DIGITAL LIGHT  ::  brian cassella
Saturday, May 31, 2008

05 30 2008 - ST. PETERSBURG - The Rays await Cliff Floyd at home plate after he hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to give Tampa Bay a 2-1 win over the Chicago White Sox. BRIAN CASSELLA | Times

Some nights it all works out.

This was a shot I'd seen before, and had had in the back of my mind for a year (which considering how little baseball I shoot, really isn't that long). When a player hits a walk-off home run to win a game at home, his entire team rushes out onto the field to await him at the plate. Shooting from the outside third base position, you have almost the same vantage point the runner does as he heads home.

There's a risk here, though, in that the outside third base position isn't a great angle for a number of other things. Critically, if the game is won on a series of hits and a play at the plate, the scoring Ray has his back to you as he crosses the plate to win the game. So the first base side is considered a little safer in a late game situation, although you never know what could happen.

With the game tied 1-1 in the ninth inning, I took a risk and went to the third base side. I figured if the White Sox scored in the top of the inning, I'd have a good angle facing the Rays catcher for a play there. Our main Rays shooter had made a number of nice images from game-winners that weren't walk-off home runs this year from that position as well, so I figured I'd see what happened.

I shot the action with my 400mm, and kept my 200mm with it's dying battery on my lap with the plan to switch to it in case of a home run, otherwise I'd stick with the long glass. Cliff Floyd launched the second pitch deep to right, and I switched once I knew it was gone. I made sure to get a shot (that I didn't end up needing) of Floyd heading down toward third with a smile on his face as I saw the crowd gathering by the plate out of the corner of my eye.

I switched back to the plate before Floyd got there, and as I looked through the camera, I thought "Whoa, that's nice..." Couldn't have lined up the players better myself, no skills needed here, just bang on the motor drive. It made a fun sequence as the players bounced, so I added it to our now daily photo gallery. It was cool to get some feedback from fans and the team today. Hope to see more games like it come October...?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

05 21 2008 - TAMPA - Students from Plant High and other area schools dance on stage and across the floor Wednesday night at the Honey Pot nightclub in Ybor City. Several groups of Plant students have been organizing and hosting these themed teen night events since last year, renting out the clubs and charging admission for the evening. The bars do not serve alcohol and only those under 21 are admitted. BRIAN CASSELLA | Times

The second of two nights last week at neighboring Ybor clubs... Low, flashing, colored lights make things more interesting. 

I haven't used a flash (except for portrait lighting with big strobes) in at least four months now, so I'm trying to stick with that trend of being invisible and documentary while shooting with wide-open prime lenses in the low light. After spending far too many hours hanging out like the creep in the dark corner with a bunch of teenagers, the layers of kids came together well enough from the high angle of holding the camera over my head. 
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
  save a horse

05 19 2008 - TAMPA - Florida Mavericks members practice Monday night at the Lounge 7/14 in the GaYbor district for their upcoming gay line dancing competition. BRIAN CASSELLA | Times

Saturday, May 24, 2008
  saying goodbye


05 18 2008 - LUTZ - Barbara Freiberg says goodbye to her daughter, Lisa Freiberg, 26, and grandchildren, Zachary, 7, and Savannah, 2, after their funeral on Sunday afternoon at Lutz Cemetery. BRIAN CASSELLA | Times

Funerals are one of toughest things we have to cover. They're not an everyday occurrence, but they are sometimes newsworthy in such sad situations like this. The Freibergs, a young family of three, were killed in their home and discovered by Barbara on Monday morning after she didn't hear from her daughter on Mother's Day. Lisa's boyfriend has been arrested and charged with the deaths.

There are few cases where we would cover a funeral without the family's permission, and in this case there has been a lot of media attention already, so the Freibergs invited the media to attend the service but not to approach anyone or ask questions. This was fine, and I arrived early at the cemetery to scope out the layout and find a good positions to shoot from a distance with a long lens to avoid being too close. 

Luckily, I had gotten to meet Barbara and her husband Keith a few days earlier when they sat down for an interview with the Times. When they stepped out of the limo at the funeral, Barbara caught my eye and gave me a nod of recognition, which helped me feel better that she knew I was there photographing.

