Tuesday, June 26, 2007

In my previous post I mentioned that the Royals and Majestics played side-by-side on adjoining fields on Saturday evening. This was extremely convenient for me because I floated back and forth between the two games.

I mostly focused on capturing some men's soccer photos, but I managed to get a few decent shots of the Majestics taking on the Rough Riders. To my surprise many of the shots are in focus and not too bad. I was surprised by this because from a percentage basis I spent only about 10% of my time shooting the Majestics, but I came out with a lot of good shots!

I've been spending a lot of time thinking about focus during my shoots, and I think it would really help if I had another photographer present to compare notes with. It would be great to have someone I could watch from start to finish: from set-up and setting selection time all the way through to post processing and publication.

I'd like to see how many shots they take, when they take them, and what they do with the shots after the take them. Do they review them on their LCD or do they wait until half time and after the game to review? Or do they review them every few minutes and make minor adjustments to white balance, autofocus settings, etc?

Likewise, I'd like to see what kind of results they get when they take their photos off of their cards. I'd say that roughly 50% of my shots are out of focus (OOF), but I have no idea if that's normal or not. If I knew that 50% OOF shots is normal I could move onto to improving other aspects of my photography. But, if it's only normal to have 10% OOF shots then that suggests that I need to continue to focus (pardon the pun) on my autofocus skills.

I'm hopeful that Al's going to be able to help me in this aspect. If I can follow him (or another one of his photographers) to one game I can get a sense of where my weaknesses stand as they relate to photography in general. It could be the case that what I perceive as a weakness is simply an unavoidable aspect of sports photography. Or it could be that there really is a better way. Unfortunately it would take me a long time to figure it out on my own, so I'm hoping I can observe someone else and get some hints.

Overall the shoot for this game went off pretty well. I didn't manage to get very many candid shots of the players before the game and during half time but I believe that's because I was really focusing more on the Royals. It might be better though that I didn't get the candid shots. Maybe I need to focus more on the action shots. I'm very much on the fence though and thinking that a balance between action shots and candid shots makes for an overall better photographic experience. 100% action shots get boring all the time, and 100% candid shots are also boring all the time.

I wish that the Majestics were using my photos on their website. I've tried to contact the site maintainer, but I can't seem to get much response to my offerings of photos. I suppose that the site author is busy doing other things and probably doesn't devote too much attention to maintaining and improving the site. That's unfortunate because I've covered quite a few games and have captured quite a few pictures that the players would probably be interested in having. Maybe during the last game I'll cut a few CDs and bring them to the game and hand them out to the coaches and players. Just because a single website author doesn't have the time to post my pictures doesn't mean that the players aren't interested in them.

Moving forward I'm not sure what my next photographic assignment will be. I'm away this week at my house in North Carolina and as a result I'm away from the action of the DC Sports market. Al mentioned that if I was in town he would've offered me an assignment this week at Verizon Center. I hope that he'll have something for me next week, and I'm also hopeful that there will be some interesting assignments coming from Jake at the Blade. Overall I'm quite happy with how the summer has been going tho. I'm covering more games than I did in the Spring and I'm getting a lot of exposure to different sports and different environments. Although I'm looking forward to the Fall and the return of the Maryland Terrapins I'm also looking ahead to what other events I'll be able to cover for the DC Sports Box.

I've also been giving more thought to setting up a separate domain just for my photography. Right now I'm using some hideous PHP software named Gallery to manage the photos for my family and for my sports events. With all of the sports shooting I've been doing I'm shifting the balance of my gallery from family oriented photos to sports shots. I'd like to keep my existing Gallery site dedicated to just family related photos (along with photos of friends) and set up a new site that focuses exclusively on athletics and sports shooting. I'm trying to come up with a good domain name but I'm so far shooting blanks. If you have any ideas please leave them in the comments. Who'm I kidding - noboby leaves me any comments!

Friday evening's shoot at Kettler was a lot of fun because it was a completely new environment and there were a lot of other media outlets present to cover the event. But, it was indoors and crowded. During the event I was thinking about how nice it is to cover outdoor field event where there is plenty of space to move around and the backgrounds are often very far away.

