Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Maryland Women's Soccer team shot into the sun for the first half of their game. During the second half they shot with their backs to the sun.

Backlit subjects are not particularly pleasing from a photographic perspective. During the 2nd half Greg decided to cover the defense and he moved to center field in a restricted area. I may have been able to follow him since we were both carrying big lenses and the CSC staff seems to respect that kind of thing, but I didn't want to push any boundaries...

During the 2nd half of the game I decided to position myself on the sideline (rather than in the endzone). I thought I'd get at least some lighting on the players. To my surprise the shots were not as bad as I thought they would be!

I was actually amazed at how well my D2H performed. The D200 worked well, but the D2H on the 70-200 worked extremely well. This made me feel good because lately I've been a little disappointed with my D2H. It doesn't seem to perform as well in low-light situations as my D200. But when there is a lot of light available the D2H works extremely well.

Since I was alone and in poor lighting conditions I decided to bail on the soccer game and head down to field hockey. I love shooting field hockey. The field is pretty small, and the action is more controlled. In soccer you get goalies that can boot a ball 50 yards and it's difficult to autofocus on the players trying to head that ball.

In field hockey the action takes place on the ground, and the players have a tool (a stick) to use against the ball. This makes for some interesting shots. The only downside to field hockey as I see it is that the players tend to look downwards toward the ball. The trick is to get the shots where they're looking up towards other teammates to determine who has an open shot.

When I arrived at the field hockey game I glanced up at the scoreboard and noticed Maryland was outshooting Temple 19 shots to like 3 and there was 10 minutes left in the 1st half. I was shocked by that. Usually Maryland musters 20 shots per game, and here they were with 10 mins left in the first half with 19 shots. This was going to be a fun shoot.

To my surprise the Terps were shooting into the close end of the complex. In the 3 other games I covered the Terps shot into the far end of the field during the 1st half and I just assumed that was always how it worked. I guess not!

One of the photographers from a few days ago was present. He was sitting on the field and he didn't have a Terps tag. He was on a D2XS with a 300mm f2.8 lens.

I considered moving onto the field. There's very little difference in the physical location (it's like 3 feet away from where I shot from), but the perspective changes. Being on the field you can sit on your knees or sit indian style and that gives you better perspective. It puts more of the players body above the field, and when that happens the background is far away and out of focus. It makes for some beautiful shots!

I decided not to push my luck. At the DC Sports Box we're trying our best to get the privilege of covering Maryland events "officially." The last thing I want to do is jeopardize that for a few shots in the meantime. I realize that the coach wouldn't mind, the AD wouldn't mind, and probably every parent of every player on the team would ask for me to be down there taking better shots. But I don't want our problem-person at Maryland to use that against us when we re-apply for credentials. I don't want to give them any reason to decline our request.

So I stayed behind the "public" fence and shot while standing upright.

During the soccer game Greg asked what I was shooting at and I said I was using f3.5 with 1/8000th of a second on ISO200. I said I had been experimenting with the higher f-stops and shutter speeds around 1/500. He asked why, and I replied that the shots are sharper.

It's true that on the 70-200mm lens f2.8 is soft compared to f9. I'm not sure if that's the case on my 400mm prime lens. I suspect it's slightly soft at f2.8 but that may be because I tend to shoot f2.8 only at night. I've done a few f2.8 400mm shoots during the day, but for the most part I slow it down to f5.6 or f7.1.

Greg made this comment during the soccer game: "If you pay $8k for a 400mm/f2.8 lens you should just put some tape over the aperture adjustment switch, because you should always be shooting at f2.8." I asked him to elaborate on it and he replied by talking about the depth of field and out of focus backgrounds.

I completely agree with him about the significance of depth of field when shooting sports. He remarked: "if you're going down to f7.1 or f8 you might as well buy a variable aperture lens." He's right: if you're ok with f8 why not just get a f2.8 70-200mm and slap a 2X TC on it.

