Tuesday, December 30, 2008

After a quick run home to watch part of the 2008 Humanitarian Bowl between Maryland and Nevada I raced back over to Comcast for a men's basketball game between the Terps and Elon. The media room was packed with reporters watching the 4th quarter of the Humanitarian Bowl and Maryland was up 42-35 with about 7 minutes to go. That made the media room especially pleasant this evening!

As I prepared my laptop and equipment I recalled my last experience at a men's game. In it my seat was grabbed by some other photographers while I snapped a shot of Gary Williams entering the arena. I debated whether or not to head out to the court early to stake my place on the baseline or to punt and head into the stands for the first half. My shots from earlier in the day from the stands came out very well so I decided to opt for the latter choice and headed up into the 100 level section.

I spent part of the first half parallel to the basket and caught a few decent profile shots of players heading to the rim. At the 12 minute whistle I headed into the student section and snapped a few decent shots of players under the basket. I wanted to get a little lower but students were present for the game and I didn't want to move in front of them to get to a vacant seat.

During the first half I shot approximately 100 or so photos I could probably publish. That's a lot for me! I also experimented with different apertures from up in the stands. I wanted to see how f/2.8 compared with f/4 when shooting players on the court while I sat in the stands. The difference was hardly noticeable. I took 2 shots of a CSC staffer on the court during a timeout at f/2.8 and f/4.5 and after examining the photos in the LCD I had a tough time distinguishing between the two from a depth of field perspective. The court looked very similar at f/2.8 and f/4.5. However, the sharpness on the CSC staffer was evident even on a 3" LCD.

I thought about the experiment some more and realized that shooting a smaller aperture in basketball might not be as bad as many people would have you believe. If you shoot from the stands the surrounding backdrop will hopefully either be the rest of the court (which is uniform in it's texture, color, and shape) or the seats in the distant background. At high zooms (e.g. 300mm or 400mm) you get a decent separation between subject and background even at f/4.5 under those circumstances. And at that smaller aperture you obtain considerably sharper photos.

This experience has definitely reinforced my prediction that slower glass will wedge it's way into sports shooting in the future. Bodies with better high-ISO performance will allow photographers to shoot at reduced apertures that will result in crisper photos that still maintain sufficient separation between the foreground and the background to be aesthetically pleasing to the casual viewer.

By the time I left Comcast this evening I had all my photos offloaded and my 25 images for publishing cropped, lightened, and ready for captioning. A quick check of the final stats helped me out and I was all wrapped up about 15 minutes after making it home. It's definitely nice to be fast on the computer and have a post-processing workflow I can execute within 15 minutes of making it home. I'm sure Julie likes that too...

I post-processed all of my photos from the UNC Asheville vs Marshall game by the time the Terps took to the hardwood. I also managed to scrape together a couple of paragraphs to describe the game.

When the Maryland game began I went straight for the stands for some up-high photos. I marked out a spot on the visiting side of the court so I could catch the Terps shooting in the the beginning of the first half. One thing led to another and the next thing I knew I was up in the stands in the entire first half. I got some great shots from up there and was ecstatic for what I was able to publish - KT drove the lane, Coleman had some dribble penetrations, and I captured my lead-in photo of tournament MVP Demauria Liles with a nice two-legs-up layup. I never would've grabbed that photo had I not shot from the stands and moved around to the baseline.

I'm definitely gaining a greater and greater appreciation for in-the-stands photography. The baseline shots are definitely good but I'm realizing how many more photos you can get from up a little higher. It's remarkable!

I narrowed the aperture to f/4 while up there because the built-in camera meter indicated that f/3.5, 1/400th second exposure at ISO 2500 was slightly overexposed, even with a 1/3 EV correction. The benefit of f/4 exposure is sharper images but it comes at the cost of a wider depth of field. The stands in the background are more noticeable and the players are not as isolated.

How much does this matter? Do people pay more attention to the sharpness of a photo or do they care more about isolation of the subject? If I shoot at f/2.8 from the stands and isolate my players through shallow depth of field do people like that more than a sharp image of a player driving to the basket with a little bit of the background in focus? I don't know.

Most people print at 5x7 or 4x6. Sometimes they go to 8x10. At those sizes a lot of softness can appear sharp enough. That argues that f/2.8 exposure would be better because you isolate your subject. However, if you look at imagery on the web where you have higher resolution it might be better to go with a smaller aperture. It's definitely made me think...

Afterwards I met up with a photographer from "Inside Women's Basketball" using SLR video for an interview with Maryland Head Coach Brenda Frese. Out in the parking lot I helped this photographer find the media entrance and I talked with her on the baseline a little bit. I was very interested in her SLR Video approach and asked her to send me a link to the content once she posts it. SLR Video is a really new approach to game imagery that gives extremely high definition video to games using still cameras and long lenses. It has a lot of promise and I predict it will become a bigger and bigger deal over the next 5 years. I'm very interested in seeing how the interview turned out.

I wrote up an article on Maryland's win over Mississippi State and posted a photo gallery up to the DC Sports Box website. Please go take a look!

This afternoon I saddled up and headed out to the Comcast Center for the closing day of the Terrapin Classic. Up on the schedule was UNC Asheville vs Marshall as well as the Terps vs Mississippi State.

I arrived early and made my nest in the media room back off the court. I realized that I haven't talked much in my posts about some of the processes I apply in the media room so I thought it would make some sense to describe it in some more detail.

Media rooms are often hectic places. They are busy with lots of other press and media officials that are busily working on their laptops, cameras, or notepads. Sometimes it is difficult to find an open spot at the work tables during busy games. When I arrive I pull out my laptop and connect it to AC power and bring up Lightroom. I also connect my Lexar FW800 CF card reader so that it is ready to go. Lastly, I create some directories in Lightroom for the game I'm shooting. The goal of this pregame prep-work is to reduce the amount of time it takes me at halftime to offload photos.

During a shoot I try to reduce the amount of time it takes me to post process my photos. I do that so that we can get our story out quickly after a game. Accordingly, I delete out of focus images on my camera and I try to keep the photoset short before I begin offloading. During halftime I bring all the photos into Lightroom so that they can be thumbnailed and properly indexed. Lastly, I go through as many photos at halftime as possible and put them into the "publishable" and "published" category. By getting through all of this I speed things up for my after-the-game work.

The game was very enjoyable to shoot because both UNC Asheville and Marshall were very competitive with each other. They both applied a full-court press and that resulted in a lot of shooting opportunities. I chose to shoot 2/3 of the first half from the stands and I recorded a remarkable number of publishable shots in the first half. At halftime I was shocked that I had 130 publishable photos. Usually at the end of the game 130 photos is towards the upper end of how many I want to have. I captured that many in the first half of the game! Hats off to both UNC Asheville and Marshall for putting it all out there and creating a lot of exciting shooting opportunities!

During the second half I shot from the baseline. I was torn about it because I had such good results from the stands in the first half. However, getting players in isolation from the baseline on the court can make for really great photos. I clocked fewer shots but I got some keepers. It was a good learning experience though because I realized that you don't have to be on the baseline to get great shots.

I wrote up a quick article that summarized the game and published a photo gallery to show UNC Asheville vs Marshall in the Terrapin Classic.

Monday, December 29, 2008

After Mississippi State and Marshall finished up their match the Terps took to the court and prepared for their contest against the UNC Asheville Bulldogs. I worked hard to prepare some interview questions for Crystal Langhorne and Laura Harper and between the two matches I kept an eye out for the two alums. They were expected to be in attendance for the Terrapin Classic and I arranged an interview with the two players. I wanted to make sure I didn't miss them during the game.

I took my spot on the visiting team baseline for the start of the first half and readied my 400mm and 70-200mm combo. It worked pretty well during the previous game so I figured I'd give it a shot for the Terps. f/3.5, 1/400th, and ISO 2500 on a pre-set white balance as usual.

There was plenty of space and I had room to keep my 400mm lens next to me while I used my 70-200mm lens on the close side of the court. After about 10 minutes of play I swapped the 400mm for a 300mm and headed up into the stands. I wanted to get my stands-shooting out of the way early in the game and I thought the closing 10 minutes of the first half would be a great opportunity. Up until that point the Terps were leading but UNC Asheville clawed their way back into it and took a 1 point lead with just over 6 minutes to play. When that happened I shifted from my spot parallel to the rim to a location that would allow me to catch the players coming up the court.

The upswing to shooting from the stands behind the baseline is that you can capture some great dribble penetrations up the lane. The downside is that baseline drives from the opposite side are out of the question. The backing of the basketball hoop completely occludes the player from view when they drive.

