Sunday, July 29, 2007

After Monday's auditions of the Wizards Dancers I was looking forward to some basketball on Tuesday night.

During the day on Monday I thought about a 400mm lens and on Monday night I decided to purchase a used 400mm/f2.8 AF-S lens from a photographer on SportsShooter. Unfortunately PayPal is extremely slow in moving money from our bank account into our PayPal account so my seller probably won't ship it until next week.

Al's still on vacation this week so he offered the Mystics shoot to me. I was looking forward to it because shooting basketball is so much fun. And since I was in Verizon Center the evening before I had some time to think about what settings to use for tonight's game.

I reached Verizon Center early and had plenty of time to get my laptop set up and to take a few test shots from out on the corner. Unfortunately the network configuration changed again. In the past the media relations people have posted the username and password for the network on the dry erase board inside of Verizon Center.

Eventually one of the technicians came by and helped another reporter with his network settings. While he was helping I listened in and applied the same settings to my environment. That's one of the nice benefits of being a full time software engineer and system administrator: I understand a lot about computers, networking, and wireless. As a result I'm pretty good at getting my laptop working (as long as I have the proper username and password!)

I headed out to the court and noticed that the other photographers (AP for the most part) had already claimed their spots on the close side of the court. Rather than actually being out there waiting for the game to start they instead plunked down their makeshift seats. This was kind of frustrating because I was hoping to get a good spot on that side of the court. But there wasn't any room for me because it had already been claimed.

I made my way down to the far end of the court and claimed my spot out as far from under the basket as possible. I'm still shooting with my 70-200 lens and it's really difficult to shoot under the basket at 70mm. It's just too close for many of the shots that I'm taking these days.

I spoke with another photographer named Carroll who was there for a friend who couldn't make it. He was shooting with a Canon and he sat next to me out on the 3 point line. He was telling me that he shoots a few Maryland games but mostly shoots up in the Baltimore area. I mentioned this blog and the DC Sports Box and invited him to come take a look at my photos.

A fan in the crowd came up to me and asked if he could purchase some of my photos. I said that I didn't know the regulations regarding the selling of our photos but that I would ask somebody and get back to him. I didn't think that we could use our photos for commercial purposes and it turns out that I I was right: credentialed photographers can only use their photographs for editorial purposes.

I decided to try to shoot this game at ISO800. ISO1000 is pretty noisy, and Verizon is really bright. I've also had a lot of success at lightening my photos in Aperture in post processing. I decided not to use EV correction like the last game. I wanted to try just using ISO800 and 1/400th second shutter speed with 0 EV correction to see how it looked.

It turned out pretty well. I didn't have any problems with stopping action at 1/400th second, and the ISO800 is certainly less noisy than ISO1000. I'm going to continue using ISO800 and 1/400th for my next shoots, but I may use some EV correction just to see how it performs.

I stuck with group weighted autofocus and it worked extremely well. I also adjusted the time delay for refocusing and set it to "long". I had very few out-of-focus shots, and virtually no back-focused shots. This is absolutely great in comparison to when I started off shooting basketball at Comcast Center. I used to constantly get focus on the crowd and not the players, and that pretty much never happens any more. It occurs from time to time, but it's pretty rare.

The shoot went pretty well, and the two teams provided a lot of great chances for photos. One player in particular scored 47 points, a WNBA league record. Fortunately for me she kept driving right in front of me and I took quite a few photos of her.

I noticed that several of the other photographers under the basket were shooting using 18-55mm lenses. That's what I've been thinking I should shoot with during these games. Use a 70-200mm for the long shots at the far end of the court and a 18-55 for shots under my basket.

But I also noticed that the AP photographers on the far end of the court were using 70-200mm lenses when the ball was under their basket. This surprised me because they own 18-55mm lenses. It looked like they were using 300mm lenses for the far end of the court and 70-200mm lenses for under the basket. The next time I'm at a game I'm going to try to talk to another photographer and ask them what they use for under-the-basket shots.

