Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Immediately after the Majestics game the Royals squared off against the Delaware Dynasty. Game time was scheduled for 7:30pm and it started off pretty much on time. I was pleased that they got the game started on time because after the Majestics left the sun was rapidly dwindling. The sun provides such great color on the subjects, especially when it gets low and gets red.

I had to make a few adjustments to my ISO and White Balance settings to accommodate the changing light conditions. I started off at ISO 100 and by the end of the shoot I was all the way up at 1600. Unfortunately this greatly increased the noise in my shots and decreased the quality. I also transitioned from Sun WB to Shade to overhead lights. I thought about trying out the coffee filter method again and compare it to the built-in WB setting for overhead lights. But my bag was out in my car and that was a little distance away. And at that point I was on my feet for about 12 hours shooting during the day. So the built-in WB setting for overhead lights worked just fine.

I had a lot of trouble with the autofocus system and the soccer players. I started shooting the game while sitting down and I used continuous spot focus. However, I noticed that several of my shots were focused on the grass beneath the players rather than on the players. I wonder if this has anything to do with how the autofocus system works (in checking the variation in contrast) - perhaps the blades of vertical grass throw off the autofocus system. I originally started out using a matrix autofocus but switched the spot thinking that might improve the focus. It did... slightly... I also noticed that switching from sitting down to being on my knees helped a lot. Towards the end of the night I stood fully upright and that seemed to do the trick. However, that reduces the bokeh in my pictures... So I'm going to have to give that some thought.

I was also very happy to see that my EN-EL3E batteries held up the entire day. I'm very proud of them, and I'm going to go out and purchase 2 more to use as emergency backups. I'm going to ditch the AAs as an emergency backup because they simply could not stand up to the load. Nikon did a great job with those batteries.

I'm also very pleased to report that I have my first photography "job" thanks to Jake at the Bowie Blade. He assigned me a test event (the lacrosse tournament), and said that if he was happy with my work he would offer me additional assignments. I finally got my pictures through to him today and his response was very positive. It sounds like he's going to offer me additional events to cover in the future, and I'm very excited about that. I'm looking forward to one day being able to attend events for free and have my pictures published somewhere and I look at the Blade as my first step in this process.

Jake also connected me with a sports website named the "DC Sports Box". Al Santos is a photographer/editor there and he covers a lot of Maryland events. Al and Jake worked together to set up the DC Sports Box, and Jake thinks I should contact Al. I'd like it very much if Al and the people at the DC Sports Box allow me to tag along on some events. I learn a lot when I'm with professional photographers, and the more exposure I can get to games alongside professionals the better I become. I sent a message to the DC Sports Box via their Contact Us page and I'm waiting to hear back from them. Hopefully there will be positive news...

On an unrelated note... I'm heading to North Carolina for a week or so. Work has been really bad lately and my wife and I would like to spend some time away from the computer. As a result we're extending our Memorial Day weekend and heading out of town early on Thursday evening. We're also not returning until the weekend after Memorial Day. I'll have my camera with me and I'll be shooting throughout the week but I'm not sure how much I'll post up here. This is intended to be a photoblog with an emphasis on sports, but at this point I don't have any software set up to display my photoresume. As a result I use the blog for pictures of family (like yesterday). So the bottom line is: I'm not sure how busy this blog will be over the next week or so. It's not like it matters tho - I'm convinced that the only readers of it are my wife and brother!

After covering the Southern Maryland Lacrosse Association Tournament during the day on Saturday I headed south to Woodbridge Virginia to cover some soccer games. I contacted the Northern Virginia Royals and Majestics earlier in the week and asked if they needed a volunteer photographer to cover their games. If you've been following my blog you know that I'm looking around everywhere for games to shoot.

After having a great time covering the Southern Maryland Youth LacrFortunately somebody from the team responded and invited me out to the shoot. The teams play at Gar Field in Woodbridge, which is about 40 miles from College Park. However, I drive about 35 miles to work every day so I wasn't too concerned about the distance. It also seems like most of the Majestics/Royals games take place on Saturday nights, which means that traffic around the Capital Beltway and down 95 shouldn't be too bad. I was able to make it from the SMYLA field in Mitchelville to the soccer field in less than an hour. And, while I drove I recharged one of my EN-EL3E batteries.

I didn't quite know what to expect because I've been to very few soccer games. I attended a Freedom game a few years ago, but it was in RFK and this was at a high school field. So I didn't know if there would be a large crowd or other photographers present.

The crowd was decent, and there was another photographer present. After speaking with him I found out that he's just covering the women's games for his website. To my surprise he wasn't hostile towards me (I expected he would because I thought I might be trespassing on his turf!). We exchanged notes and contact information, and he offered some interesting advice.

He was shooting with a D1H and a D1X using my 70-200/2.8 lens as well as a 300/2.8 prime. He told me that he typically shoots single frames at a time (no continuous shooting). He said he prefers that way because it reduces his post-processing time. I suppose if you're good enough to only need 1 shot to capture the moment then that works out great. But for me I need several shots before I can get the one great shot. None-the-less it was interesting to hear his perspective.

