Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Women's Soccer: Freedom vs New York Magic

My weekend concluded with a nice shoot of the Washington Freedom in their game against the New York Magic at the Soccer Plex in Germantown MD.

I was looking forward to this shoot because I enjoy shooting soccer a lot. It's outdoors, there's plenty of action, and it's a wide field (which offers lots of different vantage points from which to shoot). Also, afternoon games are always great because the lighting is perfect (compared to indoors).

I've been struggling to figure out why a lot of my outdoor shots are so soft. I did some research on it and couldn't find a whole lot of answers. I thought that I would give a shot at increasing my ISO setting during this event. Normally under outdoors situations I shoot down at around 100 ISO and I thought that if I go up to 800 then maybe I'll get some sharper shots.

Unfortunately that didn't work at all... My shots were just as blurry as before and I was pretty disappointed by that. I thought about talking to another photographer who covers the Freedom games, but he uses a Canon and I thought that maybe he couldn't help me. In retrospect I wish I had struck up a conversation with him and asked him a few questions.

A coworker of mine (Jason) suggested I reduce my F-stop. Ever since Greg Fiume said: "I always shoot f2.8 when I'm on a lens capable of f2.8" I've done the same. At that aperture the depth of field is so shallow, and that makes for great photos. I read that most lenses have their optimum sharpness at f5.6, and Jason's advice corresponded to what I read. I played around with my camera and was able to figure out how to reduce my aperture when in Aperture priority mode. The next time I cover an outdoor sporting event I'm going to shoot 1/2 the game at f5.6 and see if that helps my focus.

During the week I read some more of the Nikon manual for my D200. I find myself re-reading certain sections and after a bunch of events it starts to make more sense. If you're just getting started in shooting I suggest reading the manual but realizing you're not going to know what parts are significant or how to apply the controls to your event. Read it so you know whats in there, and then go out and shoot a bunch of games. Come back and re-read salient parts (e.g. Autofocus settings) after each event and think about what problems you experienced during your event. It's surprising how much I've picked up doing that.

I started off using spot auto-focus, then went to center-weighted, and then the entire-frame auto-focus. But recently I've started using group-weighted with 7 focal spots and it seems to work pretty well. I've noticed that more and more of my shots are properly focused now (significantly more than before)! I still flip around on the autofocus modes every now and then but I seem to have the best results in sports using group autofocus. I haven't played too much with the closest subject vs focal points mode for group focus tho.

I didn't play too much with the white balance setting during this event. It was cloudy for most of the event, but the sun did break through for a few minutes. During that time I flipped the WB over to sunlight and the shots turned out really well. I wonder if I should look into using the auto-WB setting. I don't know tho - I like being able to flip it around as the lighting conditions change (e.g. as the sun is going down and they just turn on the stadium lights).

I let the camera Auto-ISO for a bit. I wasn't too impressed with the setting, but I wasn't disappointed either. I wonder how well that feature works in low light situations. Maybe I'll give it a shot the next time I'm in Verizon Center or Comcast.

Lastly, this was the last home game for the Freedom and that makes me pretty sad. Their season only runs during the first half of the summer and then they're off until next year I believe. Just recently one of their media people responded to one of my email requests and said that I was welcome to attend any home game and shoot. Unfortunately this only happened recently and I was only able to attend 2 home games. I plan on sending my photos to them, and hopefully next year they'll invite me back to cover some more games. And who knows where the Sports Box will be by then... It could be the case that I'll be covering the games in some kind of official capacity (rather than being an informal photographer just shooting for my blog).

I'm covering the Mystics game this week and that should be a lot of fun. The last Mystics game was fun, and I like the idea of us (the DC Sports Box) covering the WNBA games. The media relations person at Verizon double dips between the Capitals and the Mystics. I think it will help our chances of covering more and more Capitals games during the fall if we also cover the Mystics games during the summer. That and it's also fun shooting basketball.


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