I decided to shoot the field hockey game at f2.8 to see how the shots compare to Saturday's game. I'm interested in seeing if the sharpness varies much. To my surprise the shots don't seem too soft at f2.8. They actually seem just as sharp as the shots at f5.6 and higher.

I took Greg's advice during the 2nd half and made my way to the side of the field where the sun was completely at my back. Normally I like to stand in the endzone somewhere because you catch a lot of action coming directly at you. But standing on the sidelines allows you to get really great light on your subjects.

When I shot from the sideline I had my subject's faces fully illuminated for most of my shots. this made me pretty happy. If you can see the whites of their eyes it's going to be a good shot.

I also applied Al's camera swapping technique a lot. While on the sideline I swapped with the 70-200 lens and D2H body pretty frequently and it worked pretty well. If it weren't for the really tall oak trees that were behind me and blocking out the sunlight some of those photos would've been keepers.

There were a few shots I captured of one of the players that came out remarkably well. Our oak trees were hit with gypsy moths this summer and that caused a lot of leaf damage. As a result the shade isn't solid - it's variable. The trees are "thinner" this year. This lets some sunrays through, and if you're lucky you can capture some of those rays as they land on the player's faces.

I caught a couple instances of this phenomenon this afternoon and the shots came out really well.

This upcoming week should be pretty quiet. The Nationals are finished at home and DC United is on a road trip. The DC Sports Box didn't get photographic credentials for the Capitals this season, so hockey is off the plate for the time being. But there is a Maryland men's soccer game on Tuesday night. It's a night game, but any game is better than no game...

I was really looking forward to this afternoon's games: Women's Soccer and Field Hockey.

Sports during the day are so much more interesting to photograph due to the abundance of light. When you have a lot of light it gives you a lot of flexibility with how you shoot. You can choose to go up to the highest possible aperture, or you can choose to step down to a smaller aperture.

I showed up early to the women's soccer game this afternoon and paid my $6 entrance fee. Instead of assembling my gear out in the parking lot I opted to take my ThinkTank case into the arena. The CSC guards have been pretty friendly towards me and I didn't think they'd mind if I walked in with a suitcase.

To help make things easier I put on my DC Sports Box credential as well as my Media pass to the Baysox. I figured that it would help me get past the CSC security guards. I'm not sure if it made any difference or not, but I made it past CSC without any hassle. It may be because of the ids hanging around my neck, or it could simply be because I have been polite to them in the past.

At 1pm the sun was up high in the sky, but it was slightly setting behind one of the endzones. Fortunately this endzone was the one that the Terrapins were shooting against. I walked over to it and set up shop. I wasn't too worried about shooting from that location since I shot from there during the last Men's game and a Maryland guy said it was ok.

I assembled and started taking some sample shots. ISO 200, f2.8, and 1/8000th of a second worked. I reduced the f-stop to the highest value that would allow for 1/500 of a second and it appeared to be around f8. Perfect light.

I made sure I adjusted my white balance on both my D200 and my D2H and put my 70-200 lens on my D2H. In my previous posts I've remarked that I love how the D200 and the 400mm lens performs. I wish that it had a higher continuous shooting capability, but 5FPS is good enough for me for field sports.

As the Maryland players headed out to be introduced I noticed a photographer on the field. It was Greg Fiume. Greg's the team photographer for a lot of Maryland sports, and I've also seen him down at RFK during Nationals games. He shoots the Capitals, Redskins, and a couple of other DC teams.

I continued shooting the teams during warmup and introduction, and Greg eventually made his way down to where I was located. I chose a spot that was on the strong side of the field (the attacker's right hand side) where they were looking into the sun. I doubt that Greg came to talk to me, and I instead think it's more likely that Greg ended up choosing the same spot. He walked up and said hello.

