Monday, April 21, 2008

A coworker from my Zenoss gig (Jason Stevens) asked if he could shadow me around for a day of shooting. We hit the softball senior photos first and then headed over to baseball. Jason manned the 300/2.8 lens while I stayed on the 400/2.8.

The game was a little tricky to shoot due to the weather. It rained on and off and the crowds were pretty low and variable. The light changed a few stops a couple of times. It wasn't too difficult to manage but it was a little unusual. High puffy clouds are actually worse because you go from beaming sunlight to a dark field pretty quickly.

My biggest fear during this game was that our equipment would get wet. I know that the bodies and lenses are supposed to be water sealed, but I'd still prefer not to try it out in the field. We wrapped our gear in trash bags before heading out and those trash bags did us well as the day unfolded. When it did look like storm clouds we used the garbage bags as cushions so we could stay dry. When the clouds opened up we were thankful to have them (we wrapped our gear up in them)!

Jason and I actually snapped almost the exact same shot. It was pretty funny to hear both our shutters fire at the same time. Very eery.

Unfortunately the game was called due to rain and the Terps were down at the end of 5. That gave Tech the official victory even though the Terps had the momentum heading into the sixth. By the time the lightning cleared the outfield was underwater and a resumption of play seemed unlikely. Then the lightning resumed and the game was officially called.

I enjoyed shooting with Jason. Hopefully in the future we'll have more opportunities to shoot together.

After the women's lacrosse final home game I checked in at the softball stadium to see how Dave Lovell was doing. He had on jeans and a pretty heavy shirt and looked mighty hot carrying all that black Nikon equipment. I grabbed a bottle of water for him and threw down some red gatorade for myself. It was the best gatorade I've ever drank.

A few weekends ago I was smitten with a pretty bad sunburn on a chilly (but sunny) afternoon. Today the sun was really bright, the temperature was in the 80s, and I planned on being outdoors for over 8 hours. I reapplied sunscreen constantly and wore my photography hat and that made a difference. By the time I bumped into Dave at softball I was about 2 hours into my day and was already burning up.

I headed home to do some post-processing. In about 45 minutes I cranked through 400-500 frames, cropped, and did some minor color alterations. There's not much you need to do in post-processing when the lighting conditions are so supreme. I was pleased I got through so much in such a short amount of time. I'm definitely improving in the post-processing department.

Heading back to baseball I wondered what the game had in store. The Terps pulled out a win on Friday evening but Georgia Tech was a good team. Would the Yellow Jackets rally back, or would the Terps overcome the No. 21 ranked team in the country?

The game started to head south midway through and Tech took a 13-5 lead. Some fans decided to leave, but most stayed. Many of the fans are girlfriends or family members of the players on the two teams. It's a 50/50 crowd most of the time between family members of the visiting team and family members of the Terps.

Dave Lovell has walked amongst them for the past several games and has done an excellent job in striking up conversation with them. I had a couple of them ask me if I shot with the DC Sports Box. It was the first time someone else asked me about the DC Sports Box (usually I'm the one telling them about our group). It's a good sign...

A pair of DoD photographers were present. I gave them some pointers in where they could and couldn't go in the stadium. They stuck around for about 3 innings before bailing.

When the game got into the bottom of eigth the Terps turned it around. And by the bottom of the ninth the Terps retook the game. I had positioned myself along the first base line to catch the celebration that ensued. It was great to see the Terps pull one out.

I got some decent post-game shots and did pretty well with my action shots for the game. Please go read my writeup and view my photos of the Maryland Terrapins and Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets baseball game over on the DC Sports Box.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Softball: Senior Day

Inclement weather threatened the DC area on Sunday, and the Terrapin baseball game was moved up 54 minutes to accommodate the rain event. I wasn't sure if softball would be moved up, and that event was going to be an important event for the DC Sports Box.

Dave Lovell was asked to shoot the senior photos for Softball and if rain moved up the start time he might not make it there on time. Jason Stevens (from Zenoss) also planned to shadow me around on Sunday to get a taste of sports photography, so I grabbed him early and we headed over to Softball. The game was originally scheduled to start at 1pm but was moved to 12:30. With the rain it didn't actually begin until later and that gave us some breathing room before the official senior ceremony began.

We all kind of milled about looking for the best angles until we settled in on our spaces. Dave set up near the dugout and shot the players coming up onto the field though a cool set of baseball bats. I shot the players as they hugged the coaching staff and other key players, along with their families. Jason kind of floated around taking different shots from interesting perspectives.

