Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Women's Basketball: Mystics vs Comets

Al's on vacation, and I like it when Al's on vacation.

When Al's on vacation he can't cover his events, so that gives me an opportunity to remove my lens cap and take a few shots. This afternoon I attended the Mystics vs Comets game at Verizon Center and had a great time. This past weekend Al covered the WNBA game (his article is here) and the Verizon Center was "sold out" for that event. I was looking forward to this afternoon's game because I was hoping there would still be some WNBA fans in town who would decide to come out to today's game.

The game was an unusual one, as it took place in the middle of the day during the week. The media relations staff explained to me that it was because of summer camps. There were certainly a ton of campers in attendance tonight - practically the entire stadium was filled with young children from various parts of the Washington DC Metropolitan region.

My plan was to arrive at the stadium 30 minutes before tipoff, but I actually end up walking out of the metro about 50 minutes before tipoff. I thought I was going to have to find time to kill, but in retrospect that was a good amount of time for Verizon Center. It takes awhile to walk from the Gallery Place/Chinatown metro exit to the Press Entrance (it's literally on the opposite side of the building from the metro entrance). Once you get to the Press Entrance they check your bags and verify you're supposed to be there.

After winding down a long corridor and getting to the media room you're offered a meal (on the house). Today's serving was a breakfast dish provided by Clyde's: eggs, bacon, sausage, and potatoes. It wasn't too bad...

But between walking around the building, getting in through security, and sitting down to have a bite to eat it can actually take quite a bit of time. In the future I'm going to shoot to arrive 45 minutes before a game begins so that I have sufficient time (rather than 30 minutes). I also noticed that the wireless network worked differently this time. Last time it was a WAP that didn't broadcast it's SSID (you had to key in the SSID by hand as well as the WEP passphrase). This time it was a wide open WAP that brought you to a webpage where you keyed in a username and password. Today's setup was much better than last time - those cloaked WAPs are so cheesy. And who's going to steal the signal? I couldn't even get a cell phone signal from the media room for crying out loud...

I headed out to the court and said hello to a few people I recognized from the last game. One guy had an almost identical setup as me: D200 with the MB-D200 battery pack, 70-200/f2.8 VR lens, and an 18-55/2.8 DX lens. I don't have the 18-55/2.8 yet, but I plan on getting one at some point in the future.

I decided to break away from the rest of the photographers and instead shoot from the opposite end of the court. All of the photographers were positioned under the basket that the home team defended during the 1st half. I'm not sure if it's because they wanted to have dibs on their spots for the 2nd half action, or if they chose that end because they could cover coaches and players reactions during the game. Either way, it was completely filled under that basket so I headed down the court to a wide open spot.

I sat out around the 3point line next to an AP photographer who was shooting with a 300/2.8 and a 70-200/2.8 lens. With 70mm being my closest range, and with the 1.5x crop factor on my DX sensor, I really struggle being under the basket. Even out at 3 point range I'm really in too close for a lot of the under the basket shots. I do manage to get a lot of good baseline drives tho.

I read last night about exposure compensation (EV) and I have to say that I still don't understand this beast yet. Seems like it's just an auto-darken or auto-lighten that is applied when you shoot a photo. The D200 manual recommended positive EV when the subjects are darker than the background, and negative EV when the subjects are lighter than the background.

Most of the basketball players on the Mystics are African American, and thus they tend to be "darker" than the background. I decided to apply a +0.3 EV correction thinking I would see their faces a little better. I took a few test shots at 1/400second, 1250ISO, f2.8, and +0.3EV and they looked pretty good. I decided to stick with it during the entire game, and I had pretty good results. My shots are definitely brighter than the last Mystics game I covered, and I didn't have to touch 1600 ISO.

My only complaint about the +0.3EV is that it really made for some bright jerseys. The Mystics wear a white uniform at home, and it's really bright in some of my shots. I guess it's a difficult call - you increase the EV correction to get brighter faces, but that washes out the jerseys.

I've heard a bunch of people talk about noise reduction filters that they apply during post-processing. I really need to look into that and see how well they work (or don't work). If I can shoot at ISO1600 and then reduce the noise through software that might turn out better than shooting at ISO1250 and using a +0.3EV correction.

I kept using the group-weighted autofocus system on the D200 and it worked really well. I noticed that the other D200 shooter was using group-weighted autofocus system, so that's positive reinforcement that I'm on the right track. I'm still getting a lot of soft photos, but in this case I don't think there's much I can do due to the lighting situation. Outdoors I can reduce my f-stop to a higher value and that might improve my sharpness. But in low light I think I'm pretty much stuck with f2.8 for exposure purposes. Not sure how that helps me or hurts me in the long run.

On the other hand, it could be the case that I'm just looking at my pictures under too large of a microscope. Any picture, when zoomed in by 800%, looks like crap (either blurry or over/under saturated). I noticed that my pictures aren't too bad when I look at them on my blog or on DC Sports Box, even tho I think they look like crap when I view them at full resolution on my laptop. It would really help if I could follow someone like Al around during his post processing to see what kind of sharpness his shots have. Then I can determine if this is something I can improve or if this is a limitation of my equipment. I suspect it's something I can improve, but it would be good to have confirmation.

Lastly, I would like to point you over to my new website, BlunckSports. It isn't a whole lot to look at right now, but I'm planning on putting more content up there as I increase my skills. I'll continue posting my story to this blog about what techniques I'm learning, but I plan to be working on BlunckSports, as well as the DC Sports Box in the future. Please give both sites a look and an RSS subscription.


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