Friday, October 26, 2007

It rained non-stop for about 2 days in College Park leading up to Friday night's game. As I watched the radar loop during the day I had little hopes for a dry game this evening. Sure enough it was a downpour...

With about an hour and a half to game time I decided to start working on my rain gear. Earlier in the day I stopped off at Penn Camera and looked at some Aqua Tech gear. It cost about $300 to purchase something that would cover my 400mm/2.8 lens. Although I spent $4500 on the lens I didn't know if I wanted to drop $300 on a rain proof bag.

In the 90 or so games I've covered since I started doing sports photography I've only had 2 occasions where there was precipitation. That means that I would use the bag roughly 2% of the time. If I had endless resources I would definitely purchase the Aqua Tech wrapper - it's a fine piece of equipment. But I have a hard time justifying the cost for something I'll use less than 2% of the time.

I've also spent a lot of money on my gear, and Julie has been extremely supportive of my venture. I keep thinking in the back of my mind that this could turn out to be revenue generating at some point, but for now I've only earned $280 for shooting for the Bowie Blade. It makes it all that much more difficult when purchasing things... I have to be very thorough in thinking about: will I actually use this piece of equipment.

Fortunately I use everything I've purchased on a weekly basis. My D200 and 400mm/2.8 is my workhorse, backed up by my 70-200/2.8 VR lens. If I'm attending an outdoor game there's a 100% chance I'm going to use those lenses and body. I use my D2H less, but I find that the second body is an absolute must in certain situations.

In field sports you'll go long with one body for 75% of your shots because most of the field is outside the range of a 200mm lens. But, you'll need to get those close-up shots of the goalie, the corner kicker, the inbounder, and for those you'll need something short. As a result you want that second body. Although most of the shots I publish during the game come off my 400mm lens, a high ratio of my "best" shots come off the 70-200 while a player is on the near side of the field.

So with the rain beating down all day I thought about how I would protect my equipment. I decided to go with garbage bags and some rubber bands. As I worked with the lens on the floor of my office at Ft Meade I thought about how I would handle the rotational aspects of shooting. I couldn't simply put 1 garbage bag around the lens and the monopod support. That would prevent me from rotating and going vertical or horizontal.

I decided to cut a thin ring of plastic from a garbage bag and rubber band it to the front area of the lens. I then cut a wider ring of plastic from the bag and placed it behind the monopod mount. I again used rubber bands to secure it.

It worked pretty well but that left a large area of the lens exposed. The area where the monopod support rotated around the lens was left open. To fix that I used one large garbage bag with a hole cut in the front. I attached it to the front of the lens and I left it pretty saggy as it went over the monopod ring. I then attached it to the back of the lens near the body.

That allowed me to keep a seal around the entire lens but still have some rotational freedom. I was also secure thinking that I had a second layer of protection under the outer bag. Lastly I brought a bathroom towel with me to place over the entire assembly. It took about 45 minutes to assemble from start to finish, but I think I could do it again in 20 minutes now that I have come up with a design that works reasonably well.

I arrived at the Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex in College Park with about a minute to spare before faceoff. It was pouring when I arrived and the air had a sharp chill. It was clear that the warm summer days were long past, and cooler November weekends were ahead.

With my D200 wrapped in trash bags, my bathroom towel, and a hooded sweatshirt I emerged from my car and approached the arena. There were some faithful fans present with raincoats and umbrellas. Many people had on hats and gloves to keep the chill away from them.

I walked in, and as usual nobody gave me any trouble. I took note of which side the Terps were shooting against and made my way to the far side of the field. As I walked through the stands I noticed Yuchen was present. He was sitting on the field with his 400mm Canon lens. Like me he had selected garbage bags to use, but he went for the duct tape as a sealer rather than rubber bands.

I moved over towards my regular position (near the visitng team bench) and set up shop. On my walk I was very careful to keep the front element of my lens facing downwards. Normally when you carry a 400mm the front element faces up just a little bit but with the rain coming down so hard I wanted to make sure I didn't get any splotches.

No CSC people were out tonight to keep the fans in-check. There were barely any fans there at all. The few that id brave the elements for tonights game were cuddled along the sidelines with their umbrellas to protect them.

It was a shame because tonight was senior night and this is an incredible hockey team. The Terps managed to put together back to back national championships and only lost 1 game this season (to #1 ranked UNC). It's a shame that they didn't have better weather to celebrate their remarkable achievement.

I started shooting and about 15 minutes into the first half I ran out of space on my 4GB card. I thought that was strange because I had only shot a few hundred images. I then recalled that earlier in the day I was experimenting with "raw" mode and I had neglected to adjust my image quality setting.

Normally when I go to a shoot there are 2 high-level settings I check: white balance and ISO. I never check the image quality because I never adjust it. So I burned up my 4GB card shooting just a few hundred shots in the first 15 minutes of the game.

Fortunately Yuchen was there and Canons use CF cards as well. Rather than walking back out to the car to get more media I was able to borrow a 1GB card from Yuchen. Normally I carry my media with me in a Think Tank media wallet, but I didn't do that tonight because of the foul weather. I didn't want to get soaked and have that soak get into the cards in my wallet.

I made my adjustment and kept on shooting.

I had a blast shooting in the rain and it was a lot of fun chatting with Yuchen on the sidelines while dripping wet. He's a college student that shoots for the DiamondBack but you can tell that he has a lot of passion for shooting sports. Overall I've seen him more than any other photographer, even for "no-name" games. I respect that tremendously.

During the second half we both shot from on the field and I got some great shots. I tried to focus on Janneke van Leeuwen because it's her senior night and she's the team captain. I managed to get a few of her, and on my DC Sports Box article I featured her for my photo even thought it wasn't the best of the evening.

I got some great photos of Coach Missy Meharg. She was dressed in her black Under Armour jacket that featured a bold red Terps logo followed by "HOCKEY" in white. She was also wearing a grey Under Armour hat and she was completely drenched. The rain on her jacket, as well as the soaked hat, really made for a great shot.

This is the final home game I'll be covering for the Field Hockey team during the regular season. The NCAA semifinal and final game will be held at College Park and with any luck I'll be covering that for the DC Sports Box. Hopefully I'll be focusing my lens on the Terrapins and I'll be reporting on a 3rd national championship for them!


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