Sunday, June 8, 2014

Memorial Day 2014

During the Memorial Day weekend, over 100,000 flags are placed at the graves in the Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, California.Cub and Scout Troops from the area, along with Veteran's Groups, are assigned flags and a specific zone where the flags are to be placed. It is a time for remembrance, and these young men and women perform this task with respect befitting the occasion.

Photo #1
When I arrived, there were dozens of scouts milling around, eating donuts and drinking hot chocolate, waiting for the ceremony to officially begin. I noticed this young man looking over the cemetery, the headstones appearing to go on forever (Photo #1). While I would have preferred somebody in uniform, I took a sketch shot to see if the shot had any potential. I abandoned the idea because I need a point of reference to the planting of the flags, which was the reason I was there in the first place.

Photo #2
Just before the actual ceremony started, I looked for a suitable place to shoot from. I generally try to take a position and stay put, since moving about would probably be a distraction. There were several other photographers who didn't share this view, and some actually moved up by the stage to photograph the scouts as they stood at attention and saluted the colors. Getting a great position is often a matter of luck, and in this case, it was bad. The American flag is barely visible in the background (Photo #2).

Photo #3
One thing that I've discovered about flags: They change with the wind. The gust brought the near flag into a rather awkward resting place (Photo #3). 

Photo #4
While all this was going on, I too was looking for that "Saluting Scout" that might be interesting. This young man was just a few feet from me, so I thought I'd make a few shots of him (Photo #4). Since his father was standing behind him, I made eye contact, held up my Press Pass for him to see, and pointed to my camera. When he nodded, I started shooting. I try to be particularly careful about photographing children, and while I technically have the "right" to photograph anyone or anything in a public venue, it's easier when I have permission. Also, I don't have to explain why I'm taking so many shots, which always seems to happen when I'm trying to get "the" shot.

Photo #5

This Coast Guardsman was planting flags with the help of these two scouts. Again, I introduced myself quickly, and started shooting. This was one of over a dozen shots taken from this vantage point. I chose this one because there was an implied front to back motion as the near scout handed a flag to the other so it could be placed in the hole being made by the special tool you see at the left (Photo #5).  I actually used a shoe-mounted flash at reduced power to lighten up the shadows. It has a subtle effect on the flesh tones, since the color temperature of the flash is "warmer" that the Cloudy Bright white balance setting of the camera. The results are more saturated colors and warmer flesh tones. The slight shadow on the near scout's arm is about the only clue that flash had been used.
This was the shot I would submit.

Photo #6
There is one lens that I always carry when I shot at the Golden Gate National Cemetery: My seldom used, 150-500 Sigma. I bought the lens based on some favorable test reports, but to this point I was never felt confident in its performance. But its 500mm maximum focal length would give me the front to back compression that results from longer than normal shooting distances. I liked the concept of the shot, but the people in the background and the scout's position didn't add to the context (Photo #6). I decided the shot wasn't going were I wanted, so after several tries, I started looking for something else.

Photo #7
I noticed this lone scout standing on the hill, and when I zoomed in to refine the composition, saw that I had the compression I was looking for. He was also holding a bundle of flags, which gave the viewer a clue as to why he was there. When he looked up, I made the shot (Photo #7). And I knew that this shot would also be worth considering, so I sent it too.

The Editor In Chief must have liked them both, as he printed #7 on the Front Page and #5 on Page 2.

Now I think I can trust the Sigma.