It was a lot of fun and I think we did a good job with our shots.

Please go take a look at the Maryland Terrapins 2008 Softball Senior Class over on my Flickr page.

Another season comes to an end at the Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex. This time the women's lacrosse team said "farewell" to 10 seniors that have tremendous scoring potential. The matchup today was against Virginia Tech, a team that has struggled this year offensively.

I arrived 20 minutes early but even that was not early enough for the senior ceremonies. I rushed through assembling my gear when I realized that my CF wallet was back in my car in my laptop backpack! I raced out to get it and then raced back into the stadium. Fortunately I didn't miss any seniors.

Greg Fiume was there on the field and taking photos. Jackie from the Diamondback was also present. Some DoD guys were back in town on their weeklong sports assignment. It was good to see several people covering the senior day.

I did pretty well with my photos for today. I didn't get much of a chance to chat with Greg though. He had another assignment and had to leave after the first half and we spent most of our time on opposite sides of the field. I thought that the senior celebrations would be pretty emotional for the team and anticipated Virginia Tech taking advantage of the situation. As a result I stayed in the Terrapin defensive zone for 1/2 of the first half to shoot the defense.

My strategy paid off. The Terps were pretty sloppy in the early going and I got some good defense shots. But once they settled down and got into their rhythm it was Terps all the way. When I saw the transition unfold on the field I slid down the field into their attack zone. That's where Greg was set up.

I shot the remainder of the first half in the attack zone and then flip-flopped in the second. I did some shots from midfield and some shots from the corner in the attack zone. I also did some defensive shooting. Please go read my article and take a look at my photo gallery of Maryland vs Virginia Tech in the regular season final game for the Terps over at the DC Sports Box.

After the game the Maryland staff cordoned off the fans and sent them on their way. A memorial ceremony was held for Lauren Cohen, who's father passed away in March in NYC when a crane collapsed. The team planted a team, some parents said some words, the seniors said some words, people smiled and cried... The team videographer was present but no photographers were allowed in. I was honored to be there and thankful that Coach Reese invited me to stay. I tried to balance the distracting noise of my shutter release with the thoughtful condolensces that were offered to the Cohen family.

The post-game shots came out great. I didn't post them to Flickr or anywhere else - they're too private to be published on the Intrawebs. Instead I cut a CD for Sandy Worth that contains some of my pictures of the seniors this week and brought it to her on Sunday. I trust that she'll only distribute it to people that should have access to the content.

It's sad to see another team graduate some seniors and close down their regular season. On the other hand it does open up my schedule a little bit. I've informally started keeping track of the time I spend on my day job and my photography "hobby" and it's starting to approach 50/50. With baseball, softball, and women's and men's lacrosse you can stay quite busy shooting and writing.

Friday, April 18, 2008

On Friday Mike Busada gave me a ring and in a really disjointed (but excited) message mentioned a helicopter, a lacrosse game, and Annapolis. I quickly returned the phone call to get more details.

It turns out that Mike's son used to play for St. Mary's (a high school in Annapolis that has a strong lacrosse program) and Mike still keeps in contact with somebody currently affiliated with the team (a coach or perhaps another father). This contact has a brother in law named Jerry who has a helicopter, and wanted to know if Mike could shoot some aerial shots of the St. Mary's game this evening against regional rival Loyola. Mike couldn't do it due to a wedding commitment so he gave me a call.

"Of course I want to do it!" I told him. "Just let me ask Julie first..." I put Mike on hold and called Julie. No luck - nobody home. After several calls I finally got a hold of my wife and she gave the green light for an exciting aerial photographic shoot. I was so excited!

I had to meet the helicopter pilot at Lee Airport in Edgewater MD. I knew exactly where the airport is because my employer (Eric Newton) lives just a mile or so from the end of the runway. I headed down there and met up with Jerry and he gave me a tour of the helicopter and walked me through some "do's" and "don'ts". One of the things he really focused on was: "DON'T drop anything." He also said I would have to wear the strap on my camera. I didn't think that would be a big deal but I obliged.

Jerry wasn't familiar with Annapolis so we reviewed a street map he brought along. I'm very familiar with Annapolis having worked at Zenoss for a year and a half now and having flown into BWI about a million times over my life. I told him we'd have no problem finding the school.

Prior to walking out onto the grassy ramp I went through a mental checklist of lenses and cameras to bring. I accidentally left my D3 battery on my charger last night but I had 2 spares from my D2H. I neglected to realize that the plastic clip that locks the battery in place changed slightly between the D2H and the D3. Fortunately the battery kind of sticks in the camera though.