I decided to attend the Royals and Majestics game on Saturday night even though they took place south of Manassas and I live way up in College Park MD. It was easily 60 miles from my house to the soccer complex, and it took a long time to get there. But Julie came with me and so I had company during the car ride. It was also a very nice drive through Virginia with lots of backroads. Having satellite radio also helps.

The Royals game and the Majestics game occurred simultaneously on side-by-side fields, and that was really nice from a photography standpoint. In previous matches the Majestics play first and then the Royals play afterwards. Watching 180 minutes of soccer (plus 30 minutes of half time, plus 15-30 minutes of in-between-games time) can be quite grueling, especially when it comes at the end of a day that was filled with covering other events. As a result I was pleased that both games were running concurrently and right next to each other so that I could float between the two games.

I wanted to focus on the Royals because in prior shoots they play after the Majestics in poor lighting conditions. My experience covering men's soccer is less than women's soccer, so I wanted to spend most of my time in front of the Royals for practice and also so that I had a wider variety of photos to post. I've also had a few email conversations with Mo (the general manager of the Royals), and he's expressed a lot of interest in the photos. On the other hand I haven't heard any word from the Majestics GM (not even sure who he/she is). Accordingly I wanted to have a lot of photos to send to the guy who's showing an interest in me covering their games.

Lighting for the event was good, but not great. There were some high cirrus clouds that didn't make it perfectly sunny but also didn't make it perfectly cloudy. I thought about playing around with the white balance but decided not to and to just use the sun preset.

I also shot the game at 100 ISO. I'm going to adjust this at a subsequent game because I received a comment from Al that my photos look "soft". I've noticed this as well. When I adjust the image enhancement in my D200 to "More Vivid" it doesn't seem to make things much better. I wonder if going up to 640 ISO or even 800 would make the pictures sharper.

This is where shooting alongside another photographer would really help me out. Just knowing what settings they used and then being able to compare my shots to theirs afterwards would be immensely valuable. I miss that from covering Maryland events. I used to be alongside a lot of photographers who would share what settings they're using. Hopefully I'll be able to tag along with Al on some events and get some ideas of some new settings to use.

I also made some adjustments to my AF system during the shoot. In previous shoots I've been using either spot or CW with 11 focal points on continuous mode, and I've had mixed results. In spot mode even tho I set the focal point to be highest possible focal point a lot of times it appears as tho the camera locks on the blades of grass on the field. This doesn't make much sense to me why the camera would do that but that seems to be whats happening. Lots of times faces are out of focus while the soccer ball (with all it's highly-contrasting lines) is in focus.

I changed my CW AF options to use 8 focal points rather than 11 and that seemed to help things a bit. I noticed that I had noticeably fewer out of focus shots. It wasn't a dramatic improvement but it was a little better. I'm going to do some reading about "closest subject" and the AF system to see what I can find out about better settings.

I moved around on the field quite a lot during the shoot and got a bunch of shots from various spots on the field. It was difficult to find spots where there wasn't an offensive tent in the background or some other annoyance. There was one spot tho that was pretty decent and most of my best-of shots came from this spot. It was located to the left of the Royals goalie looking up the field (rather than from the side). It's more difficult to focus from this position, but there's also a lot more action (most players kick using their right leg) and there was a better background (just trees).

There are only 2 more Royals that I will be able to attend this summer. It's been fun covering their games and my shots have improved since I started shooting them back in May.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

New Capitals Uniforms!

Late last week I sent an email to Al Santos of the DC Sports Box and asked him about the lens he used for a particular photo of a Guard in the Verizon Center. That started an email conversation where we exchanged some notes and photos, and ultimately led to Al and I having lunch on Friday along with Oscar from the DC Sports Box.

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the DC Sports Box, it's history, and where Al sees it going in the future, as well as to let me borrow Al's D2HS and 18-55/2.8 DX lens for an event Al asked me to cover on Friday night: the unveiling of the new uniform of the Washington Capitals. I was very excited about this event because it was my first-ever credentialed event, and it was also my first time around hockey players while not in the stands.