I also discovered a new shot from this elevated baseline position - the in-the-paint inbound pass. Just before the end of the first half the Terps inbounded the ball and Marah Strickland jumped up in the air, caught it, and put up a shot. It happened extremely quickly and I couldn't focus quickly enough on the shot. However, if the shot was in focus it would've been superb and I probably would've led with it. I'm going to keep this shot in my back pocket and practice it some more tomorrow during the Terrapin Classic games.

I spent the second half on the home baseline and continued my 400mm / 70-200mm combo. It never disappoints. I got some great shots of Lynetta Kizer on the far side of the court, as well as some great shots of Marah Strickland in the front court going up for the jumper. After the game I ended up with over 120 publishable photos from the event, and 35 I flagged as "to publish." I chipped that down to 24 and ended up running them with a story I wrote. You can read about Maryland's win over UNC Asheville and view a photo gallery at the DC Sports Box website.

This afternoon the Terrapin Classic was played at the Comcast Center and I was assigned to report on it for the DC Sports Box. My mind was notably absent today as I was focused on other events this morning and the shoot was really different. I found myself staring at the court during timeouts before being brought back to the game by the blow of a whistle. None-the-less, it was good to get out of the house and focus on something else. Timeouts were tough though.

I shot from the baseline in the first half but then headed up to the stands for most of the second half. Shooting from the stands provides better light and you can catch a lot more of the players faces when they drive towards the basket. When shooting from the floor you get a lot of chest shots and chin shots but not too many face shots because they players look up at the basket and away from you. The stands are elevated and as a result you can capture a better image.

You can also get some good isolation shots of players as they bring the ball up the court. The only trick is to hold your shutter until all of the player is on the court. If you shoot them on the far side of the court half of their body will be against the fans in the background. You have to wait until they're closer to you and their entire body is surrounding by hardwood. Shooting a subject at narrow apertures using this technique can yield great sharpness and great isolation.

As usual I shot the game at f/3.5 at ISO 2500 on my D3. While in the stands I relied on my 300mm lens but while baseline I switched to the 400mm lens. I hand-held it, as I always do for basketball, and that worked pretty well. I like the reach of the 400mm from the baseline but it is definitely a challenge to get enough of the players in the frame to tell a story. I can get a great rebound shot but I can't capture 3 players leaping through the air to block a shot.

The 300mm lens is great from up in the stands because it backs you away from the action enough to fill up the entire frame. I've considered bringing the 400mm up into the stands though. Come to think of it ... tomorrow I'll probably give it a shot.

The other lens I used this afternoon was a 70-200mm. I carried the 24-70mm and placed myself in the paint under the home basket but I didn't reach for the shorter lens in the second half. I found there to be more shooting opportunities of players driving the lane or orbiting around the perimeter than there were down low and under the rim. There were a few times where I wished I had the 24-70mm lens on the body and wound out to 24mm. Unfortunately I couldn't move quickly enough to swap the lenses. Oh well.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

This afternoon I covered the Maryland Terrapins facing off against the visiting Bryant Bulldogs. The temperature was gorgeous for this time of year (mid 50s) and in stark contrast to a few games ago where everyone shivered on their way from the parking lot to the arena.

There was a decent amount of media on hand for this afternoon's game but it wasn't overly congested on the sideline. After arriving extra early I plunked down a 400mm and 300mm lens on the visiting baseline while I shuffled off to the home court side of the stadium to photograph Coach Gary Williams enter the arena. I don't have any fist-pump shots of the Coach from this year so I figured I'd grab a handful this afternoon. I didn't spend more than 3 minutes on the far side of the court before I realized that my space had been gobbled up by some other photographers!

After capturing my Coach Williams shot I returned to my spot and asked some of the photographers who had descended onto my spot where they were planning on sitting for the first half. One of them didn't utter a word and instead pointed straight towards my gear while showing me a menacing eye. Confused I remarked that I was there before, I was only gone for 3 minutes to get a shot of Coach Williams, and that I had left my lens there as a sign that I intended to return. The photographer was indifferent and shrugged off my questions. Another photographer remarked "I have to be here, I'm on assignment."

I retreated to the opposite baseline where I sat alone for the first half and shot through my 400mm lens contemplating the exchange. I suppose a more forceful or disagreeable photographer would've made a scene, stormed off to find the team photographer, or otherwise would've escalated the situation. I chose to walk away and shoot through my long lens. However, during half-time I remained on the court in my spot so that it would not be taken seconds before the start of the second half.

Most of the first half was spent looking through the 400mm lens at f/3.5 and ISO 2500 at 1/400th. I like the sharpness of the photos at f/3.5 and the noise at 2500 on a D3 is very manageable. I also like having plenty of reach in the optics. Using a 70-200mm lens for across-the-court shots is simply insufficient for what I'm trying to produce. A 400mm or 300mm lens, even at f/3.5, produces sufficient separation between the subject and the background to create a publishable photo.

After the game I headed to the media room where I gave a guest photographer a quick tour of Adobe Lightroom. He has shot a few games for us in the past and his workflow is based on Linux and moving around files by hand. Lightroom really speeds up the post-processing workflow by automating a lot of routine steps. You can create filename templates that are applied at time of import or export. You can create IPTC metadata profiles you can apply to a bunch of photos that greatly reduce the amount of copy and paste. Lastly, you can schedule file exports and resizes to occur while you go off and work on another process (e.g. spinning up a browser to point towards wherever you intend to publish). By the time we left the arena we had all of his imagery fully post-processed and published in under 45 minutes. His last event required roughly 4 hours of post-processing time. Lightroom definitely helps!

Next up are a series of games at Comcast on Monday and Tuesday as the Lady Terps compete in the Terrapin Classic. I'm looking forward to the event and I plan to cover all 4 games for the DC Sports Box. Afterwards, on Tuesday night, the men face off against Elon. I need to put together some tricky scheduling that will allow me to cover the Lady Terps at 2pm on Tuesday, high-tail it home to catch the Humanitarian Bowl on TV, and then book it on back to Comcast in time for tipoff at 7pm. Should be tricky but fun!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

After a pretty long stint away from Comcast while the student athletes took their final exams the men's basketball schedule resumed and I found myself courtside for a rematch between Maryland the the American Eagles. Last year American defeated the Terps after Maryland had a 9-day break, thus setting up the rematch that unfolded at Comcast this evening.

There was a lot of anticipation leading up to this particular game as it was an opportunity to smudge away part of the blemish that was put on Maryland's record last year.

I opened up the game by shooting from up in the students section for the first 5 minutes. I was hoping for some quick drives to the hoop by Maryland to establish an inside game but that didn't happen. Dave Neal shot from the outside in the beginning and my spot up in the stands didn't really help me much for that photo. However, I did catch a decent shot of Landon Milbourne dishing off a pass after driving up the lane.

Before the game I adjusted my white balance using a neutral card. My preset was still adjusted to the lights at Verizon Center and I wanted to get them back to proper Comcast settings. I've written in the past about how I don't like to use auto-anything on my camera because it can produce unknown results. 2 photos shot one-after-the-other with auto white balance can have drastically different colors. Fixing each individual shot in post processing is time consuming. Setting the white balance to a fixed value (even if that value is slightly off), allows me to come back around in post-processing and adjust ALL the white balance settings the same way. If I'm off by 150 degrees K I can turn down the temperature 150 degrees on ALL the of the photos. With auto white balance my photos may be off 100, 75, 150, 125, and 100 degrees and I have to adjust each one.

I tried my best to get some shots of assistant coach Keith Booth for a feature we're running on him in the next magazine. He's a tough man to shoot because his complexion is very dark and he's very tall. I shoot from down on the floor and when I take a picture of him his head is so high up that the background is dark behind him. Accordingly there isn't a lot of separation between Booth and the background, and that's not good.

Towards the end of the game I floated back up into the stands and positioned myself on the left side of the court just parallel to the backboard. Any player that drove to the right (which is the power side for a lot of right-handed players) and shot the layup would be a perfect capture. I just happened to luck out and be at the right place at the right time for a steal and a layup by Greivis Vasquez. I probably have dozens of these photos from the baseline but the photo I took of him this evening stands out. You can see his face and his eyes as he puts it in.

You can view view DCSB photos and read Julie Gilden's summary of Maryland vs American over on the DC Sports Box.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Football: Maryland Crab Bowl

On Saturday I was assigned to cover the Maryland Crab Bowl at Johnny Unitas Stadium on the campus of Towson University just north of Baltimore MD. Fortunately for me I was familiar with the venue because I covered the 2008 NCAA Women's Lacrosse Tournament at the same stadium over Memorial Day. As a result I knew what to expect in terms of parking and where to find the media folks.