I unloaded my backpack of it's regular 2 laptop compliment from my day job and transformed it into my go-back for a shoot. 70-200, check. 14-24, check. D200, check. 17-55 DX, check. 24-70 check. Extra memory cards, check. Battery, lens caps and hoods, check. D3 on my shoulder, check. All set.

As we orbited around the field at St. Mary's high school I changed my first lens at around 500 feet. I swapped my 24-70 for a 70-200 while Jerry orbited us. I forgot to mention - I had no door on my side of the helicopter. I was pretty uncomfortable changing lenses while the helicopter was in a slight bank doing 40-50 knots and no door next to me. I think there was only one other time in my life where I was more focused than I was up in that cockpit.

It will be interesting to see how this experience alters my sense of fear regarding my equipment. You can drop a lens 2 feet, or even drop it in the water. All that'll happen is that you may need to buy a new lens. But if you drop it out of a helicopter over a suburban area where everyone is watching you orbit 2 things will definitely happen: the pilot will probably lose his license, and you'll probably never be asked back up into a helicopter again. And oh ya, the lens might kill someone if it lands on or near them.

The flight was a great experience and I'm thankful that Mike gave me the opportunity to take advantage of it. If the chance arises again I'll definitely jump on it!

My D3 demo arrived on Monday evening and I was looking forward to Wednesday night's game all day Tuesday and Wednesday. The last time I used the D3 I was very impressed with it's high noise ISO capability and I was very much looking forward to trying it out with some new glass.

Along with the D3 came a 14-24mm f/2.8 N lens. It's wide. Hella wide. There's distortion around the edges but very little vignetting. I wanted to take a stab at getting a huddle picture.

Prior to the game Al sent out an email warning DC Sports Box shooters about taking huddle photos without received permission before a game. I wasn't aware of this subtlety and I'm glad that Al made us all aware of it. I noticed I was one of a few people taking photos of huddles in the past and that probably should've triggered something in my brain to say "maybe I shouldn't be doing this." Oh well - chock it up to one more sign of my inexperience.

I spoke with Matt Lynch prior to the game and he gave the go-ahead for the huddle pictures. When I headed out onto the field I was trailed by a Navy photographer, Jackie from the Diamondback, a CSTV or ACC Select videographer, Mr Collins, and another photographer. Lots of media there. Having checked with Matt first gave me a lot of confidence to walk out there to get my shot. I'm not sure if I hadn't headed out there if any of the other photographers would've stepped onto the field. I'm probably wrong...

My huddle shots came out really well and the D3 did superbly with color richness. It's such a wonderful tool for photographers. I was so pleased with it's performance on the field, and the microphone capability was just perfect. I accidentally left my reporters microphone in my backpack (rather than my photo bag) but my D3 saved the day. Without it I wouldn't have been able to write up my article on the Maryland Terrapins and the Georgetown Hoyas women's lacrosse game.

I learned the importance of sticking around after the game this evening. I stayed for the post-game team huddle and overheard the head coach reminding the team of a ceremony on Saturday to honor a team member who's dad perished in the crane accident in New York City a month or so ago. Afterwards I was given the nod by the coach to attend. Had I not stuck around I wouldn't have found out about that event.

I also interacted with Mr Cowles a lot and afterwards was able to get some great shots of the senior class because the head coach sent them over to Mr Cowles. Unfortuantely for him he only had a 70-200 lens available but I was ready with my 14-24. I got some great shots and had an opportunity to interact with the seniors in the few minutes I had with them after the game. You can check out my post-game photos of the 2008 women's lacrosse senior class over on my Flickr page.

As I've improved on the technical aspects of photography I've begun to focus more on the professional aspects of this hobby. This involves establishing ongoing relationships with sports information directors, trainers, other photographers and writers, and lastly the players themselves. I'm not brown nosing though - I sincerely enjoy talking with many of them. Their dedication to their sport is inspiring and reminds us all how pleasurable it must be to live in a job you love. Every time I interact with Matt Lynch or Kirsten Olsen at Maryland they're always smiling and happy to be on the sidelines at an event. In contrast I walk into my professional job and nearly every day I hear complaints from people about feeling unfulfilled and miserable. It's a joy to put all the negativity of my day-job behind and work with people (even for a few minutes) who, at least on the outside, appear to love their job.

