Merry Christmas!

Look at the Lights!

McAdenville, NC (aka Christmastown USA) puts on a grand show of lights and decorations each year that draws hundreds of thousands of visitors to the tiny town. These are a few photos I shot in McAdenville on December 21.

Christmastown USA


Middle School Soccer Championship
John Niemeyer runs past Cramerton players Cole Poole (#7) and Colden Beert (#27) as he celebrates scoring a goal for the Grier Knights in the Gaston County middle school soccer championship at Cramerton Middle School on Thursday December 18. Grier defeated Cramerton 5-0 to take the title.

Lights on Parade

Gaston Tourism

Mary Lynn Geisler, left, and Christine Palko take in the McAdenville Christmas lights from a tour bus on Dec. 9. The two were part of a tour group from Tennessee that was visiting Gaston County attractions, including McAdenville, downtown Belmont, and Stowe Botanical Gardens.

Panthers vs Buccs

Panthers vs Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Bryant, right, breaks past the defense of Carolina Panthers cornerback Ken Lucas as he runs into the end zone for a touchdown early in the second half of NFL game action at Bank of America Stadium on Monday December 8, 2008. Below: Carolina wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad, left, stretches for extra yards as he is tackled by Tampa Bay safety Jermaine Phillips after receiving a Jake Delhomme pass in the first-half.

Panthers vs Buccaneers

Panthers vs Buccaneers

In Search of a Wider View

First United Methodist Panorama
A 180 degree view from the chancel of First United Methodist Church in Gastonia. The main pipe chambers of the 1956 Moller pipe organ (Opus 8835) can be seen to the left and the right, and the Antiphonal division added during a later renovation can just be seen in the rear loft of the church.

Holy Trinity Lutheran panorama
A 180 degree panoramic view of the chancel in Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Gastonia showing the Fritzsche Pipe organ. The original instrument was a 1957 Moller organ, with some original pipes retained through a 1977 Fritzsche rebuild and expansion that added a new antiphonal (Positiv) division with a Trumpet En-chamade (not pictured in rear or church). A second Fritzsche renovation in 1997 brought the instrument up to it's current specifications.

Stitching panoramas isn't something new, but it's a creative tool that I'm happy to have added to my bag of tricks. Photo stitching has numerous applications, but it proves most useful for those times when you just need a W I D E view.

Last week I began working on a photo story I'm calling Pedals & Pipes that will be a tour of pipe organs in the Gaston and Lincoln County areas (the Gaston Gazette coverage area).

The ongoing project is still in the early stages, but already stitched panoramas have proven useful. Even a super-wide lens isn't always wide enough for shooting interiors, and backing up just doesn't have the same effect. In the above photos, though, the use of a stiched pano was less about taking it all in than about showing something mundane in a new and exciting way.

One of the big goals of a photojournalist it to show people the world around them in a way they've never seen it before, and for many people a 180 degree panorama like the ones above is just that. Wide as 180 degrees is, the possibilities of photo stitching don't end there.

I recently met Charlotte Observer staff photog Gary O'Brien, who is pioneering a new technique that takes photo stitching to the extreme--360 degree VR Panoramas.

By taking three shots with a true circular fisheye lens (with an angle of view of 180 degrees in every direction) and stitching them together, he is able to create an interactive virtual reality experience where the viewer can click and drag the image on their screen to look up, down, and all around!

You should definitely check out O'Brien's blog and see for yourself:

Check back here for updates on the Pedals & Pipes project, and I'll be sure to announce when it will run in the paper.

Frat Farm

Shining Hope Farms
Geoffrey Hall is seen through the bars of a window as he works with other students to perform renovations to a riding stable at Shining Hope Farms in Gaston County on Nov. 15. A student at Elon University, Hall was one of the many members of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity from area colleges that were participating in the service project at Shining Hope Farms.