Greg and I shot the first half and chit-chatted the entire time. It was good to talk with him. We talked about the Rutgers vs Maryland football game the day before (he traveled and shot it), as well as some techniques. I asked him about the shadow problem I had the other day at field hockey and he said the only thing you can really do is try to adjust your position. Instead of shooting at a 90 degree angle to the sun try to find a spot where the sun is at your back.

Unfortunately that's difficult if you're not credentialed. As a credentialed photographer you have a lot of area you can cover. But as an uncredentialed photographer you can be pretty limited in where you can go. So basically I'm screwed until we have some better credentials. In the meantime I'll do my best to find locations where the sun is behind my back.

He did say that you can get some interesting back-lit shots. If you do it right you can make an aura of sorts appear around the player and it can make for some interesting pictures. He said the trick is to slightly overexpose so that you can still see the players face, but then that leads to your aura/halo. I'm going to give it a shot at Field Hockey.

Greg told me that he invested in a D3 and that made me happy to hear. Greg's pretty conservative with his bodies and instead focuses on lenses. He shoots with a D2H and a D1 and his shots look amazing. It's proof that you don't have to own 12MP $5k bodies to take a great picture. When I heard that he pre-ordered the D3 it made me smile because technically the camera is a masterpiece. Hearing that a great photographer thought it was worth purchasing reinforces my believe that the D3 is an amazing piece of equipment.

He remarked to me that the best settings he can get in Byrd is ISO2000 with 1/400 of a second on f2.8. When he described it he said "2000 at 400 and 2.8" and I said: "actually I think that's pretty good". I thought he was saying 1/2000th of a second at ISO 400 and f2.8. He actually meant ISO2000 with 1/400 of a second! I then replied with: "oh ya. that sucks...."

The women's soccer shoot went extremely well except for post-processing. I was stupid and I didn't use separate folders for women's soccer and field hockey this afternoon. As a result, I lumped both soccer and field hockey into the same directory on my MacBook Pro. During post-processing I separated the two into separate folders, but then I ended up "rm -rf"'ing the soccer folder.

When you "rm -rf" a directory in OSX's terminal you permanently remove the file from the filesystem. If you delete a file via Prevew or via Finder it goes into the Trash by "rm -rf" via the Terminal is the kiss of death for a file. Once you run it you can't get the file back.

I took several amazing pictures this afternoon of the women's soccer team, and while I was looking through them in Preview I thought: "wow this is good stuff." Unfortunately I lost all of that work when I inadvertently "rm -rf'ed" my "toProcess/umcp" folder after posting my field hockey pictures.

I downloaded some undelete software from the web and tried to recover the pictures from the CF card but that didn't get me much (about 72 images out of 1000). I ended up using the Trash Can to undelete the "throw outs" I came across during my first round of post-processing.

As a result, the photos you're seeing here and the photos over on DC Sports Box are my "throw out" pictures. They're crap and suck compared to what I took and held onto. Unfortunately my own stupidity and recklessness has caused me to lose those photos.

So take that as a lesson: if you're going to poke around in Terminal be careful with the "rm -rf" command. And for goodness sake use separate folders for your events so that you post process them in different directories!!!

After the field hockey game I raced home to post-process my pictures in time to make it back to the Volleyball game at 5pm.

The Field Hockey game let out around 3:15 and I was at home on the computer picking over my pictures by around 3:30. It's so nice living so close to Maryland and covering their events! This weekend is full of events, and I didn't want to get too backlogged on post-processing, publishing of my pictures, and article writing.

The field hockey shots came out pretty well except the image saturation looked too rich. This seemed strange to me because the photos looked fine in Preview but looked really rich in Aperture. I had noticed this before but didn't have much time to investigate it. After the Volleyball game I took some time to look into image saturation in Preview, Aperture, and Photoshop.

I noticed that in the Preferences for Preview there is an Image tab and it allows you to adjust saturation. I also read online somewhere (after lots of unsuccessful google searches for "preview automatic image saturation") that Preview does an auto-adjustment of saturation when it loads the pictures. That sure seems strange to me but I'll buy it...

