Sunday, November 9, 2008

After a quick run home to offload and post-process men's basketball pictures I headed back to the Pavilion for the senior ceremony of the volleyball squad.

James Lang was on assignment to shoot the ceremony while Dave Lovell and I also photographed the event for the DC Sports Box. I noticed Dave on the court with a short lens and a flash so I opted to stand back on the side and use my 300mm lens to get some profile shots of the players while they posed for Dave and James.

Naturally my shots were not as crisp and sharp as James and Daves because I shot at f/2.8 and ISO 4000 while they were able to rely on the light from the flash to offer them shots up around f/7.1 and probably ISO 640. Under those conditions you can make the subjects pop with the light from your camera while I'm forced to use the hodge-podge overhead bulbs of varying color and brightness.

I noticed that the elevated spot on the far end of the court was not occupied for this evening's game so I moved in to claim it for myself in the opening set. Normally videographers or team statisticians are perched from that prime spot and photographers are not permitted atop. I've had my eye on the spot all season because it's high enough where you can somewhat catch the players leaping up over the net to spike.

I say somewhat because not all players can get that high. Most of the time the top line of the net crosses their face in half while their hand makes it above the stripe. But on occasion you'll catch an attack where the player makes it high enough to get over the white stripe.

Focus from that position is a real challenge. My AF system kept locking on the mesh of the net rather than the players beyond the net. It really was a challenge and very few of my shots from that position came out well. The few that did were really good but the reliability was just not there.

I decided to stick with the 300mm and shoot from a couple of different spots around the Pavilion. I headed up to the top row of the bleachers as far back as I could go. I positioned myself such that the right handed players would spike towards me so that I could get a full shot of their faces and bodies. In comparison if I had shot from the opposite side of the court the players would continue to spike with their right hands and would block their torsos and faces.

I've found that I no longer spend time thinking about proper exposure when I shoot sports. I now look for the good spots to shoot from and I try to pay attention to where the players will strike from. If it's basketball I want to be on the opposite side of the court as where the players strike. So if they drive right (because they are right handed) I want to be on the left hand side of the court (from their perspective).

I also look at the angles that a lot of other photographers use and consider incorporating them into my own portfolio. It's a combination of learning by example and trying my own things. It works pretty well for the most part except for the criticism some people give you for this approach. They'll say you're "copying" but in reality there are only so many places you can shoot from in certain events and just being in the same spot doesn't guarantee the same shot. There are different focal lengths, apertures, and moments that are going to produce entirely different photos. A shot at f/4 with 1/250th at 300mm in volleyball of a player serving will look entirely different than a shot at f/2.8 with 1/500th at 200mm in volleyball of a player bumping a return to a serve. The two images may be shot from the same location but how the photographer captured the scene will be entirely different.

Anyhow, after I shot from back and up high I decided to try to go low and from the backcourt. I had a difficult time from that spot because the players on the close end of the court blocked the Terps on the opposite side of the court. I wanted to catch some good bump shots from the backline but there were just too many Seminoles and Terps standing in between myself and the backline on the opposite side of the floor.

The third spot I attempted was from midcourt along the side. I've worked from there before with the 70-200mm lens but I wanted to give a go at using the 300mm. It was just too much reach for that position so I ended up going back down to the 70-200mm lens. However, I was still blocked for a lot of shots by other players and I decided to move around some more.

Eventually I settled in on a somewhat decent location behind the scorers table while using a 300mm lens. I was able to capture some decent shots of serves and after climbing up high on the stands I got some interesting angles on players in the backcourt bumping. On a 300mm lens you can get in pretty close and I liked that isolation a lot.

With volleyball officially over for the season the only remaining Olympic sports on the agenda are soccer and field hockey. Both teams will compete in the NCAA tournament and some of the games will most likely be played at the University of Maryland. It should be fun!


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