So, What’s your day job ???

A conversation with Alex Arredondo

By day, Alex is an undercover detective for the Los Angeles Police Department. But his passion is photography. I was coaching Alex when the idea for this series hit me. While there are tons of people shooting photos and owning professional level gear most of you are not fulltime working photographers. I did a quick survey of my students and found quite a few people had really cool day jobs. Since I love LA and he’s got a gun plus a badge we’ll start the series with Alex.

The Picture Coach: Give us a little background info to get us started:
Alex Arredondo: I’m 44 years old; I grew up in Los Angeles and have been with the Los Angeles Police Department for over 22 years. I have worked as a patrol officer; assigned to the Violent Fugitive Task Force, as a detective I’ve investigated everything from Domestic Violence to Homicide. I’m currently working an undercover assignment.

TPC: How’d you first get interested in joining the LAPD?
AA: I joined LAPD because of TV programs like Adam-12, CHIPs and Dragnet.

TPC: Like many of us, you started taking photos in High School. Did you take any photos back then that you were proud of or that you remember?
I thought photography would be an easy “A” but was I wrong. We shot with a Pentax K1000 and had to process the black and white film in the school darkroom. I loved getting the reaction from my classmates and one picture got lots of reaction. I was shooting a HS football game and captured a wide receiver getting hit really hard by a defensive back. The player was really close to me and you could see the pain in his eyes. My teacher submitted the photo to the LA Times. It was awarded some type of award for great sports photos! I still have the photo packed in a box.

TPC: Are there skills that you developed as a policeman that carry over as a photographer?

AA: As a police officer, you need command presents. As a photographer that’s a quality that gets you in places that the “Average Joe” can’t.

TPC: If you could assist one photographer for a day, who would it be?
Sports shooter Dave Black– I’ve seen his work on the web and on the Nikon site. I hate photographers that set everything to automatic, stand straight up and never change their camera position. That’s not Dave’s style at all. His action photos are so impressive and he can also shoot very creative nighttime photos as well. Great range.

TPC: Everyone talks about having a five-year plan. What about you Alex, what do you want to be doing in five years?
AA: I have five more years before I can retire from my law-enforcement job. My goal is to be a professional sports photographer. My dream is to shoot a “Super Bowl” or World Series. I just don’t know where to start.

Alex, as a picture coach I tell students you must be able to walk before you run. By that, I mean you must know the craft of photography backwards and forward. You need to be able to capture peak action at every game you go to. Great sports shooters like Dave Black have a well-honed sense of timing. A Nikon hitting 9-frames-a-second is helpful but the top shooter doesn’t depend on that alone.
If you want to get good at shooting sports give yourself assignments. Go to a little league game or a middle school game on assignment—for yourself. Make a list of what needs to be photographed just like you were shooting for Sports Illustrated. Obviously, you need great action photos but there’s a twist. It can’t be just any cool action shot; it needs to be pictures that tell the story of the game. What do I mean? Lets say the home team wins the game on a 45-yard- pass play at the end of the third quarter. If you were shooting for SI you’d call your editor after the game and the very first thing out of his mouth would be—“ Did you get the play???” That’s what’s expected of top shooters. You need more than just some random shots of people jumping for balls. That’s a good starting point but to really excel at sports photography you need to be a student of the sport.

Enough talk, lets take a look at Alex’s pictures:

WOW—I just love this shot and it really caught me off guard. I had been talking to Alex about maybe shooting some portraits in the fire station he hangs out in and the next thing you know he emails this image. Great drama, strong composition and by using a slow shutter speed he was able to “burn in” the lamp the fireman had on his helmet. The only down side to this photo? I want to see more dramatic portraits like this one!

You want fire photos , Alex has plenty of those to choose from. This is a dramatic shot and the color is very very intense. I like the shot, it’s a classic spot news photo and you see a ton of fire photos in the newspaper but I just wonder. What if he had been shooting with a 70-200mm lens, and zoomed in really tight on the fireman. That might have been an even more dramatic shot. I encouraged him to get a shot like this one and then get much tighter.

Here is what Alex says about this photo: I arrived at an accident scene involving a drunk driver early on a Sunday morning. As I walked around the scene, I saw a child car seat on the ground. I then saw “it”, the Pink Doll on the roadway with shattered car glass. The sun was so intense that I need to darken my background. I ran to me car and grabbed my flash, placed it on full power, closed down my F-stop and took this image. Luckily, the child was not in the car.

I’m not a big fan of students shooting with wide-angle lens. Those lenses are very seductive. Everything tends to look great through the viewfinder but later, on closer inspection the magic of the moment is lost. You now see the clutter you missed when you shot the picture. Alex avoided those pitfalls by getting on the ground for a low angle view. By putting the camera down low it made a nice clean dramatic image.

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