Shining Hope Farms 2
Kelby Dodson, from left, looks on as fellow Presbyterian College students Brett Kieffer and William Vaughan install plywood flooring in the loft of a stable at Shining Hope Farms on Saturday. The Pi Kappa Phi fraternity service project was to benefit Shining Hope Farms, an organization that reaches out to sick and disabled children.

Panthers vs Lions

Panthers vs Lions
Carolina wide receiver Steve Smith reacts after having a pass broken up by Detroit Lions defender Leigh Bodden (#28) during second-half NFL game action at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday November 16. The Panthers defeated the Lions 31-22.

It's Basketball Season...

Oak Hill vs Life Center
Oak Hill's Doron Lamb makes a lay-up during game action against the Life Center Warriors in the final game of the Spartan Tip-Off Tournament at Gaston Day School on Nov. 15.

Fall with a Twist!

Fall II

Psychidelic Fall

I left my expectations behind and went out into a back yard full of leaves with just a camera and an idea--this is what I got.

The top image was made using flash to "freeze" the leaf (or leaves) while twisting the camera during a 1/40 sec. exposure. Oh, and the leaf is falling (not from the tree but from my hand--many times until I got something cool). The second picture was made in similar fashion, but it's the branch is still attached to the tree.

The below images were taken of a falling leaf at night with a two--flash setup where one flash fired on first curtain synch and the second fired on rear curtain synch. A spotlight was used as a continuous light source during a 1/10 sec. exposure resulting in a sharp image of the leaf at the beginning and end of the exposure with a smooth blur in between.

The bottom immage is exactly what I had envisioned when I set it up, but on some of the shots the second flash didn't fire, such as in the one directly below. The result was still interesting.

Ultimately, this project was about serendipity. No two leaves are the same, and even the same leaf never falls the exact same way every time, so you never know what cool patterns you might get!

Fall 7

Fall 6
Fall 2

Fall 5

Fall 8

Confererate Sons...and Daughters

Confederate Sons
Reenactors Jamie Sisk, above, and Linda Hoyle take part in the proceedings of a Confederate grave marker dedication service held by the Sons of Confederate Veterans in Cherryville on Nov. 8. Sisk is dressed as a confederate soldier and Hoyle in the garb of a mourning widow.
Confederate Daughters

Abbey vs Mount Olive

Abbey v Mount Olive
Belmont Abbey's Connie Axiotis, above, is hit by Mount Olive goal keeper Jenn Sastre after Sastre received a corner kick in first round game action in the NCAA Conference Carolinas Soccer Tournament at Belmont Abbey College on Monday November 3. Below: Belmont Abbey's Lindsay Palm is congratulated by teammate Rebecca Mateo, left, after scoring the only goal of the game.

Abbey v Mount Olive 4

Abbey v Mount Olive 3

Mount Olive's Jackie Jimenez, above right, makes contact with Belmont Abbey's Lauren Faerber as the two compete for control of the ball.

Disc Golf Action

Disc Golf Action
Robert McAlpine plays disc golf on the 18-hole course at Rankin Lake Park on Saturday November 1, 2008. McAlpine was practicing for a Gaston Disc Golf Club meeting and night play Saturday evening where players use small LED lights taped to the plastic discs to play in the dark. 

It seams like the fun assignments just keep coming my way. Saturday, before heading out to shoot a high school soccer match, I was asked to do a little feature hunt for Sunday's paper.

Since the standard kids on a playground feature stuff just doesn't appeal to me, I decided a while back that the next time I was asked to get feature art I was going to shoot something I enjoyed doing like rock climbing or mountain biking. Or disc golf.

It was a beautiful fall Saturday, so I figured there would be people rock climbing and mountain biking at the local crags and trails. I even had my climbing gear in the truck with me--I just didn't have time to use it. Nor did I have time to set up lights to shoot mountain biking.

What to do?

I quickly decided I would just head over to Crowders Mountain State Park (where I spend a lot of time anyway) and get some pics of people hiking and enjoying the fall color. Not long after leaving the paper, however, inspiration stuck me like a thunderbolt.

