Saturday, August 18, 2007

This week was looking pretty busy when I checked my sports calendars in iCal on Sunday evening. The Baysox were in town, the Nats were at home for 2 series, and the Mystics played on Tuesday and Thursday evening. It appeared as though there were going to be lots of chances for me to use my 400mm lens this week!

Over the weekend Al offered me the choice of the Phillies series or the Mets series. I chose the Phillies since it was during the week and I didn't know how my weekend was going to shape up. Julie's close friend's husband turned 30 this week and was having a large celebration at a pub downtown on Friday night. And on Saturday I didn't know if I was going to be working at the Farm or not.. So I chose the Phillies.

I let Al know that I couldn't shoot the first game of the series due to another birthday commitment and Al responded that he would prefer to put a single photographer on an individual series. He also said he would prefer to assign a photographer to a series that can make the first game. Anything can happen and lead to you not attending the subsequent games, and in that case the DC Sports Box wouldn't have any photos of the series. It makes sense but it was very disappointing: my 2 commitments were on the opening nights of the series. And, one of the commitments was on a night the Mystics played!

So it looked like my week of ridiculousness was going to fizzle. Fortunately for me things turned around an Al managed to get a credential for Anthony (a DC Sports Box photographer and writer) for the first game and he put me on the second and third game of the series. I was very excited when I heard the news!

I was also looking forward to seeing Greg Fiume again. Greg and I are close in age (I believe he's 5 years older than me), but Greg's been shooting since 1992. I like going to events where Greg shoots because I watch what he's shooting and his technique.

The more I shoot the more I appreciate the value of experience. My first shots of Maryland outdoor sports (baseball and softball) were soft and primarily focused on the pitcher. They were soft because I didn't realize the problems at 200mm/f2.8 on my D200. But they focused on the pitcher because that's the only action I saw. Watching other more experienced photographers and doing more and more shoots I've realized that there's lots of action going on during games thats difficult to notice.

In baseball it's a pitcher making a fist and screaming in victory after striking out the last batter on the opposing team. Or it's a batter knuckle-bumping the first base coach after a great hit. Or it's the batter's response to a questionable call by the umpire. These are things I never noticed before. Now that I've been shooting baseball all spring and summer I've started to pick up on them and have tried to capture them. Greg does a great job of this in his photos - whenever I look at them I see parts of the game I totally missed.

I was a bit nervous about this shoot because it was my first MLB game at night and I didn't want to disappoint Al. I've covered the Mystics for the Sports Box and a daytime Nationals game, but never a night time outdoor game. I was nervous about this because the lighting at Maryland's baseball stadium is pretty awful and as a result my photos were pretty dark (or noisy but bright).

To my surprise the lighting at RFK was exceptionally good. I started off on ISO 400 and f2.8 and 1/500th of a second shutter speed and the exposure looked good. I decided to give Auto white balance a shot to see how well it worked. Auto white balance worked surprisingly well. That was a nice thing to learn: I've fought with white balance so much during the summer because most of my games are in the early evening when the sun sets and the lighting transitions from the sun to the stadium lights. I think I'll be using Auto white balance anytime there is changing light conditions.

I was also surprised that ISO 400 was sensitive enough for the stadium lights. Several of my shots were dark and I ended up increasing my ISO to 640, 800, and even 1000 at different points in the game.

I also decided to carry around both bodies at the same time. I did this at the Baysox game and managed the complexity pretty well. It was awkward at first but I managed to get used to it. I was pretty nervous about carrying both bodies around at the Nationals game given the tight areas in which we work. Getting in and out of the photo booths is very narrow and walking around with 200mm lens and a 400mm lens requires some balance and a lot of carefulness!

Using both bodies raised the question of: which lens do I use on which body. I decided to go with the 400mm on the D2H and the 70-200mm lens on the D200. Since I was using the 70-200 on the D200 I stepped down to f4 when possible to improve sharpness, or I tried to limit myself to 135mm at f2.8. I thought about switching my bodies and taking some test shots on the D2H on the 70-200mm lens at f2.8 and 200mm but decided against it. I wasn't there to experiment with lens and body combinations - I was there to cover a game for Al.

The game was pretty uneventful for the most part. Greg wasn't there unfortunately, but some other photographers I've met before were present. It's nice to start to recognize some of the photographers and to interact with them. They're a pretty tight group of people that seem to all work together to cover the games in the DC area (albeit for different organizations). It'd be nice if I got to know them better...

I was also able to get a spot at the "grown ups" table in the media room. This is basically one of those plastic tables you get from Costco. During the games 6 photographers crowd around this table with their laptops, card readers, power transformers, and wifi cards. In my last Nationals game I sat in the "kids" area (where the TV and radio reporters sit and interview the managers and players after the game), and it was not a very good place to work.

Since I've started to recognize some of the photographers I decided to ask them if there was a free spot at the table. They said that the KPT Photo guy wasn't coming tonight so I could take his spot. It makes a world of difference putting your laptop on a table and working vs on your lap in a crowded environment.

The shoot went pretty well given that it was my first MLB night time game and I was working with 2 bodies in the stadium for the first time. The pictures aren't great, but they're not too bad either. I'm looking forward to tomorrow night's game and improving my shots.


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