Saturday, July 26, 2008

On Wednesday Al contacted me with news that a promoter had reached out to him and asked if the DC Sports Box would be willing to cover a lacrosse tournament being held this weekend in Germantown at the Maryland Soccer Plex. We discussed some possible rates we could charge and moved forward with accepting the job confident that we could work out the payment details later on.

When all was said and done we were offered a fixed rate to shoot the event as well as 100% of the photo sales proceeds. The promoter only wanted a CD at the end of the event that contains all of the photos and the rights to use the photos in future promotional materials. This sounded like a fantastic deal and we naturally accepted it. Paid work is great, and the opportunity to work with a promoter in the Washington DC region could lead to follow-on work down the road.

Scheduling coverage for the event was challenging. There were 3 fields that were active for 75% of the day, meaning we'd need 3 photographers to do a really good job. We could do it with 2 but that would mean that one of the photographers would have to move at halftime, and that limits our coverage. What if a major event happened during a half where we weren't present?

We scrambled to get our photographers lined up. I committed to covering Saturday and Sunday's activities. Al Santos and Yuchen Nie took Friday and part of Saturday, Yuchen took Sunday, and Mike Busada showed up with his assistant Kim Bauer for a handful of games on Saturday.

It was a lot of work.

It was blisteringly hot out on the artificial turf. The air temperature was in the mid 90s, the humidity was high, there were very few clouds, and very little breeze. It had to have been 100+ on the field. Several of my shots actually capture the heat waves floating off the field. I never knew you could photograph heat.

I opened up by shooting f/2.8 but noticed that several of my shots were out of focus. I attribute this to my being out-of-practice from sports photography as well as the difficulties the heat caused. I suspect that the heat waves coming off the field interfered with the AF system in my camera and caused the focal length to be slightly off. I switched to f/5.6 and my shots became noticeably sharper and in focus.

Post processing was a real challenge. With an event this large one person needed to take responsibility for obtaining all the photos from the various photographers. That same person has to then make sure they are correctly named, captioned, and uploaded to the PhotoShelter site where we sell our photos. I didn't trust anyone else to be thorough so I took on that responsibility. It was a lot more than I thought it would be.

We had problems with photographers not being accurate on their filenames, and that appears on the photo sales site. Some folks named their files "DelmarVsNorCal_01.jpg" but it was actually Delmar Prep that played. Likewise, the caption information did not reflect the correct team. When that happened I had to pull all 150+ photos into Lightroom, re-caption them, and re-export them. It was very frustrating.

We also had bandwidth problems. One of the photographers used "FINE JPEG" as his setting and that produced 4MB and 5MB pictures. He uploaded 200 - 300 photos to our site, and I then had to download those files to my local box before re-uploading them to PhotoShelter. If PhotoShelter had an SFTP interface I could've just slid the files from over to PhotoShelter and that would've saved considerable time but I couldn't do that due to PhotoShelter's upload policies. As a result I had to download 1.5GB of imagery from 1 game over a rather slow upload from, and then re-upload 1.5GB of imagery from my T1 at work or my cable modem at home to PhotoShelter. Fortunately Comcast will burst your uploads and I was able to squeeze out an average 4Mbps on my upload. But while at my office I was put-putting along at a measly 1Mbps. And we pay $400 a month for that T1 (my cable modem at home runs me $43 a month)...

We're still not finished with all of our work from the event and we're all really tired of looking at these photos. It takes a lot of work to organize all the photos that are taken by 3 photographers during 3 days of solid work but I think it's taught us a lot. We're planning on doing a post-mortem this week to talk about what worked and what didn't work. That'll help us the next time around when we're approached by someone that wants us to cover an event.

In the meantime we've earned some cash for our small organization, and that'll help us seed the next round of growth. It's exciting to be paid for photography, but it also involves a lot of work.

Please head over to our DC Sports Box article on the 2008 Adidas National Lacrosse Classic and take a look at our galleries.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Freedom played their last game of the season and I wanted to make sure that someone from the DC Sports Box covered the event. Yuchen attended one of their games back in early June and I missed one or two of them, so I wanted to make sure that when the end of the season rolled around we had someone on the field. Unfortunately none of the 5 other photographers that work with our group would commit to heading up to Germantown MD for a 7pm game.

