Friday, February 20, 2009

Saturday evening the Maryland Water Polo team took to the pool and faced the Tigers of Princeton. The story of the Water Polo is truly remarkable. The squad debut'ed in 2004 and lost nearly every game. But in 2005, 2006, and 2007 the Terps climbed back to a winning record under the advisory of Head Coach Carl Salyer and Assistant Coach Meghan Sullivan.

I shot 2 water polo matches last year and I was very interested in the photographic aspects of the sport. The combination of the action of athletics, the vibrance of blue water, and the visual effect of water droplets as a player whips a shot was very compelling. Unfortunately we (the DC Sports Box) didn't report on the water polo team last year in very much detail. When we did report on the team we reported from the stands.

As usual I updated my photoblog with details about those two events and good fortune (along with Google searches) drew one of the coaches to my blog site. This opened the door to pool-side access this year to the Eppley Natatorium.

The support of the coaches, trainers, and players on a team goes miles in terms of your ability to capture the emotion of a game. Media relations gets you into the venue but the comfort level of the players, coaches, and support staff with you as a photographer makes a world of difference. If you're there for every game the staff and players know you as a photographer and are comfortable with you. They don't hold anything back when they're in your huddle and you're firing frames. You're there to preserve the moment for them.

When the coaching staff buys into your presence it just makes a world of difference and I've seen this in several of the sports at Maryland (including Football). Knowing the coaching staff and having their support really opens doors from a photographic perspective. I cannot understate it's importance.

As a result I had wonderful photographic opportunities this evening while shooting water polo.

I picked up 3 PocketWizard MultiMax units off and have been itching for chances to use them. I brought along my tripod and trained a D3 and a 400mm lens on the Maryland goalie. I set the focus to manual and used the appropriate PocketWizard cable to keep the camera active. I then fired the camera remotely using an additional PocketWizard while I sat poolside.

The only problem I ran into is that I accidentally switched channels in the first quarter. As a result I missed a bunch of shots and since I was out of ear-shot from the remote I didn't notice that I missed the shots until I checked the camera at the end of the first quarter. In retrospect I could've checked the channel number on my local PocketWizard but I didn't think to do it. Live and learn...

I was extremely thrilled with my shots this evening. In sports there's this tradeoff between freezing action and preserving the sense of motion in a game. Sports are fast paced and sometimes you want some motion blur in your exposure. But you want it in the extremeties because everyone wants to see the athlete's face. It's ok if the legs, arms, hands, or ball in play have some blur but the eyes and the face need to be sharp.

Lots of times photographers increase shutter speeds beyond 1/500th second to freeze the motion. But that sometimes makes the scene appear unnatural. A slam dunk is fast paced and you don't expect to see every single frame of it in fine detail. The mind wants a motion blur for something like that.

Water droplets bridge the gap for pool based sports.

They show the motion in an action even if you freeze your subject in place. I can lock a water polo shooter at 1/800th but the trailing water droplets from her arm and head give the viewer a sense of motion. In any other sport you don't get the same effect because air doesn't appear on the exposure.

Unfortunately Maryland only plays 1 more home game at Eppley Natatorium this season. I'm very bummed about this. I really would've enjoyed the opportunity to shoot more of the Terps in the pool because this sport is really exciting and unique. Hopefully in the coming seasons Maryland will play host to more teams. One can only hope...


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