Another photographer from the Terrapin Times has a similar system. He insists on making your 1 shot count. Interestingly, he shoots with a D1H as well. The frame rate on those cameras is 3fps I believe - I wonder if they would use the same approach if they had a D2XS (8fps)...

Overall the shoot went pretty well. I made a pretty big mistake tho when I started shooting. The Royals and the Majestics share the same website and the same color-theme for their uniforms. When I looked at the site I focused on the Royals, who's pictures showed them wearing blue uniforms with yellow highlights. When I arrived at the field the Majestics were playing. The uniforms for the Majestics and the Wildcats both lacked any recognizable logos or team names (although they did have the name of their sponsor prominently displayed!). I mistakenly believed that because the Royals wore blue that the Majestics wore blue as well. As a result I focused on shooting the wrong team for 1/2 the game!

At half time I changed my position on the field and shot from behind the benches. At that point I noticed that the players I thought were the Wildcats all had backpacks that said Majestics. At that point I quickly started shooting the "other" team!

It's pretty embarassing but understandable. I hadn't ever met the team before, and the website made it appear as tho the Majestics wore blue. And since the uniforms didn't not have anything recognizable on them how could you tell? I was just happy that I switched positions at half time and was able to get some decent shots in the 2nd half.

As my experience increases I've learned that a lot of the best shots occur after the action ends. For example, after a player scores there's often a celebration on the field that makes a great shot. Also, getting shots of the team's reaction is a great opportunity. Coaches often present opportunities as well. After the game there was a great opportunity as the players signed autographs for the fans. In doing so the team happened to look towards the light and as a result their faces were lit up perfectly. You literally couldn't have positioned them in a better place. I was torn when selecting which photos to use for this blog: many of the best ones are of the players after the game. As a result I chose to use one of them for my opening photo, but stick with action shots for my other pictures.

Tomorrow I'll be posting my write-up of the Royals game. That was a more difficult shoot due to lighting and focus issues.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Family: Zachary's 3rd Birthday

After a sports-filled Saturday I spent Sunday afternoon at my brother-in-law's house in Finksburg Maryland. I get along well with my brother-in-law. We're very similar in a lot of respects: we both own houses, we both enjoy improving our houses, and we both are technical. In fact, we both contract to the same government agency. As a result, when we get together it's fun because I get to see what improvements he's made to his house, and we get to talk about what we're doing for our government customer.

The last time I was up at his house was at the end of March. It was my niece's 1st birthday, and my D200 had just arrived that week. I sold my D40 to a coworker along with the kit lens so I used my Dad's f1.8 50mm prime lens using Manual Focus. That event was the first time I had used Manual Focus for an event, and my shots showed my inexperience. I also made the mistake of keeping the aperture fixed at f1.8, so my depth of field was very shallow. As a result many of the shots contained a lot of out-of-focus elements. A few were good, but for the most part I underexposed and shot a lot of out-of-focus pictures.

In my defense tho, children are very difficult to shoot. My coworker (Jason) has a child and he's always remarking on how difficult it is to track and take pictures of young children. They're constantly going in and out of focus because they move towards and away from the camera compared with horizontally from the camera (without changing their distance). However, since March 30th I've covered a lot of events and I've been practicing a lot. I've learned a lot about my D200 and lens, and I was looking forward to see if my shots showed any progress.

Fortunately they did. I learned about the dot in the viewfinder in the camera the other night when I was reading about how the auto-focus system works. When the dot appears the camera reports the element in the focus-area is in-focus. I used the dot as a crutch in a lot of cases when I took my pictures. This worked out pretty well. I used spot-focus in the center with continuous focus mode (rather than spot).

I also paid a lot of attention to the ISO and white balance setting. I was sensitive to the ISO because of yesterday's shoot in open sunlight. As a result I lowered the ISO and shot in Aperture priority mode with my 50mm/1.8 lens, and paid attention to the white balance. A few test shots when I arrived looked good, and I was able to shoot in the backyard with 1/120sec shutter speed.

I took a few pictures inside while Zach was eating. They weren't very exiciting. It was difficult because he was placed in a seat with windows behind him on every side. As a result he was heavily backlit and it was difficult to properly expose his face without overexposing the background. But I treated it as a learning experience...

One thing that really shocked me was the performance of my AA alkaline batteries. Yesterday I shot almost 14 hours of events, including playback and deletion of bad shots (which required the use of the LCD). I charged my EN-EL3E batteries over night, but I forgot to pick them up before I headed up to my brother-in-law's house. As a result I had to fallback on my emergency AA batteries. These were "fresh" batteries my wife purchased for me. I loaded 6 of them into my MB-D200 battery pack thinking they would last the entire night without a problem.

I was shocked when those batteries gave out on my less than 1 hour into the evening. I took I snapped a ton of shots, and some of them are incredible. There's one I captured of my niece looking at the sand fall out of her hand with the sun setting on her. It's incredible. There are some others that I shot of Zach and his friend Riley that are great as well. Kids are difficult to shoot (as Jason always tells me) - they constantly look downwards rather than upwards, and it seems like they avoid the camera whenever possible!

