Desert Sun Photo Staff’s Best of 2013

December 24th, 2013 | by Marilyn Chung | Comments

As the year comes to an end, the photo staff likes to take a moment to reflect on what their favorite photos are from 2013.  Our photojournalists cover many different events in the Coachella Valley, and here are just a few of the photos that each staffer chose as their favorite from this year.  For the full photo gallery.

Jay Calderon


In July, a large column of smoke rises from the Mountain Fire as seen from the Bonita Vista area near Lake Hemet in yet another HDR picture from several exposures.  (Jay Calderon/The Desert Sun)

I chose this photo because I’m guilty of overusing the HDR (High Dynamic Range) process of photography this year and this one was my best example.

The image I thought worked well because it gave a sense of how devastating the Mountain Fire was.   To me the photo really looks more like a volcano explosion than a wildfire.

Note: HDR is a process in which two or more separate exposures of the same composition are combined into one picture, using software.


Crystal Chatham


A bird flies on Thursday, May 2, 2013 over a field that burned on Wednesday as the Summit Fire came up a canyon, through this field, and over Joe Kiener’s home in the hills near Banning, Calif. (Crystal Chatham/The Desert Sun)

My favorite shot of 2013 is one that never ran in print.

Wildfire season got underway much earlier than usual and on May 2, I was sent to chase smoke and flames as the Summit Fire burned in the Banning bench area.

My shooting day began at the home of Joe Kiener, the one bench area resident whose house was destroyed when the initial flames swept up a canyon the day before.

At Kiener’s house it was windy. Gritty, actually. A mixture of ash and sand pelted anything or anyone who dared stand cross-wind. I broke out the ballistic goggles from my pack and pushed forward as Kiener offered to give me a tour of what was left of his home.

I’ll never forget the small glass jar he found in the rubble and clutched in his palm. The jar was empty, but Kiener had plans for it. He said he would fill it with his mother’s ashes. She had died not many weeks before the fire and this had been the home they shared.

As more media arrived, I thanked Joe for his time and began to walk the perimeter of his property.

Next to his lot stood a barren field at the canyon’s edge. It was charred from the fire and still hot to the touch.

A single bird, whose feathers appeared darkened from the ash and soot, flew at low altitude gliding in swooping circles over the terrain. Wings outstretched, it seemed to be looking for clearance to land… somewhere. Anywhere.

I stood there for several minutes watching the bird. My blackened boots were firmly planted and ashen goggles focused, just feet away from commotion of cars and cars of media members (including my own), a television station’s satellite truck and the remains of one man’s home.

I held my long glass steady and kept shooting. I could only think of one thing: nature disrupts, but nature carries on.

At some point the bird would have to land. It would have to move forward.

This photo never ran in print.

On May 3, 2013 my front page photo was of a water-dropping helicopter. Inside a shot showed firefighters pulling one another up the area’s steep terrain. Both shots showed the story of the day: wildfire ravages Banning bench area and firefighters are on working tirelessly to control it.

In going through my clips of the year, this shot still resonates with me. 2013 was a year of covering wildfires. It started with this one. I was out on the Mountain Fire, the Rosa Fire, and the Silver Fire as well. I chased a lot of smoke and saw a lot of flames through the viewfinder this year.

But amid it all one shot stands out.

While creating this shot on that day I observed and felt a moment of peace and balance amid chaos and destruction. Nature carries on. And I knew Joe Kiener would, too.


Richard Lui

TDS SilverFire

Dave Clark, of Twin Pines, tells a neighbor  their house is ok as his own house burns on Wednesday, August 7, 2013. The rapidly growing Silver Fire has burned over 5000 acres. (Richard Lui/The Desert Sun)

I normally don’t like to photograph fires. A good fire photo involves someone having perhaps the worst day of their life.

But this photo Dave Clark telling his neighbors that their homes are OK as his burns represents to me the best in man.


Omar Ornelas


At left, Timothy Bradley Jr. gets ready to answer the bell for the fourth round during his WBO Welterweight Championship bout against Ruslan Provodnikov as his trainer Joel Diaz yells at him to keep to the fight plan after nearly being knocked out twice in the first three rounds. Bradley would go on to win the bout in a unanimous 12 round decision but suffered a concussion do to the punishment he received.  (Omar Ornelas/The Desert Sun)

I’ve been privileged to photograph boxing in the Coachella Valley for the past 10 years.  It has given me insight into the relationships between boxers and their trainers.

One of the most dynamic of relationships I have witnessed is between Joel Diaz and Timothy Bradley. During Bradley’s match against Ruslan Provodnikov, Bradley decided to throw the game plan out the window and stood toe to toe with the Russian slugger.

I could hear Joel yelling at Timothy from across the ring as he instructed Timothy to stop “expletive” around. I wanted to get that image that would show the intensity and frustration of Joel Diaz seeing his boxer receive unnecessary punishment.

I could not get a photograph of Joel facing Bradley because I was on Provodnikov’s side and during the rounds, my view was of Joel’s back instructing Timothy.

Finally as the stool was taken and Bradley was standing ready to begin the fourth round, Joel paused for a moment before exiting the ring and looked at Timothy and raised his finger yelling at his boxer to box. I knew I had an image that defined what it took to save the fight because I understood the dynamic of their relationship was based on trust and, in a sport of violence, sometimes it takes a trusted trainer to bring you back from deep waters.


Michael Snyder


A wall of rain is seen behind the airport near downtown Palm Springs as a cold front enters the valley area. (Michael Snyder/The Desert Sun)

This is one of my favorite images only because of the absolute delineation of rain vs no rain.

I had left the building to get some weather art of an incoming storm front, and immediately saw this striking wall of cloud and rain at right, and relative clear at left. I had never seen anything like it before.


Marilyn Chung


(From left) Jarvis II, 9, Jarvis, 37, Zhavré, 13, and Reshaé, 34, use family road trips as a way to stay connected as a family.  The family poses for a portrait for the Families of the Coachella Valley project on Sunday, November 17, 2013 in Desert Hot Springs, Calif. (Marilyn Chung/The Desert Sun)

My favorite photo from 2013 comes from my favorite project, which was the Families of the Coachella Valley project.

The purpose of the project was to showcase the diverse families in the Coachella Valley.  I found the families, made contact with them and organized the photo shoots to highlight how each family spends their quality time.

After talking with Jarvis about his family, I learned that family trips were a way the family tried to stay connected in their busy lives.  Since the photos in this project were all portraits, I immediately had an idea of what I wanted the photo to look like.

As photojournalists, very seldom do we have control over the outcome of a photograph. This was one of the rare occasions that I had complete control over the photograph and it came out exactly as I had wanted it to.  This project also produced my favorite video from 2013.


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