Guest Blogger Christopher Mitchell Shares an Inspiring Collage - and story


First of all, I want to thank Rick Sammon for taking the time to speak with me at the Photo Pro Expo in Northern Kentucky/Cincinnati Ohio about the story behind this collage. He is one of the best, fun filled, speakers that I have sat down and listened to. It's a great pleasure to participate in the blog series.

The story behind the collage, my wife (Connie) and I have been taking photos of my son and daughter’s soccer teams for years, but 2012 was different than any year before it.  What happened on Oct 6th 2012 challenged us in many ways, bad and good.  That was the day Jacob Amberger was killed in a tragic car accident on his way to the school, to get on the bus, for the semifinal sectionals. 

He had just turned 17 a week prior.  He was a great kid and it hit the soccer community very hard.  My wife and I were half way to the game when we got a text from our son that said, “I’m at the high school cafeteria”, we both had a bad feeling something terrible had happened.  We were about 30 minutes out and my wife started to make some calls to find out what was going on.  Then the worst nightmare was confirmed, one of our soccer players was taken away from us way too soon.  As I drove, every photo that I took of Jacob over the last 2 years started flowing through my mind.  First it was sad, but then I started to think about what I could do to help out the family with this heavy loss.  The ideas just started flowing.

Every year I make a 12” X 36” inch collage of the seniors and this year I wanted to do an HDR background.  On Saturday, August 4th   around noon, we went to the high school soccer field to do some background photos for this year’s collages.  I went to every side of the field and shot many angles, we went home to process the photos in Light room and then in Photoshop to work on the HDR portion of it. And one stood out more than the others.


Info for image above:
HDR Photograph with a Canon 5D mark III
Lens EF 16-35mm F/2.8 L lens
Focal length 16mm
Bracketed 3 stops: 1st 1/2500 2nd 1/8000 3rd 1/640

The images for my HDR image were taken mid-day and the sun was straight above us, but I wanted more of a night look so I edited it to get this look.  At the time I wish I had the lights on, but I learned how to create them later with Photoshop.  Now I had my background, and I only needed the season to start, to get some photos of the seniors in action.

The season started and we shot photo after photo of the boys, I could finally get to work on the senior collages.  We only had 5 seniors this year, not like the 8 the year before, so it wouldn't be as difficult this year.  I found 5 good action photos of the 5 seniors and used refined edge to cut them out, and change some color and lighting in the levels panel, to make them look like they belonged with the background.  It turned out like this.


Above: Original photo before I used the quick selection tool and refine edge. 


Above: The end results of the cut out, by using the mask technique

Here’s the final collage, after I cut out all the seniors from there action shots.


Above: Finished collage of the seniors: I used guides to center the players in the frame

But I wasn’t finished with this collage yet.

Now you get the rest of the story, as we're on our way to the school, Connie text our son, “we’ll get there as fast as we can”, I couldn't get those photos of Jacob out of my head, they just kept repeating.  When Connie and I got to the school everyone was there, it was a challenge not to think of what, how, and why this happened, what we could do or say, how could I help at such an overwhelming time?  We all went to a church and prayed for the team and supported the boys, students kept showing up to share their memories of Jacob and just to be close to his family and friends.  It was the worst day of my life, as I imagine it was for most of the soccer team.  We all commented on how the boys all matured that week and how proud the coaches were of all of them.  I will tell you this, the community really came together and took care of each other that night.

I knew I wanted to do something for Jacob’s family and I figured out why those photos wouldn't stop coming.  The first thing I did was release every photo we had taken of Jacob this year on Facebook so his friends and family could see them and remember how remarkable this young man was.  That night I stayed up until 4:00 am working on the collage and going through a ton of photos.  Jacob was a great kid and his collage should be equally as special.  

After I thought I completed it, I went to Staples to get a quick print (they do great work BTW), we were having some problems with the file, it wouldn't save correctly, but after an hour or so it was finally saved to their system.  While printing the collage, the players’ names on the bottom right were all blurry and that was our first sign that Jacob was watching over us.  Staples reprinted it, and someone touched the collage in the upper right hand corner before it was fully dry.  So Staples printed it a 3rd time, I’m sure Jacob was frustrated by this time that he let it print incorrectly, so Connie, after picking it up, started looking it over and realized that I had forgotten to put the seniors names back on the collage.  

Connie called me at home and let me know the news, so I fixed it and it was ready to be printed the following day.  The next morning, when Connie went to drop it off, their printer was down; she called me and let me know that if they couldn't print it in Harrison they would go to Colerain to get it printed.  

Well, Staples got the printer to come online and they printed it for the 4th time.  We thought it was finished, but Jacob had one more thing up his sleeve (he was always quite the jokester), somehow out of all the names on the team list, there was one misspelled, his brother Jason's in the lower right hand corner.  I cut and pasted the names directly off of our website with all of the boy's albums, so how could this happen?  

I think a very special young man, up in heaven, is the only one who knows the answer to that one.  Connie has always believed in angels, and I think the entire team has their own special angel watching over them now.  They did finally win the final game of the sectionals a week later…for Jacob.  So that’s the story behind the collage and how it was made, and here’s the final product, even though it looks like each image of Jacob is from the same game, they are all from separate games and at the  time I didn't even realize I was picking images that look like they were in sequence.

 “What is a photo worth today? Absolutely nothing… but tomorrow it starts creating value that eventually becomes priceless.”  (Christopher Mitchell)

Here are both photos at Smugmug at a larger size.

I need to give a shout out to Smugmug and Bay Photo, they together donated 45-6” x 18” collages to the coaches and to Jacob teammates.

Hope you enjoy the story and my work on this collage

Contact info:

Christopher Mitchell