I was driving by Rankin Lake Park, which has a superb 18-hole disc golf course I've played many times, when it became luminously obvious to me what my feature art was going to be. I found great light, some fall color, and enthusiastic subjects that helped me get the shots I needed and get out in time for soccer.

The guys were a bit surprised by the equipment I was using--namely the 400mm f/2.8 super telephoto that I was taking to the soccer match. It was a bit long (a 300mm would have been a better fit), but I made it work.

Football Season Rolls On

Grier middle school football players celebrate their 8-0 win over Southwest in the Gaston County middle school football championship game at Hunter Huss High School on Tuesday October 28.

I shot no less than three football games this week; two high school games that were rescheduled (due to rain that never came) and the Gaston County middle school football championship.

If I had gone to the Panthers NFL game on Sunday I could have made it four days straight, but that probably would've sent me to the nuthouse! Besides, I had a fun and better-paying assignment on Sunday--more on that later.

In any event, I thought I'd blog my favorite photo from each game. Enjoy.

A member of the Bessemer City High School color guard (above) performs during halftime in a game between Lincolnton and Bessemer City on Monday October 27. Below: Brandon Stamey looks to evade North Lincoln defender Pat Sykes (#26) as he returns a kick off for Cherryville High School during game action on Saturday October 25.

Softball Champs!

Softball Champs!

Chavis pitcher Paige Wyont, above on right embraces catcher Eli Warlick after Chavis defeated Cramerton to win the Gaston County middle school softball championship game at Cherryville High on Thursday. This was the last middle school game for the eighth-graders. 

Softball championship

Cramerton runner Haley Caskey is forced out at second base by Caroline Stroupe of Chavis to put up the final out in the game.

A Cold Welcome for McCain

Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain waits in a vehicle with wife Cindy after arriving at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport on his "Straight Talk Express" campaign jet on Friday October 17, 2008. McCain will be making a speach in Concord on Saturday.

The Gazette received a press release from the McCain campaign on Friday that lead us to believe the Senator would be speaking briefly after arriving at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport that evening.

My evening assignment to shoot a high school homecoming parade had been rained out, so with nothing else to do I was eager to shoot some national news.

As it turns out, the only thing I shot was McCain walking down the steps of is jet, getting in an SUV, and being whisked away in his motorcade without so much as a glance or a wave! I felt like some sort of paparazzi!

Apparently, the vague press release was simply notifying media when and where McCain would be arriving so we could get shots of him doing just that. A simple phone call probably would have cleared things up, but instead I waited ignorantly in the cold, rainy darkness in front of a Wilson Air terminal for basically nothing.

I sent in all of two pictures in case they wanted to preview his speech in nearby Concord on Saturday, but--not surprisingly--none ran.

The truth is, I was getting up very early the next day shoot McCain's speech, so I was thrilled to be getting out of there earlier than expected. While the other Gazette photogs were out shooting prep football in the cold rain I was relaxing at home!

High School Cross Country Action

Runners take off at the start of the men's event, above, in the Big South 3A/4A Conference Cross Country Championship at Ashbrook High School on October 14. Forestview runners, below, rub dirt from their school in their hands in an effort to gain a bit of home-field advantage prior to competing in the race. Bottom: North Gaston runners relax after the meet.

Forestview runner Brandon Rouse catches his breath after crossing the finish line in the men's event.

Muni Monday

Mountain Unicyclist
Top and bottom: Josh Taylor rides his mountain unicycle--MUni for short--on the trails at George Poston Park in Lowell on Monday. Below left: Taylor poses for a portrait with his unicycle.

It's a safe bet, I believe, that most people in Gaston County wouldn't know what a MUni is. That is until they pick up their Sunday paper this week.

Yesterday, Gazette reporter Bernie Petit and I met up with Josh Taylor at George Poston Park in Lowell where Taylor and others have worked hard to build some truly outstanding mountain bike trails. It wasn't mountain biking that I was there to shoot though, but mountain unicycling--MUni for short.