It was very interesting to listen to Al speak about the DC Sports Box and where he sees it going over the next few years. He has a lot of big visions for the organization, and he seems to be assembling a good bunch of people to help him realize the vision. Everyone in the organization is young and hungry (that's a huge plus!) and Al is pretty full of energy with respect to getting into sports arenas, making contacts, taking stunning photos, and writing compelling articles. I'm looking forward to helping Al realize this vision and taking some great photos along the way!

The uniform unveiling assignment was offered to me because Al had another commitment on Friday night. I was more than happy to take it, but I hadn't yet acquired my 18-55/2.8 DX lens. I asked him if I could borrow his, and to my surprise he offered up his body as well as the lens. In retrospect I'm very thankful he offered me the second body. I switched back and forth throughout the night between my 70-200 and Al's 18-55.

Just getting to the event was a challenge. The metro ride from College Park to Ballston during rush hour on a Friday evening was indescribable. It took approximately an hour and a half from the time I boarded the train to the time when I arrived at Kettler. It was also very difficult to find the media entrance to the ice rink. I looked for it next to the fan entrance, and of course it was on the other side of the rink next to the special parking lot that the media gets to use. In retrospect it all makes sense, but going through the event first hand it was very confusing trying to find the media office to pick up my pass!

I arrived at the event 45 minutes early and I was the last media person that was able to get a seat at the table. I was very surprised at the amount of press coverage the uniform unveiling received. I pulled out lappy, as well as Al's camera and my camera, and went to work setting up. I got lappy connected to the Internet and tested the lenses and cameras. All worked perfectly.

Although it was extraordinarily difficult to lug 2 camera bags and my backpack with a laptop in it through the crowded rush hour metro it was well worth the added effort. I have a MacBook Pro that I use for software development as well as photo post-processing, and I set my screen saver to display some of my photos from the Terrapins. The Ken Burns effect makes almost any set of photographs look amazing. Having the Terrapins scroll by is a great conversation starter for other members of the press. While I was there I had a pretty long conversation with George Wallace from WTOP Sports (one of my roomates from Maryland works at WTOP as their webmaster).

After lappy was all set up I walked around the venue to take a few test shots to see what the lighting situation was like. It was really difficult to move around the ice rink and shoot pictures of the crowd. There were lots of small children going in every direction, and parents were walking around confused about where they were and where they needed to go. As a result subjects were bumping around almost randomly and also at a fast pace. It was certainly not ideal for test shots!

None-the-less, I got a pretty good feel for the environment, and I then went out onto the ice to take a few test shots from the position the photographers were assigned. I was REALLY nervous walking out onto the ice. My 70-200/2.8 set me back around $1400, and the D200 body was around $1300. I have no idea what the going price is on a used D2HS but I imagine it's in the $2500 range. And I know the price for a 18-55/2.8 DX is $1300. All told I had about $6,500 worth of equipment hanging on me while I gingerly made my way across the ice. During that time I was so glad that I was wearing my Vans skate shoes and not the $13 WalMart shoes I sometimes wear! I was also scared I'd fall in front of the crowd!

Walking across the ice with all that equipment really made me think about purchasing some insurance for my equipment. I'm going to make an effort to investigate cost and options next week regarding insuring my equipment against accidental breakage and theft.

My metering tests from the carpet on the ice were very positive. At f2.8 I was at about 1/30 of a second. Sometimes I'd get up around 1/120th. At that point I switched on my vibration reduction (VR) and set it Active mode. I grinned because no more than 6 hours earlier while I lunched I remarked to Al that I've only used VR once while shooting and it was indoors while covering a Ralph Friedgen speech. And here I was flipping on that VR and being so thankful that I didn't purchase the $800 80-200/2.8 AF-D lens.

When the uniforms were unveiled there was a lot of strobe lighting as well as smoke. It made for a very cool effect, and I managed to get one really good photo. The others were off in some way: there was too much smoke covering the players faces, or the strobes were firing, or it was too dark, or I was out of focus. But thankfully I got the one photo I need from that moment.