So, at around 5:30 pm, I embarked on a trek that originated in Annapolis Junction and took me through the rolling hills of Howard and Montgomery Counties towards Germantown. I wound my want down Sundown Rd, Bright Lane, Blunt Rd, and eventually onto the familiar Germantown Rd. For a 2 mile curvy span of Blunt Rd there weren't any line markers on the pavement and the road really narrowed!

I made it in time and headed down to the field. The folks working the welcome desk recognized me from my attendance at the previous games and didn't give me any hassle. When I reached the field the players were out practicing and I looked around for Shane. I wanted to talk with him about his shots from Sunday night and see if he had resolved his website link issue.

As the players headed off the field prior to introductions I went through a mental exercise of what lens to use for their entrance. I considered the 14-24mm lens as well as the 70-200 but opted to go with the 70-200. In the end it didn't matter because the players didn't make much of a show during their entrance. They just kind of shuffled onto the field. I was surprised about it since it was their final home game.

I fired off a lot of exposures during the first half of play. The game started promptly at 7pm and the sun was in that golden-hour I love to use. The players looked spectacular - they were extremely well lit and the backgrounds had this soothing light on them. When the sun is so low in the sky you don't get as many shadows on the faces of your subjects and it makes for some great photos. You have to find the right spot where the sun is towards your back and the players are moving in your direction. If you can locate that magic spot you can get some tack-sharp photos with some wonderful color. I live for those shots.

When halftime rolled around I was up to around 600 exposures. I did my best to review as many of them as possible and delete the uninteresting ones. I was able to get it down to around 75 good ones and 150 I hadn't reviewed before the players re-took the field 15 minutes later. I realize that I'm chewing up the battery on my camera when I delete photos during a shoot but it significantly cuts down my post-processing time at home. Wading through 400 photos at home takes considerably less time than going through 1000.

I managed to capture a few good moments for the players thanks largely in part to the spirited competition. It was 0-0 for 88 minutes of play and that keeps the action competitive. Both teams dug at each other and that's what you need in order to get some great shots.

When I got home I made some pancakes with Julie and headed upstairs to post process. After about 2 hours I was finished with cropping, captioning, posting, and writing. To my surprise I didn't make any color or exposure adjustments to the photos. The ones in my photoset are direct off the camera and didn't require any adjustments in post-processing other than some minor rotation and cropping. That made me smile.

This upcoming weekend we have a lacrosse assignment that's been offered to our group. It sounds like a lot of work for a small amount of money but the exposure for our company could be really good. We've received exclusive rights to the photo sales and that's a good thing for us. As a result we're all rushing around to work out the logistics of covering 39 games in 3 days using 4 photographers. It's a lot of work to coordinate the post-processing and publishing activities of an event like that but I'm up to the challenge.

In the meantime please go take a look at my article about the Washington Freedom's 1-0 win over the Long Island Rough Riders, including a description of Christie Welsh's goal, over at the DC Sports Box. You can also check out my Washington Freedom Flickr Stream.

Monday, July 14, 2008

After Saturday's Freedom game I took some photos of a colleague's band that played 4 sets up Kelsey's Bar and Grille in Columbia MD. His band, the Radio Clowns, is really quite good and the bar was pretty lively when they played. It was a lot of fun but I was really dragging by the time I rolled into my house around 2:30am. And I wanted to get my media onto my laptop before heading to bed, so I didn't hit the sack until around 3:30am or so.

On Sunday I post-processed my farm set, Freedom set, a set of a wicked cool church, and then band set. I love taking photos so it was really enjoyable. I headed out late Sunday afternoon for a 6pm Freedom game hoping to get some golden-hour highly-vibrant shots. I love that orange glow in the evening and how much color that gives your subject!

On the way up the Soccer Plex the clouds began to thicken and darken. I flipped on WTOP and heard the weatherman calling for storms and rain throughout the evening. I didn't like the sound of that since I hadn't prepared for it. I didn't have a poncho or any foul weather gear, and I didn't wrap my lens in a trash bag (I don't have an Aqua Tech yet).