They aren't as fast as a bike, topping out at a whopping 6-7 miles per hour (a fast walk speed), but they don't lack for fun or excitement. If the potential for whipeouts equates to excitement then unicycles may even have an edge over their two-wheeled brethren.

So is mountain unicycling the next big outdoor sports phenomena? Who knows, but already there's a dedicated handful in the greater Charlotte area getting together for rides. Pick up this Sunday's edition of The Gaston Gazette or go to to read more about Taylor and his new sport.

Mountain Unicyclist 2

Lending a Helping Hand at As One Ministries

As One Ministries

Rick Barnett, left, receives a donated coat at As One Ministries, inc. in Gastonia on Saturday. Boy Scouts Jon Edmund, Robbie Gamble, Justin Cobb, and Chance Branham, in background, were dropping off the coats they had collected as a service project.

As One Ministries, inc.--an organization helping the less fortunate through a day shelter for the homeless and other services, was also putting on a neighborhood cookout Saturday, offering free haircuts, eyebrow waxing and manicures. Leon Byrd, left, reacts as he gets a haircut from Betty "Beejay" Jones at a community cookout.



With the fans reflected in his visor, Carolina running back DeAngelo Williams runs through the end zone for a touchdown in the first half against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday October 5, 2008. The Panthers defeated the the Chiefs 34-0.

Monday Night Football--High School Style

Ashbrook v Crest

Asbrook High School's Jheranie Boyd carries the ball in game action against Crest at home on Monday September 29, 2008.

Golf Action

Gaston County Amateur Golf
2004 tournament champion Jonathan McDonald hits his ball out of a sand trap during the Gaston County Amateur Golf Championships at Gaston Municipal Golf Course on Saturday September 27, 2008.
David McMahan watches his ball during a round in the Gaston County Amateur Golf tournament on Saturday.

Fighting for gas in Belmont

Waiting for gas in Belmont
A motorist who would not give her name waits in line to get gas at Dale's Bait and Tackle in Belmont on Thursday September 25. Many motorists had been in line at this station for almost an hour, and with the owner of the station predicting that his gas would run out soon, many in line were unsure whether they would be able to purchase gas at all. Below: Just part of the line of cars at Dale's Bait and Tackle that spilled out several hundred yards in both directions.

People were literally fighting for gasoline in Belmont today. Police responded to the Petro Express at HW 74 and N. Main Street around 5:00pm after a fist fight broke out between two motorists waiting to buy gas.

According to Sargent Spry of the Belmont PD, police don't want to ration fuel or restrict access, but when people are fighting in the street and lines are causing traffic backups they have to step in to maintain order. Police were forced to turn motorists away in an effort to ease congestion, and asked that drivers who were not in immediate danger or running out leave.

Within fifteen minutes of arriving, the police had eliminated the traffic congestion, but many were still Left waiting. Several drivers had been in line for over an hour and a half, but some made it to the front of the line only to find station employees putting plastic bags over empty pumps.

The store manager, who declined to give his name, stated that the station had been receiving shipments of gas each morning, but high demand has lead to dry pumps each day this week by about 5:00pm.

Just a few miles down the road, a similar scene was playing out at Dale's Bait and Tackle on HW 74 and Catawba Street where lines stretched several hundred yards down both roads.

While the lines were long, they were moving, and the police never had to be called to this station. The station owner, who would only give his name as Dale, stated that he had been directing traffic all day and keeping the lines moving smoothly.

Dale estimated that he would run out of gasoline later this evening, and wasn't sure when he would get more. When asked if he would ration gas, Dale said no.

With stations running out of gasoline across the region there are many anxious motorists tonight. NC Governor Mike Easley assured the state that more gas was on the way, but with little or no idea when we can expect to see stability in supply, many are still unsure how they will fuel up in coming days.

