Saturday, January 10, 2009

Gymnastics: Maryland Terrapins vs Kent State


I was introduced to a new sport this evening: gymnastics!

A few sports the Terps play don't have very regular home schedules. This includes swimming/diving, competitive cheer, and gymnastics. Last year I didn't cover any of them for the DC Sports Box and this year I wanted to improve that record. With so few home contests I figured I could make an effort to get out for them and capture some photos.

The last new sport I shot was competitive cheer and that was a month or two ago. However, before that I hadn't shot a new sport in a long while. Shooting sports is a very patterned occupation - the more regularly you do it the better you are. You understand the game and the flow. That allows you to anticipate the action.

When you shoot a sport for the first time you have no idea what you're doing. You base your actions on previous events you've shot but you don't know where you can go to get the good shots. You can't anticipate the action. All you can do is shoot and pray.

Regular shooting of a particular sport is like sniper shooting. You anticipate and you close the shutter only a handful of times. Shooting a new sport is like multiple shotgun blasts: you have no idea whats going on so you shoot as much as you can in the hopes that you'll get something worth publishing in the end.

This evening I was buck wild.

I ended 2 hours of shooting with 1,306 exposures for 4 competitions (vault, uneven bars, beam, and floor). That's ridiculous! In 2 hours of basketball I'll finish up with 200 shots on a bad night. Winding up with 6x that amount is evidence that I didn't know what I was doing from a "understanding the sport" standpoint.

None-the-less, I had a ball.

It's fun to not know what you're doing and to try to adapt to the environment. Fortunately I was very familiar with the venue (Comcast Pavilion) and the lighting environment. Exposure didn't challenge me, but position for a decent shot did.

I tried a bunch of different lenses tonight, from 14-24 up to 24-70, through 70-200, and eventually up to 300mm. I shot them from a variety of different spots looking for the shot. It was really difficult!

Overall I have to say that the most challenging aspect of photographing gymnastics is that the subjects move very rapidly in and out of the focal plane. At narrow apertures like f/4 it is a real challenge to keep your subject in focus. The uneven bars is a great example of this.

The athlete is going to wrap themselves around one of the bars so it seems logical that you can simply pre-focus on the bar and rip away when their face comes into the frame, correct? Please... No...

The fact that the athlete is spinning around the bar and that their arms can be 2-3 feet throws their face out of focus for nearly every exposure except for when they are straight down (the most boring from an action perspective).

What you want to capture is the face of the athlete as they drop down onto the bar and are swinging around. However, that requires you to AF lock onto their face and track it as they spin around. That's really really difficult!

I had a very good time photographing the gymnastic team this evening and I'm looking forward to their next home event. Hopefully I can keep it under 1,306 exposures next time!

I wrote up an article on Maryland Gymnastic's win over Kent State and posted it on the DC Sports Box along with a photo gallery.

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