Monday, September 17, 2007

Over the weekend I spent a lot of time working on "Shock". Shock is the software that I'm writing for the DC Sports Box that's going to help us upload photographic galleries.

We want to be able to provide the best photographic and editorial content in the DC region, and that has implications for both quality and quantity. We only want to deliver the best content possible, but we want to also deliver a lot of content. To us that means more stories, more photos, and higher resolution photos.

This presents an information management problem to us, and fortunately computers are excellent tools at addressing this problem. Since I'm a software engineer by day I'm in a particularly good position to try to help solve this problem for us using my years of development experience. That's where Shock comes in.

When a photographer returns from an assignment he or she will email a .ZIP file containing the images they wish to include in the gallery. Encoded within each .JPG file within the ZIP will be a Caption defined in the IPTC metadata. Shock will automate the process of extracting the images from the .ZIP file, reading the Caption information, and presenting the gallery to the editor for approval for posting. The editor will be able to make tweaks to Captions, set the date of the event, choose a category in the photography taxonomy to dock the gallery, and publish the content up to the website.

I spent a lot of time working on Shock on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and have made a lot of progress. I haven't yet figured out if I want to open source Shock or if I want to keep it as a BlunckSports asset. That's probably a mental exercise that's better to have after the work is created and proves some value.

Late Sunday I remembered that there was a Maryland Women's Soccer game over at Ludwig. I thought about not attending the event given the cold shoulder DC Sports Box has gotten from Maryland lately. But I'm less than a mile away, the weather was beautiful, I love Maryland Athletics, and I just couldn't resist. So after a nice healthy re-warmed Ledo's Pizza dinner I packed up my cameras and headed over to shoot.

On the way I thought about what kind of story or excuse I would have to offer to the gatekeeper when he asked about my lenses and cameras. I wasn't a credentialed photographer for the event, although Patrick Fischer (the media relations person) said that we could attend as fans and shoot the event. And if you're not a credentialed photographer the entry people and CSC staff sometimes give you a hard time about your equipment.

Before I got too deep into thinking about my response to the inevitable question of "Who are you with?" I decided not to think about it. It was too nice of an evening, and having to answer that ridiculous question one more time was going to annoy me. With that I rolled down my window, reclined the driver's seat, turned on my Sirius receiver and smiled at the thought of attending a Maryland Athletic's event.

I approached the ticket counter and paid my $6 for the event and wasn't asked any questions about my equipment by the ticket person. The CSC event staff ticket taker didn't ask me any questions either. I looked around and decided to sit on the western bleachers to take photos of the game for the first half. The sun was setting and I thought it would make for some warm photos.

I looked around and noticed 1 other photographer present. His credential indicated he was from George Mason (the opposing team). There weren't any staff photographers, nor were there any other media representatives present. I shook my head, put on my iPhone ear buds and started shooting the game using my 400mm/f2.8 lens on my D2H.

Prior to shooting I sought out Patrick Fischer to ask him where I could shoot from. He was very direct in his response to me: "Well since you're not with anyone you can't shoot from anywhere other than behind the gates." With that he went back to his laptop without offering much in the way of discussion.

Being able to shoot the event at all was a surprise. I expected to be stopped at the gate with my lens. So I was happy to be able to shoot. But shooting from up in the stands sure isn't the same as shooting from on the field. When you're up in the stands it's difficult to get a really nice perspective. You can get technically decent shots of the players that are in focus, properly focused, and have good saturation.

However, when you're on the field you have an entirely different vantage point that offers an enormous range of framing options. You also have a lot of options with your depth of field. From up high the background of your shots is the field rather than the stands on the far end of the field. The field is relatively close to the center of focus (the player), so you don't get any nice blurring effect. There's virtually no bokeh in any of the photos.

But I guess you have to do what you can... And for now I'm not credentialed at Maryland events.

In the second half I changed positions to the other side of the field because the Sun had completely set. With only stadium lights I figured there wasn't much difference in lighting between the 2 sides of the field. And the seats on the east side of the stadium are right up next to the side line. Shooting from them is as good as shooting from on the field, except that you're shooting into the Sun during day games.

The lighting at Ludwig really presents a lot of challenges. The biggest problem I found was inconsistent lighting across the field. Certain parts of the field were extremely dark and other parts were extremely light. Initially I tried relying on my built-in camera meter as a cue for making adjustments. But I quickly found that the camera couldn't react quickly or accurately enough. I would go from shooting a player in a dark area to shooting a player in a light space and the meter wouldn't catch up correctly. Following the meter's advice I overexposed a lot of images.

In the end I wound up using manual settings with 1/320th second, ISO 1250, and f2.8. The shots at night didn't turn out very well. Hopefully I'll be able to attend another event and take some more photos and see how they turn out.

I also passed out a few cards to parents in the stadium that inquired who I was shooting for. I replied that I was there by myself and offered them whatever photos I took. They seemed happy and hungry for some more media attention for the Maryland Terrapins. If only they knew...


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