During the service, the family and friends gathered in a circle around the gravesite, which didn't really provide any angles to photograph from but I didn't want to intrude any closer. The family lingered around afterwards saying goodbye to friends, and when Barbara went around to each casket to say goodbye after the crowd thinned, it was a very moving moment.
Friday, May 23, 2008

05 15 2008 - TAMPA - Rory Fuller, 20, gets a haircut and a trim Thursday from Greg Caraballo, 24, at the Artistic Nails & Beauty Academy on Adamo Drive in Tampa. Fuller is a student at USF and says it's worth the drive out to East Tampa for the $1 hair cuts. BRIAN CASSELLA | Times

Do barbershops qualify as recession-proof? Sounds like a deal either way.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
End of the high school sports seasons, wrapping up with the spring sports championships...
05 05 2008 - PLANT CITY - Canterbury pitcher Krissy Longstreet (15) delivers in the 1st inning of their state semifinal game. BRIAN CASSELLA | Times
The thrill (of nice light).
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05 14 2008 - SARASOTA - Brandon pitcher Austin Browder (10) reacts to giving up a two-run home run to Dunedin's Clay Kollenbaum in the 5th inning of their state semifinal game. BRIAN CASSELLA | Times

And the agony of defeat.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
  high life
04 23 2008 - LAKE BUENA VISTA - John Raoux from the AP and Reuters' Steve Nesius hard at work in the photo "work" area. BRIAN CASSELLA | Times

Meant to share this one from a few weeks ago... At pretty much any night sporting event (which is most of them), we have to find somewhere to either set up our laptops or keep them nearby to transmit photos from on deadline. With baseball, there's no large halftime or quarter breaks, but we need to transmit photos back for early editions before a game's over at 10 p.m. At Disney's complex, where the Rays have played a series the past few years, the only option has been this drainage well, stuff with groundskeeping equipment, television wires, and three photographers wondering why the ground's wet. How glamorous it is...
Friday, May 09, 2008
02 21 2008 - FEATHER SOUND - Derek McGarvey, 44, and his Orbea Ordu carbon fiber bicycle. BRIAN CASSELLA | Bay Magazine
Finally getting around to blogging a big project I worked on in February that ran in our bi-monthly lifestyle magazine Bay a few weeks back. 
This was my first work for the new magazine and it ended up consuming most of my month, starting with brainstorming a list of people/sports/objects that fit the theme of "speed" among our Pinellas County residents. I started with a list of concepts and set about tracking down subjects to fit each one. The project was very different than a lot of newspaper work because it was so open-ended at the start, and as I worked with my editors I kept coming up with as many questions for them as they had for me. ("How many race cars do you think he has in his garage? Do we have enough women? Do you really think it's a good idea to shoot a photo of that guy's feet?...")
I initially decided on doing two photos per subject because I was worried about finding enough subjects to fill the 10-12 pages they wanted, although we were very lucky to find so many interested and available people around town that we ended up with nine individuals spread out across 18 pages. 
Full-bleed photos on a large magazine page look a whole lot better than newsprint, but that also kept the pressure on to make sure each image popped off the page with the best quality possible, so lots of artificial lighting was added to situations that had to be selected, shot and re-shot for the best possible natural light and backgrounds.
The plan for each spread was to use one action-type of photo, and one portrait. So before each shoot, I worked with my editors to brainstorm at least two plans for pictures that I could execute in the time I had with them. In some cases, that meant planning two separate shoots in different locations.
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02 14 2008 - TARPON SPRINGS - Dr. Walt Bowlin, Jr., 44, and his 2006 Ducati 999R. BRIAN CASSELLA | Bay Magazine

A little miscommunication on our meeting time left us in a bit of a crunch for daylight when we met in front of Walt's house, but it ended up working out well with the last few minutes of sunlight providing nice color for this shoot. After trying a few more complicated ideas that didn't produce much, I just shot a few simple panning shots in front of Walt's house using the simple country backgrounds. Ditto on the portrait, just depending on a little nice light in the sky after sunset. 