I arrived at the stadium with approximately 30 minutes to spare and parked pretty close to the field. The crowd was of decent size but it didn't interfere with my ability to find a spot in the media lot. While heading to the field I thought about what kind of pre-game shots I wanted to get. I recalled that Chuck had mentioned an MVP appearing for the coin toss but I didn't know if that would pan out.

After making it down to the field I readied my 400mm and 24-70mm lens. I attached an SB-800 to the camera with the 24-70 and headed out to the field. I met up with Mark Clem and compared some notes on the recruits. I neglected to bring along my notecard with the numbers for all of the recruits but I was pretty familiar with their numbers, names, and faces after shooting them earlier in the week. Most of them recognized me with my red hair so when I approached them they spotted me out and called me over for a photo.

During player introductions I went through the lineups of both teams and shot all the Maryland recruits so that I could have some file photos for use later on. It turns out that the shots came out pretty well and they decided to run them.

After the coin-toss I took my place on the sideline behind the blue line back a few feet from the sideline. That's when I learned my first lesson of shooting high school football: other photographers don't respect the rules. At division-1 events there are rules about where photographers can and can't shoot from and if you step over a boundary the team photographer (or another professional) gives you a warning and instructs you to head back into the proper area. Not so much in high school...

For example, I stood at the 30 yard line shooting upfield while along the blue line. Another photographer was at the 35 and also shooting upfield. As the play commenced the receiver headed towards the close sideline. The upfield photographer stepped out over the blue line and clipped the line-of-sight for several photographers and videographers. Afterwards one of the photographers with a Nikon Professional Services strap approached him and asked him to respect the blue line. The photographer let fly all kinds of profanity and obscenities...

That kind of thing would never fly in division-1 NCAA events.

During the rest of the event I looked for ways to avoid competing with the other photographers for line-of-sight because I observed several of them clipping other photographers in their quest to get the shot. I'm glad I'm not paparazzi - that kind of behavior really turned my stomach...

Towards the end of the game I turned my focus towards the bench and I took several frames of players without their helmets. I used my 400mm at f/4 for the shots and the shots came out wonderfully. Shooting at f/4 kept the imagery sharp and at 400mm and close range the background was sufficiently blown out to fully isolate my subjects. I was very happy with the effect and I'm going to use it again to capture sideline players.

After the game I noticed several other photographers offering their cards to the players. My business cards have "DC Sports Box" written all over them and since they weren't the credentialing agency I couldn't hand them out with promises of "photos from the game will appear up here." None-the-less I took note that there is potential in the Crab Bowl to market photographs to players and next year I will be more prepared.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Football: Crab Bowl Practice

This evening I was assigned to photograph some Maryland football recruits practicing for the upcoming Crab Bowl on Saturday at Johnny Unitas Stadium in Towson MD. I photographed the squad on Tuesday evening during a dinner and in the process got to know several of them. After chasing them down several times I got to learn some of their names, numbers, and what they actually looked like. That helped a lot tonight.

I also took some time today and typed up a list of the players I was interested in hitting this evening at practice. The official Crab Bowl roster contains probably 60 players and I'm interested in approximately 10 of them. Narrowing that list down to something that is the size of an index card is tremendously valuable while you're racing around the sideline and on the field looking for your subjects.

I shot with both bodies tonight because I wanted to use a combination of glass. I wanted the 300mm lens so that I could capture 2 items of interest: close-ups between plays and in the huddle, and receptions down the field. A 300mm gives great reach for both situations. I also wanted the versatile 70-200mm workhorse lens that I seemingly always use. It's a perfect focal range for getting pretty close-in on your subjects but it can also go out wide enough to capture full-body shots from a pretty close distance.

Once again I was back up in the high ranges of ISOs: 3200 and above. The lights on the practice field are obviously considerably darker than the lights in Byrd Stadium or in Comcast, so I had to resort to high ISOs and slow shutter speeds for proper exposure. No flirting around with f/3.5 or f/4 tonight - I was wide open at f/2.8 and I slowed down to a dangerous 1/125th from time to time to properly expose at ISO 3200. I realize I could've got up considerably higher in the ISOs (I've sold photos shot at night at 6400) but I like to keep the ISO as low as I can for the shot I want.

I considered activating VR on both the lenses but opted against it in the end. I'm not sure how much VR helps once you work above 1/125th a second shutter. My hand was steady enough on most of my 1/250th shots but there was some jitter on some of my 1/125th shots.

Post-processing went pretty quickly and I was able to push up the photos to the site. So far we've heard very good things about our coverage of the Crab Bowl - both parents and coaches are keeping an eye out for us and asking us about buying photos.

I was assigned to photograph the media day event for the Maryland Crab Bowl this evening at the Gossett Team House at the University of Maryland. While walking down from Lot 1 to Gossett Team House my attention turned towards dinner and I wondered what kind of food would be served. In my past experiences at Gossett they've had the milk machine running and actively churning out 800 calorie glasses of thick chocolate milk at a cool 50 degrees. Since I didn't have much to eat today I was looking forward to a thick cold glass of chocolate milk!

The media day was the standard affair where several reporters make the rounds and interview players. A few photographers and videographers were present but nobody was using flash. That surprised me because the lighting was awful and many of the players had very dark complexions. I used my 24-70mm lens with an SB-800 flash and the built-in diffuser. I set my ISO to 400, WB to flash, aperture to f/5.6, and shutter to 1/250th. I decided to use TTL with a +0.7 compensation so that I could overexpose many of the players. When your subjects start off dark it helps to slightly overexpose because it is often easy to increase the strength of the black colors in post-processing.

Seth provided me with a list of 10 or so recruits that have made verbal commitments to Maryland. I traversed the room carefully avoiding the generous servings of lasagna the players had removed from the buffet table and introduced myself to several of the players. They photographed quite well. I was half expecting them to want to strike a cheesy pose or do something foolish but they actually posed quite well. All of the shots came out without smiles and they looked like football players should look - all business.

While taking a few shots inside the cafeteria I decided to take one of the more energetic recruits out to the hall so I could photograph him next to some trophys. I kept the aperture at f/5.6 because I wanted to be able to capture some of the trophys in the background while still being sharp on my player. I had a bit of a problem with bounced light off the trophy case but I was able to work around it by rotating the flash head away from the glass.

I was really pleased with how the shots came out in the hall. I'd like to get a Terrapin or two out there this Fall.

Afterwards Seth and I hung out and waited for the players to meet with their coaches and go over their respective playbooks for defense and offense. Once they concluded I rounded up the roughly 10 commits and gathered them around a large Terps sign so I could grab a picture of them looking like future Terrapins. Unfortunately I wasn't able to hold onto a couple of the players because they had to leave and head back up to Baltimore. But I got most of them.

For the group photo I went with my 14-24mm lens backed all the way out to 14mm. Those players were HUGE and I needed to be really wide to get them all in the frame. There was no possible way that I could've gotten all of them in that narrow hallway with a DX sensor and a 24-70mm. I barely got them with a 14mm on a full-frame, and on a DX a 24mm would effectively turn into a 36mm. I would have to be roughly twice as far away if I wanted to take a similar shot. And I would've lost a lot of detail in their faces too.

I've enjoyed shooting more flash photography. It's a fun spice to use to add some variety to your photos. And it's definitely enjoyable shooting below ISO 2000!

Friday, December 12, 2008

After a week off I got back behind the glass this evening to photograph the Terps in their matchup against their eastern neighbors, Delaware State. I arrived 15 minutes early for the event so that I would have enough time to prepare and get my laptop opened up and all my camera equipment assembled.

I bumped into Kirk Queen out on the floor along with Jackie Borowski. After some chit-chatting I bailed on the baseline and went up into the student section to get some heads-up shots of the Terps driving to the net.

When you're on the baseline you're at about knee-level with the players. Given that they're going up against a hoop that's roughly 8 feet up it can be tough to get player faces, and that's what a lot of people want to see. You can get some great down-the-court shots of the players breaking up court or playing defense, but in-so-far as dunks, layups, and dribble penetration you're often capturing a lot of necks and chins when you shoot from the baseline. The only exception to this is if you shoot early when the player goes up for the shot. Unfortunately, without the hoop in the frame it leaves context out of the shot and leaves it wanting more.

If you go up a little higher you can catch a good amount of the players faces as they drive towards the basket. You have to be careful though about where you go and how high up you position yourself. If you opt to go really high you have to go more towards the sideline so that the backboard doesn't block your shot. If you go sideline then the only shots you get are the baseline drives and those are few and far in between (most of the time the players drive up the middle).

Alternatively, you can stay directly behind the basket but then you aren't looking at the players straight on as they head to the hoop. It all goes back to something I discussed a few posts ago - think about where the players will be on the court, what hand they'll use when they shoot, and where you can be to best capture the shot. If players shoot with their right hand then you want to be on their left so that their shooting arm doesn't block their face.

