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...


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