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.


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