None-the-less I got some great shots. The f1.8 lens really makes the shots amazing - with the backgrounds being blurred out the foreground is really drawn into focus. I'm hoping I have some more opportunities to shoot people with the f1.8 lens in the future.

Moving forward... This week I'm going to finish up posting my shots from this weekend. This basically covers the soccer games on Saturday night. Then I'm heading south the North Carolina. I'm not sure how many blog-worthy photos I'll take there. We'll see....

Last night I posted several pictures from the lacrosse tournament I covered over the weekend. However, all of the pictures captured the Bowie players. I took a lot of pictures this weekend, and I wanted to get some up on the blog as quickly as possible. So I took the pictures I cropped for the Bowie Blade and posted them on my blog. This posting focuses on some of the other pictures I took of the other teams.

As I mentioned yesterday, I had a lot of fun shooting this event. There was lots of action, the weather was great, and my camera performed very well. I still can't get over how well those EN-EL3E batteries held up!

Today a coworker who's interested in photography asked me about my "workflow". I've heard several photographers discuss this topic, and I shared my workflow with him. This is it in a nutshell...

When I get home I take my CF card and put it into a card reader attached to my Windows computer. I despise Windows... I really really despise it. But I use Windows because Explorer can rotate images quite easily. All of my vertically oriented shots have the EXIF flags set for rotation, but I've found that few applications honor that flag. Most importantly, my hosting software (Gallery) doesn't support it. Nor does Microsoft Photo Editor and IE (which most people use when looking at my pictures).

After I load my pictures onto my Windows computer's C drive I copy them to my Linux file server. Then I go over to my MacBook Pro and NFS mount my file server. With my pictures showing up in the finder I navigate to the folder and run "open *.JPG". This takes a bit to load, but I'm able to look at all my pictures one by one. Then I crop...

When I crop in Preview I'm able to save the picture as a PNG. I drop it into my Documents folder. After I finish cropping I write my blog, and lastly I review my pictures for which ones I want to attach to my post.

My friend suggested using PHPture, or SmugMug.com, but I'm not sure how practical that will be for me. I don't like keeping my image files locally on my laptop because my backup system doesn't cover my laptop in depth. I like keeping them on my RAID-5 file server where they are mirrored nightly and weekly (both locally and offsite), and dumped nightly to a NFS mount. And my files are large enough that uploading them to a hosting service would be prohibitively expensive. My shoot this weekend of the lacrosse tournament resulted in 4GB of files. There's no way I can upload that over my cable modem!

My workflow clearly isn't ideal... I'd like to avoid Windows if at all possible, but I'd rather not have to use Aperture to perform the rotations. Awhile back I wrote a Python program that used PIL to perform the rotations, but it degraded the quality. I'd like to find some easy ways to rotate my files without losing quality. If I could do that under OSX I'd be very happy.

Anyhow... I'm interested in what workflows other photographers use and what they like/dislike about them. I'm sure there are tools out there that I'm unaware of... Maybe through your comments I'll find out about some!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Jake from the Bowie Blade put me to the test this weekend by offering me an assignment to cover the annual Southern Maryland Youth Lacrosse Association Tournament held in Bowie MD. It was a 2 day event held at Mitchelville Field, and it featured a ton of games! There were 7 fields, and all the fields were running games non-stop from about 9am until 6pm on Saturday. On Sunday 3 championship games were held. There were a ton of families in attendance, many bringing out tents, chairs, food for their teams, t-shirts, and other kinds of fare.

I was looking forward to this shoot during the week because it was my first non-collegiate sporting even to cover. I didn't quite know what to expect in terms of the performance of the teams. To my surprise the players were extremely physical and competitive. I managed to capture shots of many players flying through the air or being flipped over. It's definitely changed my opinion on youth sports - they're violent and highly competitive! Definitely a plus for a sports photographer...

During the week we were watching a low pressure system form north of Bermuda and drift westward towards North Carolina. Many models disagreed on if the Low would deepend off the Carolina coast and bring clouds and rain to the Maryland region on Saturday. Fortunately for all of us the low moved northward and just gave us wind and some cumulous clouds. It was superb shooting weather - mid 70s temp, low humidity, windy, and abundant sunshine (although there were a few clouds in the afternoon).

I started off using my 200mm/2.8 lens with my 2x TC but then quickly switched to just the 200mm/2.8. Because Gary (the event organizer) expected me to be there covering the event, and Jake had assigned it to me, I didn't hesitate to walk around the various parts of the field and shoot pictures. Maryland is a Division-1 NCAA school, and sometimes the referees, coaches, and event staff are aggressive in keeping "freelance" photographers from shooting from privileged vantage points (on the field). But since I was "official" for this event I was able to move about without any problems or without any questions being asked.

Because I was shooting such fast glass on such a bright day I set the ISO down to 100. In my previous post I commented on how I learned about passive autofocus and white balance settings... Up next on my list of things to learn and understand is the difference in ISOs when you shoot below 800. I understand that anything above 800 produces noise but offers more sensitivity.. I'd like to know what the difference is between shooting 100 ISO vs 200 ISO. Maybe it's clarity?