I also recognized the female photographer from the Dance Team auditions the previous night. And I recognized a photographer from the AP. I think his name is Nick. He was at the Nationals game on Sunday. I suppose it's something of a small world for sports photography in the DC area.

There's a Mystics game this coming weekend, and maybe if I'm lucky I'll have my 400mm lens by then. There are also a bunch of Baysox and Nationals games the following week. I'm sure that I'll have my lens by then and hopefully I'll get some good chances to try it out.

Friday, July 27, 2007

NBA: Wizards Dance Team Auditions

Al emailed me on Monday at 2pm and asked if I was willing to cover the Wizards Dance Team Auditions and Slam-Dunk contest this evening at Verizon Center. After checking with Julie I responded with a resounding: YES!

The DC Sports Box has been covering a lot of Mystics games this summer. It's fun covering the WNBA, and it keeps our basketball shooting skills sharp over the summer. But it also keeps us connected with the media folks at the Verizon Center. Covering some minor events like the Dance Team Auditions gets us noticed from a media standpoint. Hopefully it will help us get more credentials in the Fall. Maybe that's just hopeful thinking...

I got a late start to Verizon Center by leaving Annapolis at 5:45pm. Normally I like to arrive at the event 45 minutes prior to the start. I've avoided taking the PG Plaza metro into DC because I'm afraid of being raped, and instead I use the College Park stop. From College Park to Gallery Place it's about 30 minutes. It can take less time if people move off the metro quickly.

If the event starts at 7 and I plan to arrive by 6:15. And if it takes 30 minutes from College Park to Gallery Place/Chinatown I need to leave College Park no later than 5:45. Annapolis is a 40 minute drive from College Park, so I was pretty nervous about arriving late.

Through a combination of speeding and running through the metro I was able to reach Verizon Center by around 6:50pm. With 10 minutes to spare I emerged from the underground metro and hustled down the face of the building to the media entrance.

I guess my luck from RFK on Saturday continued, because when I reached the press entrance it was all locked up and there weren't any guards inside. I found a nearby security guard that protected the entrance to the parking garage under Verizon Center and uttered the all-too-familiar phrase I've been using lately: "Can you help me find the media room?"

He said that there weren't any press passes for tonight because it was a closed event, and suggested I go to the main security entrance of the building. I managed to locate this entrance and went inside to find a guard relaxing in a chair watching some TV (clearly working hard). I managed to get his attention and he didn't look very pleased that I wasn't a guard there to see him. He said: "YES?" in a very inquisitive tone.

I informed him that I was here for the auditions and slam-dunk contest and that I had been credentialed for the event. He motioned me through but didn't seem very interested in helping me locate the media room. He waived his arm and motioned me in the direction of the staircase and went back to watching TV and reading his newspaper. I hoped that this staircase was the same one I had used when I arrive at the press-entrance. Fortunately it was...

I walked downstairs to where the media room was located and didn't find a guard standing outside. I thought that was unusual and I peeked inside to see if anyone was home. The lights were off and the room was hot. Clearly nobody was working tonight.

I continued out to the court, unescorted, carrying my backpack and camera case. As I emerged from the tunnel and made my way out to the court an "event staff" person approached me. He was clearly disturbed that I had come through the tunnel, unescorted, and was carrying a few black bags. I mentioned that the press entrance was closed but the security guards had let me through, and that I was a credentialed photographer for tonight's event. The "event staff" person escorted me to another "event staff" person at the opposite side of the court, who then ushered me back to the tunnel to another "event staff" person. That "event staff" person finally located Darrin, the media relations person.

I repeated my story to Darrin and he indeed recognized my name. He told the "event staff" person that I could shoot from anywhere, and I breathed a sigh of relief. I was finally ready to take out my camera and start shooting! And this was just in time too: the event was about to start, and all of my escorting back and forth chewed up about 15 minutes.

There were 2 other photographers present: Jose (the team photographer), and a woman. I didn't catch her name but she seemed very informed and carried 2 bodies. I took a few test shots out on the court and adjusted my settings. To my surprise Verizon turned up the same amount of lights that they use during a game. I figured they would have reduced the lighting for a small event.

