Monday, June 11, 2007

Bowie Olympics

I had a nice time off for the past 2 weeks but it was also good to get back behind the lens. I was away in NC for a week long vacation, and while there I didn't do very much shooting. I mostly worked on a proposal for my company, improvements around my house, sailing, and jet skiing. I took a few shots, but not too many. I was too busy enjoying myself!

I was looking forward to the weekend a lot. I attended several events on Saturday and shot all of them. Two of them were in Bowie MD, and the last 2 were in Woodbridge VA. On Saturday morning I attended the Bowie Olympics. This was a small event that took place at the football field behind Bowie High School. Several local amateur athletes showed up and competed in long jumping, shot put, and track.

There was great light for the event. Plenty of sun and very few clouds in the sky. I was a bit distracted because my close friend Tim was in attendance. He wasn't competing tho - he owns a house a few blocks away and we were merely catching up. I thought about asking him to get some names of the various athletes, but decided not to because I neglected to bring a pad of paper and a pen. More on this mistake later...

Prior to shooting the Olympics I took some pictures inside the gym. There was a basketball game going on inside and I decided to take advantage of the situation. I've read a lot about how dark and unpleasant high school gymnasiums are, and my experience definitely matches up with what I've read! It was insanely dark! I shot at 3200 ISO with a 2.8 lens and even under those circumstances the meter indicated a shutter speed of 1/120th of a second. For basketball that's simply too slow! In many instances I failed to stop the motion. It really got me thinking about the lighting.

The colors were also very unflattering. The walls were a grayish yellow, and there were very few decorations posted. I took my pictures back for post processing and almost puked at how awful they turned out. I think that if anyone offers me an assignment to cover an event in a high school gym I'm going to turn it down. Shooting sports is great, but I'm not good enough to turn a bad environment into a wonderful set of shots.

After the basketball I was happy to shoot outdoors. When I arrived at the field and met up with Tim he introduced me to several different people he knew at the event. A few of them asked me to take their picture. I gladly took them, but it reinforced my desire for a second camera body. I had my 70-200/2.8 on my D200 and I can't use that for photos of people up close. As a result I had to switch lenses down to my 50/1.8 MF lens.

However, in all the chaos of changing lenses I neglected to adjust my ISO balance. Oddly enough, I did remember to change my WB from incandescent to sunlight. But for whatever reason I forgot to reduce my ISO from 3200 down to something reasonable for outdoors. My camera can only shoot 1/8000th of a second, and at ISO3200 and ISO 1.8 the image came out almost entirely white. Fortunately I caught the mistake and adjusted the ISO down to 100 and reshot the photos. They came out pretty well.

I then started walking around the event shooting several of the participants. For the most part it went well. It was difficult to cover the shot put folks because there was a ring of people surrounding the competitor throwing the ball. As a result I couldn't frame a good shot because there were always people around the subject. And at f2.8 on a 70mm lens I couldn't create the depth of field I needed to throw the surrounding observers out of focus. I definitely could've done it with my 50mm lens, but I didn't have time to change lenses.

Shooting the long jump competitors was a lot of fun. Some of the competitors had great expressions on their faces as the jumped. I was hoping to catch some of the competitors with their feet landing first and impacting the sand but unfortunately there weren't enough competitors jumping in that fashion. Most of the competitors were young and they'd just leap into the air rather than jumping and throwing their feet forward. I'll keep my eye out for track events at Maryland. I have a feeling that taking some photos of long jumpers would come out really well.

The last sport I shot at the Olympics was the track events. This was the largest of the events and went on for awhile. They ran a 100m and 200m dash. For this I mostly hung out at the finish line and shot the competitors as they ran down the track. This presented excellent depth of field opportunities. In many of the shots my subjects are sharp and in-focus in the foreground while the background is out of focus. Overall they look very good.

I considered taking some shots at the starting line, but since there weren't any starting blocks and the event was pretty informal I decided against it. A shot of the gunner at the start would've been great but the participants were all in the 6-7 year old age bracket so they didn't line up very formally. As a result I don't think the shot would've been that great.

After I sent the shots to Jake at the Blade he responded and asked for names of some of the participants. He indicated that there are strict rules about posting pictures of children in the paper and they needed a name for each participant they wanted to print. I really regret not taking a pad of paper and a pen. I want to have my pictures published, and in order to do that I had to do a lot of work to track down the names of some of the participants. Fortunately they wore nametags and I was able to use several different pictures to reconstruct their names. It was very difficult too. And I had to make several phone calls to the event organizers in order to confirm the names. Bottom line: I'll be adding a notepad and pen to my go-bag for the next shoot!

Overall I learned a lot from this shoot: 1.) apply sunscreen before driving to the event in order to give it time to soak in. 2.) bring bottles of water so you can rehydrate. 3.) bring a pad of paper and a pen in order to record the names of event participants. 4.) take several test shots to verify your settings before you get to the "serious" shoot.

I'll be posting a few more articles about the other events I covered over the weekend shortly.


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