After covering an event in 2.8 glass at ISO 100 I believe I must've made a mistake at the race track. Using ISO 100 and 2.8 glass my meter indicating a shutter speed of 1/2000sec in some instances. Granted that I was shooting children on a grass playing field (a lot less reflective area than a white parking lot with shiny race cars!) but still... Maybe I didn't properly adjust my ISO when covering the SCCA event. I'm going to ask Greg when the next event will be held at FedEx and I'm going to attend. I'll bet I just made a mistake... Live and learn I suppose.

I noticed that at the game there were some people handing out "trading cards" and "player profiles" of the various players. I had a mixed reaction to seeing those cards. I definitely understand that the economic life of a photographer is not pleasant: glass is expensive, digital bodies are outdated every 2 - 3 years, and travel to events is becoming increasingly expensive due to high gasoline costs. Those 3 negatives are all on the cost side of the profit equation. The revenue side doesn't seem very positive other: I haven't spoken with any photographer who's said "I'm making a TON of money selling my photos!" This business seems to be full of high equipment cost and low revenue... It seems like you really have to love sports shooting in order to be successful at it, or heavily subsidize your sports shooting with income from your day job.

Anyhow... I understand that photographers have to make money, and so printing up trading cards and player profiles are ways for photographers to continue doing what they enjoy doing. And I understand that kids grow up and parents really have few chances of capturing those moments in time before their child grows up. Hence demand and supply meet and a market is created. None-the-less, it was kind of sad to see: parents paying lots of money for a few pictures of their kid in a posed shot.

Going back to the mechanics of covering this event... I learned several things during this outing. As I wrote earlier I learned about using low ISOs to make my 2.8 glass work well in a sunny environment. But, an equally important lesson I learned (although somewhat less interesting) is the use of "folders" on Nikons. When I shoot the pictures always end up in a folder named 100DSCN. I always wondered why they weren't just up at the top of the media card. Well, as it turns out, Nikons can create folders and this turns out to be quite handy.

I was assigned to primarily focus on the Bowie teams, but I tried to cover as many of the games as possible. I wanted to keep track of which teams were playing and what photos were part of which game. At first I walked the 7 fields and spent some time on each game, and then I went back to my car and moved the pictures from my camera into a "round_1" folder on my MacBook Pro. Then I went back out and shot "round_2". This didn't seem like a very efficient use of my time (walking back and forth to my computer), so I started looking up how the folders work. That's when I realized I could easily make a 101DSCN, 102DSCN, 103DSCN, ... folder and drop pictures directly into those folders on the camera. Then I just needed to carry a little notepad with me that mapped folders to games and times. It was a pretty good lesson because it meant I could cover more games without going back to my car to offload my pictures.

I also was impressed with my EN-EL3E batteries. I have a MB-D200 battery pack, and I've noticed that the camera is smart enough to deplete a single battery fully before it moves onto the second battery. This is nice because it allows you to start charging the depleted battery after it dies while you continue shooting off the first battery. I was able to cover all of the day's events on 2 EN-EL3E batteries, and I then used a car power inverter and my quickcharger to recharge one of the EN-EL3E batteries before I moved on to my night time events. It was definitely handy to have that inverter in the car for the 1 hour drive from the lacrosse fields to the soccer fields. By the end of the day I had been shooting almost continuously (except for the drive) for 14 hours and I still had some life left on one of the EN-EL3Es.

PS - All of the shots on this page feature Bowie. That's because I'm still processing the shots from the other games and I wanted to get my blog updated with some photos from the weekend. I easily spend an hour after each game rotating pictures, cropping, writing up my blog, selecting pictures, and arranging them.

Friday, May 18, 2007

It's been a long week. And I've been looking forward to the weekend.

Tonight the Terps squared off against ACC foe North Carolina in the start of a 3 game series that concludes Saturday afternoon at Shipley field in College Park. It was a bit cold for this game, but there was ample sun for the first half of the game. Not a single cloud in the sky. Later in the night it seemed to get darker than usual at Shipley. My meter was indicating 1600ISO, f2.8, and 1/180th second would be appropriate.

I tried my best to avoid exclusively shooting the pitcher. When I arrived at Shipley I took a bunch of shots of the pitcher (just in case), but then moved to other positions to try to cover the various batters stealing bases and the infield defense. I was very successful. Out of 170 or so shots I had 25 "keepers", and many of them are action shots. Less than 10 of those "keepers" are shots of the pitchers. I'm pretty proud for getting these shots - they're pretty difficult and you have to anticipate.

I've been doing a lot of reading this week on www.sportsshooter.com. I'm kind of disappointed because the forums don't focus on skills and comparing notes. They're all talking about the "ethics" of shooting. And quite honestly I don't understand what the big deal is - it seems like they're talking about candidly capturing a moment vs asking people to pose for pictures. I don't quite understand how that applies to sports photography, but then again I'm not a member of Sports Shooter.

I'm also disappointed about their membership process. You have to be sponsored in order to join. That makes sense because they want to keep the barrier to entry high enough to keep the quality level of the community high. But, at the same time, they make it very difficult for non-members to become members unless you already personally know a member. They recommend you read the forums and personally respond to people's posts. That's all well and good but it doesn't seem to scale well. I think a better approach would be for them to have a non-members forum where you can register a post. Then you can present your post history to a "senior member" when you ask for sponsorship. You then have a better story to tell "This is me, these are my posts, and I'd like to be a member." Anyhow, that's my 2 cents.