Afterwards the 4 players and the photography media were ushered over to a small area no larger than a 20' by 20' room. It was really tight in there with the TV cameramen and all the still photographers. There were also voice media there and interviewers from the local TV newsteams. It was extremely challenging to navigate amongst the maze of people confined to a tiny area. I had my D200 with the 70-200/2.8 with lens hood on one shoulder, and Al's D2HS with the honking 18-55/2.8 DX lens in my hands. I was constantly bumping into people and being bumped into by other people. I didn't mind being bumped, but I was nervous about bumping other people and throwing off their shots. I'm sure I'll get used to it tho.

I had a LOT of problems getting good shots in that confined area. The TV camera crews had their own lighting, and it didn't happen to match any of the WB presets on the D2HS and the D200. The light from the camera was plenty sufficient for proper exposure, but I couldn't get the WB set properly at all. I also couldn't find where in the menu system I could set the WB to Auto. I know exactly where the setting is on my D200, but my D200 had the 70-200/2.8 lens on it. I needed to know where the Auto WB setting was on Al's D2HS. While I was bumbling around in the menu I was also thinking: why don't I just set the image type to RAW and handle the WB later in post-processing? I looked for both the WB and image settings but couldn't find them. It might've been that I was just rushing tho. I didn't like the idea that there was this great event going on around me and I was tinkering in my menu system. I even asked the camermen if they knew the color temperature of their lights and none of them had any idea what I was talking about.

Fortunately I managed to get a few decent shots. But they were few and far in between! In most of them there's something awkward in the background: half a Caps logo on the wall, or a divider between 2 segments of glass around the rink, or a person making a stupid face. Back in the media room I reviewed most of the shots and was optimistic when viewing them on the 2.5" LCD. But once I moved the pictures to lappy I started getting disappointed at their quality. I was more nervous that Al would be disappointed that I didn't cover the event very well!

While in the media room I chatted with George Wallace and he asked if I had any pictures with a WTOP microphone in the foreground. We looked through the photos together and sure enough I had a few. I emailed them to George and hopefully they'll make some people at his station happy. It will be funny to hear from my college roomate next week to see if he says anything about the photos.

I did all of my post-processing while on the metro ride back to College Park. It was a long ride and I had plenty of time to go through the pictures, pick out the best ones, and crop them. I even had time to touch some of them up in Aperture! With everything zipped up and ready for posting up to the sports box I called it an evening around 9:30pm when I walked out to my car in College Park. When I got home I sent the link to Al.

To my surprise Al was complimentary of the photos. My personal opinion of them is that they're crap, and I was expecting Al to provide the same feedback. Earlier in the week he offered some criticism of 12 photos I selected as my photo resume, and he said that he didn't think that 7 of them were photoresume material. So I know that Al is an honest critic, and that's why it surprised me that he liked the photos from the uniform unveiling. I guess it's another lesson: even if you think what you shot was crap someone else may think it's decent. And on that note I'm off to bed...

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Saturday was a great day for shooting. I had a great time covering the DC Soapbox Derby for Al at the DC Sports Box, and I also had a good time with Andrew at the Bowie Baseball games.

Andrew was very helpful in getting the names for various players that I shot. During the event I was very skeptical that he was recording enough information about the games, the players, and the shots I was taking. But afterwards when I had to assemble the names for the photos I sent to Jake at the Blade it was sufficient information. Jake was very happy to have a full list of names for the photos, and to my surprise he said he wanted to use all 10 photos that I sent to him. It would really surprise me if he ran all 10 photos. Maybe he just wanted all the names so that he could decide later this week.

On Sunday I took the day off. On most weekends I'm playing catchup on work for customers that I missed during the week because another customer had a crisis, or I'm working on the books and invoices for my software company, or I'm out in the yard pruning, or I'm at an inlaws house celebrating some momentous event. But this Sunday I had an open day, which was quite nice. In the evening my wife and I headed up the Germantown MD to watch the NOVA Majestics take on the Washington Freedom.