Right: Dale, owner of Dale's Bait and Tackle, watches the pumps at his station on Highway 74 in Belmont on Thursday.

Obama returns to Charlotte (Barack this time)

Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) brought his message of change to Charlotte Sunday, where he spoke to a crowd of over 20,000 people gathered in the streets of uptown.

In a location in front of the Charlotte Federal Building seemingly chosen more for security reasons than for viewablility, Obama attacked John McCain and the economic policies McCain shares with President Bush and denounced the republicans for trying to market themselves as agents of change.

Obama had scheduled a visit to the queen city in July, but was forced to cancel when his chartered plane was forced to make an emergency landing with mechanical issues. Since July, the traditionaly republican North Carolina has become a legitimate battleground state where polls indicate the vote could go either way--a fact that hasn't slipped past the Obama Campaign.

This week alone has seen three visits from the campaign. One week ago on Sunday Sep. 14 Vice Presidential nominee Joe Biden spoke in Charlotte and Michelle Obama hosted a roundtable discussion on women's issues on Thursday just blocks away from where her husband spoke yesterday.

With less than two months until election day, it is expected that the Obama Campaign will be visiting North Carolina again next month. At this time the McCain campaign has not announced any plans to to appear in the state.

View more photos from the event at

Rockets on wheels

Pro Stock- Greg Anderson
Charlotte native Greg Anderson, above, gets a little sideways as he performs a burn out before his first qualifying run during the inaugural running of the NHRA Carolina Nationals at the new zMax Dragway in Concord on Sept. 12. Gary Scelzi, below, drives his nitro funny car in the first of two qualifying runs on Friday. Jerry Toliver, bottom, performs a burn out in his nitro funny car during the first of two qualifying rounds on Friday.

Funny car- Gary Scelzi

Funny car- Jerry Toliver

It's hard to describe the feeling of standing not 20 feet away from an 8,000 horsepower monster on wheels whizzing by at over 100 miles per hour.

Not that 100 miles per hour is all that fast for these cars--they'll be going over 330 mph by the end of the quarter-mile drag strip-- 100mph is about how fast they are traveling when they pass the end of the photographers area 200 feet from the start line (where I was standing).

The Gazette sent me out to the new zMax Dragway in Concord on Friday to get some shots of the action in the inaugural running of the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Carolina Nationals drag race, and the experience was right on the knife edge between thrilling and chilling.

People can tell you these cars are loud, that they shake the ground like an earthquake, that they almost knock you off your feet when they go by, how they choke the air with nitromethane fumes and tire smoke... but none of that can prepare you for the experience of actually being there.

I suppose a description of the photo are is in order here; the drag strip consists of two lanes about 20 wide with a yellow line in between and a knee-high concrete wall on either side. On one side of the wall is a race car, on the other side is a bunch of photographers.

And when the green lights go on for the first nitro car you can tell which photographers have been to one of these events before. The nitro cars are unlike anything else on earth except maybe the space shuttle or a Saturn V rocket. They spew nitro fumes almost 100 feet into the air--and that's just when they're idling!

When the first nitro cars came to the line I looked through my camera ready to shoot, and then it happened. It wasn't the sound of a car engine as mere mortals know it, but instead the scream and roar of (seemingly) the Earth itself being torn asunder. In an instant the cars take a set, shoot out amber flames and shred the air around you into a dozen ninjas that kick you in the chest at the same time.

I ducked for cover while the NHRA staff photographer next to me just smirked at my awkward initiation to the sport.

During a break in the action I asked him if he thought it was safe standing this close to the action with nothing but that knee-high wall between us and an 8,000 horsepower death machine. No, he said, but in thirteen years of shooting the sport he's only seen three photographers get killed.


And this after one of the pro stock drivers got a little sideways and headed straight towards me a few minutes earlier. I wasn't in any real danger, but when a dragster gets out of control and gets pointed your way it gets your attention.

Fortunately, I kept my finger on the button and got this unique shot below.