Last night I read an interesting article on www.howstuffworks.com about how autofocus works. It was interesting to learn about active vs passive autofocus systems. I remember all my P+S cameras and their infrared emitters - they used to throw a red mesh over my subjects when I shot them. And with my D200 I noticed there isn't any IR interface on the front. It's pretty cool when something like that clicks and you understand it.

I also looked read some articles about white balance, and I understand the "coffee filter" method. I decided to give it a shot tonight. I took a few shots with the pre-set "stadium lights" white balance, and then I made my own white balance. I stole a coffee filter from work, and tonight when it was sufficiently dark I placed the filter over the lens and then pointed my camera at the light. In doing so I noticed it was pretty dark when I looked through the viewfinder. None-the-less I set the white balance and took a few sample shots. Interestingly, when I compared my custom-white-balance shots with the pre-set white-balance shots they were remarkably similar! I'm very impressed with the pre-set value - it looked a lot better than my custom setting!

Another strange lighting event happened tonight. I mentioned it earlier in my post... I shot the entire game in Manual mode and made extensive use of the meter indicator. Strangely enough, the meter pushed me down to around 1/180th second on ISO 1600 with my f2.8 lens. I seem to remember that in previous shoots my meter allowed me to go to 1/360th second. One thing I noticed is that the moon is completely covered. I can't imagine that the moon provides that much light in comparison with the stadium lighting. But, on the other hand, when there's a full moon I can walk around at night and see my shadow. So maybe the moon did play a role in tonight's shoot. I'll have to ask a few photographers. I'll probably get laughed at but what do I care.Lastly I'm very excited about my recent progress with getting some events to shoot this summer. After my fiasco with the Baysox I decided to call the Bowie Blade (a local newspaper) and ask if they need volunteers. I got in contact with the sports editor and he offered me a volunteer shoot this weekend. I'll be covering the Southern Maryland Youth Lacrosse Tournament in Bowie MD this weekend. It's a pretty long event - all day Saturday and half of Sunday. As a result I've charged all of my NiMH batteries and I've bought a few replacement AA replacements. I also pulled out my 75W DC power inverter I use in my car, and I've charged my EN-EL3E batteries. I don't want to run out of power!

I've also formatted all of my CF cards, and I've tested my CF reader on my MacBook Pro. With all the games going on tomorrow I want to be able to offload after each game in order to keep things separate. Otherwise I'll have no idea what shots went with what game. And, the editor at the Blade asked me to keep track of that information. I'm really hoping I do a good job and he gives me more assignments!

I'm also going to cover a few soccer games on Saturday night. As I've mentioned in previous posts I've contacted several local teams and asked them directly if they need a volunteer photographer. Very few have responded, except for the Northern Virginia Royals and Majestics. I'm going to try to cover their games tomorrow evening. Unfortunately it's down in Woodbridge and that's pretty far away for me. But for now I'm hungry and so I'm going to attend. Hopefully it will be a good shoot.

Then on Sunday I'm covering some more youth lacrosse games, followed by my nephew's birthday. I've learned a lot about depth of field since the last time I shot my nephew. Hopefully I'll do a better job this time and slow down my glass to f2.8 (rather than f1.8). Maybe I'll even use the flash.

Lastly, on Monday I'm going to try to cover the Bowie Baysox game. The marketing guy (Ron) at the Baysox offered me a press pass, and I'm going to take him up on the offer. At this point I don't expect that I'll shoot for them. But maybe I'll end up covering them for the Bowie Blade. We'll see... At any rate, I'm very excited about working with the Bowie Blade. I hope I do a good job!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

During the day my home directory tends to fill up. I support a few customers that use the software I've written, and during the support and debugging process I tend to generate a lot of temporary files. Most of them are SQL files, python code, Java code, or some other artifact of my regular day job. However, from time to time some pictures from my shoots appear in the mix.

I took the above picture during the Maryland vs West Virginia game a few weeks ago. I remember that it was a great shoot, and I don't understand why I didn't use this photo in the blog. Maybe back then I was focusing more on pitcher shots than action shots. But right now I love the picture: the ball is slightly blurred and the catcher and batter are clearly in focus.

Looking forward to this weekend it's going to be busy. I'm planning on attending the Maryland Baseball game Friday night against North Carolina. That should be a good one, as it starts at 7pm and the sun is setting later every day. Hopefully I'll have some good light for it. I'm also going to cover the Maryland Youth Lacrosse League on Saturday for the Bowie Blade. If you've been following my blog you'll remember that I'm scrambling trying to find volunteer work and not making a whole lot of progress. Fortunately the sports editor (Jake Linger) at the Bowie Blade is going to give me a break by offering me an assignment this weekend. I'm looking forward to the shoot and I hope that my pictures are good enough for Jake to use in the paper. I'll post some shots as soon as possible.