When I look at the same picture in Photoshop, Aperture, and Preview the Photoshop and Aperture version look similar but Preview looks totally different. I looked into how to make an image saturation preset in Aperture, and to my surprise it was not too difficult.

I set up an image saturation preset that reduces saturation to 60%. It's somewhat difficult to apply this preset to all the images in an album, but it's doable. It takes a long time for that operation to complete because Aperture re-generates it's preview of all the pictures in the album. So don't apply that when you have 200+ photos!

It took awhile to figure out the image saturation issue and that was kind of frustrating. Earlier this evening at the Volleyball shoot I reduced my saturation on the D200 and the images look much more appropriate. I think that when you're outdoors in a lot of light you can get away with +2 image saturation in some instances, but it seems like when you are indoors and in low flourescent light that +2 image saturation just makes all the white players look red and all the black players look pink. Asians turn a weird orange. It's not very flattering!

The volleyball shoot went extremely well. This is consistent with previous "second event" shoots. After learning the ropes in the "first event" my second round of coverage is also remarkably better. I know a few better spots from which to shoot, I know the flow of the game, and I know the players a little bit better. As a result it helps me anticipate what's going to happen and capture a shot.

I spent very little time on the same side as the Maryland players and instead shot 90% of the game from the opposite side of the court. This allowed me to capture the Maryland player's faces as they spiked, blocked, dug, etc. The only time I broke from this pattern was at the end of the game when Maryland was at match-point. I wanted to be on the Maryland side, and down low, to capture the team when they celebrated after the win. I'm glad I moved for that shot because it came out pretty well.

I spent some time at varying heights in the stands. Some of the time I was up on the highest row and got some good shots of the players faces above the net. Other times I was down low and I captured their faces through the net. It's difficult to autofocus on players when you're shooting through the net.

The players stand on the ground, but their faces are still behind the net. You can autofocus on them but it's difficult. Sometimes the AF system gets fooled and locks on the net rather than the player. It's also difficult because when the player jumps you often need to re-focus on them while they are in the air. Since they move so quickly it's difficult to keep them in the center area where AF is being applied.

I also found that shooting portrait style comes out much better than landscape. Much of the game is vertical and shooting portrait style allows you to see how high up the players have jumped. Unfortunately it makes presentation in a gallery somewhat problematic because most galleries are set up to display images in landscape format.

I shot the game at ISO 800 and ISO1000 and a shutter speed of 1/200 or 1/250. A white balanace setting of flourescent was appropriate, but I could have used some tweaking if I had a gray card. 1/250th wasn't enough to completely stop action, but it did the job most of the time. Shooting anywhere faster than 1/250th would have required me to go to ISO1250 and I wanted to keep the pictures as noise-free as possible.

I really wish that my D200 had a microphone in it. I took several pictures of the scoreboard this evening to help me recall the pace of the game. I would have also liked to use the microphone to take notes on some of the shots. It would have helped me in captioning my photos. Rather than just saying "Player X blocks a shot during ..." I could say something more exact like "Player X puts the Terrapins up N-M in the 2nd game during ...". I wonder if the D300 will have a microphone...

Tomorrow should be a lot of fun too. A women's soccer game at 1pm followed by field hockey at 2pm. I'm going to leave the women's soccer game early to head over to field hockey. I think that I'll have enough time in an hour to get some good shots of the soccer team, and I want to spend more time on field hockey.

Without a credential for soccer I'm restricted to a certain area of the field. And even with 400mm there's a lot of action that occurs on the far end of the field that is out of my reach. If I could go into the credentialed photographer spaces it would allow me to shoot from a more central location and I would be able to reach most of the field.

We're currently holding off on requesting Maryland credentials in order to build up our portfolio of Maryland events. At some point in the future we're going to put in requests (probably when women's basketball starts up) and make a case for what we've done this Fall. But for now we don't want to make our case too early.