Some of these portraits looked nice from a much wider perspective, too, with all the rural background and color. But as with all the images, the final decision depended a lot on how the two photos worked together in the layout, and where there would be enough room for text. 

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02 08 2008 - YACHT CLUB ESTATES / GULF OF MEXICO - Adib Mastry, 45, and his Nor-Tech 3900 Super Vee boat. BRIAN CASSELLA | Bay Magazine

This layout took a couple of shoots, starting with the portrait. Shot this standing on a ladder on Adib's dock, praying I, the camera and the lights didn't topple into the water on top of the half-million dollar boat.

The second shoot was from a helicopter, racing overhead off the coast down the Gulf of Mexico. On a tip from another photographer, we planned to meet along the west coast of Egmont Key, where the water is at its best aqua-green. (Thanks, Skip!) We had to reschedule a couple of times because of overcast skies, and were down to our last chance before Adib left for a boat show. We were still looking at mostly cloudy skies but decided to go up anyway (when the paper's paying by the hour to rent a chopper, you only get one shot at it) because we had our magazine deadline looming. 

It's harder than you think to locate a specific boat from the air, but after a couple circles and text messages to the water (it's pretty hard to hear anything when you're three feet from the chopper blades), we finally found him. And as luck would have it, the sun broke through just then to fill in the color of the water with a much more saturated tone than comes through in shade. Leaning out the window, I started shooting as Adib floored the boat. 

I expected him make a few passes up and down off the coast of the Key, trying a few different maneuvers. He made a couple of particularly cool looking frames when the boat actually got some air, making it look like it had just dropped from space. After it felt like we had some solid stuff we gave him a wave and turned back. I looked around, pulling my eyes off the camera for the first time and realized I didn't recognize the shoreline anymore. Turns out we'd be heading straight south the entire time and were now well south of Sarasota. It made a nice aerial tour back into St. Petersburg.

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02 01 2008 - ST. PETERSBURG - LPGA golfer Brittany Lincicome, 22, and her Adams Insight BTY 10.5 Degree Driver. BRIAN CASSELLA | Bay Magazine

Brittany was actually the first shoot we did, as the day we were brainstorming possible subjects we learned she had just one day left in town before she left for her first LPGA tour stop of the year in Hawaii. She grew up in the area, lives in Seminole, and was gracious enough to come downtown to our photo studio and spend a couple of hours of her last day off doing this for us. 

Brittany was fantastic to work with, bringing along a couple changes of clothes to fit the color scheme we were working with (pink, one of her regular choices on the tour). But she was an especially good sport about indulging me in the "action" shot which probably seemed pretty weird as we were describing it. 

Basically, the shot is pretty simple, there's a strip of colored lights wrapped around a golf club. Brittany swung the club through her motion while in the pitch-black of our studio while the camera remained open on a 15-second exposure, so the only thing the camera saw is the lights on the club. Then we popped a couple of lights at the end to illuminate her just for a split second.

Having only one day to plan this, I learned how hard it is to find Christmas lights in February. (6th try: Spencer's Gifts). I spent a few hours one afternoon building this robot-looking contraption with a top of tape, a ten-dollar club from Walmart and the string of rope lights attached so they'd only shine around the club. We tested with out with the camera on a tripod and one of my editors going through the motion, and I was surprised to see how close it was to working in the first few attempts. The first obstacle though was how after just a couple dozen slow-motion swings, the electric connections in the club broke down and the lights flickered out. Since we knew we only had one chance with Brittany, I put together two more of these taped up clubs.

After we explained why we were turning all the lights out, Brittany went through the swing and we saw the first problem was that her swing was quite different than our practice attempts, leaving the streak of lights coming across her face. (Shocking that a professional golfer might have a different swing than a professional photo editor).  We played with the angle and ended up tripping the shutter just a bit later in the swing so the offending lights in the backswing weren't caught by the camera. The missing lights you see in part of the swing actually helped the shot, I think, but were the result of that third and final club of lights breaking through it's electrical connections. This was the last frame I shot and we couldn't have gotten through another one or two more before the lights would have gone dead.

