Thursday, June 14, 2007

Women's Soccer: Majestics vs Renegades

After covering the Bowie Olympics and the American Legion baseball games I headed south to Woodbridge VA to shoot some soccer games. First up on the list was the women's team, the Majestics.

To my surprise the American Legion baseball went quickly. I was kind of happy about this because it was extremely hot and dusty. I have pretty bad allergies and the dust was getting to me by the end of the game. There was also a pretty awful stench coming from the wetlands adjacent to the baseball field. Combine dust, a putrid smell, and high heat and it's pretty motivating to move elsewhere!

When the game ended I drove up to the local shopping mall and found a McDonalds. There I washed off my hands, arms, and face (I was very sweaty!) and bought a soft drink. I retired to my car, and parked underneath a set of trees. There I reviewed my shots from the baseball game and performed my first round of picking-over. Overall I was happy with my success rate - many of my shots came out well. I unloaded the battery that was low and connected it up to my QuickCharge and turned the car southward. Off to the soccer games!

About an hour later I arrived in Woodbridge VA. Earlier in the week I contacted Mo and asked if I could attend and cover the event for him. I'm not sure what Mo's role is in the organization, but I believe he's fairly high up on the totum pole. He said I could attend and as a result I was very much looking forward to the event. Since he asked me to come it gave me some more confidence in my shots. In previous games I was cautious about where I shot from. But after talking with Mo and the other photographer (Larry) I was pretty much granted all access to around the field. He also said I could shoot the players on the bench whenever I wanted. This was very encouraging because the celebrations on the sideline are often as compelling as the in-game shots.

I was also happy to see Larry at the game. During the last game I only had a few minutes to chat with him. When I arrived at the game he started talking with me almost immediately and we talked about different shoots since the last time we were both at Gar-Field. It's really helpful to talk with other photographers - lots of times they give me ideas for where to position myself, or they share what kinds of shoots they try to capture. I'm very much learning by osmosis...

Mo also offered me a NOVA Soccer polo shirt, and I was very happy to accept it. In fact, I went out into the parking lot and changed my shirt so that I could wear it! All the other people associated with the team had NOVA Soccer shirts, and by having one it helped me move around the field more easily. I think it also helped because the coaches, players, and referees saw the shirt and associated me with the team. I'll have to keep that in mind on other shoots. I wonder if the Bowie Blade sells shirts...

Overall the shoot went very well, although my legs were getting quite tired towards the end. I shot all of the game standing fully upright. My quads were simply too tired from shooting on my knees earlier in the day, and so I had to shoot the game standing up. The shots came out pretty well, although they probably would've come out better if I was kneeling. But I kept telling myself that if I kneeled I'd probably run into my focus problems.

I shot the game using continuous focus with spot autofocus using aperture priority mode and my 70-200mm/2.8 VR lens. My results were the best yet. Out of 200 or so "good" photos I had over 40 keepers. That's the most keepers from a shoot ever! And it's close to 25% of my overall shots! I was very happy to hit those numbers. While reviewing the pictures I just kept marvelling at how many shots came out so well. I think it had to do with my continuous focus as well as standing upright.

The lighting for the game was spectacular - not a cloud in the sky. It's truly amazing how well the colors look when the sun is setting and you have the proper white balance setting.

I was very selective in which shots I took. Unlike last time I avoided shooting subjects at the far side of the field. Even at 200mm I'm simply too far away for the focus to function properly. I could apply my 2X TC, but I really love what the narrow depth of field does to my shot composition. When my subjects are all the way across the field they are so close to the background (the empty stands) that the composition is very poor. In comparison, when I shoot a player inbounding the ball from my side of the field I can focus on the player and throw the rest of the background out of focus with my 2.8 lens. Combining the shallow depth of field from my fast glass with the wonderful lighting that a sunset provides and mixing in the rich colors of the outdoors (green grass, players with bright uniforms) really has produced some shots that I'm quite proud of. I'm very excited about this fall and what Maryland teams I'll be able to shoot under similar lighting and environmental conditions!

I also tried to avoid shooting towards the sunlight during this event. The last time I covered the Majestics was my first time shooting soccer. As a result I shot a LOT and analyzed it back on my computer. As I expected, the shots looking towards the light were washed out very badly. I avoided those shots as much as possible during today's shoot. I think that's partly why my accuracy percentage shot up for this event - I knew what to shoot and what not to shoot, and I didn't press the shutter release when the shot wasn't right.

It was very surprising just how close a 70mm lens gets you to your subjects when they're in motion. I could easily track my subjects from about midfield to 1/4 of the way across the field, but if they got closer than 1/4 of the field to me I'd have to physically back up because 70mm didn't allow me to capture their entire body (from soccer ball to head). It definitely would have helped to have had a second body with a 18-55mm lens on it. Maybe one day...

The postprocessing of this event has reminded me of my goal this summer: develop (or find) some decent gallery software for my portfolio. I'm currently using Gallery for my home pictures, but it's just about the most unpleasant gallery software I've ever worked with. I'm looking to develop some flash based software that will allow me to do something like what the UMTerps website does. You can click here for an example. In doing so I'm looking to provide a photographic resume for myself that I can present to media outlets in the fall. I'm hoping that I can both give it away for free as well as offer to help system administrators install it. In exchange for that I'm hoping that somebody offers me a media pass to the Terps. But, if I don't develop the software I don't have an offer I can make. I really need to get started on it...

On another note... Today marks the second time I've officially been published! Some of my photos from the American Legions baseball game on Saturday have been featured in the Sports section of the Bowie Blade. Hats off to Jake Linger for posting my shots, and I'm looking forward to continuing to shoot for the Blade during the summer.


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