On Saturday at 1pm the Terrapins faced the Virginia Cavaliers, and I was really looking forward to covering this game! My DC Sports Box article can be read here.

I was looking forward to the game because of the weather. A cold front moved through the region on Thursday night and left dry air and cool temperatures in it's wake. There wasn't a cloud in the sky, and the temperature was perfect for shooting outdoors. It's a hint that Fall is coming!

When there's a ton of light you have a lot of options when you shoot. You can open up the aperture to f2.8 and crank the shutter speed up to 1/8000th of a second and completely stop the action. Or, you can lower the f-stop to f7.1 or f8 and shoot with a more reasonable 1/500th of a second of shutter speed.

Lowering the f-stop makes sharper images. In some lenses that comes as a result of the optics, but in other cases it's simply because the depth of field is wider. Let's say you have a player that's running down the field chasing a call and they're at a 45 degree angle to you. When their arms are fully extended they create a 6 foot difference in field position. People tend to run and bend their arms at their elbows, so let's cut that number in half and call it 3 feet between their left elbow and their right elbow.

Depth of field varies as a result of your distance to the subject, f-stop, the focal length, and your camera body. This great online source is extremely useful in calculating depth of field.

If you take my settings above and assume the subject is roughly 45 feet away from you, an f2.8 with a 170mm focal length on a Nikon D2H has a total depth of field of 2.5 feet, which is less than the 3 feet between their two elbows.

If you cut the distance to the subject roughly in half, and say that they are 20 feet from you the depth of field drops to approximately 0.5 feet. That's pretty darn shallow!

If you reduce the aperture to f8 but keep the subject at a distance of 20 feet the depth of field increases to approximately 1.3 feet. So, by reduce the aperture you can increase sharpness, as well as increase the amount of your subject that can possibly be "in focus". Of course you still have to worry about proper focusing techniques, but knowing the approximate DoF calculations gets you passed the physical impossibilities of certain shots.

I again decided to shoot from the endzone areas of the field, and I again decided to go with the D200 on the 400mm lens. I'm really warming up to the pictures it produces and I like them a lot better than the D2H. Maybe I just need to adjust the saturation on the D2H.

There was one other credentialed photographer present. His name was James Lang and I didn't get too much of a chance to speak with him. I noticed he was wearing a Terps wristband and I suspect that's what they give out for individual games. It'd be nice if we had those because it would allow us to get onto the field.

However, for field hockey it's not critically important. My shots from the "public" sections of the stadium are pretty decent. If I were on the field it would allow me to sit down and shoot, and that would make for better shots because there would be less field in my shots and more of the distant background.

The other advantage of being credentialed is that you can shoot from near the Maryland bench during the games. This only matters during the day really. The sun sets from behind the player benches, and during the first half you can walk all the way around the field and shoot the players as they look into the sun. It lights up their faces and makes for good shots.

However, when you're shooting from the opposite side of the field the fence is higher and you're unable to shoot from the players bench side. You have to shoot from the stadium stands side, and when the Terps are shooting you're looking into the sun. The overall photo quality suffers as a result. You can still get some decent shots of the players rushing down the field, but you're contending with a lot of shadows.

Shadows are definitely difficult to work with during day games. I'm going to ask some other photographers for some techniques they use when shooting during the day. It's great that there is a tremendous amount of light to work with, but it's also difficult because the areas of the player that are not lit can be very dark. I worry about overexposure of the players, especially when they wear white uniforms.

Their faces always present challenges with respect to shadows. Much of the game is looking down at the ball and it's usually looking away from the sunlight. As a result their uniforms are well lit as is the ball and the stick, but half of their face is dark and the other half is lit. I'm not sure how to handle those situations, or if there's much you can do about them in post-processing.

