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.


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