I was happy with the shots I got from up in the students section this evening. I wouldn't want to camp out there for the whole game but having a few of the frames gives the gallery some spice.

I went back to flourescent white-balance this evening because I lost my WB presets Sunday evening when I attempted to adjust them at the Verizon Center for the BB&T classic. Flourescent worked pretty well but I'm making a mental note to bring my gray card to the next event in the Comcast Center. That's where I shoot most of my events so that's where I'm going to need to set my pre-set.

As usual I shot ISO 2500 with 1/500th shutter and f/3.5. The f/3.5 aperture is just narrow enough where I get some decent sharpness on my exposures and 2500 doesn't kick in a lot of noise. I can also do a lot of lightening in post-processing in Lightroom. I'm a lot happier with f/3.5 than I was with f/2.8.

This has made me rethink a lot of stuff about "fast glass".

A year ago the upper-bound on usable ISO for Nikon gear was 1600. Even then you had to lighten and blacken your photos in post-processing. But the D3 changed all that. I can effectively shoot ISO 6400 and it looks better than 1600 a year ago. When I shot 1600 I had not choice but to shoot f/2.8 and all my exposures were soft.

These days I regularly shoot above 1600 and I drop the aperture down to f/3.5. Sometimes I even go down to f/4. The results are noticeably crisper due to the reduced aperture.

"Slower" glass (f/4 or narrower) is significantly cheaper than "fast" glass (f/2.8 or wider). It is also a lot lighter than fast glass because there is less material used in constructing the optics. If all I shot was men's basketball at the Comcast Center and I was comfortable with ISO 3200 noise I could shoot with f/4 glass for a lot less money than f/2.8 and my shots would come out great! If that's the limit of what you use the lens for then you have to ask yourself: does it make sense to pay a lot more for glass you aren't going to use? If you don't plan to shoot between f/2.8 and f/4 due to the softness then why pay a premium for a f/2.8 lens?

The answer is obvious: versatility. Photographers don't typically just shoot in the same place day in and day out. Sports photographers sometimes do because they shoot in the same venues. But they almost always work on side-projects where the lighting is different. Then again, how often does a sports photographer need to pull out a 400mm f/2.8 lens in a wedding or a corporate board room?

Given my experience in technology I predict 2 trends over the next decade: there will be huge advancements in low-noise high-sensitivity CCDs, and arenas/gyms will become brighter as the cost of lighting continues to drop.

Given all that it doesn't seem too unreasonable to me to look ahead and see more sports photographers shooting with f/4 glass. I predict that this will happen inside arenas but will eventually spread to outdoor fields as the bulbs in the existing lights are replaced.

Accordingly, I'd say that if you are a sports photographer on a budget you should consider f/4 glass as an alternative to f/2.8 glass that is typically used in the field today. If you instead invest in a D700 you'll be able to shoot at ISO6400 and that will make up for the reduced amount of light a f/4 lens will capture. You'll also take sharper images than others shooting at f/2.8.

The only caution I'd add is: avoid variable aperture glass!

With variable aperture glass the maximum aperture varies as your zoom changes. In a f/4 - f/5.6 70-200mm lens the maximum aperture at 70mm is f/4 but the maximum aperture at 200mm is f/5.6. In many situations your shutter speed drives your exposure: in sports you want 1/500th to stop motion, in a bar on rear-curtain-sync you want 1/10th so you can blur the background. Many times you adjust your aperture so that your exposure is proper given your shutter. In sports you may say "ok, at 1/500th I need f/4 to properly expose". Alternatively, in the night-life rear-curtain-sync world you might need f/11 or f/13 to properly expose at 1/10th.

It's not trivial to find that proper exposure level. In sports you often stay in the same place and the light remains constant but in bars or other environments you can contend with shifting light sources and varying distances to your subject. You want to be able to say "f/11 at 1/10th second" is your exposure regardless of whether your zoom is 24mm or 50mm or 70mm. If the aperture changes as your zoom changes you can't do that.

Accordingly, while I say that slower glass may become more prominent I still believe that fixed-aperture glass will remain prominent for professional photographers. Dealing with variable-aperture glass introduces an unnecessary variable into a process that is difficult to begin with.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

After a late night out on Saturday shooting One Louder perform up at Sonoma's Bar and Grille I headed down to the Verizon Center in Washington DC to shoot the Terps face the GWU Colonials in the 14th Annual BB&T Classic.

Last season I didn't cover any Wizards or Mystics games so it's been awhile since I've been to the Verizon Center. In fact, it's been so long that I believe the last time I was there the facility was called the "MCI Center". Coming up the escalator I was very impressed by the recent improvements to the surrounding neighborhood. When Julie and I attended Caps games several years ago the neighborhoods were undergoing a revitalization and there was a lot of construction. Nowadays with all the construction finished the area around the Verizon Center is really quite nice.

I made my way to the media entrance and found my way down to the media room without any problems. The media room had a lot of equipment in it but I staked out a little corner and unpacked my gear. At times like these I'm happy that I have a Think Tank with a lockable strap and zipper. After taking out my gear I locked up my bag and secured it to the table.

Heading out to the floor I was amazed by the quality of the scoreboard in Verizon Center. It was spectacular! I ended up watching the trailing end of the Virginia Tech and Navy game on the scoreboard because it looked so great!

Once Virginia Tech and Navy vacated the floor I kept my eyes peeled for what side the Terps would take as their home bench. I wanted to shoot on that side so that I was close to Gary Williams and I'd get the Terps shooting towards me in the second half rather than the first. After settling in I tried to adjust my white balance but had little success without a neutral gray card. I tried to set the white balance off the back of my white press credential but failed - the colors came out green and disgusting. I ended up going down to auto white-balance in the first half and it didn't work well at all. The colors were inconsistently off and I was not at all impressed.

At half-time I changed my white balance to flourescent so that the results would at least be consistent. By going with a fixed white balance I can then at least copy and paste the white balance adjustment in Lightroom afterwards. When the camera auto-calculates the white balance it means that I need to adjust the white balance for each individual photo I publish. It's a lot easier to just make sure that every photo is off by the same amount and then apply the same correction in post processing.

Overall the lighting in Verizon is very good and I was able to shoot around ISO 2000 at f/3.5. I've been keeping my aperture tighter than f/2.8 lately so that I can increase my sharpness. With the good high-ISO performance of the D3 I can flirt with f/4 sometimes if I kick the ISO up to 3500 or 4000 in some cases.

Please go over and read the article and view the photos on Maryland's win over GWU at the BB&T Classic over on the DC Sports Box.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The lesson for today is: Don't Trust Google Maps on the iPhone.

Let me say that again: Don't Trust Google Maps on the iPhone.

I split early from the men's soccer game so that I could come home, offload, swap lenses, pick up Julie, and head down to the Show Place Arena at the Maryland Equestrian Center in Upper Marlboro MD for Maryland Competitive Cheer's performance at JamFest. The arena has an address of 14900 Pennsylvania Avenue Upper Marlboro MD. Well, where Google points you sure isn't the Show Place Arena.

On the iPhone it's even worse - Google Maps places you INSIDE the Beltway!

Julie and I got all double-crossed up going back and forth on Route 4 trying to figure out where the Show Place Arena is located and ended up arriving late. With Maryland set to perform at 3:55 and our arrival time being no earlier than 4:10 I planned on just trying to get some shots of the cheerleaders after the event. Fortunately for me the performances were running about 30 minutes late and my arrival was about 5 minutes ahead of when the Terps headed out to perform.

I made my way around the floor and located a couple of the coaches of the competitive cheer team. I told them who I was with and arranged for a group photo after the routine. The coaches were excited to have someone photographing the routine of their team - I don't think they get very much photographic exposure.

During the routine I ripped through as many photos as possible on both bodies. When one body slowed down for the cache to be synced out to the compact flash I'd pick up the second body and start ripping frames. I haven't ever shot cheerleaders before so I didn't know what I was doing. As a result I figured I'd take the buck-shot approach and get as many photos as possible!

Afterwards I headed backstage and attached my SB-800 to one of my bodies. I have 3 SB-800s but I only brought 1 to the event today (I didn't want to have to carry the second or third around with me). I took some test shots over near the water jugs and settled in on ISO 800, 1/160th second exposure, and f/6.3 aperture. I wanted the aperture to be pretty high because I knew that the girls would have to be in 2 or 3 rows in order to all fit in the frame. I also wanted them all to be tack sharp and I knew that I needed something above f/5.6.

It was really easy to get the girls lined up for the group shot. They all just piled in and actually lined up quite perfectly from a balance standpoint. I took 2 shots on the 24-70mm lens and then I got close up for a couple of 14mm shots. The cheerleaders out towards the edge of the frame are a bit distorted but the ones in the middle look really good. I made sure I got players only as well as players and coaches.