I'm also going to try to cover the Northern Virginia Royals and Majestics games on Saturday night. They start at 5pm and 7:30pm, and I'm hoping I'll have enough time to head down there after the lacrosse tournament. Some folks with the two teams have responded positively to my offers and I'm hoping I'll get some good shots of those folks. Unfortunately they're pretty far away from College Park so it'll be difficult to travel to their game sites when they play. But on the other hand I'm hungry for "work" (volunteer work for now) so I'll take whatever opportunity I can grab.

On Sunday I'm back to the lacrosse tournament all day. I've listened to the forecast for the weekend and it sounds like Sunday will be the better of the two days. I'm going to take what I learned on Saturday about shooting the younger players (e.g. getting their names) and hopefully improve on Sunday.

Lastly, on Monday I'm going to try to cover the Bowie Baysox game. The Blade didn't ask me to do it, but when I called the Baysox on Tuesday the marketing director offered me some free credentials. When I chatted with the Jake from the Blade he said that he already has someone covering the Baysox. If that's the case maybe I can hook up with him on Monday night and ask if he's looking for an assistant. I'm just looking for different opportunities to shoot sports.

That's all for now. Hopefully I'll have some more pictures in the next few days!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Men's LAX: Maryland vs UMBC

The Maryland Terrapins opened their NCAA tournament run on Sunday evening at Chevy Chase Bank Field at Byrd Stadium. Unfortunately, their 2007 tournament hopes ended in a 13-7 loss in front a predominantly UMBC crowd. The weather was ideal: clear skies and warm, with very little wind.

Earlier in the day I shot the Maryland Women's kick off their NCAA tournament in a win over Yale, and I had high hopes for the men following suit with a crushing of UMBC. Unfortunately that didn't happen, with the Terps barely showing up to play in the 2nd and 3rd quarters. For playing 1/2 the game they didn't too badly in retrospect...

I was looking forward to this shoot because I thought the late day sun would offer some great colors for the shoot. I anticipated using my 2x TC for at least the first half, and possibly into the second half because sunset was at 8:15pm and the game started at 7:30pm. However, I failed to account for the depth of the playing field. It's easily 50 - 100 feet below street level. As a result, the sun sets plenty early on the field. When the Terps came out to play at 7:30 the field was pretty much entirely dark. Fortunately there was enough reflected light from the stadium that I could still use the TC and have a reasonable ISO and shutter speed.

I adjusted the white balance several times throughout the evening. I started with sun, then moved to cloudy, then to shade, and eventually to artificial light. Overall the sun shots are by far the best, followed closely by the artifical light shots. I shot most of the night shots at 1600 ISO and f2.8 and in aperture priority mode. The shutter speed ranged from 1/360 to 1/600 when I was lucky. During this whole process I gave some thought to Auto-ISO and how that might effect my shots.

One thing I've realized lately: you can reduce noisy photos, but you can't fix blur. As a result I would like to use Manual mode as much as possible and let the camera adjust the ISO to properly expose the photo. I'll try and give that a shot at another night game - maybe I can get some less noisy photos when the players are close and reflecting a lot of light. Most of the time the close-ups are the shots I choose for the blog.

I also paid a lot of attention to where Greg shot from, and I took a look at his photos after the game. They're great. I wish I could shoot the same quality shots he gets! I don't think there's a lot I can do because many of his shots are from further away (he uses a 400mm lens). So for now I'm taking note of where he shoots from and hopefully if I one day manage to obtain press credentials I'll use my 2X TC and my 200mm lens to shoot from similar vantage points. He took some shots from up on Gossett where the Terps are shooting at the UMBC goal that are spectacular. You can view them on http://www.umterps.com/

Lastly I'm still sending out emails various organizations offering to be a volunteer photographer. When I spoke with the Baysox today the marketing staff member seemed confused about why I was calling him. He said that normally photographers go through newspapers and other media outlets and then request credentials. Since I was bypassing the media he wasn't quite sure what to do other than say "we have a staff photographer." As a result I've changed my strategy slightly: I'm still pursuing volunteer work directly with sports organizations, but I'm also pursuing volunteer work with local newspapers and media outlets. If I can get hooked up with a media outlet I can meet other photographers (and hopefully volunteer to be an assistant for one of them), and I can hopefully shoot some games this summer.

To-date I've sent offers to: Bowie Baysox, Maryland Exiles, Maryland Pride, NOVA Majestics/Royals, Baltimore Press Box, Bowie Blade, and Annapolis Gazette (Capital Newspaper). The royals/majestics and the exiles have expressed some interest, as has the Bowie Blade. Hopefully I'll be able to volunteer for them and get some more exposure. It's so much fun to shoot!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Women's LAX: Maryland vs Yale

The Maryland Terrapins opened their 2007 NCAA Tournament run this Saturday with a face-off against the Yall Bulldogs at Ludwig Field in College Park. The weather for the match-up was superb: clear skies, a comfortable 70 degrees, and very low humidity. The Terps played a good match and ended up winning the opening round 13-7.

A friend of mine that works in the Athletic Department at Maryland warned me about increased security at the match today. Since it was an NCAA event and not an ACC or Maryland event there's a different set of rules that are applied. Apparently the CSC (the security folks) respond accordingly, and are more aggressive in enforcing the rules. I observed this several times when the CSC guards warned private photographers (like myself) to move back behind the security barrier.