I used the aperture priority mode and let the camera meter tell me what settings I should use for proper exposure. I then flipped over to Manual and applied them. They were the same settings I use during the games: 1/500th and f2.8 with ISO 1000. I made sure to set my WB to indoor lighting.

I also noticed that a coworker from Zenoss was in attendance: Marc. Marc and his wife Aaron were present with their 3-month old newborn. I sat with Marc waiting for the players to arrive. Both Marc and I didn't realize that we were both going to attend tonight's event. Small world...

Gilbert Arenas arrived a few minutes later along with 2 other players. I went down to the floor and took some shots of the players sitting at a desk examining pictures of the dancers. There were some good moments but overall they were fairly expressionless. I guess that looking at Polaroid photos of dancers standing still isn't as exciting as competing in an NBA game.

I noticed that Jose and the female photographer were using flash, so I decided to join in on the fun. I changed my settings to ISO 320 aperture priority mode, and white-balance set to flash. I continued using f2.8. I took a few shots and they came out very well. Shortly thereafter the dancers came out.

I took my seat next to the judge's table and tried my best to shoot the dancers as they came out and did their 30 second routines for the judges. This was extraordinarily difficult! The dancers were moving closer and farther away very rapidly rather than from just side to side. Side to side doesn't change your focus. Back and forth changes it rapidly! It was really really difficult to track the dancers with my 70-200 lens as they moved back and forth.

I took my first photos of the dancers without flash. I went back to my ISO1000, 1/500th second, f2.8 settings with indoor light WB, and took some shots. They came out pretty well but 1/500 was a little slow for their movement. I decided I needed faster shots so I decided to go back to flash.

This seemed appropriate because the other photographers were using flash photography. So far I've been very careful to try to respect my boundaries and to observe what those boundaries are by observing other photographers. I won't be the first to shoot flash, but if I see 2 other photographers do it I'll probably give it a shot. I won't be the first to walk out onto the court after the game, but if I see other photographers do it I'll probably walk.

When I switched to flash photography on the dancers the shots changed a lot. Their hair was no longer blurred, which kind of took away from the image. And a lot of them had the evil red-eye. This is because I don't have an external speedlight and had to use my built-in flash.

I also struggled to fire a bunch of shots. Initially my built-in flash worked well but the more shots I took the less frequently I could fire the flash. I definitely need an SB-800 for shots, and down the road I'm sure I'll pick one up. I'll probably go used tho since I won't use it too frequently.

This shoot was a surprisingly fun shoot because it was yet another different environment that I needed to adapt to. I've been trying to shoot as many different environments as possible and in doing so I've learned a lot more about my gear and about photography in general. Even though there wasn't any score in this competition it was still worth the coverage.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

After covering the Nationals game I high-tailed it out to Bowie to shoot the opening pitch of the Bowie Baysox against the Erie Seawolves.

Jason Campbell, the quarterback from the Washington Redskins, threw out the opening pitch and Jake from the Bowie Blade asked if I could stop by and get a few photos. I didn't commit to Jake's request because I didn't know when the Nats game would let out and I didn't know how long it would take to get from the New Carrollton metro stop out to Prince George's Stadium in Bowie.

During the ride to the stadium I recorded the amount of time required to get from New Carrollton to the media room. This was a bit inflated because I bumped around in an suboptimal way when heading to the stadium, but it was a safe way to determine what my drop-dead leave time had to be in order to get back to New Carrollton and be in my car heading out to Bowie.

I made it out to Bowie with plenty of time and went to the main office to ask if Jake had requested my credential. The lady behind the desk checked the list and reported that I wasn't on it. I asked if I could just take a few shots of Jason Campbell for the Bowie Blade and she called for the general manager (Ryan) to come over and help us.

Ryan and Jake have a good working relationship, and I met Ryan and spoke with him for a bit during the Iverson classic. Ryan recognized me and even remembered my first name. I told him that Jake had asked me to come out to cover the first pitch but that he hadn't put in a credential request for me. Ryan said it wasn't a problem and said he would make me up a credential immediately.

