Friday, February 20, 2009

Gymnastics: Maryland vs New Hampshire

On Friday evening the Terps gymnastics team faced New Hampshire at the Comcast Pavilion. The history of the gymnastics team is truly remarkable. Head Coach Duke Nelligan has held a firm hand on the wheel for 31 years and is set to hand over responsibilities to his son Brett Nelligan next year. 31 years is a long time to do any one single thing. I have a lot of respect for anyone that can pursue the same occupation for that amount of time and even more for someone who has managed to succeed year in and year out as the Head Coach at a Division-I school.

I attended my first gymnastics event a month or so ago because I wanted to expand my sports photography horizons. Maryland has 27 sports and that presents a lot of opportunities to shoot unusual sports that you wouldn't otherwise get a chance to photograph every other day. I shot 2 of their meets and after retrospecting the events I wanted to go back for more to see what else I could do with different lenses and angles.

In particular I was jonesin for a shot of Kaitlin Joseph on the beam. As part of her routine she somehow manages to lift her full body into the air while her chin holds all her weight on the beam. I knew that getting in tight on her face against the beam would make for a great shot and I brought my 400mm lens (normally used for field sports like football, baseball, lacrosse, and sacrosse) to the Pavilion tonight so I could grab the moment.

Unfortunately I didn't get the shot.

Kaitlin didn't perform on the beam and I was really bummed about it. I've been hoping for this shot on and off for the past month or so and I know it would've come out well. After all, you've got to pour a lot of emotion and energy in supporting your entire body weight on a 4 inch beam. Fortunately the gymnasts will perform 1 last time in Comcast in 2 weeks and I have another chance to grab my shot. We'll see how it goes.

I played around with the 300mm lens a lot this evening with mixed results. The nice thing about being tight is that you can focus in on facial expressions. However, unlike nearly every other sport out there, gymnasts use ALL of their bodies during their performance. A volleyball player wants to jump high, a basketball player wants a strong arm for dunking, and a field hockey player wants biceps for the wrister shots. A gymnast wants flexible joints so that they can leap into the air and perform some twist or move that is awe-inspiring.

You can't shoot tight. It seems like you have to shoot wide to get the full effect of what their performance. If you lock in tight on their face you might miss the key part of their performance (their twist on the beam). I guess in this case you have to settle with less facial detail in exchange for a more macro frame.


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