The shoot was a lot of fun because the Freedom is a really good time. Also, their dark blue uniforms expose really nicely under the vibrant colors of an afternoon sun. The Majestics wear a somewhat washed out yellow uniform with green text. It looks decent in the late afternoon sun, but it's definitely not as remarkable as the red uniforms of the Renegades and the blue uniforms of the Freedom.

There were 3 other photographers present at this shoot. Larry was of course there covering the match for his website, and there were 2 other individuals there as well. One of them is the photographer for the Freedom (Shane Canfield), and the other photographer looked to be from a newspaper in Washington DC. It may have been the Post Gazette.

It was helpful having some other photographers present. I'm very much still in the osmosis phase of learning, where most of my behavior is emulation of photographers that are better than me. When other "better" photographers are not around, it makes me think for myself, but I also don't progress and improve as quickly. With other photographers around I was able to observe their shooting positions as well as their shot selection.

A big problem I had during this game was the gnats. They were everywhere. The Freedom have a wonderful field out in the middle of a very large farm, and the bugs are everywhere! I was constantly swatting them away and it was a huge annoyance. I'm adding "bug spray" to my go-bag for the next time that I attend a Freedom event.

I played around with some white balance settings during the game, and overall I like the sunlight WB setting the best. I was flipping between "shade" and "sun", and overall the "sun" photos came out the best. I'm going to keep that in mind for the next game and just go with "sun".

Unfortunately I didn't manage to get as many "great" photos during the game as I would have liked. During the home Majestics games I walk around the sidelines like crazy. I realize that I'm probably breaking a USL rule about where photographers can stand, but my sense from the coaches is that they don't really care. They like the photos I'm sending them so that's what's important to me.

But the Freedom seems to be in a slightly different notch in the competition totum pole. They seem more formal, and with there being more photographers present I thought it best to not follow the play action as closely as I do at the home Majestics games. As a result I didn't get very many inbound passes looking at the players. That's unfortunate because those are some of my favorite shots. And the field in Germantown is great from a background standpoint - no school busses screwing up my shots!

Focus was a real challenge for me during this shoot. The sun was setting behind one set of stands, and as a result the set of stands on the far side of the field were brightly illuminated. Likewise, they had lots of shadows and lots of straight lines. The AF chased down the bleachers like crazy during the shoot. I kept getting back-focus as the AF system locked on the empty bleachers and left the players out of focus. Of all of my throwaways I'd estimate that 75% of them were simply out-of-focus (but properly exposed). That's encouraging, because a lot of my throwaways in the past were due to improper exposure as well as out-of-focus subjects. I played around with the AF settings during the game to see if I could use a better system but didn't have much luck. At one of the next games I'm going to ask another photographer what settings they use, and I'm going to read up on my own AF system in the D200. There's got to be a better way to focus. Maybe the "focus on closest subject" mode is the best?

I took far too many pictures today at this game. Almost 1200. That's ridiculous. The problem I had was that there was so much action from the Freedom that I was constantly trying to capture the moment. I managed to get over 90 "keepers" (a new record), so that's at least good. But I would like to get down around the 200-250 range per game max. It took me a few hours to post-process all that data. Ridiculous!

On another note, Al at the DC Sports Box was happy with my coverage of the DC Soapbox Derby. He posted my writeup and photos here. Go click over there and check them out! I've had a few photos published in the Bowie Blade, but this is my first web publishing and I'm pretty excited about it. I'm going to try to maintain the momentum with Al because I'm hopeful he'll offer me some more assignments.

Lastly, I still haven't made any progress on my Flash gallery software. Hopefully in a week I'll have some more time to work on it. But for now I'm pushing hard for my customers to get their software out the door (to give to THEIR customers), and that doesn't leave much time for my personal ambitions (well, outside of photography at least). I'm working on fixing that tho, and hopefully in the next 2 weeks I'll have SOMETHING I can publish (even if it's crap that will be updated).