Finding a location for the shot was a bit difficult. The arena didn't have any good backdrops I could use so we just went into a tunnel and I took the photo there. With solid green walls on either side and with no light coming from the back of the tunnel it created a decent enough scene for the photo. Plus with the SB-800 set to +1.3 exposure compensation and my aperture at f/6.3 I was pretty safe in that very little light from the background came through into the photo.

Julie and I stuck around in the arena until the conclusion of the event and waited for the awards ceremony. It took about an hour before all was said and done and in the end it probably wasn't worth the wait. There wasn't a gold or silver trophy and the teams didn't line up afterwards for photos. They just accepted it and headed for the bus. I got a shot of a few girls with the trophy and maybe the magazine will use it.

Afterwards we headed home through the somewhat heavy snow, warmed up some leftover spaghetti, and settled down in the living room. I got through all of my soccer and cheer photos and even was able to get both blog posts up before heading out to the One Louder show in Columbia later on.

On Friday evening the weather forecasters in the DC area began to forecast the chance for some light snow on Saturday afternoon. I crossed my fingers hoping that I would be able to snap a few shots of the Maryland Men's Soccer team competing in snowshowers.

Unfortunately Mother Nature didn't cooperate.

None-the-less, the weather was a decent overcast and that made for a relatively painless exposure. When the light varies it can be difficult to properly adjust exposure. Additionally, changing your white balance can be a problem. You could rely on auto white-balance settings but those sometimes don't work too well.

This was my first soccer game in awhile where I've shot with 2 bodies and I didn't quite know what to expect. Last season I shot with 2 bodies but this year I've just used the D3 with the 400mm lens. At times I've felt too long and have wished I had a second body for shorter glass. Today there were a bunch of opportunities to get some shots on shorter glass and I took advantage of them whenever I could.

However, in post processing I found that I might've selected one of the shots rather than very many. I shot with both cameras set to f/4, ISO 1000 and around 1/1000th of a second shutter. f/4 at 70mm doesn't offer very good isolation against the background so I should've considered going closer to f/3.2 or even f/2.8 for the shorter glass so that I could improve the isolation of my subject.

I had a bit of an equipment blip today while working with the bodies. The power on one of the D3 was a bit flaky and would go out several times. I've seen this before on this body and I'm considering sending it in for service or repair. The battery is fully charged but all of the sudden power will go out on the body and the low-battery icon will blink. I turn off the camera and turn it back on and it works.

I swapped batteries and the problem persisted on the same body, which leads me to believe it's a problem in the contacts between the battery and the body. When I shoot landscape I didn't have a problem. But when I rotated the camera counter-clockwise and shot vertical I had a problem. Maybe I'll try rotating clockwise so the battery is on top and see how that goes...

Last night I reorganized some of the filesystems on my server at home. I have a 650GB RAID-1 mirror on my fileserver and I've used 65GB for pictures. Music, Movies, and TV Shows occupies another 160GB, and my active files chew up around 10GB. On top of that I have the OS and that occupies some amount of real estate. What it all boils down to is: I'm running low on internal storage.

I've used external storage as mirrors for a few years now and it has proven to be reliable. I disconnected my 3 external USB drives from being directly connected to my fileserver so that I could run them through a hub and connect even more external drives. I'm going to allocate more space on the RAID to my imagery and offload TV Shows, Movies, and Music onto an external drive which I'll mirror elsewhere. Lastly, I picked up a 1TB Western Digital USB hard drive for around $139 last night on NewEgg.

Keeping all my photos safe and sound is really important. Hopefully with the hub and the new external hard drive coming I'll free up some space for increasing my image library.

Dave Lovell wrote an article on Maryland's win over Creighton and posted it over on the DC Sports Box along with a photo gallery.

Friday, December 5, 2008

A few posts ago I talked about picking up a second body for basketball season. With a lot of support from Julie I moved forward and picked up a used D3 for a pretty penny. I've been really fortunate to have such an understanding wife that encourages my photographic interests. Without her support I wouldn't be where I am today and wouldn't be thinking about where I could be a year from now.

Shooting basketball with a second body is no new experience to me. Last winter I covered the Terps using a Nikon D2H and a D200. I was always torn about how to pair the bodies with the glass because the D2H offered a higher framerate but a lot worse high-ISO performance. Do you go short on the D200 with a 70-200mm lens and get 4fps under the basket for dunks or do you opt for the 9fps the D2H offers but get a lot of grain in your pictures? It was a tough decision.

Fortunately this year I have 2 of the same bodies (D3) and that removes that mental exercise from the table. I shot this evening's game using a 300mm and 70-200mm lens. I carried my 24-70mm lens out to the baseline but didn't attach it. There were some opportunities for some great wide-angle shots but overall the 70-200mm did the job well. It has great reach even on an FX sensor and can get me out to midcourt pretty well. I can also shoot the opposing sideline reasonably well. Lastly, the 70-200mm is great when there is full-court pressure and you want to be wide until the team crosses the timeline.

It didn't take long for me to warm up to the dual-camera shooting mode this evening. There's a lot of bulky equipment to balance and the straps make it difficult. I also use Aqua Tech eyepieces to prevent my forehead from being marred by the hot-shoe mount on the top of the camera. The Aqua Techs stick out from the camera body about 3/4 of an inch and are a great hook for catching straps. Ideally I'd work without straps because then I wouldn't risk any snags as I transition between bodies. But I need the straps for safely transporting the cameras back and forth.

I shot ISO 2500, 1/500th, and f/3.5 for the entire game on both cameras. Last game I shot f/4 and I wanted to see how sharp f/3.5 would look. At f/3.5 I let in a little more light but still had some reasonable sharpness. The bigger difference I noticed was the poor performance of the auto white-balance system. On my first body I manually set the white-balance using a neutral gray card. I didn't bring the gray card with me this evening so I set the second body to auto. The performance was garbage. The whites were way off and everything was a mess.

Fortunately I picked up on this pretty quickly and set a programmed white balance based on the M on the baseline. It's not as accurate as the neutral-gray card but it worked reasonably well.

I used continuous high speed shooting for the entire game but stayed on top of reviewing the photos during timeouts and breakpoints. I really feel good when I'm able to rip through almost all of my photos and delete the bad ones before I leave the court at the end of the game. I realize that I should probably spend more time socializing with the other photographers because that could lead to more work but at the same time I want to be able to get through my post-processing as quickly as possible and deleting the photos on camera is a huge timesaver.

At halftime I offloaded both cards onto the MBP and began the Lightroom import process. I made it back out to the court just in time for the beginning of the second half. This worked out well because after the game I was able to copy over both second-half cards to the hard drive before shuffling off to the Gary Williams press conference.

During the press-conference I got through my first round of picks and had my photos narrowed down to around 100 potentially publishable shots. After getting home I pieced through those and got it down to around 25 that I quickly captioned and published.

It's nice that things are moving along so quickly with my post processing and publishing. Last year when I had to write an article for most of the games it was a large time-suck to get through everything before heading to bed. Many times I went to bed well after my wife and I kept looking forward to the day where I can simply shoot, caption, publish, and head to bed. Happily that time has arrived. How long it will last remains to be seen but for now I'll enjoy it while it is here!

Please go and take a look at Andy Churchill's article on Maryland's win over Michigan on the DC Sports Box.

Monday, November 24, 2008

After a bit of sleuthing around of aerial photographs with my Dad on Sunday morning I packed up some glass and headed over to Comcast for an afternoon tilt between the Terps and the visiting UCLA Bruins.

While sitting on the baseline I thought about a comment Mike Busada made on Friday night: "You never seen Canons out here anymore. It's f***in' awesome, man!" I laughed when Mike made that comment on Friday evening but this afternoon it really sunk in. Nikon has really turned the market around. Last year I was definitely in the minority with my Nikon equipment and the 1D Mark III was all the rage by everyone. I constantly was enticed to "switch to Canon now before I invested too heavily in Nikon gear." I resisted for mostly financial reasons but I was very tempted at the time after seeing the high ISO capabilities on the 1D line.

In retrospect that would've been a huge mistake. Nowadays Nikon dominates the sideline and the D3 is essentially the de-facto standard. At the football game I took note of the photographers and what brand they shot - I counted 3 shooting with Canon gear and 14 with Nikon gear (D700 and D3 mostly, but some D300). Last year it primarily Canon with a spattering of Nikon. In fact, I remember having conversations with Greg Fiume about if he was going to switch to Canon given all the glass and bodies they were kicking out at the time.

