Monday, October 22, 2007

Yuchen put the idea in my head to cover the #1 UNC Tar Heels vs the #2 Maryland Terrapins in Field Hockey down in Chapel Hill NC. After Julie gave the nod I made preparations to attend.

I contacted a coworker I'm friends with at Zenoss who lives in the Raleigh-Durham area and he offered me a place to stay for the evening on Friday night. I also had Al contact the associate athletic director for communication at UNC and request the credential. Dana responded very promptly and positively: Come on down!

I pulled up Google maps and plotted my way from College Park to Chapel Hill NC. Google said it was about 300 miles and would take me 6 hours. I checked in with Mark in Durham and he confirmed the route. I decided to leave early on Friday afternoon to avoid traffic.

The drive down to Chapel Hill was great: mixed clouds and sun and the terperature was in the middle to upper 70s. The leaves were turning orange and red for the Fall season, and there was very little traffic. I drove through Port Royal and through Bowling Green and there were very few cars on the road.

With satellite radio the drive goes quickly. And I was very excited to cover the field hockey game on the road.

When I arrived in Durham I went to dinner with Mark. We split some chicken wings and burgers at a local watering hole. Since Wake Forest, Duke, UNC, and NC State are all without about 20 miles of each other most restaurants and bars down there are mixed-use: there is memorabilia from all 4 schools up all over the place. There were also jerseys and photos of the Carolina Hurricanes and Panthers. My skin was crawlin being in a place like that!

Fortunately I didn't wear my Maryland colors on the way down. I think I would've been run out of the restaurant if I had worn them!

I headed over to Chapel Hill in the morning and drove around campus looking for the field hockey arena. Fortunately the people in North Carolina are very nice and very helpful. I located the facility without any problem and was about 90 minutes early. The water was running, and I was surprised by that given the drought conditions.

After parking I pulled out my bag, knee pads, and hat and headed over to Francis E Henry arena. I met up with Dana in the media office on the 3rd floor of the stadium and introduced myself. I asked her what kinds of rules they have for where photographers can and can't go.

She told me to basically stay behind the nets and to stay out of the way from the team benches. It was pretty laid back. I asked if I could go out onto the field during introduction and she said I could not. That was ok though because of the way that the sun was positioned in the sky.

The flag was on one side of the field and the sun was on the other. That meant that the teams would be backlit while looking at the flag. That would blow out the shot so it didn't bother me that I couldn't get it.

Dana left to go attend to other duties and I was left to get my gear set up. I was happy to find the "Tar Heels" network was wide open and got me out to the Internet. At Maryland the WiFi is protected and a pain.

I chatted with some of the video people and found out from them where the visiting team bus typically arrives. I then put my 17-55/2.8 DX lens on my D200 and attached my SB-800. I headed downstairs to take some test shots of a fence.

I don't know very much at all about flash photography, but I have a great appreciation for it's complexity and for it's power. I purchased Nikon's "Introduction to Creative Lighting" and have read it over 3 times. I still only understand about 25% of the material, but I'm learning...

I read about guide numbers, and the general rule of thumb regarding dividing by 10. It says that if the guide number is 110 you should use f11 at 10 feet away. Adjusting the guide number increases (or decreases) the flash output.

I wanted to take some test shots with different GN settings. When I shot my nephew and niece I didn't make any adjustments and some of the shots were way too bright. With the team coming off the bus I wanted to make sure I got the settings right so I decided to test.

When the team stepped off the bus I was ready. I got some great shots of a few players. Unfortunately most of the players were looking down at the ground as they stepped out so I didn't take very many shots. But, for the players and coaching staff that looked upwards I grabbed a shot.

When Coach Meharg stepped off she came up and shook my hand and thanked me for traveling to cover the game. I was excited and happy to do it. I hope that Maryland reconsiders giving us a media credential.

As the players headed for the locker room to prepare I returned to the media room to switch lenses. I met up with Yuchen and we exchanged some travel stories while we set up our gear. With 60 minutes to go before face-off there was a lot of time to kill. It was a nice day though, and so I made the best of it by enjoying some cheese nachos and some bottled water. There wasn't much food selection at the stadium!

I regretted not taking the time to meet up with Al to pick up his belt. I wanted to carry my 17-55/2.8 DX lens with me while I had my 70-200/2.8 and 400mm on my 2 bodies. But since I didn't have a belt I had to put the 17-55/2.8 DX lens in my pocket. I had cargo shorts on, but it's still a big lens. And from time to time you have to move quickly along the sidelines to get a particular shot. I didn't look forward to carrying this expensive lens in my pocket during the match.

But I was glad I took it with me because I was in a great position when the team moved out onto the field. Fortunately they stayed close to the bench and that meant I could stay behind the net and still get my shots of them in a huddle. The lighting was off, and if I could move onto the field I would've gotten a great shot. But I didn't want to push my luck so I stayed off the field as I was instructed.

When the game began the Terps were shooting with the sun on their back as they came up the field. That's a really difficult lighting situation because even under open sun you still have to open the aperture up to f2.8 and slow the shutter down to 1/800th in order to expose the players faces. And when you do that you often overexpose other areas of the image.

You also tend to get halos that form around the players. This is especially prevalent in female athletes or men that have long hair. The backlight gets into their hair and bounces all around in it. You end up with these photos where there's a ton of light in their hair and their faces are rather dark. Unfortunately I don't know what you can do about it...

The Terps didn't take any shots during the game and so they spent very little time on the offensive side of the field. With about 20 minutes left in the half I moved down to cover the Terps defense.

This was a good move because the Terps ended up playing 90% of the entire game on the defensive side of the field. I ended up in the corner and got some well lit shots while covering the Terps defending against Carolina. I didn't get any celebration photos (because there were no points to be had by Maryland), but I did get my share of action shots.

At half time the Terps hadn't managed to take a single shot or receive a penalty corner. Carolina had something like 11 shots at that point and 3 or 4 corners. I was hoping that the Terps would come out from halftime regrouped and ready to play. And I was looking forward to it because they'd be shooting into the sun.

Unfortunately they were pretty flat coming into the 2nd half and spent most of their time on the defensive side of the field. I readjusted my position and moved from the endzone corner that Maryland shot against to about 1/3 of the way into the offensive zone on the sideline.

The 400mm is plenty powerful for field hockey and I didn't want to get too close to the action. If Maryland did manage to score I wanted a chance at some decent light, but at the same time I realized their hopes were fading fast. When Carolina scored their first goal with about 11 minutes to play I realized the game was pretty much in the bag. The Terps still hadn't managed to take a shot or force a corner. It didn't look likely that they would rally from a deficit...

Carolina then scored 2 additional goals to make it 3-0 with 2 minutes to play and the game was finished. I geared up in anticipation of the players coming off the field. I hoped to get some good shots of them with the 17-55/2.8 lens but they looked pretty sad after the game. I understand it though - they faced off against the #1 team in the country and they didn't play particularly well. As a result I threw away most of those shots.

You can read my full writeup of the game here.

I packed up my gear and headed north to College Park. I wish I was racing home to photograph the football game between the Terps and the Cavaliers. But I think we're a ways off from being able to cover a game like that.

I made it home in time for the game and watched it from the comfort of my living room on HD while enjoying some beer and reviewing my field hockey photographs. I would have preferred to have been there in person, on the field, capturing the moment. But being at home with my wife, some beer, and my photographs is equally enjoyable.


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