I'm looking forward to the weekend and the events it brings. There are 4 games at Maryland on Saturday and the weather looks to be fabulous. I'm crossing my fingers on some good light and will have all my lithium ion packs charged and my CF cards formatted come Friday night!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Dave and I headed over to Water Polo before the baseball game ended. It was Dave's first water polo game (and just my third) so it was pretty enjoyable. There were a lot of Terrapin fans there, including some members of the Maryland pep band. Today's matchups were pretty good and put the cap on a great season for the Terps.

We arrived just before the third period and took our position towards the side of the pool where the Terps shot. Dave used his D3 and 300mm while I remained on my D200 and 400mm lens. The reach on the 400mm is great but at times it's just too close for water polo. A 300mm lens (or the full frame sensor on the D3) would make a big difference.

The lighting in the recreation center was great because the sun was still out. At night the light isn't great but it's still workable at ISO 1600. I noticed that Dave went to Auto-ISO for some shots. I like to stay static on my settings and vary my shutter speed if necessary.

The colors from Dave's shots were really vibrant. I think his white balance was off though. I need to do some work to figure out how to correctly adjust my white balance. I just set it to the incandescent pre-set and that works pretty well most of the time. But this afternoon's light was a blend of sunlight through the windows and overhead incandescent light. It'd be good to figure out how to actually do that.

I took a lot of notes using my recorder and they helped in my write-up. UM doesn't provide much of a box score for water polo and the article doesn't give too many details about who scored what and when. Having the recorder was a really great tool.

Please go read my article and view our photos of the Terrapins vs Michigan water polo match.

After taking in some soccer I headed over to Shipley Field to shoot some baseball. The sun had emerged from the rainy overcast that moved during the morning hours. I took up position behind home plate and looked around for other photographers and reporters. Nope ... none. Except for Dave Lovell.

Dave's been doing a lot of Maryland games lately and has done a fantastic job. He started off doing softball but has been shooting more and more baseball games. Up until Friday he was limited by his 70-200 lens and as a result softball was a great fit for him. But he faces the same problems I face with long lenses in low light trying to shoot the outfield at Shipley at night. It's almost better to go short in low light situations.

I shot a handful of innings with Dave and chatted with him for awhile about the DC Sports Box. He's noticed a lot of editing mistakes on our written product. I've noticed them too and have fixed them whenever I have a chance. Dave doesn't have access though so all he can do is send an email and ask one of the publishers (me and Al) to fix mistakes.

I would really like for us to formalize our roles at the DC Sports Box. If we define our workflow and the key roles in our reporting process we can start to tap people to fulfill those roles. But if we don't take the first step of documenting the workflow and the roles we can't optimize it. How do you offer to hire someone without first providing a job description?

I'm going to nudge Al to adopt the roles and workflow I wrote up on Google Docs. He bought into it initially. I just think we need final sign off and then we can move forward with building in some publishing redundancy.

My shots from the baseball game were not particularly good. I was mostly there to talk with Dave and get his feedback on how things are going. I took some shots for my personal use but we decided to go with Dave's set for the actual story. Once the article is posted I'll post a link!

I attended a Maryland Gridiron Network event on Saturday morning. The football team had a practice and MGN members were invited to attend. Following the practice was a lunch in the Gossett Team House. On the way back to our car in parking lot 1 I noticed the scoreboard at Ludwig Field was illuminated and balloons were being delivered. Clearly an event was scheduled this afternoon.

I checked out the UMTerps website and discovered the women's soccer team entertained Penn this afternoon in a Spring schedule. The weather was threatening but I decided to make a go of it and I headed home to grab my pack. I made it back to Ludwig just before faceoff at 3pm.

There weren't any CSC guards and only a sprinkling of fans. No other photographers or reporters were present. I unpacked my gear and rigged up the D200 with the 400mm lens and used the D2H with my 70-200. I bought a lock and used it to attach my bag to a flagpole. I also locked up the contents of the Think Tank bag using their combo lock. It felt good to know that all my spare equipment was safely tucked away.

The game itself was pretty fun to shoot. I enjoy outdoor games because of the abundance of light. It was also fun shooting a soccer team again. I haven't shot them since late October or early November. It was surreal shooting soccer in Spring. I kept thinking about Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years rather than Memorial Day and the Fourth of July.

I used my recorder to keep track of the game's progress. I failed to take a picture of the scoreboard because the UM staff turned it off almost immediately after the game concluded. I was really happy that I took close notes on my recorder because Maryland didn't post a box score. They didn't even post an article either, so I recreated everything from memory.

When I got home I posted my photos and wrote up an article for the DC Sports Box. Please read about Maryland's spring women's soccer games and view my photographs over at the DC Sports Box.