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Nikon D850 – Versatility Defined.

By now, whether through me or fellow Nikon Ambassador or industry media, I am sure everyone in the know has heard about the new Nikon D850. But just like Han Solo says to Rey and Finn aboard the Millennium Falcon in The Force Awakens when they ask about the Jedi he replies, “Its true. The Force. The Jedi…all of it…its all true.” So is what you have read about the D850 and its capabilities.

When I received the call from Nikon Inc. offices in July asking me to be a part of the camera launch, aside from giving them an immediate and resounding confirmation for my involvement, I was floored by the specs of the camera. Nikon from time to time (both in the US and from Tokyo) will ask me for feedback on current and previous models while also asking what I would like to see in future models. This camera answered virtually every question or request I have presented to Nikon. Resolution (paramount), speed, high ISO performance. It all comes together in one package making it the most versatile camera I have ever used. Before, I would always switch out cameras in my kit based on the assignment I was covering. This is the first body that I will make a part of every single kit I pack for every single assignment.

In my work with the camera, I wanted to test it out in as many situations as I could. The request from Nikon was simple. They wanted some commercial style sports portraits and some high FPS sequences. However, I wanted more, so I worked up a couple weeks worth of insane shooting across the country so I could push it through as many real world scenarios as possible before I had to give the preproduction bodies back while in New York to assist with the launch of the camera. The hardest part of my assignment, was giving the cameras back when I was finished.

Check out the Nikon Learn & Explore page for more info on my thoughts regarding the camera. While you are there, be sure to bookmark it since it is a very valuable tool for the photographer at any level.

My D850 Experience for Nikon Learn & Explore

When it came to testing the camera, I pushed it in AF performance and FPS with water skiing in Michigan while also incorporating the use of the SB-5000 strobes. I pushed it in studio and location portrait scenarios to see how it would handle highlight and shadow detail and see exactly how robust the raw file was in this situation, which is one where I spend the most amount of my work. I pushed it in low light indoors and on the football field to see how fluid I could be shooting with only one line of cameras, where previously I would have mixed various bodies depending on the environment. I took it in the air over Chicago to see how it would perform from 2,000 over the Windy City to document sports and recreation from above which would be another test for the raw file and the detail that the sensor could produce. I criss crossed the state of Indiana shooting everything from fly fishing to a body builder to a recording studio to a basketball gym, all to see how it would handle the rigors of my shooting while throwing at it a variety of situations that would previously have me reaching for different bodies depending on the situation. It was refreshing to be able to accomplish everything with only D850 bodies.

Each and every test I put it through, it passed. While at times my expectations were met, more often than not, they were exceeded. Now the real world application begins with three brand new D850 bodies in my bag and more to come and a schedule over the next four weeks that can only be described as bananas.

How fun and crazy were my two weeks with the camera? Check out the video above and see for yourself. Coming soon here on the blog, I look to break down each of the shoots and give some insight as to what I was looking to accomplish, what was used and how it all came together. If you have questions, let me know and I will look to address them!

This camera literally has it all. What else would I like to see? Dual XQD slots instead of one XQD and one SD…but thats just personal preference and my love for the XQD card in both speed and durability compared to SD. I would also love a wireless teathering feature so I can give a client my iPad and have them be able to see what I am shooting in real time. Beyond that, it would also be cool to see a body like this in a D5-sized body like one of my old favorite cameras, the D3X. But those are just wants and not needs. What I need is a robust high resolution file, speed, quick AF and high ISO performance and this camera delivers. Versatility indeed.

Behind the Scenes, On Assignment

Dream Project – The 2016 Chicago Cubs


Every once in a while, an assignment comes along that you absolutely can’t refuse. Even if that means having to bring family in from across the state and across the country (thanks everyone!) to help with the kids while the wife was sidelined for over six weeks and unable to walk/drive thanks to a broken foot and the ensuing surgery, you find a way to make things happen. Such was the case for me this summer. But first, a little history.

I am a product of the WGN effect. Despite being from Texas and growing up with my Texas teams, the Astros and the Rangers…I was also a Cubs fan. As a kid I would wake up in the morning and have cereal while watching Bozo and Cookie. In the afternoon, when I would get off the bus and get a snack, I would turn on the small television we had in the kitchen and watch the Cubs because they were always on and I would rather watch baseball than play video games before it was time to go to either soccer or baseball practice. I listened to Harry Caray and Steve Stone, watched with interest the craziness that was the bleachers, the ball hawks on Waveland chasing down every ball hit out of the stadium. I grew up rooting for Ryne Sandberg, Mark Grace, Shawon Dunston and Andre Dawson. Each afternoon I was always curious as to whether or not the wind was blowing out or in off the lake. I felt close but at the same time, Chicago felt like a million miles away.