Interestingly enough, Ryan was the gentleman I spoke with back in May when I called the Baysox and asked if I could be a volunteer photographer for them. Back then Ryan didn't express much interest at all, but now 2 short months later he recognizes me, my first name, and is writing up a credential for me. Funny how things change...

Ryan handed me my pass and I put it around my neck and headed down to the field to prepare for the shoot. While I was down on the field unpacking my gear I glanced down at the credential and noticed the details Ryan had added. On the credential it says: "Game: SEASON". I earned my first season credential!

With a smile on my face and the sun setting over 1st base I prepared for the shoot thinking about what additional games I could now attend and cover without going through the timely process of requesting a credential. It's nice having this door opened to me, and I'd like to take advantage of the opportunity over the next few months.

The sun was getting pretty low in the sky by the time Jason arrived on the field to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. I used aperture priority mode and my 70-200/2.8 lens and "sun" as the WB setting and ISO 400. I tried a few flash test shots but for some reason they were extremely washed out. I'm not sure why that happened and I have to investigate it some more.

The shots of Jason on the field came out pretty well. However, there were a bunch of people clowning around in costumes of animals prancing around behind Jason. Unfortunately they were moving around too! If they were standing still I could adjust my position and capture a shot of Jason with an out-of-focus background. But with multiple idiots running around in the background it was difficult to time the shots correctly. Fortunately I got a few for the Blade.

I also took some pictures of Jason up in the stands signing autographs at a table. There was a long line of fans standing in line waiting to have their jersey signed by the Quarterback. The Chief was sitting next to Jason as well, and I managed to get a few pictures of the two. Unfortunately, the staff at the Baysox positioned the two in a pretty bad position from a lighting standpoint. They were sitting at a table that had the stadium in the background, but they had no foreground lighting. 75% of the lighting was backlighting from the sky.

The backlight was insufficient to illuminate their face, and shots with a flash completely whited out the background. The only shots I was able to get of the two were from the side, where the lighting was at least somewhat decent. I still used my flash on ISO320 and in aperture priority mode, and that seemed to work somewhat well.

I stuck around and decided to shoot a few innings while there was still some light. At this point I was starved, tired, a bit sunburned, and had a bit of a headache from being outside all day in the sun shooting without sunglasses, sunscreen, a hat, or a bite to eat. It was around 7:30pm and everyone in the stands was enjoying funnel cake, french fries, cold beers, hot dogs, and other fan fare and I was absolutely starving and dying of thirst. The Nationals didn't offer any food or drink for the photographers, and I only had time to grab a quick coke on the way out from the stadium to the metro. I chugged it in the time it took me to go from the stadium to the metro.

I ended up leaving after the 4th and come home to review my pictures. The light was getting low and I figured I had enough activity for a single day.

On Sunday I shot my first Major League Baseball game. It was a ton of fun!

During the Spring I spent a lot of time at University of Maryland at College Park shooting the Terrapin Baseball team, as well as the Softball team. Baseball is a lot of waiting and is extremely difficult to cover. In most sports you can get away with 1/500th of a second shutter speeds, but in baseball you really need to be north of 1/1200th of a second. The action goes from nothing to extremely fast in a very small amount of time.

In my previous post I spoke about how important it is to be able to anticipate the next event so that you can prepare to capture it. This is still true in baseball, but it's slightly different. In baseball you don't know if the batter is going to actually hit the ball, and you have absolutely no clue where the batter will hit the ball assuming he does hit it! Just about the only anticipation you can do is to figure out "where the next play will be" and shoot accordingly.

If a man is on first then a possible play will be the first base player stealing second. Most of the time I'm covering baseball I'm reading the positions of the players and trying to determine where the next play will take place. It's pretty boring in comparison to basketball and soccer.

But today was pretty exciting for me because it was my first MLB game, and it was my first time shooting in Robert F Kennedy Memorial Stadium. Shooting a venue for the first time is very challenging. Awhile back I made the comment that you really have to be comfortable saying "I'm lost, can you please help me?" to complete strangers in order to get started in sports photography. Today that really rang true...

