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The Story Behind The Photograph – Young Photographer

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I shot this photo in 1988 while working at The News Journal in Radford, Virginia. It’s a small newspaper which, at the time, published six days a week.

I had many duties at the Journal. I was the only photographer and the sports writer. After the sports editor became the news editor, I also put together the sports section. That was back in the day when we actually pasted the stories on a page. Being able to lay out the section was actually pretty cool, because I could run my photos as big as I wanted to.

I got that job by pure luck. I came in on a cold call with a portfolio about an hour after they fired their photographer. They needed a photographer, and I wanted the job. Things work out that way sometimes.

Part of my duties as the photographer was to shoot a front page feature photo each day. It was rare that the front page did not have a feature photo. Most days it was above or on the fold. If it was a good news day, it might be below the fold. The only time I can remember not using one was the day explosives were set to bring down an old tower in town. It fell the wrong way. There were no other photos needed. I think that one ran across five columns.

I graduated from Radford University, so I knew the town pretty well. I drove my pickup through the streets on a daily basis looking for something interesting. One Saturday morning, I was touring the town for the Sunday feature and saw this yard sale. There were several people looking at items so I stopped. I grabbed a Konica FT-1 with a 24mm lens.

As I looked around for a great deal, there also was this boy checking out the goodies. All of a sudden, he picked up a Polaroid camera and pointed it at me. Click, I had my Sunday photo.


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January 6, 2011 at 6:24 pm

The Story Behind The Photograph – The Homestead

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Mattie and I were married at The Homestead in Hot Springs, Virginia on New Year’s Eve in 1998. The resort’s New Year’s Eve gala was our reception complete with a great band, about 80 friends and another 500 people we didn’t know.

Several years, we have gone back to celebrate our anniversary at the gala. The year this photo was taken, 2004, I decided to not to take a digital camera and only carried a Leica M6. I still have a darkroom and enjoy shooting film.

When I worked at Martinsville Speedway, as the director of corporate communications, I used one of the first Kodak digital cameras to put photos on the track’s website. I still shot film and made prints to send to newspapers and magazines. Eventually, I got a Nikon Coolpix 950 digital camera, in 1999, and was able to send publications digital photos that were good enough to print. I’ve used a lot of different film cameras since I was six and have used many different digital SLRs since the Nikon D1H came out in 2001.

Anyway, I digress. But the whole point of that is, we were sitting at the 2004 gala with some friends and a couple we didn’t know. There was a guy at the table who spent a lot of time telling me that instead of using that old camera, a Leica M6, I should be using a digital camera. I continued to smile, nodded and chatted with him and thanked him for all the good information. I didn’t tell him I had been using digital cameras for years.

At some point during the night, I walked up to the band and moved in close to the singer with the Leica M6 and a Konica 50mm F2 lens. Since I never put a battery in the M6 for the meter, exposure was always an “educated guess”. I enjoy shooting with a Leica, without a meter, because it keeps me sharp on looking at a scene and knowing how to expose. I’m always proud of myself when I shoot, without a meter, and get a roll full of negatives that are printable. I had Tri-X in the camera and planned to push it two stops in development. I set the aperture to F2 and then the shutter via my “educated guess” and waited for a good moment. When I saw it, I opened that nearly silent shutter. Then I went back to the table, grabbed my lovely bride of six years and started dancing.

Whenever I look at that photo, I think of the guy who wanted me to update my camera. I did eventually update that M6 to an older Leica M4-P which doesn’t even have a meter so I’m not tempted to put a battery in it. By  the way, happy anniversary to my lovely bride.

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December 31, 2010 at 4:54 pm

The Story Behind The Photograph

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I haven’t done a “The Story Behind The Photograph” in a while so when I found this photo a few days ago, I figured it was a good candidate.

I was looking through a box for old college photos to put on facebook. In the box, I found this photo bent, creased and badly discolored. It was printed on the cheap photographic paper that we used to use in the newspaper business to make a temporary print or to do a test print back in the day. Photos on this paper turn brown pretty quickly. I scanned it, repaired some of the creases and changed it back to black and white in Photoshop. That’s the photo you see above.

One morning back in the early 90s, the newspaper assigned me to shoot a fallen police officer ceremony. It was happening at 9 a.m. and deadline for this afternoon paper was at 10 a.m. I had to shoot quickly and get back to develop, print and give it to the editor.

The chief of police stepped to the podium and I saw him framed by the shadows of two officers, with their heads lowered, in the glass doors of city hall. I pulled my Nikon FM2 up to my eye and knew that I had my photo. I then stepped back and got the obligatory crowd shot and a few other photos, and I was headed back to the office.

I threw the film in the soup, fixer, and wash, hung the film up and dried it with a hair dryer. Since I knew the photo I needed, I put it in the enlarger, exposed for about 10 seconds so I would have time to dodge his face since it was in the shadow of his hat. Then I threw it in the dektol, and there it was just like I envisioned it. I was pretty happy with myself.

