February 25, 2012
"It's Good To Know My Voice Is Heard" - Mark Bell, The Homeless Poet



"It's good to know my voice is heard," said Mark Bell, the homeless poet, after he held a copy of his first book in his hands. He never expected to see his mountains of writings, which he did for pure enjoyment, published into a book. This journey into becoming a published author began from a simple act of kindness, that inspired another act of kindness, that inspired a story that inspired more kindness that eventually became this book which may change the course of Bell's life for the better.

Here's the back story behind Mark Bell and myself, the photojournalist who he first reached out to. Last winter I was photographing the Book of Dreams, The Sacramento Bee's annual holiday giving program. One of our stories was about Friendship Park at Loaves & Fishes, which provides services to the homeless in Sacramento. They had requested an industrial sized coffee maker to serve their guests hot coffee in the morning. I was there to photograph and write the story, and later, to photograph the delivery of the coffee maker. Bell, a quiet unassuming homeless man, stood silently by, watching as the coffee maker was joyously received. He was so moved by the scene that he wrote a poem of thanks to the Book of Dreams. He slipped this poem to me and asked me to read it later. When I read it I was shocked. His writing was so moving that I knew we had to publish the poem. Not only did we publish his poem but we did a feature story on his life and his writings a couple weeks later, written by Carlos Alcala.

Our readers are amazing. When we put out a good story they almost always respond with offers of help. Sure enough a group of editors, designers and donors made themselves available to Bell, and helped him publish his first book, using a self-publishing machine at the public library. Another reader donated to him a used laptop. Bell seized the opportunity and worked hard. He had his first book published less than two months after the story ran. He is now working on his second and third books.

I'm grateful to work in a job where I can help give a voice to wonderful and interesting people such as Mark Bell, who are often overlooked. But this would not have happened if he hadn't made the first step, had the courage to reach out to a working reporter to simply say thank you. The snowball effect of good deeds that followed gives me hope. Your voice is heard now, Mark Bell. Thanks for speaking up.

Here's a link to the stories, photos and videos about Mark Bell: Mark Bell The Homeless Poet

February 16, 2012
Drawing with Light. (It's not what you're thinking.)


Light is the single most important technical aspect of creating a photograph. After all, the very word "photography" comes from two Greek words - photo and graphy, with photo meaning "light" and graphy meaning to "draw." I think of this concept often as I take pictures: I am drawing with light in every situation I encounter. Many photographers talk of this concept of good light and bad light but I prefer not to think that way. True there are lighting situations that are naturally more beautiful than others, but light is simply the tool which I am drawing with, therefore I see it as my job to create something pleasing no matter what kind of tool or light I am working with. The girls above were competing in a LEGO competition last weekend in a dim fluorescent-lit room, which is one of those locations labeled "bad" for photographers to shoot in. However, I believe that there is good light almost anywhere if you keep your eyes open and look for it. In this case I found two girls wearing green light-up wigs. I exposed for the florescent lit room and let the green light shine true to it's vibrant color. Using a telephoto lens I framed the girls tightly so that the majority of the picture was "drawn" with the beautiful fun green light, instead of the overhead fluorescent light.

Another example is below. This photograph was shot in a nearly dark room where a mother was putting her baby to sleep at night while watching television. I let the television become my light source and set the white balance to the daylight setting so that whatever color happened to flicker across the television screen would be the color that the photograph became. In this frame something blue was on the screen, bathing them in a beautiful blue light that reflected the calm, peaceful mood that I felt from the mother and child. The mother asked me before the shoot if she should turn the overhead light on for me to shoot with and I declined and asked her to light the room in whatever way she would do if I were not present. I believe in working with whatever natural light comes your way, no matter how challenging it may seem. Often the results are surprising and delightful. Both of these scenes were photographed in "bad" light, yet they are a couple of my favorite light drawings.


February 10, 2012
Colorful Moments in Hidden Places


I was assigned to photograph the preparation for the Little Saigon Street Festival last week which celebrates the Vietnamese culture along Stockton Boulevard and the Lunar New Year. Driving through that area the day before the parade there was little sign that a big event was about to take place. However, I knew that somewhere there was something beyond my view to photograph that would likely be quite special. Often this is the challenge that photojournalists are faced with - illustrating a story that doesn't initially reveal itself to you visually. My next move, after being sent to the wrong address was to call our contact for the story and explain exactly what I was looking for. I wanted a picture of someone working on a float for tomorrow's parade. After about 45 minutes of waiting, calling and following my contact through rush-hour traffic through the area I was finally led to exactly what I was looking for. Located in a nondescript strip mall on Stockton Blvd. was a party supply store, and tucked deep in the back room of that store was Trina Tran, a cheerful balloon artist sitting waist deep in a pool of reds, yellows, whites and blacks. She twisted and turned, yanked and pulled hundreds of balloons into the shapes of red and yellow dragons complete with white teeth and a large yellow dice to represent the casino they were hired to make the float for. It was a visual delight and Trina was the perfect smiling subject to represent the Little Saigon story that ran on the front page of The Bee the next day.


February 1, 2012
First Try

Disgusting? That's how some people refer to this picture. OK, I get that but what they don't understand is how I was able make the photograph in the first place. That's where always being ready for a moment is important. I had no idea something like this was even going to happen - which is usually the way things go when covering sports events - and when it did I got it. Three frames and this was the winner. Let's back up. After a rugby player scores for the first time (first try) the tradition is to drink from your shoe.
The picture certainly catches your attention, right? RP RUGBY FIRST TRY.jpg