I haven't ever ridden the Metro to RFK, but I knew from Al that the proper stop was "Stadium/Armory." Walking out of the metro I didn't know where RFK was, but I was able to follow people in the correct general direction until I saw the stadium. But, once I reached the stadium I had to find the location where I pick up my media credential.

I walked to the Will-Call and asked and was redirected over to "Gate B". I walked from the Main Gate (Will-Call) past Gate A, and found Gate B. There was practically nobody at Gate B, but there was a little kiosk with an older lady inside. I asked her: "Where can I pick up my media credential?" She directed me back to "Gate A".

I walk back to "Gate A" and ask another lady in another trailer for the media table, and she says to walk past the "yellow pegs". I said: "what yellow pegs?" Her response: "you'll see them!" So I kept walking, eventually finding some concrete pegs sticking out of the ground that are painted yellow. But there's no table around them. I walk up to another person with a uniform on and ask for the location of the media table. She points me to a table about 30 feet away, and I finally get to a place where somebody has a piece of paper with my name on it.

I pick up my credential and ask the lady: "where's the media entrance?" She forwards me to a set of closed doors, and I walk inside to find some security people. There they scan my bags for bombs, and wave me on through. "Where can I find the media room?" I ask. "It's upstairs." I walk upstairs... Lots of stairs. I finally make it up what seems like 4 flights of steps and ask another guard: "Where is the media room?" His response: "You're at the press box. The media room is down in the basement." Back down the steps I go...

I pass the guard I had seen 5 minutes earlier and said: "Is the media room in the basement?" His response: "oh the media room? Yes, it's in the basement..." I sigh and continue moving downstairs. I exit the stairwell and pop out into what seems like a dungeon. It's basically a curved coordior the width of a 2 lane highway that's not well lit, is very damp, and there's equipment all over the place. Fortunately I find another guard and ask him: "Can you help me find the media room?"

"Walk around this corridor until you see the Visitors Locker Room sign and then turn right. The next guard will help you." So I start walking... It wasn't a very far walk before I encountered another security guard who was sitting outside of a door with a label on it. "Visitors Locker Room" the label said, so I walked over to the guard and asked: "Is the media room through here?" He nodded and opened the door for me to reveal another corridor. I ask him again: "where exactly is the media room?" He motions towards the right, where I finally find a sign on a door that says "Media Room." I've arrived... Finally...

I open the door to the media room and I see an IKEA style plastic table on the left and a bunch of chairs in the front of the room with a Nationals backdrop. A few video cameras are set up pointing towards the Nationals backdrop, and 4 people were sitting at the IKEA table. I gingerly walk past all of the equipment, cables, still cameras, and video until I reach the chairs. There I put down my backpack, camera, and take a deep breathe. It's quite a hike from the metro to here!

I didn't want to sit at the IKEA table because I didn't know if the seating was assigned or if the other "regular photographers" were waiting on a late arrival to come and take his regular spot. So I sat in the radio and TV reporter chairs and assembled my gear. As I put everything together I thought: how do I get to the field?

I stand up and leave the room, turning in the direction of the field not having any idea of if I'm going to emerge in left field or behind home plate. I walk out into the sunlight and find that I'm located to the left of the visitor's dugout, right along the 1st baseline. It was about 20 minutes before the first pitch so I walked out onto the field and took a few shots. I looked around for some other photographers and found a spot to the right of the visiting team's dugout. I climbed down into there and took a few test shots.

Eventually I ran into some other photographers and asked one of them where we could shoot from. Fortunately that photographer happened to be Greg Fiume. Greg shoots a lot of Maryland games and I've talked with him a lot. It was really a relief to see a familiar face. I didn't have any idea of when we change positions, or where we could relocate to when we change positions. Greg showed me the ropes and told me where to go and where not to go. He told me where I could camp and where I had to shoot and move on after an inning. I was so glad he was there!