After washing and drying the print, I proudly handed it to a copy editor (his name was Louie) who looked at it and said, “nice photo”.  I went back to my desk and sat there waiting for first run of the newspaper to see my finished product and that line that I loved, “photo by Steve Sheppard”.

Another copy editor came though the office throwing the first run on everyone’s desk. He tossed me a copy, I turned it over and, YIKES, the photo below is what I saw. I can’t remember now if he just needed a vertical photo or if he cropped it to save space, but I remember taking a copy home to mull over the tragedy he inflicted on my photo. This is the first time anyone, outside of the newspaper, has seen the original.

Now that it’s off my chest, I feel better.


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November 15, 2009 at 6:33 pm

The Story Behind The Photograph

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Bull Mountain Fire




















On a Saturday in April, 2006, a fire started most likely from lighting on Bull Mountain in Patrick County, Va. I heard about the fire and decided to drive to Patrick to take a look. 

I grabbed my camera bag and Mattie and I started following the smoke. Since I grew up in Patrick, I know the back roads pretty well and just followed the smoke until I arrived at a road that was close to the fire. I am a stringer for the Associated Press and called them to see if they were interested in photos and they were. 

We drove down a road that was being evacuated and came across homes where family and friends were loading pickup trucks with their possessions. The owner of the home pictured above is running out of the house with a folder of important papers while his brother-in-law hoses down the roof in hopes that if the roof is wet it will not catch fire from the burning debris floating in the air. 

I spent about two hours photographing the neighborhood and then left to send photos to Richmond. On Monday, I went back to the neighborhood and visited with the folks that live on the road. I printed a photo for this man and gave it to him. Fortunately, all the homes on this road were still intact. The fire burned about 250 acres of the mountain. My grandparents’ home burned when I was in high school so I know how devastating it can be. 

Below are a couple of other photos from the day and everyone were not as lucky. The bottom photo was shot on the following Monday and his shed burned.

Bull Mountain Fire














Bull Mountain Fire















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April 14, 2009 at 4:28 pm

The Story Behind The Photo

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I don’t normally talk much about technique on my blog. I’m not sure why. Well anyway, I am going to now.

I was shooting a party today for a couple that will be getting married in a few weeks. The couple getting hitched, are on the right side of the photo standing in the sun. The speaker on the left side of the photo and the folks in the foreground, were standing in the shade. So, what do you do?

Shooting in shutter priority at 1/250 of a second, I put in -1 1/3 or so exposure compensation on the camera to properly expose for the sunny areas, added a little + exposure on the flash because of the distance between me and the speaker, put my Olympus E-3 into live view (you can see what you are shooting on the screen), held the camera over my head, tilted the screen down so I could compose, tilted the flash up a little so it didn’t burn the people in the foreground and shot this photo.

I wanted to be able to show the couple, speaker and some of the crowd. Without live view and the tilt and swivel screen on the Olympus E-3, it would have been extremely difficult to compose that photo. That’s pretty even lighting considering there was two stops or so difference across the frame.

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September 21, 2008 at 12:56 am

The Story Behind The Photo

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Now that both presidential candidates have chosen their VP choices, it got me thinking about my newspaper photography days.

Vice President Dan Quayle visited the Roanoke airport during the 1988 election, and I was there shooting for the Radford News Journal. The airport let the campaign use a hanger and it was packed as you can see from the photo on the left.

Instead of shooting from areas set up for photographers, I was milling around with the crowd photographing those attending and looking for photos out of the ordinary. Back in the day of course I was using Tri-X film and pushing the film to ISO 1600 to get an image in the hanger. For cameras, I used a couple of Nikon FM2n bodies.

I really liked Vice President (then a candidate) Quayle and was thrilled to get to shoot the event. Years later, I received an autographed copy of his book Standing Firm.

These are the only two photos I still have from the event. I took these home from the office because I didn’t get the print right the first time and had reprinted them for the paper. The News Journal closed years later, and I guess the negatives no longer exist.

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August 31, 2008 at 5:14 pm

The Story Behind The Photograph

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I spent seven years at Martinsville Speedway as the director of corporate communications. One of my duties on race day was running pre-race along with a NASCAR staff member. 

After “Gentleman start your engines”, I would go through the gate at the start/finish line I would walk through the stands and stop in between the first and second turn to watch the first several laps of the race before going to the Dick Thompson Pressbox. Often, I would get a little misty-eyed because six months of preparation and work had pretty much been completed. Fans were in the stands and the race was underway.

A couple of years after I left the speedway, I was given an assignment to get a photo that screamed Martinsville Speedway. When asked, I knew the photo I wanted. When the drivers fired the engines (or as old school drivers call them a ‘motor’), I took my position and waited in between the turns.

For the first few laps I fired off a bunch of frames, but still wasn’t happy. Then a fan stood up and waved his hat. Snap, snap, snap and I had exactly what I wanted.

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April 25, 2008 at 10:44 am