Thursday, August 2, 2007

Baseball: Baysox vs Portland Sea Dogs

I'm anxiously awaiting my 400mm f2.8 to arrive, so in the meantime I have to make do with a 70-200mm lens.

With my season credential in hand I decided to stop off at Prince George's Stadium on the way home from Zenoss on Monday evening. PG Stadium is a great place to shoot for several reasons.

First: they engineered the stadium well for photography. The sun sets over 3rd base rather than in the outfield. Since most games are played at 7pm (or in the late afternoon) this makes for great lighting. I'm sure this was intentional: how could you sink money into building a stadium and not think about the position of the Sun in the late afternoon.

Second: the crowds are friendly. This isn't a high priced NBA event. It's a low-key during-the-week event that offers promotions to get fans to attend. Whether it's "Belly Buster" night (free hot dogs) or "Fireworks on Friday" the staff at PG Stadium are definitely trying to appeal to the family crowd. They keep the prices reasonable and that attracts families, and they're (for the most part) friendly.

Third: the proximity to the field is decent. It's not as tight as Maryland Softball, but it's not as bad as Maryland Baseball. You can cover a lot of the field with a 70-200mm lens, and with a 300mm or 400mm you're perfectly set.

Fourth: the staff is fun. There aren't any unions out at PG Stadium... It's all younger folks that are working for the summer or older folks that are looking to do a good job and get picked up at another stadium. They're friendly, professional, and seem to have their act together. Getting into the venue hasn't been a problem (unlike RFK Stadium).

Back in May the Baysox were my #1 target for summer shoots, but they turned me down because I wasn't shooting for a media outlet. Fortunately Jake has helped me overcome that by introducing me to the folks at the Baysox and helping me get a season pass. I wanted to cover the Baysox because on Mondays and Tuesdays I live in College Park MD and commute to Annapolis. PG Stadium is right along the way home.

I've been doing a lot of reading about sharpness on the D200 with the 70-200mm lens. Over at there are some great forums for owners of various lenses and bodies to discuss techniques and share experiences. On a couple of posts people have remarked that the 70-200mm is not sharp on the D200 at 200mm and f2.8. A coworker (Jason Stevens) recommended reducing my aperture to f5.6 to see if that improves the sharpness. During my tests at the Royals game that certainly helped.

Tonight I decided to expand on my testing by going to f5.6 when the sun was still high enough in the sky and taking several photos. I was concerned about the impact on my depth of field. I love the out-of-focus effect that occurs through a narrow depth of field. And I was worried that by going to f5.6 I would have in-focus foregrounds and only slightly out-of-focus backgrounds. At f3.5 and f5.6 while shooting the pitcher from next to the 3rd base dugout it wasn't too bad. Above f5.6 the stands behind 1st base started to come into noticeable focus though.

The folks over on and Jason appear to be correct: shooting at a smaller aperture (higher f-stop) on a D200 and a 70-200/f2.8 VR lens improves sharpness. This presents some challenges down the road.

With a zoom lens you're going to want to zoom in and out. At 70mm and even 100 and 135mm and f2.8 my lens is sharp. But if I go out beyond 135mm the sharpness degrades. So when I'm in the field covering an event I'm going to have to give some thought to how I manage my zoom with respect to my aperture.

If I'm at 100mm I can push the aperture open to f2.8 and achieve sharp photos. But if I'm at 200mm I need to reduce the aperture to f3.5, f4, or f5.6 to achieve sharp photos. I can see it is problematic to achieve this, but I'm going to give it my best. If you have any suggestions, experience, or ideas please feel free to leave comments.

Another change I made tonight was using Manual mode exclusively. Most of the time I've used aperture priority mode and let the camera meter for me. Tonight I used Manual exclusively for the first time, and boy did my shots show it!

I constantly overexposed. Ridiculously! While sitting behind home plate I'd be shooting the pitcher while he pitches. I'd be using 1/1000th of a second on f3.5 and the exposure looked good. Then the batter would hit and would start running to 1st base. I pan to 1st base to capture the action, and I'm hit with an enormous amount of reflected light coming from the billboards in the outfield. They'd completely wash out the shot.

I'm not sure what to do in that situation. Now that I'm aware of it I'm going to take a few more test shots of this and see what I can do to try to manage the change in light. I'm sure there's some kind of reasonable technique you can apply. Maybe it's having a second body?

many opportunities. But all in all I consider it a successful shoot. I was able to tinker around with my f-stops and lMy shots weren't too bad during tonight's game but they weren't great. There wasn't very much action (very few steals) so there weren't tooearn a little about sharpness on my D200, and I also started breaking ground on using manual mode (something Greg Fiume suggested to me).

This week Al is back and I plan to meet with him to talk about the DC Sports Box. We have to go through some incorporation issues, as well as some growth topics. Specifically we're talking over several "what-if" scenarios associated with incorporating: "what if we hire people? what if we need to fire people? what if we want to award ownership to people? do we want the company to own our photographic equipment?" There are a ton of issues at play when you incorporate, and you really want to give a lot of though to it before you sign your articles of incorporation or organization.

We're also going to talk about scheduling. As Fall approaches it's pretty exciting to look at the calendar and visualize the number of upcoming sporting events. A challenge for us will be to manage those events and make sure we put in credential requests and assign people accordingly. The worst thing that could happen is for us to miss the opportunity, so it's important for us to develop a system whereby we can communicate assignments in a concise and timely fashion. Using iCal's "publish" system, a WebDAV server I deployed, and Google Calendar I think we have a decent system we can use. The trick will getting other folks at the DC Sports Box to rely on it!

I'm very excited about this week: the MGN kickoff event for the Fall is Wednesday night, Al and I are getting together, and the Nats are back in town against Cincinatti. Lots of stuff going on now, and it's invigorating to be a part of it!


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