Monday, June 18, 2007

Bowie Youth Baseball

After having a blast at the DC Soapbox Derby I headed back out to Maryland to cover a baseball tournament in Bowie MD. A few weeks ago Jake at the Bowie Blade offered the assignment to me and I accepted it. I've learned quite a lot since I first started shooting, and one of the biggest lessons I've learned about sports photography is the name requirement.

In previous shoots I haven't gotten names for players and have had to play catch-up the following week. It's exceedingly time consuming and difficult to get the names of players after the game. Many coaches or secretaries aren't fluent with email and so I can't simply give them a link to my gallery and ask them to identify some players. Instead I have to email individual photos back and forth, and I run into all kinds of problems with that route.

So for this assignment I wanted to do my best to get names during the game while I take my shots. I knew that it would be difficult to both shoot and write down names so I offered to hire my younger brother Andrew for the task of getting names. I wasn't quite sure how well it would work out with multiple games and of course multiple teams. The vote is still out because I just sent my photos to Blade and he's going to identify the shots he wishes to use for the paper. The true test will be when he responds and how easily I'll be able to provide the names.

To make things more difficult there were 4 games going on concurrently, and almost all of them had a Bowie team involved. Likewise, many of the children are close in age, and that makes it difficult to identify them. For example, we knew that on field #3 the Bowie 13-15 year olds were playing, and on field #2 the Bowie 11-12 year olds were playing. In some cases a 13 year old looks very similar in age to a 12 year old. And they all had the exact same uniforms! I guess we'll have to see how it goes...

One thing that jumped out at me was the microphone feature on the D2XS. Prior to today's shoot I didn't understand why you'd want a microphone on your camera. I know realize it: it's so that you can associate an audio stream with a photo. If you don't have an assistant and you have to capture names AND pictures you're going to miss something. You'll either miss a player's name or an important moment in the game. With a microphone I imagine you can record a short message and it's somehow associated with the picture (or the folder).

It's funny because on the car ride home on Friday evening I wondered if we still had my mp3 recorder. I was thinking about pulling it out and firing it up for Saturday's game to aid me in capturing names. I really didn't want to have to put my camera down while I pulled out my pad of paper and pen. I've now totally connected the dots with a microphone and a camera and I think it's pretty wise!

Getting to the game was a story in and of itself. The Soapbox Derby was so exciting and fun that my wife and I didn't leave it until later than what we had planned. We walked up to Union Station and had some curry chicken prior to boarding the metro back to College Park. This only increased our delay. A transfer at Ft Totten also tacked on an additional 10 minutes to the delay. By the time we got back to our house in College Park it was about 12:15, and I had wanted to leave College Park for Bowie no later than 11:20. So we were about an hour late heading to the game...

Adding to our problems was an accident on East/West Highway under the BW Parkway that blocked BOTH lanes of traffic! Unfortunately it took us a good 15 minutes before we got to the turnaround point. And, since we couldn't take US 50 to Bowie and instead had to take surface streets with lights, our travel time increased. By the time we got out to Bowie High School it was 12:50. We were an hour later than what I had wanted!

When we arrived at Bowie High School the field had some American Legion players on it practicing. Likewise, the AL staff was assembling the foodstand, and a few people had started to gather in the stands. It was clear that we were early for whatever activity was about to take place. Earlier in the week I had confirmed the 12 noon start time for the baseball event, but I didn't confirm the location at Bowie High School.

A quick call to my wife at home revealed that the location was actually over at Black Sox Field on Mitchellville Rd. Andrew and I piled back in the car and hussled over to Mitchellville Rd to look for the field. 15 minutes later (now almost an hour and a half late), we were driving up Mitchellville Rd looking for the baseball field. There are about 3 different sports parks on Mitchellville Rd and none of them had an event occurring. So we kept driving, and eventually found the baseball event. It was nestled back behind a bunch of trees.

Fortunately we made it to the game with a few innings left in each game. I really hate being late, and a whole long list of "bad things" happened that wound up in me making it there just in time to snap a few shots. I kept thinking during the whole situation that I like to arrive 15 minutes prior to an event, and here I was almost an hour and a half late.