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02 18 2008 - CLEARWATER HARBOR - Michael Booker, 16, on his laser sailboat off Sand Key. BRIAN CASSELLA | Bay Magazine

I photographed Michael while trying to hang on in a speed boat that his dad, Jay, drove around Clearwater Harbor a few feet in front of Michael on a nice windy day just as a front moved in. We had to get the portrait in quick before the downpour started, and I wish I'd had a second set of eyes there to notice that Michael was still wearing his sunglasses. I need an assistant. (Melissa...?)

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02 25 2008 - SEBRING / ST. PETERSBURG - Dan Wheldon, 29, of Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda-Dallara. BRIAN CASSELLA | Bay Magazine

Dan's an IRL driver, native Brit but lives in St. Pete in the offseason now so we consider him a local product. We did this shoot on different days, the portrait in downtown St. Petersburg and the action shots while Dan and his team were testing on the track on Sebring a week later. We tried a number of different things with both of these, initially thinking Dan might make a good cover subject as he was racing in the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on the same day the magazine came out. We ended up using two of the simpler shots, just a little strobe light added to the portrait and a simple pan from the track.

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02 11 2008 - ST. PETERSBURG - Kennel owner Randy Floyd, 58, and two of his 68 greyhounds. BRIAN CASSELLA | Bay Magazine

These shoots were done at Derby Lane, a very classic looking 1920 dog track in St. Petersburg that was also a filming location for Ocean's Eleven. Randy was easy to work with it, but the dogs didn't seem to grasp the idea of the photo shoot as well. (Although they are extremely well trained to follow the plastic rabbit around the track at incredible speed!) 

The action photo took several days of shooting and planning. The first day I shot some OK photos of the dogs from the edges of the track with long lenses, but nothing jumped out at me. With a lot of cooperation with the people at Derby Lane, I decided to try something a little different and mounted a remote camera above the starting box. They were understandably a little nervous about trying this, as they'd never done it there and if it fell, they could lose tens of thousands of betting dollars calling off the race results. Luckily they agreed to let me try it on a practice morning first, and after waiting out a rain delay during the matinee races the next afternoon we got some cool shots.

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02 26 2008 - ST. PETERSBURG - Runner Dan McClenathan, 56.  BRIAN CASSELLA | Bay Magazine

This one was a little different, going for the speed of a runner on foot rather than an object. Dan was very easy to work with and didn't mind dumping a bottle of water on his head at all when I suddenly proposed it. (Although he wasn't as thrilled that I had cleverly bought ice-cold water out of the gas station cooler on the way there.  Such planning.) Once again, we had some interesting wider photos as well with the nice light of the sun disappearing on a cloudy night, but that's why I have editors to make the tough calls.

One thing that was also a factor in all of these shoots is that the pages of Bay are nearly square, while the camera only shoots horizontal and vertical. This always kept me thinking about leaving extra space that would have to be cropped out on the edges of the photos, both the fit the shape and leave trim space that is chopped off as the magazine is printed. (I think my editor yelled 'Think square!' every time I walked by for a month.)

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02 19 2008 - CLEARWATER BEACH - Derek McGarvey, 44, and his Orbea Ordu carbon fiber bicycle. BRIAN CASSELLA | Bay Magazine

This is Derek again, who also ended up being the lucky cover model. I found him through a co-worker's husband at a bike shop (thanks, Hank!) and he was perfect. We did these shoots on separate days, first over at the beach. This tied in a bit to Derek being a triathlete, but I also wanted a spot with a completely flat surface to the west (water) so the bike could break off along the horizon when the camera was flat on the ground. The sky cooperated with a great sunset.

The second shoot was near Derek's house along Ulmerton Road, which provided the bright lights of cars and commercial signs in the background for both this and the cover shot. He graciously let me mount a camera with a wide-angle lens on the front of his handlebars, and while this didn't exactly help the speed and balance of the light-weight bike, he was still able to ride it. He moved at a fairly slow speed along the shoulder and sidewalk of the road as I triggered the camera with a remote in one hand to fire and remain open for a 30-second exposure. With the other hand I ran around Derek and fired a handheld strobe light two or three times to illuminate his face and add some highlights behind him and and on the back of his head. He was in the camera's view the entire 30 seconds, but because it was so dark out the camera didn't pick up much of anything except the bright car lights except when I lit him up with the flash. The spots where you see a bit of "ghosting" along his shoulders or helmet are from the fact that he's moved just slightly between two times that I fired the flash.

