Saturday, November 10, 2007

When I awoke this morning the streets were moist and wet leaves littered the lawn. There was a light fog around, and the clouds were thick. I wondered how the field hockey games would go today...

By mid-morning the clouds started to clear and every now and then a ray of sunlight appeared in my backyard. I was happy to see that. Shooting outdoor sports in full sun is a lot of fun. By the time game time came around (11am) there were high clouds and plenty of sunlight.

I headed over to the Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex near the Comcast Center at Maryland and took my backpack and photo suitcase out of the trunk. Today was the opening round of the 2007 Field Hockey NCAA Tournament, and the University of Maryland was fortunate enough to host the event.

The Terps were set to play Old Dominion, a team they played twice earlier in the season and beaten 4-1. I looked forward to this game because it promised to have a lot of offense and a lot of sunlight. A perfect combination... You can read my DCSB article here.

The person working the media desk had my pass and I happily attached it to my belt. This was my first time at the Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex with an official pass. I shot 8 or 9 home games this season, but none of them were as a credentialed reporter.

It was a brisk day. A cold front came through the region the night before and brought with it some cold Canadian air and a lot of wind. The media tent was an island of heat and it was so cozy inside. The Maryland folks set up tables with food and plenty of chairs. I left my laptop in my backpack and instead focused on assembling my camera.

Yuchen was there and he was eating some food from Maryland. I also noticed that Greg was out on the field taking some photos. I chatted briefly with Yuchen while we both assembled our equipment.

I debated wearing a jacket out to the field but decided to go with it in the end. The media tent was so warm and I was practically sweating in there while assembling. It was pretty brisk outside though and I didn't want to catch a cold.

When I got out there I chatted with Greg, who had on a stocking cap, gloves, and a winter coat. Greg is a few years my senior, and Yuchen is a few years younger than me. The three of us remarked about how chilly it had become overnight. Yuchen was wearing a t-shirt and some exercise shorts over some leggings. Both Greg and I had on our winter coats, gloves, and hats.

I jokingly said: "ya you'll be picking up a Z-Pak on Monday." Yuchen had no idea what I was talking about, but Greg got the joke. Z-Paks contain some powerful antibiotics that can counteract the effects of an infection. They work really well but you typically only get one when you're really sick.

I guess I'm getting old because I'm at a point where I care more about NOT getting sick then I do about my personal comfort on the field. If I have to wear a scarf, 2 hats, sweatpants and jeans over them, 3 tshirts, 1 sweater, 1 hooded sweater, and a double layer Gortex jacket to stay warm and avoid getting sick I'm going to do it! I think Greg feels the same way...

The lighting during the shoot was difficult to work with at times. There are tall oak trees that line the sideline, and the sun was just slightly behind the trees. And the trees dropped some leaves the night before.

In the middle of the field the lighting was strong enough for 1/6400th shutter, ISO 200, and f2.8. But in the shade I struggled to hit 1/500th shutter. I didn't want to go to aperture priority mode because I haven't had much success with the camera's built in meter when shooting high action sports.

I just memorized that it was N clicks to go from 1/500th to 1/6400th and watched through the viewfinder as my subjects transitioned from partial shade to full sun. Of course mother nature threw a monkey wrench in the plan by providing some high puffy clouds. As a result I would often have players at midfield while I was on 1/6400th and then a cloud would pop over. When that happened I'd knock it back down to 1/500th to correct.

It was difficult but I managed to get some decent shots. I need to do some research to figure out if there's something I can do on my camera to help me with situations like this. I wonder if that's what the "shooting banks" are used for. I know you can adjust the AF system in various banks, and I wonder if I can actually apply exposure presets in there as well. If that's the case then it might not be too bad to set up some presets before a shoot.

I shot the game using my Nikon 400/2.8 AF-S lens on my D200 and my Nikon 70-200/2.8 AF-S II VR lens on Al's D200. The results were interesting. Al's color saturation was completely different than mine even though I applied the same image optimizations. I swear there are differences between his camera and mine that I don't understand. The basketball pictures from earlier in the week are evidence of the difference.

After the Terps won I started post processing my pictures in the media tent. It was a lot of fun post processing there on site because there were a lot of people from Maryland and from the NCAA milling about. Whenever someone is looking at pictures it attracts a crowd, and a lot of people were looking at my photos.

It was a little awkward though because every photographer knows that in sports you shoot a ton of throw-away footage. This material is often extremely unflattering. It either shows the subject in an inappropriate position, or it illustrates some undesirable aspect of the player.

A very common example of this in women's players is the appearance of what appears to be cellulite. This occurs when a player makes a sudden stop and all the muscle from their thigh moves forward to the front of their leg. Lots of times you'll get wrinkles in the front of their leg that look like cellulite. It's not, and you just have to delete those photos.

It's a shame because I've taken some great shots that I've had to throw away because my subject has the false-cellulite or some other unnatural thing happening to them at the time of exposure.

Other times you capture a player while their tongue is hanging out of their mouth, or while their eyes are closed. Or you may get them bending over in a way that is inappropriate to photograph.

As sports photographers we realize that this is simply part of the business, and you just delete those bad shots and move on. But to the untrained eye it's quite suspicious. One of the referee's remarked: "oh she's not going to like that picture!" She didn't realize that before she finished making that statement I had already deleted that photo (and the 2 photos I shot immediately after).

Non-the-less... It was good having some people around over my shoulder while I was going through my shots. I wrapped things up about 30 minutes later and got my shots down to 25 that I wanted to publish. When I was finished the same referee came up to me and asked if I had any pictures of her. I was working on my camera equipment and so I allowed her to look at the photos in Aperture. She went through them all and said: "wow these are really good!"

So there's a small glimpse into the post-processing life of a sports photographer. You have to be careful about what you shoot, and you have to be aware that people who don't shoot sports don't understand your process. If all they see is the raw material before the final polished product is published they may have some false ideas of what you're doing.

Fortunately the referees that were present immediately after the game stuck around awhile and saw my final product and were happy with it. If they didn't stick around they might walk away with some false impressions!


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