Overall the shoot went very well, and the coaches were very accommodating with respect to giving me access to the dugouts. There weren't any good shooting spots except from a small area in the dugouts where there was no chain fence. As as a result I had to stand in the dugout next to the coaches in order to capture my shots.

The 70-200/2.8 lens performed well, and there wasn't ever a time that I wanted a longer lens or a shorter lens. That lens is so versatile - I love it. Shot the entire event on ISO 100 with Sunny white balance. Most of my focus used spot, and that worked well. The subjects didn't move around very much and as a result most of my shots were keepers.

It was also fun to capture the players sliding into the bases. They steal a lot of bases, and often they get run down by the fielders. I made a mental note that younger baseball games like this could actually be fun to shoot.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

DC Soapbox Derby

Earlier in the week I sent an email over to Al Santos at the DC Sports Box and asked him about a photo he took of a basketball player in the Verizon Center. I wanted to know some more details about what lens he used and what the lighting is like in Verizon. This is very relevant to something I'm pursuing right now: a new short lens.

At the center of my inquiry was the question of the f-stop on his lens. I specifically wanted to know if he was shooting faster than f2.8, or if he was at f2.8 and the lights in Verizon are just really good. Here's a link to the picture in question. As it stands now, I don't know if getting a 50mm/f1.4 lens would suit me best in Comcast or if a f2.8 lens would suffice. I also included a link to my blog site and asked Al for any advice (good or bad).

To my surprise Al responded that he took the shot at f2.8 and that the light in Verizon was very bright. I was also pleased because he reviewed some of my shots and offered me an assignment for Saturday: the DC Soapbox Derby. He even mentioned that some Maryland Football players would be present at noon!

I was excited to attend this event for 3 reasons: 1.) it was in Washington DC. 2.) it was for somebody other than the Majestics and the Bowie Blade. 3.) it was a new sport. Washington DC is a beautiful city, especially during the summer when everything is green and there is a lot of activity. I knew that I'd be able to capture some compelling backgrounds if I looked hard enough. Between the monuments and the passers by I thought the event would be ripe for good shots.

I was also happy to make contact with someone other than the Majestics and the Blade. Shooting for the Majestics and for the Blade has been very rewarding for me, and one of the biggest lessons I've learned is how important it is to become affiliated with a news organization. In the past I approached individual sports franchises offering to volunteer and got nowhere. On the other hand, media outlets seem to be bombarded with requests by event organizers for coverage. From what I can tell it seems like a lot of media outlets end up turning down coverage requests because there are so many events that occur in the DC area. I'm hoping that if Al likes my shots that he'll pass on a few more volunteer assignments for events that he and his other photographers don't have the time to cover.

Lastly, it's fun to shoot a new sport. Unlike the other times I covered a new sport for the first time, I went into this shoot expecting disappointing results. I fully anticipated attending the event and failing to capture the moment because I'd be too busy learning the flow of the event. A lot of sports photography seems to be based on anticipating action. In baseball, when a player gets to first base you need to be looking for the steal and capturing the player when he slides into 2nd. Likewise, when the player is on 2nd, you should head to 3rd and look for the steal or capture the runner rounding 3rd base. When you attend a new sports event for the first time it seems like you do a lot of "drat I missed that!" because you don't understand the sport. As a result, I expected poor performance on this shoot.

To my surprise a lot of the shots came out extremely well! Out of 150 or so shots, 40 were "keepers". That's my best first-time-out experience to date, and it really makes me happy. I can feel myself getting better and more focused when I attend an event. I now routinely am checking the white balance and ISO settings throughout the event. In the past I'd often get halfway through the event before realizing that my white balance setting was still set to the value of the last event. Practice...practice...practice...

The first part of the event was difficult to cover. All of the racers were gathered by their soapbox cars at the bottom of the hill underneath a couple of large birch trees that blocked out most of the sunlight. There was also a lot of bright yellow CAUTION tape surrounding the "parking lot", and behind the CAUTION tape was a lot of families with brightly colored tents, chairs, coolers, and other fare. It was a very busy background, and that made for difficult composition.