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02 28 2008 - PINELLAS PARK - Alison Burnett, 49, and her thoroughbred horse, Isis. BRIAN CASSELLA | Bay Magazine

Last, but certainly not least, was Alison who we found right before my shooting deadline. She was nice enough to meet me on two mornings at the stables and take the time to scrub her bright white horse clean of all the fun she must have in the mud every night. Alison and Isis made a number of nice action photos, but in the end we couldn't resist how well the enormous horse looked balanced as if it was on a Merry-go-Round in this image.

Soo... Longest blog post ever. Glad I got to share a little about these shoots were and how different there were from what I usually do everyday. And always happy to answer any questions if I left anything out.
Saturday, May 03, 2008
  taking flight
04 28 2008 - TAMPA - Sean Carmichael, 26, packs up his gear after kitesurfing with friends Monday afternoon off Cypress Point Park in Tampa. The blustery conditions from an approaching front provided plenty of wind for the kitesurfers as a few drops began to fall from the sky. Carmichael has been kitesurfing for about a year and built his own board. BRIAN CASSELLA | Times
Friday, May 02, 2008
  where dreams come true
04 22 2008 - LAKE BUENA VISTA - Rays pitcher James Shields delivers under an open sky at Disney's Champion Stadium at the Wide World of Sports complex. BRIAN CASSELLA | Times
For the second year in a row, I followed the Rays over to the east side of the state while they played a 3-game series at Disney World. The idea is to grow the fan base around the state, so by playing outside of Orlando they can draw fans who might not make the trek to St. Petersburg very often. And playing outdoors is great in April when the weather's still tolerable in Florida.
The Rays are off to a franchise-best start so far, leading heavyweight AL East after the first month of the season. And for a second year in a row, Disney was their good luck charm as they swept the Blue Jays in a streak of comeback wins.
The wins were nice, but all three games seemed to follow the same pattern of producing better "loss" pictures than "win" pictures.  Each night, there seemed to be a decent play or frame that might have held up as the best photo of the night, but with the Rays coming back to win, they were no longer the storytelling moments.

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04 22 2008 - LAKE BUENA VISTA - Rays pitcher James Shields drops the ball before he can make the tag on Toronto's Lyle Overbay (17) at home plate as Overbay scores in the 2nd inning. BRIAN CASSELLA | Times

The first night, there's a crazy infield play with two errors, leading to a Toronto lead. It makes a decent home-plate collision play, and features the starting pitcher for a change, but Shields comes back to dominate the rest of the game and the photo barely slips inside the paper.

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04 23 2008 - LAKE BUENA VISTA - Rays pitcher Jason Hammel (49) leaves the mound after the 3rd inning. BRIAN CASSELLA | Times

Night two, Hammel's pitching and struggling a bit early, leading to a decent reaction photo between innings. Transmitting mid-game, I include this one thinking it might make the cover, but as the Rays take the lead it becomes useless.

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04 24 2008 - LAKE BUENA VISTA - Toronto C Gregg Zaun (9) dives in to score ahead of the tag of Rays catcher Dioner Navarro (30) in the 3rd inning. BRIAN CASSELLA | Times

Night three, I'm up in the stands behind home plate trying to make something interesting of the starting pitcher, Andy Sonnanstine, who was coming off a dominating start. All of a sudden, Toronto's rallying and there's another awkward infield play leading to a home-plate collision. While it's still the most dramatic action photo at the end of the day, the Rays (you guessed it) rally back to win late and the photo doesn't hold up.  

So maybe Disney's a little more magical for the Rays than for me.
Postings by Brian Cassella, staff photographer in the Tampa bureau of the St. Petersburg Times and 2005 graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Available for freelance.



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