Friday, October 31, 2008

Field Hockey: Maryland Terrapins vs VCU

On a cold Thursday evening the Terps locked up their regular season and showed respect to their senior class. I had the privilege of photographing the senior class with their family, friends, and coaches both before and after the game.

Most senior shoots involves a pre-game ceremony where each player is highlighted and presented with flowers, a plague, or a jersey behind glass. There are a series of standard photos that you're expected to capture from such an event and they're pretty ordinary in nature. Capture each player with their parents and then at the end get a group shot of the players, coaches, and family members.

I planned that shoot at f/7.1 with a 1/8th powered SB-800 flash on a 14-24mm lens at around 14mm. I thought about using the 24-70mm and shooting at 24mm but that seemed too narrow and I'd have to back away from the players too much. Shooting wider allows me to get closer for the group and family shots and since the lens is an ultra-wide I didn't have to deal with much distortion at all.

It was nice working with the CLS and not bumping into the 1/250th second flash sync limitation. With an SB-800 you can sync well above 1/250th so it's quite easy to dial in your aperture (f/7.1) for the effect you're looking for, set your ISO to something sane (e.g. 400 or 640), and then adjust your shutter speed and flash power accordingly. I could've gone straight TTL, locked the shutter at 1/500th and let CLS perform the power setting.

I chose to set the flash output power manually because I'm trying to learn more about flash photography. It seems like letting TTL and CLS take care of all the flash settings is like letting your camera meter control exposure (e.g. Aperture or Shutter priority mode). Sure you'll most likely get a decent overall exposure but you won't learn a whole lot.

Prior to the pre-game photos I took several test shots on the sideline with the help of Ali Morawski. She and Sandy Worth were good test subjects for a variety of exposure and flash settings and I was able to lock in a few different flash scenarios using them as my test subjects.

The previous evening I gave a lot of though to what kind of artistic twists I could apply to a post-game senior shot. During this spring's women's LAX season I had a lot of fun shooting the seniors after the game and I wanted to set something up for the field hockey seniors. I really liked what Patrick Smith did for Liz Snyder of the Centennials and I wanted to go for something similar.

I planned to drop the 5 seniors in the goal and to flash them with 2 SB-800s from down low. By shooting at a narrow aperture (e.g. f/16) I planned to isolate them in darkness and a goal. I thought it would create a cool shot but I couldn't figure out what to do about concealing the flashes from the camera lens.

When you shoot with flash you have to be wary of the light from the speedlights coming right back towards the lens and creating either a halo or a really bright white spot right in the middle of your frame. I needed something that would block the light from coming back towards the camera but I also needed that something to allow an infrared signal from my camera to reach the speedlights.

A goalie mask would be perfect!

So before the game I hunted down the equipment manager and asked if he had any old masks I could borrow. Sure enough he had one and after promising to take good care of it and bring it back after the game he let me use it for the shoot. The mask was perfect because the front allowed the IR signal to reach the speedlights and the top of the mask concealed the light from the speedlights.

I took a few test shots before the game and the f/16 exposures of just the helmet came out really well. I was stoked for the post-game photos but leary of my ability to dial in the correct exposure settings in such a short amount of time.

Sure enough I didn't get it quite perfect. After the game several seniors wanted their photo taken with celebratory banners and I wanted to shoot around f/5.6 rather than f/16. They raced over to the goal after I set up the speedlights and I didn't have time to shrink the aperture down to f/16. As a result my shots didn't come out as well as I had liked but they were good enough.

I'm enjoying playing with artificial light. I introduced Jackie and Yuchen to the practice of dragging the shutter and Yuchen elected to use the technique for a pre-game photo of the team in a huddle. His shot (#3) is up on the DC Sports Box gallery page and it looks pretty good. I started practicing dragging the shutter this summer when I shot a few nightlife crowds at some bars in the Columbia MD area.

By dragging the shutter you set your camera to "rear curtain sync" and set a long exposure (e.g. 1/2th a second). When the shutter opens you move the body around and the flash firing right before the shutter closing locks the subject and makes them tack sharp. It's a great isolation technique in low light scenarios where you are required to use flash (e.g. in a bar). By spinning the camera you can also draw attention to the center of the frame, further creating focus on your subject.

The game was a lot of fun to shoot because it was senior night and I was able to play with flash. Flash photography can be a challenge but also very fun if you're willing to experiment and play with the light. CLS is a great system if you can set it up properly and apply it well.


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