It is truly remarkable the turnaround that has occurred in the market. I'm kinda surprised for not having taken notice until Mike pointed it out but now that I'm looking for the trend it's really in your face. I'm so glad I stuck with Nikon gear!

In my last women's basketball post I stated that I was going to take a stab at shooting single frame from the baseline for at least 1 full half. I decided to have a go at it in the first half and boy was it difficult at times! Shooting single frame allows you to time your shots for the exact moment. The downside is that you have to be very skilled to hit that exact moment! In perimeter shooting plays it's not too difficult to time a players release, but when they drive or penetrate it becomes a lot more difficult.

During the game I was so tempted to flip back to continuous high speed so I could rip 9FPS while KT drove the lane or Marissa backed in for an in-the-lane shot. But I resisted and stuck to my plan of 1 frame at a time. The nice part of this shooting strategy is that it didn't yield many photos to post process! Nearly every shot was a keeper and I only had around 30 or so frames to import by halftime!

While shooting 1 frame at a time I thought a little bit about how I would approach this learning exercise with 2 bodies. Would I shoot 1 frame at a time on both a long lens and a short lens, or would I switch to CHS on the short lens so I could get the dribble penetration shots? The truth is I don't know how I would approach it...

I also wondered how other photographers that use strobes would approach this. If Greg's strobes were down would he shoot CHS or would he switch to single shots and rely on his timing to get the right shots? I'll have to ask a few people the next time there's a Maryland event.

A week or so ago I blogged about the importance of keeping an eye open for things going on off the court. This afternoon such an opportunity came up when Greivis Vasquez showed up and signed a bunch of autographs for a middle school girls basketball team that attended the game. I noticed him walking along the sideline and saw him head up into the stands and towards the invited guests. A few minutes later I noticed him sitting down with them while they all practically climbed on top of one another to get his autograph and talk with him. With a 20 point lead and 6 minutes remaining in regulation I decided to run back to the media room to grab my 14-24mm ultra-wide lens and SB-800 speedlight.

I raced back out and up into the stands where I said hello to Greivis and asked the girls if they wanted a picture with Vasquez. They all jumped up nearly simultaneously and formed a circle around the iconic Team Captain for the Terps.

Without a light meter I was basically shooting blind there in the stands. I set the ISO to 1000, WB to flash, and slowed the shutter down to around 1/400th with an aperture of f/5. The power correction was set to something ridiculous like -2.0 but I fired anyway. The shot came out really dark so I quickly stepped up the correction to -0.3 and took another shot. The second one came out much better although the colors were still slightly off in the end.

I handed a business cards to one of the players who frantically whisked it away to their coach sitting in another section. A few hours after the game I received an email from the coach who didn't seem to believe the players who told them that a professional photographer took their photo with Greivis. I laughed and replied to him with the photo and said that I hoped he had enjoyed the game. He responded today that he and the team had a great time at Maryland and that the photo would add to their memories. I was happy I could capture it for them.

At the football game on Saturday a similar situation arose when Testudo boosted a 6 year fan out of the stands and brought him down onto the field. I quickly spun around and snapped a few frames and then later found the mom and dad and gave them my business card. After a few emails back and forth it turns out that the 6 year old took the photo to school the next day to show all his friends and his teacher.

Photography is a great skill. I'm so fortunate to be learning about it and have Julie that encourages it in me. I can't wait to see what the next things are that I'll shoot.

Friday night I was up pretty late post processing basketball photos and publishing them out to the various sites where I post photos for safe keeping once they are all touched up and ready to be viewed. Saturday I laid in bed watching Discovery Channel, Nat Geo, The Learning Channel, and Animal Planet while my wife Julie worked her second of three jobs up at my company's office. Yes, I have a good life - I'm laying in bed while my wife is up at my office working on a project making some extra scratch.

After a decent recovery I emerged from the house around 4pm to head out to REI to purchase some reinforcements for the cold. This past week it's been in the middle 30s during the day and dropping down into the 20s at night. With gametime scheduled for 7:45pm I knew it was going to be a cold one, and if there's one thing that outdoor sports photography has taught me it's this: be prepared for the weather.

If you're focused on your wetness, your coldness, or your sleepiness you're not going to focus on the play on the field. Purchasing $50 worth of goretex pants and jackets or a $30 windproof hat is worth it in the long haul and will allow you to be prepared for the eventual shoot where the weather just doesn't play nice. Often times those soaker games can lead to the best shots where you capture clumps of dirt flying up in the air or a player wringing out a jersey.

My purchases at REI this afternoon included some small sized goretex gloves along with a wind-proof hat and some portable air-activated heat packs for both my feet and my gloves. Kirsten Olsen introduced me to a sweet pair of gloves last year that I've sworn by ever since - they are essentially a glove with the fingers cut off at your last knuckle. However, they also come with a protective flap that is like a mitten in that it slips over your 4 fingers. The thumb comes with a flap as well. What's nice about this glove is that it leaves your pointer finger and thumb exposed giving you plenty of dexterity to work the dials on your camera.

It's really important that a photographer have good sensitivity on their pointer-finger because the shutter-release/auto-focus button is very sensitive. You want to partially depress the shutter to activate the AF system but you don't necessarily want to trip the shutter. You need a very soft touch and wrapping your hands in lots of protective gear, while certainly insulates you from the cold, reduces your ability to properly apply the AF system.

When I went to REI I put a lot of time into selecting the right pair of gloves. I intentionally bought gloves that are too small for me because I wanted my finger to be tight against the neoprene so that I have the best sensitivity possible. I also wanted to make sure that they would fit under my existing photography gloves!

Prior to the game I tailgated for a few hours with my family. We've had a standing tailgate for several years now and it seems like every year we encounter a freezing cold night game that forces us to bring out the blankets and quadruple wrap ourselves for warmth. Tonight was no exception from the trend and both Andrew and Haydee and I all brought pocket warmers and toe warmers. I was very impressed with how well the toe warmers functioned - my toes were never cold during the evening!

My strategy during the tailgate was to ingest as much food and drink as possible so that during the game my digesting process would create a lot of heat to keep me warm! It was pretty bad - I was gorching myself at the trough of chicken wings, chicken breasts, bratwurst, and friend chicken from Popeyes. On top of that I tore down a couple of Coca Colas. By gametime I was set to go!

I arrived early on the field so that I could catch the seniors. I walked out onto the field and double checked with Greg to see if other photographers could shoot the seniors. After an approving nod I positioned myself around the midfield mark and waited for the first players to emerge. After a few snaps I noticed that Coach Friedgen was shaking the hands and hugging the players before they ran out to midfield. With everyone else snapping the typical family shot of the seniors I raced up the field to grab the shots of Ralph and his senior class. It was a bit of a tear-jerker seeing Ralph hug and swell up while each senior gave him an enormous hug and thanked him for believing in them for the past 4 or 5 years. I felt pretty fortunate to be in that spot catching those moments. Of course, those photos will probably never see the light of day and ever be published because I don't know how much Ralph would appreciate that sort of thing. Who knows though - you never know who might call one day looking for an archived photo of Coach Friedgen and a senior. I still pull out my old shots of Scott McBrien being hugged by his grandfather after winning the MVP in a bowl game several years back.

After the senior ceremony but before the game I dropped my 400mm off in the closed part of the endzone and traveled up into student section with my 24-70mm lens. I stood perched up at the top above all the black'ed out students and awaited the fireworks that would welcome the team to the field. I wanted to shoot wide so I could capture the fireworks display. I shot at a pretty decent ISO (maybe 1600?) at f/3.2. Prior to the display I tried to anticipate how high the fireworks would rise. I was really off in retrospect! None the less, I'm glad I shot landscape so that I could capture as much of the stadium as possible.

While running around with my double-gloves and wind-proof hat I became really hot! I was so hot after climbing up to the top of the student section that I had to shed my gloves and hand warmers and cool down. I guess all that chicken and soda must've done the trick! However, after the game began and I was back on the field the temperatures settled in and I was glad to have both layers of gloves.

I decided to shoot the game at f/4 and ISO 2500. From time to time I had to drop down to f/3.5 or f/3.2 because the Terps wore black. However, when FSU was in the foreground I had plenty of reflected light at f/4 and ISO 2500.

I traveled to the visiting side of the field and was very surprised by how little light there was in comparison to Maryland's side of the field. The Athletics Department installed some additional lighting in Tyser Tower this season and the increase in light behind the Maryland bench is really noticeable. It was easily a full stop if not more!

I was surprised to notice a couple of photographers shooting at ISO 6400 during the game. They were all using a D3 and shooting through 400mm glass. I also noticed that they all shoot for newspapers - I'm not sure how much of a role that plays in their decision to crank the sensitivity up to ISO 6400.