In 2003, I graduated from Texas A&M. I had never been north of the Mason-Dixon or east of the Mississippi River. I was offered a job at a small paper in northeast Indiana and took it blind over the phone because there was no budget for me to come visit and I knew that this is what I was meant to do. I found myself near Chicago and in the region of Cubbie blue.

I also met my wife, Maria, soon after I moved to Indiana. Our first trip together after dating a couple of months was to Chicago…to go watch the Astros and the Cubs. It was my first trip to Chicago and Wrigley was still a mythical place to me. We bought tickets from a scalper as soon as we got off the red line at the Addison stop. It was one of the most memorable trips I have ever had with Maria. I still have a photo from that trip on my nightstand next to the bed. I still have the ticket stub from that game.

We married in 2005. Soon after we got our first dog. Her name? Wrigley.

In 2012 when we were expecting our first child, Maria finally was starting to feel better and wanted to have a weekend trip with just the two of us and asked me to skip shooting the Kentucky Derby that year. I complied. Where did we end up? In Chicago watching the Dodgers and the Cubs.

Despite all of that, I only covered two games in my career at Wrigley…both were while I was working for my first paper. In my years shooting assignment for Sports Illustrated, I never covered a game on the north side, but multiple games with the White Sox on the south side. Fast forward to 2016. It was June and I was in Galveston with the family, Maria sidelined at the beach house with a foot and ankle she managed to break the night before we left. The phone rings with a number from Bristol, CT and despite chasing both girls around the beach house, I knew I had to answer.

It was Tim Rasmussen, the Director of Photography at ESPN, who brought me into the fold last fall. The conversation in its simplest terms went like this:

Tim: How flexible is your schedule for the summer and into the fall?
Me: For the right project it can become flexible.
Tim: Good. We want to put you on the Cubs for the rest of the season.
Me: Lets do it.

I would shoot at least one game a week (sometimes seven games in a week) for the duration of the season. A rare opportunity to create a large body of work in covering one of the most talented, deep and fun baseball teams that has been assembled. It has been written that it has been over a half a century since baseball has seen a team this loaded with talent.

My first game was against the Reds on July 5. Since that time, armed with two Nikon D5 bodies, a D500 a D4s and on a couple occasions adding a D750 and a D810 to the mix, I have amassed 3TB worth of photos in covering the team and the Wrigleyville community.

Some of my season work would manifest in the September issues of ESPN The Magazine and online at ESPN.com. As the Cubs keep rolling, so will my coverage. Now that the Cubs are about to begin the NLCS, I wanted to share some of my favorite (not necessarily my best, but my favorite) frames from the regular season.

While you are at it, check out some of the finished product as well!

THE MASTERMIND — Theo Epstein

WELCOME TO WRIGLEYVILLE

JAVIER BAEZ – His Story Through Tattoo

AROLDIS CHAPMAN – A Day In The Life

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A special thanks to Cubs team photographer and all around fantastic shooter and guy, Steve Green and Cubs Director of Media Relations, Peter Chase for all of their help this season and for putting up with me and my continued barrage of questions, ideas and requests.

On Assignment

The Relentless Pursuit

Creating an image that has never been attempted or successfully taken is always my primary goal. The relentless pursuit of something new and fresh. My mind never turns off from this consuming creative thinking. While this can certainly weigh heavy on my shoulders, it is a driving force.

Last year, I was able to do that in covering the greatest two minutes in sport, the 141st running of the Kentucky Derby. Much like a powerful race horse, I began developing the idea and putting things in motion to make it happen a year in advance. Remote cameras in covering sport are nothing new. However, I am always working through ideas and viewpoints in my mind to put myself, and the viewer, in a position they have not been in or seen before. Last year, that manifested in placing a remote camera on the light pole at the finish line at Churchill Downs.

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While there are definitely those who are very content in following what has been done before and replicating those photos and playing it safe, for me, that is just unacceptable. I demand and expect more out of myself and my clients expect the same from me as well.

LOUISVILLE, KY. - MAY 2, 2015: American Pharaoh victorious during the 141st running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. (Andrew Hancock for The New York Times)

LOUISVILLE, KY. – MAY 2, 2015: American Pharaoh victorious during the 141st running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. (Andrew Hancock for The New York Times)

While I wont be there this year as I am up to my eyes in two big projects requiring my full attention (that and a little bit of family time after being on the road most of the year so far), I passed on my assignment for the Derby. That being said, I wish my friends who will be covering the race the best of luck and hope that they have a great shoot and can’t wait to see what gets created!

Even though I decided against covering this year’s Derby, don’t worry, if there is another chance at a Triple Crown, I will be back at Belmont to do it again!