When I reached the field I found a trashbag inside and promptly wrapped up my 400mm f/2.8 lens. I headed for the field and readied my 14-24 f/2.8 lens for the huddle shot. I wanted to get some photos of the team before they took the field. Just as they huddled up the weather opened up and a downpour ensued. It was a ton of rain!

I found a chair along the sideline and covered my my 14-24 and 70-200 lenses by placing them under the chair. I had my protective Nikon enclosures and I double checked them several times to make sure they were fully zipped up. I also triple checked the trash bag on the 400mm lens.

We only got in about 30 minutes of play but I got enough shots to make a decent photo album for the game. I purchased an AquaTech eye piece a few weeks ago to replace the stock eyepiece from Nikon. It butts out about 1/2 an inch from the body and I actually like that while shooting. It's a pain when putting the camera back into the bag but it works really well when I'm in the field. The softness of the AquaTech eye piece is really nice to work with.

That little eyepiece did a great job for me. Because it sticks out about 1/2 an inch it allowed me to wrap the trashbag firmly around the back of the camera to prevent any raindrops from falling on the LCD area. It worked perfectly and all of my gear stayed dry! At some point I'll invest in an AquaTech case but for now I'll be ok with my garbage bags and my AquaTech eye piece.

I bailed after talking with Shane Canfield for about 45 minutes or so. We were both comparing notes on photography and sports in particular and lamenting on how difficult it is to make some money in this profession. He's a talented photographer and if you're looking to purchase some shots of the Washington Freedom you should definitely check out his site.

When I arrived home I was frustrated over the lack of information on the Freedom website. I couldn't stay for the end of the game due to some other commitments I had but I wanted to know the final outcome. It wasn't until the next day that I found out from Shane that the Freedom won 6-1. Even at around 3pm the next day the results were not posted on the website.

Please go take a look at my photos of the Washington Freedom and Christie Welsh and Lori Lindsey when they defeated the Fredericksburg Lady Gunners over on my Flickr page.

Wow it's been a long time since I posted!

I've taken a few weeks off from sports shooting to pursue some infrastructure improvements for the DC Sports Box. We're growing and facing a bunch of new challenges from that growth and I'm the only one on the team capable of making these kinds of improvements, so I kind of self-drafted myself.

But yesterday I got to get out and shoot the Freedom. While there I bumped into Shane Canefield but I didn't get much of an opportunity to speak with him. I also recognized most of the players, the coach, and a few of the staffers. I really felt different walking down onto the pitch at the Soccer Plex - last summer I had only a handful of games under my belt and this summer I'm quite a bit more experienced.

I enjoyed shooting the Freedom and really enjoyed my comfort level with the team compared to last year. For awhile there has been an uneasiness on my part surrounding shooting female athletes due to my being a male. Winter, Spring, and Summer 2007 were filled with conflicted thoughts about appropriateness in my shot selection. I was also uncomfortable with my camera equipment, so awkwardness was overwhelming.

The best part about covering this Freedom game was my comfort level on the field. Having shot so many sporting events at Maryland last year I didn't think twice about snagging some candid shots of the players while they interacted with each other and the coach on the sidelines. I felt really relieved about overcoming that awkwardness that was so prevalent last year.

I shot 90% of the game using my D3 and a 400mm f/2.8 lens. I recently sold my D200 and D2H to partially fund my purchase of a D3. Currently I'm down to 1 body so I have to switch lenses at different points. I opted for my 70-200 f/2.8 before the game for my sideline shots and then switched to the long lens when the game began.

I got some decent golden-hour shots of the team before the sun got too low in the sky. I also got a handful of decent shots at night. The D3 really is a wonderful camera and it makes such a difference in low light scenarios. I shot at ISO 2000 without thinking twice about the noise levels and my photos are fabulous (at least from a grain standpoint!). I didn't even have to use Noise Ninja or any unsharpening masks.

There are a couple of additional Freedom games this weekend and this week and I'm going to attend them. In the meantime go take a look at my Freedom Gallery on Flickr and read my article on Freedom's 3-0 win over Jersey Sky Blue on DC Sports Box.