control the blur, and started to see results I liked.

--Darren Breen

The Goalie


I often find myself working on a rigid deadline while telling myself to be patient.  It is hard for me to be patient when waiting in line, but even harder when I need to meet an important deadline, and in newspaper photography every deadline is an important one.

As a placebo for my nervous tension I frequently experiment with Jedi Mind-Control skills.  Using my novice telepathy skills I tell the people, animals, and sometimes the inanimate objects I am photographing what they should do, so that they can be in the right place for me to create a good picture.

To my knowledge I have never actually managed to convince any human, creature, or thing, to do anything by the use of my Jedi powers.  However his picture is proof that all of my attempts may not have been in vain.  Normally when I photograph Hockey I spend most of each period dutifully following the puck with my camera, when the puck goes toward the goal, so does my camera.  The problem is the puck can move really fast, and my camera sometimes lags behind a little.  I had an idea.  Instead of following the puck with my camera like a lemming, I would wait like a cobra poised to strike.  My camera on the goalie and I would use my Jedi Mind-Control skills to bring the action to the goalie.  It worked, with ice shavings flying.

Skeptics of my telepathic skills might say that instead of mind-control I used the more ordinary skill of observation, to notice that the goalie was under a lot of pressure.  Which would mean that instead of altering time and space with my mind all I was doing was waiting in the right place to make a nice photograph.  In response to such skepticism I can only say that they have can have their explanation and I can have mine.

--Darren Breen

Girl's basketball

    Photography.  It's all about the critical moment, and the light, and the composition, and the subject, and the background, and the color, and other things as well, but it varies from picture to picture.
This picture has most of those things going for it, apart from the background.  I feel very strongly that people in the backgrounds of my pictures should only be allowed to wear black or other very dark clothing.  In addition it is of vital importance that they never, never, never (unless I think it is okay) be allowed to carry bright yellow objects into the background of one of my photographs.  It is as if no one out there can read my mind.  Because if they could read my mind they would understand how crazy, insane, and rude it is to carry a bright object into the background of an otherwise good photograph.
    There are people today who may roll there eyes at my hysterical tirade, they may say "why don't you just Photoshop the yellow bag out of the picture?"  To anyone who would say such a blasphemous things I would point out that in life there is the wide road and the narrow road, there is also a wide road and narrow road in photography.  The professional photojournalist is supposed to follow the narrow road, with a tightly defined set of ethical principles guiding our behavior.
One of the most important rules is that you cannot digitally alter images.  Radical toning is termed "The Hand of God," and no one should attempt to play God.  The evil of adding or subtracting parts of a photograph is so bad it only has a descriptive name, "digital manipulation."  Although it may not hurt anyone as much as manipulating a persons fingers out of alignment, it is a very BIG no no.
    As a photographic puritan I may be unhappy that an gaudy yellow bag polluted my picture, but at least I have my self-righteous pride.
     As an ointment for my inner artist's tortured soul I tell myself the reason true photojournalists adhere to a strict code of conduct is to maintain journalistic standards of integrity.  The real question behind adding or subtracting elements within a photograph is about our integrity and how much it is worth.  If we are willing to alter a photograph because of an aesthetic preference then we could not be trusted to accurately portray important events.  Whether anyone likes to believe it or not, our whole society, and our understanding of the world is all based on trust.  Especially trust in the people who tell us about the events in the world.  Whether covering an earthquake in Haiti, or a girls basketball game in West Michigan, the most important thing, the only real thing, journalists have is integrity.

--Darren Breen

Lake Perch


    What does it mean to be observant?
It is a vital skill for a photographer, but there are too many things to notice all of them.   I think being observant means awareness to your surroundings.  Noticing the colors, the shapes, the light, the moods of people, the sequence of events, and the things that are out of the ordinary.
   I was sent to photograph ice fishing.  I have been curious about ice fishing for a long time, but deep down I believed that if I wanted to try ice fishing all I needed to do was sit on a slab of ice and do nothing.  Now that I am more knowledgeable I realize I was only mostly correct in my assumption.  Now and again people, mostly men, sitting on the ice catch fish.  The fish in this picture may not look like a trophy but it is the prize the fisherman was seeking.  I was aware enough of  my surroundings to look beyond the obvious photographs of being staring at holes in the ice and to notice that this fisherman would occasionally hold a fish out the window to show off his catch, and then I waited until he did it again.