None-the-less I managed to get a ton of great shots. At yesterday's race at FedEx I made a mistake in my EV correction, and so prior to today's game I made doubly sure to check my settings. On the way over I thought I'd use my 2X TC on my 200mm/2.8 lens and shoot with a 200 or 400 ISO setting in Aperture priority mode. Some metering tests when I arrived confirmed that the settings looked good. The shutter speed was fast (close to 1/8000 sec), and so I could lock the action. I also double checked the white balance to make sure I was shooting on sunlight mode, and I made sure my EV correction was set to 0.

A 200mm/2.8 with a 2X TC on a bright sunny day does really well. The last time I shot during the day at Ludwig I didn't have the 2X TC and a lot of my shots were overexposed. The 2X slows down the glass and it gets me in closure. I typically stand slightly behind the goal on the sideline and shoot the players as they drive to the net, or come back around from behind the goal. During the game I shot over 1200 pictures, but I narrowed them down to 300 "good" shots. My final picking-over resulted in 35 "excellent" shots. Overall it was one of my best shoots from a quality standpoint.

During the match Greg was nice enough to offer his 300mm/2.8 lens. I turned down the offer tho because I wanted to continue using my 2X on my 200mm lens. Cropping is a necessary evil because it's impossible to frame every shot perfectly. And cropping costs you in quality. If you shoot a player at the far end of the field it doesn't matter if you have a 10MP camera you're still going to get an out-of-focus exposure. If you're far away and it's daytime it seems like the most important aspect of your shot is your focal length. I felt like with my gear I was shooting 140mm-400mm and that seemed like a better range than a 300mm fixed lens.

I'm glad I stuck with my rig because I managed to get a lot of close-up shots of the players. The down side was that at f5.6 the composition of the shots suffered. The backgrounds weren't as blurred. I think I managed to get closer-in than I could have with a 300mm, but maybe the quality of the pictures isn't as good because of the sharp background. I'm glad that Greg offered me the lens for the shoot because it got me thinking about what my shots might look like. And since I chose the 2X TC and Greg shot the game with his 400mm/2.8 I can compare our shots.

Greg's shots look WAY better than mine. They're sharper, the composition is better, and he caught many more of the moments than I did. But he has 8 years of experience on me and he has $8k worth of better equipment than me, so it's no surprise. But, I did manage to capture my share of moments, and that's what I'm trying to nail down now. I've been watching Greg and the other photographers and then checking out their shots after the game. They've given me a lot of ideas of what to shoot and when. Unfortunately there's only so much I can do from the sidelines: I can't shoot the coaches talking with their players, I can't shoot the team when they're all lined up, I can't shoot the team in a huddle before the game, and I can't shoot from directly behind the goal. But, despite the limitations on where I can shoot from I managed to still get some great shots.

Looking forward I'm realizing the limitations of my equipment and I'm focusing more on the mechanics of the shoot and trying to capture as many moments as possible. I figure that with this strategy if I do manage to get a 400mm/2.8 lens one day I'll have the technique down and I'll be in good shape. And in the meantime if I shoot for someone as their assistant I'll be able to put together some good shots.

Unfortunately the Maryland games are wrapping up, and there's probably only another 3 shoots I'll have until late summer when Football starts up. I'm still actively looking for work and have volunteered at a few local soccer leagues and for a rugby team. I'm going to contact the Washington Post and ask them if their photographers are ever looking for assistants. Hopefully somebody will respond positively and I'll find some volunteer work this summer that's convenient and exciting to shoot.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

SCCA Race at FedEx Field

During the week I mentioned to a coworker that I'm looking for events to shoot. I'm trying to get exposure to as many different environments as possible, and with the Maryland season winding down I'm looking around the Washington DC region for different events I can attend and shoot. By doing this I'm hoping to experience a lot of different shooting environments and learn how to adapt to them.

While mentioning this to a coworker he invited me to attend the SCCA race at FedEx field. He told me that anybody could go out onto the track and shoot so long as the photographer took a spotter with them. In exchange for apartment hunting with my brother he agreed to be my spotter for the morning. I'm glad he came - the racers were going 50-60mph and were no more than 75 feet away. There were a lot of them and you really need to keep your head on a swivel so that you're aware of going on around you.

It was a difficult shoot because it was my first time shooting a race. When I arrived the sun was shining brightly. I decided to use my 200mm f2.8 lens and my 2x TC. I wanted to be able to shoot at 400mm, but I also wanted to slow down the glass. I did some metering tests at f5.6 and the camera indicated a 1/8000 sec exposure or faster was appropriate. I'm pretty sure that my camera maxes out at 1/8000 sec because many times while I was testing in Aperture priority mode the shutter speed display indicated HI. I'll have to read up about that...

I decided to set my EV at -1.7. The other day I did some test shots at EV -0.7 and they exposed pretty well. Since I was out in a large parking lot (with lots of reflected light), and my meter was indicating 1/8000sec or better, and I had no way to slow down my glass I thought that EV -1.7 was the way to go. The first shots I took exposed very well. They're a bit noisy, but the exposure isn't bad. I need to pay closer attention to my ISO when I start up my shoots...