Shooting a MLB game is completely different than shooting a NCAA baseball game. It's a LOT more exciting! There are also a lot more spaces to shoot from because the dugouts are actually dug out low enough to create a lot of shooting spots. During this particular game I shot from every on-field spot (left and right of the two dugouts) as well as from in the stands.

I used my 70-200/2.8 and my 2X TC and it worked pretty well. I shot in aperture priority mode because there were some clouds moving around. In retrospect I should've used Manual mode. I'm going to avoid using aperture priority mode from now on unless it's really variable outside. The meter just washed out a LOT of my shots. Greg remarked to me: "the light in here is playing tricks on my meter."

The 2X TC was necessary when shooting from outside of the dugouts, but when shooting between the dugouts and home plate the 70-200mm was sufficient. It also focuses a lot faster than when you slap on a TC. I noticed that most of the other photographers present were using 2 bodies: one with a 400mm and one with a 70-200mm lens. The 70-200mm is great for capturing the pitcher, the catcher, and the batter when you shoot from between the dugout and home plate. It's also great for capturing players coming off the field.

You can also kind of cover the infield with the 70-200, but you're starting to reach when you look towards 2nd base. The shortstop, 3rd basemen, pitcher, batter, and catcher are reachable from the left side shooting point behind home plate, but the pitcher can be a bit far away as is 2nd base. The opposite is true obviously from the shooting point to the right of home base: you can reach first base, pitcher, catcher, and batter, but 3rd base, short-stop, and 2nd base are a little far. The best places for shooting 1st, 2nd, and 3rd bases are from the spots outside of the dugouts.

There's also a GREAT location up in the stands along the 1st baseline. It's the handicapped spot, and there is a ton of room when there aren't photographers there. That spot is located to the "left" of the netting behind home plate so you can catch runners coming down the 3rd baseline and into home. It's great for when people hit homers. However, the on-field positions next to home plate are great for home run hitters as well.

I stuck with group-weight autofocus on continuous mode. I also kept the custom Image Optimizations, which included the "+2" sharpening. That seemed to work pretty well for me. My shots weren't spectacular, but they weren't too bad for my first time out.

I've said this a ton of times: it's really challenging when you're new to photography and you go to a new stadium to cover a team you've never covered before and you don't know all the rules of where you can and can't shoot from.

When I first shot the Majestics and Royals I didn't know where I could go on the field, and I resisted shooting the players on the bench for candid photos. But towards the end of the season as I got to know the coaches and players a little bit I moved around all over the place and shot anything I wanted to (except injuries). I went from like 12 "keepers" from my first game to over 100 in my last game for the Royals.

Al is hesitant to let me cover more MLB games because I'm short on my lens. He's really been talking up a 300mm lens and dangling the "if you get it I'll give you some more assignments" carrot in front of me. I'm definitely hungry for one, and I was thinking about it on Saturday during my coverage of the Majestics and Royals games. Maybe I'll talk to Julie about it and see what she thinks.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The women's game concluded with plenty of sunlight and the men took the field at around 7pm.

We're just about at the point where days are getting noticeably shorter now, but there is still plenty of light around between 7pm and 8pm. Beyond 8pm it starts getting pretty dark and the stadium lighting is needed in order to shoot.

Larry shuffled off to process his photos of the Majestics but I stayed behind to cover the final home game of the Royals. Tonight's match up against the Reading Rage started out well with both teams competing to win their last games of the season. Tough competition makes for good shots, and I was excited to be there for the final game.

When the sun gets really low in the sky you have to shoot with the sun to your back. You simply can't shoot into the sun when it's low in the sun even if you have a lens hood and great glass. There's simply too much light entering the camera directly from the source rather than from bouncing off of your subjects. If you try to shoot towards the sun you will overexpose and your subjects will be completely out of focus.

This makes it challenging when covering late day games and you're trying to specifically target one team. If that particular team isn't shooting against a goal with a favorable lighting position you're screwed. In the case of the Royals this weekend the lighting was favorable and the sun was setting behind the opponents goal during the first half. That means that the Royals were attacking into the sun, which means that their faces are well lit and the colors are vibrant. But, as the sun set and went behind some tall trees part of the field was occluded in shadow.

