Thursday, August 28, 2008

I wrapped up my proposal by 5pm Friday afternoon and headed down to College Park to shoot the first home game for the Maryland men's soccer team. It was an exhibition game but I thought some other photographers or reporters might be there. I spotted a couple of guys I recognize from men's basketball and it was good to see them out there. I didn't see any photographers though.

Fortunately the Terps wore their jerseys so we can use some of the photos I grabbed for stock purposes later on in the season. The shoot went pretty well - I wasn't too happy with the lighting conditions but those are often out of your control. I was looking for a really bright sunset but that wasn't in the cards. It was overcast and there wasn't a lot of sharp light.

A lot of photographers prefer an overcast sky because it diffuses the sunlight and allows them to avoid blown highlights and dark shadows. I agree with that but at the same time there's nothing like getting a full face illuminated with orange sunlight. You fight with shadows on their faces from noses, ears, arms, and other blockages. But if you can snag that one image where the light is unobstructed it makes for a great photograph.

When I got home I packed up my things and got started on my story and photos as quickly as possible. Julie and I are heading out of town on Saturday morning and a late night is not the kind of thing I was looking for. I got through the photos really quickly and used the box score to type up an article. Earlier in the day I installed Lightroom 2 and there seems to be some kind of bug related to audio sidecar files. For whatever reason when I import a file with an audio sidecar the file disappears in Lightroom. It appears in the filmstrip preview in the bottom but then disappears when I try to view the photo. Argh...

My story and photos from the Maryland Terrapins vs USF Bulls men's soccer game at Ludwig Field in College Park are up on the DC Sports Box. You can also look at my photos of the Terps and Bulls over on Flickr.

It's been awhile since I posted. I'm working on a proposal for my company and it's really sucked up a lot of time. Normally we have a decent amount of time to prepare for bidding on work but in this case we had 5 days. Between my day job, my night job, and bidding this work my time has been really strapped.

But I'm down in North Carolina right now and a band of showers from TS Fay is moving across the island giving me a great chance to update my blog with a few posts.

Dave Lovell and I are going to be the folks from the DC Sports Box responsible for covering Maryland Athletics this fall, and tonight's exhibition women's soccer game against the West Virginia Mountaineers gave me a chance to pass the torch over to Dave for a few weeks while I'm down in North Carolina. We met up at Ludwig Field prior to the exhibition game against West Virginia and went over some of the basics of the field layout. I told Dave about the poor lighting as well as where they typically allow us to go around the field and where they restrict us from. I also introduced him to the CSC folks that regularly work the games.

One of the CSC guys gave us a bit of a hard time and was somewhat confrontational when describing where he would allow us to go and where we could not approach. He quipped about "if you go in there those cameras are mine". Afterwards Dave remarked to me "with all this work maybe we just shouldn't be here!". I thought his observation was both funny and on-the-money with respect to covering athletics. We don't want to interfere with the game at all and we have no interest in going places where we would risk our own safety or influence the game. At the same time I don't think some of the CSC guards realize that. I know they're just doing their jobs but there was a harshness associated with his tone that made us feel really unwelcome ... at an exhibition women's soccer game.

Dave and I shot the game from opposite sides of the field to get the best coverage and it worked pretty well. This Fall should be interesting from a process standpoint because we'll need to coordinate the photo editing for multiple photographers at the same event. In the past it has been just Dave or just me photographing an event. But with Dave and I doubling up on a few events we're going to have to figure out how to best blend our sets of shots. For this event I wrote the article and Dave picked the photos he wanted for the gallery. In the future I suppose we'll just do the same.

It'd be great if we had some easy way of merging my photos with his. It's something to remember for Avalanche...

Our photos and article that describe the Maryland Terrapins vs West Virginia Mountaineers exhibition women's soccer game at Ludwig Field in College Park are up on the DC Sports Box website. Additionally you can find my photoset of WVU vs the Terps on Flickr.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Welcome back, Maryland.

This evening I attended the first Terrapin athletic event of the Fall semester: an exhibition women's soccer game between the Terps and the Georgetown Hoyas. I was thrilled to be back on the field looking through the long glass, and the weather was absolutely perfect.