--Darren Breen

Wrestling Photographs

119 pound GMAA city wrestling Championship

 189 pound GMAA city wrestling Championship


285 pound GMAA City wrestling Championship 

What is Truth? 
Two thousand years ago Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea asked that question, I think the question is as relevant today as it was then.  I think about it every time I create a picture.  Every picture I create involves editing as I decide what to include and what to exclude.  My goal is to keep only what I consider to be the best of every situation.  Often "the best" means the most exciting, the moment of peak action or emotion.  My job, as I interpret it, is to skim off the cream moments of every event and deliver it with the most impact possible. 
In a wrestling tournament finding "the best" means focusing on the few fractions of a second when the wrestlers are off balance or in the air.  The moments happen fast, sometimes so fast you almost can't even see them with a human eye.  I can only photograph the fastest actions because I begin the process of shooting before the action has occurred.  Which leads back to the question "What is Truth?" 
With the camera I make visible moments in time that cannot normally be seen and appreciated.  But those same moments are not the norm, they are aberrations in time.  They happen infrequently, even in a wrestling match.  When I was in studying geology in college I was taught to take representative samples, to find what is normal for the purpose of creating knowledge that can be used for prediction.  Is truth what is normal?  Is it the heightened reality seen through the camera?  Is it relative to the medium being used?  Is it a bad question to ask, because most people don't care and just want to be entertained?  I think all of my possible answers could be right.  I think that even with the camera looking for the best eye candy it is important to search for the truth by looking for the moments that communicate genuine attributes that could be considered normal.

--Darren Breen

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Roller Derby: Skee Town Skirtz

Distracted Driving Portrait

    This portrait literally kept me up at night.  The night before I was trying to think of a way to combine the key elements of the wrecked car with the cell phone.  I decided to get up high to see the wreck and used a wide angle lens to make the foreground larger in proportion to the car.  I ended up minimizing the cell phone, so that it was only visible enough to convey the idea that the cell phone was involved in the crash.  Brandi Dulin was good at looking regretful, it was the only expression that came naturally to her a few days after her near death experience.

--Darren Breen

To view a video I made of the story go to:

Photographing at the Rescue Mission

       I often find myself becoming uncomfortable when I photograph people in homeless shelters.  In the same way I become uncomfortable when I photograph people dealing with other hardships, such as being injured.  I think the reason I become uncomfortable is I think people wish to be known for traditionally good things.
    Winning, wealth, success, and happiness are the things I imagine people wish to be known for.  But the truth is those things can be very boring, they look more like commercials than reality.  When I see people enjoying themselves in commercials I am not deceived.  I know that drinking beer does not make life more fun or exciting, and a new vacuum cleaner is not going to change my life.  So when I see good news I am not curious about it, at the very best I give it a cursory glance and forget about it.  But when I see something outside of my normal life.  Outside of my normal advertising saturated life.  I am curious and I want to know more about it.
   For me the top photograph is good because although the man in the photograph has suffered from some major setbacks in life he has a thoughtfulness that gives him nobility regardless of his situation in life.  My theory is that the best stories are like my favorite movie, "Gladiator," with a strong protagonist, who finds themselves in a difficult situation and must struggle to overcome adversity.  I think this photograph shows a man in a difficult situation who is struggling to overcome it.

--Darren Breen

Portrait in "Club Envy"

     I created this photograph in a new night club in downtown Muskegon.  The background is one of the murals they have in the club.  I wanted dramatic lighting to complement the light and dark of the mural itself.  So the look of the portrait lighting would feel similar to the aesthetic of the club.
   I think the portrait worked well, although I would have preferred lights with a faster recycle time since I was often shooting faster than my lights could recharge.

--Darren Breen

Portrait in a Vault

I have wanted to shoot inside of a bank vault for a long time, because vaults have so much great looking metal.  This assignment offered me the chance to do a portrait within an old bank vault because a group of companies are creating an apprenticeship program in Muskegon, and they had acquired an old bank building to be the main base for the program.

The difficulty of being inside of the vault was that if the gate closed, we would have been locked inside, and the vault was a very small space to light.