When part of the field went behind the shadow I moved to the opposite side of the goal and covered the side of the field that was still lit. It wasn't as good as the first position because it was on the "weak" side (the left hand side). But I managed to get a few shots.

During the women's game earlier Larry and I discussed what settings we used on our D200s. Larry pointed me in the direction of the Image Optimizations. I've looked at the Image Optimizations in the past, but have left them on the Auto setting. The other settings are Vivid, More Vivid, Softer, More Soft, Auto, Custom, and None. Larry recommended setting the image optimizations to "Custom" so that you can control the sharpness, saturation, color mode, and a few other settings.

Between the Majestics and Royals game I poked around in the Image Optimizations menu and located the Sharpness setting. Larry had reported good success with "None", but I thought I'd give "More Sharp (+2)" a try. When the sun started setting I increased my ISO from 400 to 800 and took a few test shots.

To my surprise the Image Optimization made a huge difference! My shots didn't appear nearly as soft when I looked at them in the 2.5" LCD on the back of the camera. I was practically jumping up and down with excitement. I couldn't wait to get home and take a look at the pictures under a microscope.

I also took a few shots using "None" as the image optimization for comparison purposes. When I took a look at the shots later on that evening the "More Sharp (+2)" images came out a lot better. I'm very impressed with how sharp the shots came out under low light conditions. I'm also very excited because after shooting 9 games with "soft" results I feel like I'm finally turning a corner. Too bad it took me 9 games!

During this shoot I also learned about how "off" a camera's meter can be. In the past I've used Aperture priority mode, which basically locks the aperture at a certain value and allows the shutter speed to change to whatever the camera's meter determines is an appropriate speed to properly expose the image. The problem with aperture priority mode is that it's not always accurate. Lots of times I move my camera around: I point it down at the ground, or at some players on the bench, or up in the air, or at the grass. If something happens really quickly I've found that the meter doesn't always sample the light source properly and I'll end up with an under or over exposed photo (usually overexposed).

I had a LOT of overexposed shots during tonight's game. I'll have to think about that in the future and maybe use Manual mode more. In manual mode you're explicitly setting the ISO, shutter speed, and aperture size. You're basically removing the metering system from the camera when you use manual mode. From what I hear from other photographers it's not too difficult to use and it results in really consistent exposures. It results in consistent exposures because your light source usually isn't variable! But, when shooting in aperture priority mode your shutter speed is highly variable as the meter calculates what speed it thinks is right for the light setting.

As the sun continued to set I removed my 2X TC and went back to shooting at 200mm with f2.8. It was remarkable how few opportunities I had in comparison to shooting from 140mm-400mm. I felt more like a spectator than a photographer because so much action took place on the other end of the field and I couldn't reach it using my lens.

A big problem you have with short glass on a long field is that the light reflected off of your subjects diffuses into a million different places before it reaches the focal position of your lens. If your subjects are 10 feet away they reflect a lot of light at your lens but when you're standing really far away there isn't a lot of light thrown back your way. As a result, cropping to zoom doesn't work. In low light and on long fields you really need long glass.

It was overly apparent to me that if I'm going to cover soccer and other field sports this fall I need to either accept that I'm going to have to shoot during the day and use my TC or I'm going to have to invest in a 300mm lens. Trying to use 70-200 to cover an entire soccer field is really limiting.

So after covering 9 games for the Royals and Majestics I'm walking away from USL for the season happy having met a lot of players and learning a lot about my camera and how it performs on the soccer field. I've take a lot of different photos of the teams and have been happy with my results, and I'm hoping that next year they'll invite me back to cover some more games. I'll also be compiling a CD that contains all of the pictures I've taken during the year and I'll be sending that to Mo Sheta (the GM for the Royals and Majestics). I've asked him to make copies of it and share it with the players so that they have access to their photos.

You never know which one of them might go pro and end up calling me up in the future and ask me to cover a game. Ok, maybe that's a bit of a stretch..