This time of year the temperature averages in the upper 80s or lower 90s and the humidity is often sweltering. Mid-august time in Washington DC is not good. Not good at all. This past week we've been under the influence of an air mass from Canada that's cool and dry. That makes for some great summertime weather. In fact ... Julie and I have slept with our windows open the past 3 nights! Imagine that during mid August!

Fall, Winter, and Spring sports at Maryland was essentially a full-time second job for me and I welcomed a few months of down-time during the summer. I had planned on writing a bunch of code but in the end I ended up splitting my time between business development and software engineering. I got some code written but I failed to get the assignment desk written. But I managed to get our group incorporated, funded, and I got our bank account all set up and ready to go. Overall I'm happy with my progress.

Maryland Athletics is quickly spinning up this Fall and I'm happy to report that Al has asked me to coordinate coverage for our group. We have field hockey, women's soccer, men's soccer, and volleyball up on the table and it boils down to Dave Lovell and I working the games. Yuchen Nie might fill in for some field hockey and volleyball games, and Al Santos might also take a game or two. For the most part I expect it'll be Dave Lovell and I.

Dave and I have had a few bumps in the past but he's a really great thinker and could help our organization in the long run. He's a great photographer, writes very well, and he's gone the amazingly extra step of volunteering (I think he's crazy for this) to edit the articles on our site. He's also very professional and has a lot of commitment towards doing a great job. I'm privileged to have worked with him in the past and I look forward to what opportunities he can bring to our organization.

Women's soccer kicked off their exhibition game this evening against Georgetown. Like many other of the Maryland "Olympic" sports I was one of the few photographers or writers present. In fact, no other members of the media were in attendance for this season's kickoff. In the past that kind of bothered me but now I just accept it for what it is.

I bumped into my favorite CSC guard Joe. Joe works most of the field sports for the Terps and he also works the women's basketball games. I talk with him whenever I attend the events because he's such a happy older man. He just seems happy to be there getting paid to watch some college students compete. It's really great!

I took a few huddle shots as the Terps prepared to take the field. Afterward Al expressed some concern and asked if I had received permission to take the huddle shots. I explained the nature of the event (20-30 spectators, Terps didn't even wear their jerseys) and said that I had talked with some trainers and assistant coaches beforehand.

The photos of the game went well and I was happy with my camera's performance. In the Fall I shot with a D200 and a 400mm f/2.8 lens and was heavily disgruntled. The lighting at Ludwig is awful and the D200 barely functioned at ISO1600. Above that the photos were useless. This evening I shot at ISO3200 and ISO4000 at some points and the shots came out really well. The colors weren't great but the noise was negligible.

I got a few great shots before the sun set and used most of them in my gallery. I also used the voice recorder feature on my D3 to record some game notes.

In post processing I was really disappointed by Lightroom 2.0's handling of voice metadata. Lightroom has the concept of sidecars that accompany the original image file. Audio files are considered sidecars. Often times I record voice after the last shot of some significant event like a goal. Those photos aren't interesting in and of themselves but the audio helps me write my caption for the good photo or it helps me write my article.

Lightroom doesn't allow me to select all photos that have an accompanying audio sidecar. That sucks! As I skim through my photos I tag certain ones for deletion and I may accidentally remove an image file with a sidecar audio file. I would like for some kind of badge or read-only flag to be set on the images with a sidecar audio file so that I don't inadvertently delete them.

Anyhow... I'll have to put some thought towards figuring out how to handle audio files in a better way as I move forward this Fall. We're ramping up for our coverage of Terrapin atheltics this Fall and I'm sure this will come back to bite me.

In the meantime please go take a look at my Flickr photoset of the Maryland Terrapins vs Georgetown Hoyas in women's soccer. Also, you can read about Maryland Women's Soccer 3-3 tie with Georgetown over on the DC Sports Box.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Last summer I got involved with the DC Sports Box through Al Santos and I really wanted to cover Maryland athletics in the Fall. I wanted to photograph Terrapin Football in particular due to the size of the players and the action in the game. Last summer when I attended the media day I was really hopeful that we would receive credentials to the Fall season.