The game was a lot of fun to shoot, and I'm looking forward to tomorrow's game as well. The Terps play at 2pm and the weather forecast looks great. Should be a lot of fun!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

A good friend of mine that works for the Athletic Department at Maryland told me about a Volleyball game tonight he was attending, and I jumped at the opportunity to shoot a new sport!

The Terrapin Volleyball team plays in Comcast Pavillion, which is a gymnasium attached to Comcast Center. I believe that the men's and women's basketball teams practice in there during the regular season. I had previously been inside the Pavillion prior to a women's basketball game but other than that I was pretty much unaware of it's existence.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I walked up to the Pavillion. I didn't know how many people would be there, what the situation would be with photography, and what the lighting would be like. I was actually pleasantly surprised by all three: the lighting wasn't bad, there were a lot of people, and I was able to move about somewhat freely on the spectator side of the court.

I arrived about 5 minutes before the first game, and that was plenty of time to take some sample photos to work out the lighting. I originally used the incandescent white balance but after looking at some of the shots I realized that they were too cold (too blue). I changed my white balance to stadium lighting (flourescent I guess) and it improved significantly. I really need to get a white-balance card and start manually setting the white balance.

The ISO I started off with was 1600. I hate using ISO 1600 but I thought it was pretty dark in the gym (compared to other venues I've shot) and so I thought I'd give 1600 a shot. I increased my shutter speed to 1/500 of a second and took some shots. The exposure was adequate.

After determining that 1/500, f2.8, and ISO1600 would "work" I started making adjustments to improve the image quality. I reduced the ISO to 1250 and slowed down the shutter speed to 1/400th of a second. That made things better without any noticeable increase in motion. I stuck with ISO 1250 and 1/400th shutter speed for most of the volleyball game.

I pulled out the 400mm lens as well as the 70-200mm lens. The 400mm was overkill. I got some face shots of the players, but during the match it was practically useless. There was simply too much action and I couldn't track and focus quickly enough. The 70-200mm was sufficient for all of the shots I took and if I attend another Volleyball game I probably won't even take out the 400mm lens.

I didn't know where to stand to get some good shots. They had some ribbons keeping people behind a certain area and I stayed behind it, but I kept getting blocked by the gymnastics ballgirls or the referee. It was also difficult to track the girls as they played because they move around so much and leap up in the air. I got a lot of out-of-focus shots because the camera locked onto the net or the background (rather than the player).

I took some of my shots from the floor in the middle of the court and they came out really well. Unfortunately I don't think that's a place I'm allowed to be because during the first time out one of the referees asked if I could move back or move to another spot. I obliged and moved to the back of the court.

The first set of shots I took were from the Maryland side where the girls were defending. I thought this would be a good spot because the net would not be in the way. As the match progressed I quickly realized that all of my shots were of the back of their heads! Those shots stink, so I changed my position.

I walked down to the far end of the court so that I could shoot from behind UNC and face the Terrapins. Those shots were considerably better because I got to see their faces. But then I ran into the problem of the white line at the top of the net. The girls would jump up high enough such that the white line blocked their face. It didn't happen all the time, but it did happen a lot of the time.

I ended up moving up into the bleachers for the 3rd game and that seemed to be a very good spot. It was up high enough where I could clearly see the players faces when they jumped up. I wanted to get more towards the middle of the bleachers but the stadium was very busy!

In the 3rd period I decided to lower the ISO to 800 and reduce the shutter speed to 1/320th of a second. To my surprise the shots came out very well! Any time you can go down to below ISO 1000 is a good time! The ISO 800 shots from up in the stands were some of my best shots, and I plan to start off with that the next time I attend a Volleyball event.

This is what I was referring to in my last post about understanding the mechanics of the game and your equipment. Going to a new arena and shooting a new sport for the first time is difficult and you're just trying to learn how your gear performs and how the game progresses. The second time around is much better. I'm looking forward to tomorrow's game against NC State because I can apply everything I learned tonight.