On Assignment

My Basketball Journey

Saturday, February 1, 2003. That was the last time I photographed a Texas A&M basketball game at Reed Arena. It was a 64-59 win over Texas Tech. It had been 16 years since the men had played in the NCAA tournament.

I was never a basketball fan, but I enjoyed shooting the sport, even though I did not follow it closely. I grew up in Midland, Texas. Football country. The home area of Frida Night Lights, the book and the movie. Football was king.

Soon after I photographed that last basketball game as a student at Texas A&M, I found myself moving to Indiana to begin my career as a photographer. That first fall, when the stadium lights illuminated the sky on Friday nights, I was in shock. This was not Texas at all. Nothing was the same and the football to me, was a joke.

Then came December…and my first winter north of the Mason-Dixon. With wind blowing and snow falling outside, I finally witnessed something that could compare to high school football in Texas, and that is basketball. I was hooked. Since then, I have photographed at some of the most iconic gyms in Indiana (many of which were featured in the movie Hoosiers), and the most iconic gyms in the country.

Over time, my approach to photographing basketball has become more refined, and much more involved. Over time, I incorporated strobes and remotes…then a lot of remotes and a lot of strobes, all to constantly push myself to make the best images possible every single game. I dont get caught up in the game, I get caught up in the photography. That is what separates the fan photographers from the serious pros.

As my interest in basketball has grown, I have followed Texas A&M basketball closely. I have seen the team ride the best of highs and seen things come crashing down. I watched from afar the mens team go winless and I photographed the women’s team winning a National Championship in Indianapolis, the home of basketball. However, as my abilities have grown, I have often thought of what it would be like to shoot in Reed again, pull out all the stops and photograph the teams like they never have before.

13 years and three weeks removed from that last game in Reed Arena, I was back. All access with the women’s and the men’s teams for their games against LSU and Kentucky respectively. I was refreshed with the crowd and enthusiasm for both teams and the support that was shown by fans in the seats. It was certainly something I never saw as a student. It felt like basketball should feel. It was a rush for me not only as a photographer, but as a fan as well. Still, I am a photographer first and foremost and making the best photos is my paramount objective above all else, regardless of outcome. Yet, I do have to admit, at the end of the men’s game against Kentucky, I was a little jumpy and emotionally invested.

Looking back as both teams begin their NCAA Tournament this weekend, I wanted to share some of my favorites from the games I covered. My thanks go out to both programs for their access, their class and for being great to work with!



Uncategorized

An Excuse For A Portrait Shoot

Recently I was in Arizona to cover the College Football Playoff National Championship. As a big fan of the desert southwest and with a little wiggle room in my schedule, I opted to head out west a couple days early of my ESPN duties, meet up with a friend and went looking for an excuse to make a picture and in this case, a portrait.

I have long been inspired by the majesty of the Arizona mountains and the presence of the saguaro cactus in a landscape. In consideration of that, I turned to my friend Brad Rogers to help pull things together, enjoy some photo fellowship and see what we could find and create.

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We kept the kit very light. He supplied a couple Manfrotto Nano stands and we each brought our Profoto B2 kits.

However, our time to spend setting up and doing full recon of a location was significantly abbreviated as Brad’s vehicle was rendered inaccessible for a couple hours which is a story for another day. As a result, we opted to go light and fast. One 3ft Profoto RFI Octa with grid, two B2 packs, the Profoto Air transmitter (Nikon version of course) and the Nikon D810 lensed with a 24-70mm. I also had the thought that the location might photograph well with a tilt shift lens so I brought along the Nikkor 45mm PC lens.

For those that dont know Brad, he is a fitness fanatic. This year he will compete in an Ironman. In pulling this together on short notice, he reached out to some friends to see who would be up for the challenge of giving us a few runs through a desert trail to see what could be created.

The whole shoot took maybe 45 minutes, and that included the hike in to the location and back to the vehicle. By traveling light we were able to move quickly and freely to adjust to the rapidly moving light as the sun set.

My favorite images of the 20 or so we took ended up coming at the very end and were taken with the 45mm PC. Despite not being a regular runner Danielle, a crossfit athlete, put in great work for us and her husband also ended up lending a hand with holding a spare fill light to illuminate part of the foreground while Brad lit Danielle with the octa.

All in all it made for a great day and I certainly plan on coming back to this spot sometime in the spring with a full outfit of strobes and see how much fun we can have in a full day or even a night as well! With enough interest, perhaps we can even have a little mini workshop…maybe something like a 24hour bootcamp!

Until then, here are my favorite images!
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Camera: Nikon D810
Lens: Nikkor 45mm PC
Shutter Speed: 1/200
Aperture: f4.2
ISO: 200

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Camera: Nikon D810
Lens: 45mm PC
Shutter Speed: 1/200
Aperture: f2.8
ISO: 64