After a long game I packed it in and took my last walk up the long steps of Byrd Stadium for awhile. This game was the end of the home schedule for Maryland and marked the conclusion of my first season of shooting Terrapin football. It was tremendously enjoyable and I learned a lot during the process. I wish the Terps the best of luck in their match against BC and look forward to the bowl season hoping that Maryland will have the opportunity to tack on another win in late December or early January.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Wow, what a game. I realize that many people on the baseline and in the reporters booth are supposed to maintain an indifferent perspective on the events unfolding on the court but tonight all I could say is wow! Both Maryland and Vermont played with their hearts out on the hardwood and it was extremely exciting to be so close to such a hard fought match between the two teams.

Maryland and Vermont were well suited for one another and both teams had to put all they had on the court this evening to earn the W. Maryland came up with it in the end but Vermont put up a formidable battle. As a photographer such a matchup is a great opportunity to capture some great moments of competition.

The space was pretty tight this evening on the baseline but spots for both DC Sports Box and Inside the Shell were allocated on the baseline.

Mike Busada stepped in for Dave Lovell and shot the game this evening for the DC Sports Box. I enjoy working with Mike on assignments - he works full-time in the photography field and has a lot of valuable insight he's willing to offer. In the past I'd look to Mike to offer technical advice on matters like exposure. Nowadays, with 250 games under my belt, exposure is not so much of a concern any more. I'm now trying focus on dynamics like capturing the mood and moment of the game.

How do you characterize that? Is it a shot of a fan with veins protruding from their neck while cheering on their home team? Is it the home coach calling a play or giving a stern look towards the referees? Is it the team captain amping up the crowd with an on-court emotional display like a fist-pump or a celebratory scream?

I feel like at this point I'm competent enough with the mechanics of photography to capture enough in-game shots to accurately portray the story of the game. I want to focus now on displaying the emotion or "bite" in the game. What was it that makes the Vermont game memorable versus the 20 other games that the Terps will play this season? To do that I realize I need the advice of photographers more experienced than myself. To me it seems like proper exposure settings are simply a pre-requisite into this higher level class.

As is always the case, my struggle is to find someone willing to teach and offer me advice. Certainly Mike is a great photographer but his primary focus is in subject matters different from sports. And the people I sit next to are people that look at my product as a potential competitor to their own offerings. How can I learn the subtle art of emotional sports photography when the lessons are so highly protected by the practitioners of the art? That's what I wrestle with...

In the mean time I continue walk down this learning process realizing that my path is not straight and is not the most efficient approach towards becoming a great sports photographer. However, I accept the inefficiencies because I'm aware of the free market and realize that my potential competitors have little to gain in offering my insight into their tradecraft.

As is always the case I continue to show up to games and do my best to convey both the flow and emotion of the event. It looks more and more likely that if I'm going to learn the art of sports photography I'm going to have to bump and bounce my way through it. While it's certainly suboptimal I can accept it and I have the perseverance to see it through - after all I've shot 250+ games now at UM.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

This evening I was awarded with a plastic credential from UM with my name on it. I'm very proud of that achievement. It was very rewarding to see my name and photo on a plastic credential produced by Maryland. I've shot over 250 games at the University and written hundreds of articles for the DC Sports Box. Receiving that piece of plastic, as silly as that sounds, really meant a lot.

Tonight I introduced a new photographer from our company to Maryland. Kim Lynch shot her first Maryland event this evening and I was happy to walk step her through the rules and procedures. We both sat baseline while she shot for the DC Sports Box and I shot for Inside the Shell magazine.

In the second half I decided to diverge from my normal high-speed shooting process. I switched to single frame exposure and I changed my aperture from f/2.8 to f/3.5. That required an increase in ISO 3200 but on a D3 the increased noise is negligible.

I attempted the single-shot approach last year when shooting my D200 and I decided to try it out again this year. When I look at Greg Fiume's photos I think to myself that the most difficult aspect of his shots is his timing. Whereas I (and everyone else) can rip through 9 FPS of shots during a drive Greg gets a single shot to fire his flash. It takes a lot of skill to time the shot perfectly.

For the second half I went to single-shot shooting mode and relied on my own timing to get my shots. To my surprise I didn't do too poorly. My timing is a lot better than last year, and of course that's no surprise considering I've shot a lot of games since then. None-the-less I was still surprised how many decent shots I got using single-exposure shooting mode. I was very pleased with a few shots I got of Marissa Coleman driving to the net, including the one I featured at the top of this page.

I haven't decided how much I'm going to pursue the single-shot shooting mode approach to sports photography. Installing strobes in the ceiling of Comcast is simply not an option due to prohibitive costs. But, there is value in shooting single-shot mode even if you don't fire strobes. The value comes from your ability as a photographer to time the moment and pick the exact split-second moment you want to capture and show to the world. If you rip through 9 frames per second all you're doing is sitting in a privileged spot with an expensive capture device and then picking the best shot from the collection. If you can time it right, get the focus sharp, and get that perfect shot ... well ... that's pretty good.

So even though I have no intentions of strobing the arena I still am thinking about shooting single-frame so that I improve my own photography skill. We'll see how risky that proves. Will I fall back to a 9FPS rip on a big play? I don't know. Seems like the best approach is to try out the single-shot approach on women's games. If I can make it through an entire women's game using single-shot maybe I'll take a stab at shooting the second half of a men's game single-shot.

I was pretty late to this evenings game and arrived in the media room with 2 minutes before tipoff. I had barely enough time to take my laptop out and get it powered before I had to race out to the court to find my spot on the hardwood.

There were quite a few more photographers and TV people on the baseline this evening than there were last week. The early-season games seem to be hit and miss with space on the sideline: Maryland leaves open a bunch of spots for the TV folks and sometimes they show and sometimes they don't. Tonight a bunch of TV folks showed up and that crunched space a lot.

I took a spot on the close end of the court for the first half because I arrived late and didn't scope out a space on the shooting end the Terps use in the first half. By the time I made it out there all the spots were taken. It was ok though - I had plenty of shooting opportunities from the far side. I simply pulled out my 400mm lens and shot long for the majority of the first half.

Just as halftime commenced I marked my spot on the shooting end of the court for the Terps for the second half. I grabbed a spot towards the 3 point line. Fortunately nobody moved my gear and by the time I made it back out to the court after halftime everything was in it's place.

I like basketball games a lot because I have time at various points to review pictures and delete the bad ones. By the time I make it towards the end of the game I usually have gone through the first batch of my photos and am working on a refined data set. In other events I'm reviewing 600+ photos afterwards, but in basketball by the time I get home I usually have it down to around 100 photos, of which 40 are publishable.

It's kinda funny to think about how a couple of years ago when I shot my first games I brought my little Nikon bag and placed it on the back of the basketball rim while shooting. I didn't even know where the media room, much less how everything worked. It's good knowing where to go, where to put your stuff, and when you can review your photos.

I started uploading my photos to the Inside the Shell website. We're using a piece of Joomla software named Phoca. Phoca is a gallery viewer and it is quite awful. My wife Julie teases me and says that I never think that any software is good. She's right - I have really high standards before I say a certain software package is good. But seriously - Phoca is ... well ... not good. To post a gallery I have to go through about 10 steps that involve repeating the fact that this gallery should be called "2008-11-18: Youngstown State". Doing anything in software should involve the minimal amount of steps possible to ensure that it is done right. Offering the user lots of choices and forcing them to repeat themselves about things like gallery names (e.g. "2008-11-18: Youngstown State") inevitably leads to mistakes because humans are imperfect.

I don't plan on trying to improve the gallery situation because it's not my problem. I have plenty of work on my plate and trying to take on revamping the gallery infrastructure for Inside the Shell is pretty low on my priority list at the moment. None-the-less, it's been a valuable experience to learn how to post images up to Phoca. Even knowing what NOT to do is a good lesson and helps you avoid making the same mistakes.

Monday, November 17, 2008

On Sunday I headed back to the hardwood for a women's basketball game between the Lady Terps and Delaware State.

Women's Basketball is where sports photography began for me a few years back and it remains one of my most enjoyed events to shoot. Access is very convenient and there is plenty of room on the baseline to shoot and try new things. I don't have to worry about bumping into many people with my photo gear and if I want to move down to the other side of the court I can without a problem.

This afternoon I didn't try out any new techniques other than using my 300mm lens. I've used the 300mm lens in men's basketball for some scrimmages and for a couple of games but I really wanted to give it a shot in women's basketball to see how it performed. In women's basketball the rules are slightly different and that changes the tempo of the game. The ladies shoot with 30 seconds on the shot clock rather than 35 and they don't have a 10 second back court rule. As a result you can get a team that likes to double team in the backcourt to force turnovers and that changes how you shoot the game.