Later on in the day my shots became underexposed. Some high clouds blocked out the bright sun and I neglected to adjust my EV. I'm frustrated by this because I checked my LCD several times to judge my exposure settings and everything looked alright. But, with the LCD protector on and being out in the sun in a big parking lot it was difficult to get a good sense for how the photo looked. It would be great if there was some kind of a plastic or rubber device I could hold up to the back of my camera and look through that would block all of the surrounding light. If you could take one of those paper cone-cups you get at water coolers and make it completely impervious to light it would be perfect - you could cut a hole in the back and look at the LCD during daylight and see how your shots looked.

Anyhow, several of my shots in the afternoon were underexposed as a result of the EV setting. There's not much time to feel badly about the shots tho because tomorrow is going to be a very busy day. There's a double header women's LAX game at Maryland, as well as a men's LAX game in the evening. I plan to attend all of them. Unfortunately I probably won't make it onto the field for the women's game because it's an NCAA post-conference game and there are strict rules about who can shoot those. But I'll have my 2X TC and hopefully I'll get some good shots.

Then men's LAX game should be good as well. Unfortunately it's at night so I'll have to up my ISO and shoot some noisy pictures. But I'm looking forward to it. Basketball is great, but men's LAX has a LOT of really great opportunities for photos!

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Today was another great day for a baseball game. Not a single cloud in the sky and the temperature was a nice 70 degrees out. This evening's game was free and it started at 6pm (an hour earlier than most games). With the sun going down later and the game starting earlier there was a lot of light to play around with tonight. During post production I was surprised to find that many of my shots were overexposed!

The Terps ended up winning 6-3 tonight, but West Virginia gave the Terps a run for their money in the top of the 9th inning.

There were a good number of fans in attendance, but not as many as Sunday. As a result my movement around the stands was unencumbered. For the most part I stayed along the 3rd baseline or behind the plate until the sun was down very low. In the past I'd sit just to the left of the Maryland dugout and shoot somewhat into the sun. Even with a lens hood my shots were still washed out. I've learned to not even try that angle anymore until the sun is plenty low!

I also noticed that most of my baseball shots are of the pitcher. In Softball the infield is so much closer and there's so much more action in the infield I can easily shoot. With baseball the infield is much larger and it's very difficult to get some good shots at 200mm. The 2x teleconverter helps but it slows the glass down to f5.6, meaning I can only use it when there is plenty of sun. And even in lots of sun it can be difficult.

I made an honest effort tonight to shoot more of the infielders, and I came up short. I only captured 3 steals and in all of them entire the empire got in the way or the batter stealing base slid in with their face down. I managed to stop the action by increasing the ISO to 1600, but I didn't get their faces. As such I'm not including those shots on this blog. My fundamental rule is: you have to shoot face.

The exposure meter (the <--|-->) helped tremendously. I also read some articles today about not letting the scene fool the metering in your camera. The author recommended using Aperture priority mode to let the camera meter and produce a recommended shutter speed, and then move to Manual mode to lock the shutter and aperture in place. This worked exceptionally well, and with the exposure meter as a backup I was able to adjust the shutter speed so that most of my shots were properly exposed. Well, to be more accurate ... none were underexposed. If anything I was overexposed in several of them!

I also tinkered around with the pre-set white balance for a bit. When I get some time I'm going to read up on the CS behind white balance so that I understand it better. There's a huge difference in my shots when I change the white balance, and I'd like to figure out how to configure that setting based on the scene I'm shooting. I read an article about the "coffee filter" method. Not sure I quite understand what that means, but I'm sure I'll learn...

I've been thinking more and more about putting together my own flash based gallery. I've seen a few flash galleries and the look so great. I'll still use gallery as my dumping grounds for all my photographs, but I'm liking the idea of putting my "best of" pictures into some sort of polished flash presentation. I think that the transitions between shots can really make things look nice.
I've also been giving some more thought to making a waterproof cover for my camera out of an old wetsuit. With Julie's sewing experience and my engineering background I think we can come up with something that I can use to protect my body and lens during some drizzle. It's definitely a project I'll work on this summer.

Lastly I'm looking around for some more sports venues in which I can shoot. The Maryland season is drawing to a close as the students prepare for finals, and that means my subjects are disappearing for a few months. I sent a message to the Bowie Baysox and volunteered my time. I haven't heard back from them and if I don't hear from them tomorrow I'm going to write again. I also sent my name into the Baltimore Press Box. I don't expect to hear from them tho. There might be some smaller events that I could get into (horse rodeo, cycling events, etc) but I'm not sure where to look. Hopefully it'll come to me.

I'm also feeling the burn of not having a short-range lens. I'd like to use my tripod to do some night time shots of our house in NC but the shortest lens I have is 50mm. On a DSLR that's effectively a 75mm lens. I'd really like the AF-S 17-35mm f2.8 VR lens, but it's pretty pricey. I'm going to keep an eye out on Adorama and on Craigslist for some used ones. Hopefully I can find one in the $800 - $900 range.