A look back: The Union Multimedia Reporter Elias Funez selects his top photos of the year | TheUnion.com

A look back: The Union Multimedia Reporter Elias Funez selects his top photos of the year

It was family night out at The Nevada City Film Festival Tuesday, Sept. 1, when a series of family and children’s film shorts were shown on an inflatable screen for drive-in movie goers in the parking lot of the Nevada County Fairgrounds.
Elias Funez

It’s never easy picking my top photos each year.

Over the span of a year I can shoot through thousands of frames on my camera and spend hundreds of hours more editing and weeding through the excess photos that don’t make the cut.

Being the go-to photographer for The Union is a labor of love that comes with its challenges, to say the least.

Whether it be trying to gain access to a wildfire or natural disaster, or keeping cool when protesters get in your face, it’s a job that bears witness to the “highs” and the “lows” that occur in our community.

While this year feels like there may have been more “lows” due to the coronavirus and social unrest, there hasn’t been a lack of bright spots to take in along the way.

Nevada City Film Festival Drive-In

One of my favorite fun nights to photograph this year was during the Nevada City Film Festival’s drive-in film showings that it set up in a parking lot of the Nevada County Fairgrounds.

It felt good to be back on the fairgrounds’ property since it had been closed since March, even if it was just in the parking lot, but I didn’t know quite what to expect.

Aside from the challenges that photographing on a tripod at night provide, I knew the vehicles would also make for some difficulties in trying to convey what’s going on.

What I didn’t expect was that the children (and some parents) would be sitting on the roofs of their vehicles casting silhouettes toward my camera as they watched the children’s films.

I took hundreds of images that night with the moment chosen when the character on screen seemed to be winking back at this one boy sitting alone on top of an SUV.

Smoke from the Bear Fire/North Complex

Smoke from the Bear Fire/North Complex wildfire burning in Plumas County visible from Grass Valley Sept. 8 sent an ominous reminder of the need to be fire safe and have a go-bag ready if called to evacuate.
Elias Funez

Every time I see this image of the smoke from the Bear Fire/North Complex, it stops me dead in my tracks.

I was working on editing photos for an article regarding the PG&E Public Safety Power Shut-offs when all of a sudden the room I was working in went dark.

I had been keeping an eye on the smoke from this particular fire, but a flare up of the conflagration sent a nasty black plume of smoke over Grass Valley.

In the coming days the smoke would begin to settle over much of Northern California, causing hazardous and unhealthy breathing conditions.

The Jones Fire at night

The Jones Fire burns up a slope of the South Yuba River Canyon on the night of Aug. 18, when containment of the fire went down from 15 percent to 5 percent due to the fire’s growth. The local air attack base used a record amount of retardant dropped on a single day on the fire that burned 705 acres and multiple homes before being stopped.
Elias Funez

The Jones Fire, which started the morning of Aug. 17 by a lightning strike, quickly burned up a canyon of the South Yuba River, taking with it a number of homes and outbuildings before firefighters could stop its progress.

As destructive and unfortunate as fires are, they are still one of my favorite assignments to cover. The ability to get information out to people during a crisis is one reason why many journalists join the cause. Being in the canyon of the South Yuba River, I was unable to provide the type of live broadcasts that I’ve done in the past, but I was able to capture some images that I thought portrayed the destructive force of this fire and the dangers it posed to the community and firefighters.

The image was taken, handheld at 1/13th of second with a 200mm lens at f2.8.

In the details you can see the LED headlamps of firefighters working all through the night to control this flank of the fire.

Bear River High School graduation

A Bear River graduate poses with the poster board photos of his fellow classmates during Bear River High School’s walk up graduation ceremony May 19. Students were given time slots to show up.
Elias Funez

2020 was filled with surreal scenes unlike any other due to folks having to deal with the devastating effects of COVID-19.

Graduation day in May at Bear River High School was unlike any other.

The stands were bare, and the cheers were non-existent.

Pomp and circumstance played on repeat to the point that administrators there probably never want to hear that song again.

But the seniors continued to smile, even as they posed with their cardboard classmates set up in the field where they would have sat during a normal graduation ceremony.

Fire in Smartsville

A firefighter begins an attack on a July 9 spot fire of the Smartsville Fire in Yuba County. The forward progress of the fire was held at 6 acres.
Elias Funez

I’ve heard many times from other photojournalists along the way, that there’s nothing like strapping on the wide angle lens when reporting on wildfires.

This fire that started in Smartsville proper on July 9 proved that point.

I strive to be as safe and quick about my wits while in the thick of a wildfire, but there’s always some sort of unknown that you have to be prepared for.

By the time I arrived on scene it appeared that the fire was getting under control.

I positioned myself near a Cal Fire engine near the Smartsville Post Office, which had just been saved on one side from the encroaching fire.

However, with a quick change in the wind, the fire was once again threatening the post office and I happened to be in the right place at the right time to capture this shot.

To contact Multimedia Reporter Elias Funez, email efunez@theunion.com or call 530-477-4230.


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