In men's hoops you grab your long glass as soon as the play under your basket is over because the offensive team needs to get out of the backcourt quickly and past the midcourt line. In women's hoops half the clock could be burned in the backcourt so you don't want to jump on the 300mm as quickly. However, shooting a player between yourself and midcourt on a 300mm produces a wonderful image if you can catch them in focus properly!

There aren't any universal do's and dont's in sports photography in so far as what body and lens to use so I was looking forward to my first women's game of the season to see how useful the 300mm lens was. It came as no surprise to me that I went to the 300mm for most of my shots, including shots in the front court. I sat out along the 3 point line and shot under the basket at the far baseline and 3 point line. That distance was just perfect for a 300mm lens but it would've been too far for 200mm and too close for 400mm.

The 300mm lens has really expanded the variety of shots I publish from my basketball games. In the past I relied on my 70-200mm for penetration shots while I used my 17-55mm DX lens for my under-the-basket shots. With the FX sensor I'm enjoying using my 300mm glass for across-midcourt shots as well as shots on the near side of the court. When I switched to the 70-200mm it was with the thought process of "I guess I need some layup shots".

After the game I headed up to the rafters to take a look at the basket through my 300mm lens. Greg was right in his comments about the difficulty of the shot - there are definite challenges from up there. When looking down at the glossy floor the lights from above create a noticeable reflection on the court. However, if I shot using the 400mm lens I would be close enough to just capture the faces and fingers of the players as they went up for the basket.

I have some more tricks up my sleeve that I'm working on with this shoot. I don't want to spoil anything by posting it online and I need to talk with some people to verify some assumptions. I'm crossing my fingers though that I can pull this off. If it works it could be some really cool shots!

After the Maryland Field Hockey Game I high-tailed it home to scoop up an awaiting Julie and race off to the campus of George Washington for an afternoon matchup against regional challenger UMBC. The Lady Retrievers were the first on the regular season schedule for the Lady Colonials and it promised to be an interesting shoot.

Marc Irlandez, a GWU alum, agreed to cover most of the 2008-2009 season for both the women's and men's teams. He lives down near the GWU campus so the travel time for him is quite reasonable. In comparison it took Julie and I approximately 45 minutes to travel from College Park MD up around the northern side of the beltway, down the GW Memorial Parkway, and then into Washington DC before we arrived at the Smith Center. Fortunately with Julie in the car I was able to bail out and shoot while she drove around looking for a parking spot. In the end she ended up parked in a No Parking spot just outside the stadium while she waited for me. I don't know how many other wives would hang out in a car for an hour while their husband shot a women's basketball game so I consider myself extremely lucky.

It is very challenging to find decent photographers to work with that are skilled and reliable. Most people that are skilled want to shoot the high profile NBA, NFL, or NHL games. Very few want to sit down at a collegiate women's basketball game and rip off a thousand frames. As a result we have limited resources to work with when lining up coverage for certain teams and games.

Accordingly, my plan this afternoon was to capture enough action photos for a gallery while also capturing isolation shots of as many players as possible. This posed a real challenge because I promised my wife waiting in the car that I would leave the arena no later than 3pm.

Having a single camera body made this a real challenge. I stuck with the 300mm lens for the most part so that I could focus on isolation shots but I switched up to my 70-200mm "go anywhere" lens for some action shots. I also used the 24-70mm lens under the basket for a handful of wide shots that showed the arena and the players.

The only issue I had during the afternoon was the varying color temperature of the overhead bulbs. I've read in the past (but cannot find the link) about variations in color temperature in certain bulbs as the intensity in them oscillates in relation to the 60Hz electrical current. The idea behind the article was that as power enters the bulb the bulb begins to emit light at a certain temperature. As more power enters the bulb the temperature changes. Eventually the bulb powers off and there's no light emitted. This happens 60 times a second because that's how electricity in this country oscillates.

If you shot at a shutter speed of 1/60th of a second or slower you would have received light from all the different temperatures from the bulb and every shot would have a consistent color in it. But if you shot faster than 1/60th you'd only get a small segment of those colors and the faster you shot the narrower the sampling your camera would have. If you had 1 bulb producing all your light you might be able to compensate but with N bulbs overhead each oscillating at slightly different schedules it makes it nearly impossible to correct automatically.

The Volleyball and Wrestling teams at UM play in the Comcast Pavilion and I've experienced this problem first hand. You can fire 4 shots at the net using a fixed WB setting and come up with completely different tints on your shots. Unfortunately the arena where GW plays basketball suffers from the same issue.

Most of my isolation photos of players from my GWU will have to be touched up with manual WB adjustments. In Volleyball you often have the white stripe of the net you can use as a reference point. In the case of basketball the Colonials where a white jersey but the imperfections in the fabric make adjustment difficult at times.

Ahh, if only we just had strobes...

Saturday morning the Terps field hockey team kicked off their quest for a 2008 championship trophy by playing in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament on their home field in College Park. I attended the game, as did Yuchen, and we got some good shots of the team.

When I awoke on Saturday morning I took one look out the window and remarked "this is going to be a difficult game." The weather was highly volatile - lots of wind and low clouds. The ground was moist from periodic rains earlier in the morning but the sun also broke through the clouds from time to time.

I never let the camera control the exposure for me. I always use manual exposure settings and use the camera meter as a hint for where my shutter should reside. Most of the time I keep my aperture locked at f/2.8, f/3.5, f/4, or the occasional f/5.6 while I set the ISO at a sensitivity sufficient to give me 1/500th or faster at the minimum aperture I'm willing to use. On a cloudy day I might need ISO 800 for 1/500th on a f/5.6 exposure so I'll keep the ISO at 800. I can open up the aperture to f/4, f/3.5 or even f/2.8 and handle the added light by increasing the shutter to 1/2000th, 1/4000th or even faster.

When the weather is variable your success is tied to your instincts and your cameras built-in meter. If it's cloudy and my subjects are properly exposed at 1/500th, f/4, ISO 640 but then the sun shoots through for a few seconds the meter may not pick up on it properly. In that case it's up to you the photographer to recognize the change in the amount of light and to increase your shutter speed to accommodate the additional light. Eventually the meter catches up but at the point the play may be over.

So the bottom line is: in variable weather you have to pay religious attention to your exposure settings or else you risk over or under exposing your subjects. And you can't exactly ask for a do-over in sports photography. You either get the shot or you don't.

I took my standard "sun over my shoulders" shots this afternoon in the first half, although a minority of my shots were in direct sunlight. Most of my shots took place under cloudy conditions. I managed to grab a few frames when the sun broke through but those shots were few and far in between.

At halftime I sorted through my 300 or so exposures from the first half and narrowed it down to around 80 photos I'd be willing to import into Lightroom. In the second half I looked for Yuchen and noticed he grabbed the "sun over my shoulder" spot on the far end of the field. As a result I decided to stick down near the scoreboard and try my hand at some halo shots.

Shooting halo shots of the players can be fun and is a nice change of pace. You look for a spot where you are shooting directly into the sun and you meter the players face. This often overexposes the background (which can be ok) while creating a bright halo of light around the players hair and extremities. It looks really cool when done right.

Field Hockey halo shots are especially fun because of the wet nature of the field. The operations crew pumps an enormous amount of water out onto the field to keep it safe for the players and the water droplets throw off a ton of light when you shoot into the sun. Additionally, water drips off the sticks of the players and the light piercing those droplets create an awesome effect.

As the Terps raced up the field I kept looking for the halo shots. Unfortunately the sun didn't cooperate as much as I would've liked and I was only offered a few chances to capture my water-droplet-frozen-in-mid-air halo shot. I love the effect though and next season I'm going to shoot into the sun more often!

I also decided to shoot the game at f/4 and f/4.5. Most of the other games I covered this year I shot at f/2.8. I've been told "you paid for the f/2.8 glass so why not use it". There's some validity to that statement but the sharpness at f/2.8 is less than if you shot at higher apertures. Each lens and camera body varies in where it's sharpest but you can generally say that the narrower the aperture the sharper the image.

There was a huge difference in the sharpness of my photos today. The f/4 aperture really worked well and my subjects were well isolated because I shot on a 400mm lens.

Today's game most likely marks the end of my coverage of Terrapin Field Hockey for the next 9 months or so. I'm shooting the women's basketball game on Sunday afternoon while Yuchen covers the Field Hockey game for the DC Sports Box, and I won't be able to travel to Louisville to cover the Terps when they compete for NCAA gold. It's been a good season and like last year I've learned a lot from the experience. From a cloudy lens during one game to shooting seniors at 14mm to my goalie-mask-speedlight pose it's been a very enjoyable and memorable season. I wish the Terps good luck in the Final Four in Louisville and a safe offseason until Fall 2009.