My coworker Jason let me borrow his 18-55mm lens this weekend, and I used it for most of the "parking lot" shots. It's a kit lens with a variable aperture f3.5-f5.6. As a result, the depth of field is pretty wide, and that made dealing with the background particularly difficult. If I had my 17-35/2.8 or my 18-55/2.8 I could have easily narrowed the depth of field and thrown all the noise in the background out of focus. I attempted to do so using my 50/1.8 lens, but the zoom was just too tight for capturing the competitors with their long soapbox cars. To my surprise, the 18-55/3.5-5.6 lens didn't perform too badly, and in some of my shots I managed to throw the background out of focus. Needless to say, I'm really looking forward to my short-range 2.8 lens. I may even order it this week...

I'm constantly amazed by my 70-200/2.8 lens. It allows me to get in so close to my subjects without being right up in their face for the shot. As a result, it allows my subjects to remain in the moment, and I think that my shots capture that. Very few of my shots actually have posed (artificial) subjects - most of them capture a racer as they prepare for a run, or while they receive some piece of advice from a father or uncle. For anyone getting started in sports photography I highly recommend the 70-200/2.8. The 400/2.8 is great for the serious sports photographer who is shooting for a job and on the sideline of a Redskins or Nationals game, but the 70-200 is versatile and fast enough for the newcomer trying to get started shooting a lot of amateur sporting events. In these events where the action is relatively close the lens works exceptionally well. I'm so happy I purchased it this winter!

I took my first "45 degree oh cool!" shot, and I failed at it. I've become a lot more observant of the photos I see in the newspaper, online, and in magazines. I've noticed that some very great shots are taken at a slight angle so as to frame some secondary artifact in the picture such that it is central to the shot. In my case, I tried to direct the attention of the viewer onto an emblem of the Washington DC Metropoliton Police Department logo on one of the soapbox cars while all the competitors were captured in the background. However, I didn't do it correctly - I angled the logo 90 degrees in the WRONG direction! I should have rotated my camera 45 degrees clockwise, but instead I angled it 45 degrees counter-clockwise. Needless to say, in the future I'll be looking for similar shooting opportunities and I'll try to do a better job on lining up the focal point of my shot!

Most of my shots took place at the starting line, where competitors assembled, lined up, and launched from. The starting line was positioned underneath a tent that blocked out a lot of sun. As a result I was confused about which white balance setting to use: shade, cloudy, or sunny? I shot most of them using sunny and overall they came out pretty well. The few that I shot with shade came out a bit yellow. I think you can clean all that up in Aperture afterwards, but the less time I have to spend in post processing the better!

I managed to get some shots of the competitors as they raced down the track. These turned out surprisingly well, as the depth of field really played a nice role! The track was so large that I was able to just focus on the racer and most of the rest of the shot was out of focus. When I took the shots it was difficult to tell how they came out on my 2.5" LCD, but when I looked at them on the computer I said: Wow! I really regret not taking more!

I considered taking some shots of the racers at the bottom of the hill. However, it would have been a difficult shot for a 3 reasons: 1.) the sun was behind them and thus in the background of the shot. 2.) the racers movement towards me would make focus very challenging. 3.) the racers are moving close to 30mph at that point! As a result I stayed put at the starting line. In retrospect I regret not having tried... Next year I'll do a better job!

I also had a very enjoyable time because my wife Julie decided to attend the event with me. She's had a few medical problems the past few years, and mornings typically present the most difficulties for her. I was planning on getting up at 0730 for this event, and to my surprise she offered to wake up that early as well and follow me downtown for the shoot. It was really nice having her tag along, and she was very excited about soapbox cars. In fact, she wanted to go home and make one to race! It was nice having her out there because it got her out to do something unusual and she really enjoyed it. I enjoyed having someone to talk to on the way to the event and during the event, and I especially enjoyed having someone to hold my water bottle for me!