When we were declined credentials for women's soccer games it became apparent that Maryland wasn't going to open the door for us. None the less I worked hard and attended a lot of events in the Fall and promoted the athletics program on our website. It paid off down the road as Maryland eventually opened up to us and offered us access to certain sports.

A full year later it's odd looking back on events and setting my eyes on what will happen in the future. Covering football games for the Terps would be a dream but if it isn't in our cards then that's ok too. This year I attended the annual media day for Maryland Football with a completely different mindset.

A few months ago we were contacted by a Maryland representative who inquired about our unique visitor count per month. We responded but were very perplexed by the request. After attending the media day this past week it makes sense: guideline #7 of the Maryland Football Media Criteria states that online entities must have at least 20k unique visitors per month. That's a lot, and we don't have it.

As a result I think we'll be declined for credentials this season (again).

The media day event seemed more subdued this year compared with last year. Last year the players were running around and there were probably dozens of media organizations. This year I think I counted 5 at the most on the field. None of the players were throwing the football around. They came out and posed for group photos, posed for individual photos, and just kinda hung around.

I took several group photos of the various players as well as a handful of individual shots. It didn't amount to very many exposures in the end ... maybe 150. Al and Dave hung out upstairs in the media room for most of the event. I was ok with that - the fact that I wasn't there alone put me into a different caliber of people. With the exception of Classic Photographers (a group contracted to shoot individual and team shots) none of the organizations had multiple photographers onsite. It says a lot that our group (DC Sports Box) had 3 photographers present, even if 2 of them were upstairs listening to Coach Friedgen talk.

Back in February I did a pretty extensive writeup of the 2008 Terps and previewed the opponents the Terrapins will face. It's a really long writeup and we decided to split it up over 3 separate articles to post on the website. The length of the article, in addition to the photos we published, grabbed the 3rd spot on Google News for the search phrase "Maryland Football". I was happy about that. As a result we got 500+ hits to the article.

After I posted the article I was contacted by another member of the staff who would like to do something similar for the Redskins. Whenever somebody wants to do some work for our organization I always encourage it but at the same time I thought to myself "too late." I wrote our article for Football back in February so that it was ready to go when the media day rolls around. We sent it along to the Maryland media folks and they were happy to see an in-depth article. At this point the Redskins are gearing up for their second pre-season game and we just found out that we were declined credentialed access (no surprise). If we had wanted to try to impress the Redskins franchise and try to make a play for access this Fall the time to do so would have been back in the Spring. Covering draft picks, off-season news, practice camp news, and pre-season events would demonstrate to the organization that we're serious about covering their team. Putting together a write-up after the pre-season has begun is good but I don't think it's going to help our case for obtaining credentialed access. Such is life I suppose ... some people fail to plan ahead.

It's sometimes frustrating to me to see our organization make mistakes like this because I feel as though I have foresight into our impending failures. We didn't do any Redskins coverage last year because we were declined access (nor did we do any Maryland Football coverage), so why would those organizations open up to us now? Maryland might since we've covered a lot of their Olympic sports but what's in it for the Skins? Not a whole lot. We're an unproven and untested organization and there are lots of proven and tested organizations out there that deserve access.

I often find myself trying to strike the balance between pushing people to reach beyond our current coverage scope today and not being too much of a hardass. How can I say to people in March "go write a post-season analysis" or "go do a draft preview"? I get pushback on things like that and little support from others on the staff. But then when the Fall comes around and we're farming for credentials it's easy to see why we are turned down at times. I see this with full clarity yet it is so foreign to so many people I work with. How can I help them understand?

So the bottom line with Maryland football is that I expect us to be declined access. I think that Al will be disappointed. I will be disappointed as well but it's not the end of the world to me. I'm really happy about that because last year it was a serious let down when we were turned down.

In the meantime please go read my 2008 Maryland Football PreSeason Preview over on the DC Sports Box. I also have lots of photos of Maryland football players and coaches (team shots) as well as individual pictures of Maryland football players at Byrd Stadium on my Flickr account.