Wednesday, July 22, 2009

This afternoon I shuffled off the dust and headed down to RFK stadium for an afternoon tilt between the Washington Freedom and the Chicago Red Stars. Hats off to my Garmin Nuvi 760 for routing me around a 20 minute delay on the BW Parkway. I arrived with about 5 minutes to spare before opening introductions.

Since I have a little rust on the shutter I wasn't optimized for the shoot. I went to fail-safe defaults, which involves carrying as much equipment as I could possibly transport into the stadium and out onto the field. I traveled with 400mm, 300mm, 70-200mm, 24-70mm, and 14-70mm (all f/2.8) along with flash, battery pack, shooters chair, 2 bodies, and spare batteries. It's always better to be prepared...

I met up with Jose (the team photographer) and introduced myself. I chuckled as several photographers scrambled to get the pre-game team shot while standing on the sideline. The starting lineup was a good 30-40 feet away from them and most of them shot with lenses smaller than 50mm. Of course, if they aren't full frame that might work. Or they can crop down. I probably would've shot 70-200 and kept closer to 70-100 but... I also thought it was funny that they used flash at a distance of 40 feet when there was plenty of ambient light to work with.

As usual I surveyed the field for the best spot from a lighting perspective. That took me to the Freedom defensive side of the field. From that location I caught several decent shots of the defense but my witness to the events was limited. An attacker from the visiting team would face me while my home team had their back towards me. While there were times that my home team faced me (often while chasing down a loose ball) I realized that even though the light was favorable I had to move in order to catch the faces of the subjects I was sent to shoot.

2/3 the way through the first half I migrated to the opposite side of the field so that I could catch the Freedom shooting into the goal. Since I was shooting towards the sun I decided to go full-bore and positioned myself such that I shot directly into the sun. I was going for a halo effect on the players and it came out quite well.

Shooting into the sun is a challenge because the built-in meter in the camera tends to over-estimate the light entering the sensor. It'll give you indications that you are overexposed because a bunch of light reflects off the rim of the player in focus (or the background).

When photographing someone you want to draw focus to the subject and force the background into an after-thought. There are several ways you can accomplish this, the most common being using a wide aperture (f/2.8 or f/1.8 or even f/1.4). You can also throw light onto your subject using an artificial source (e.g. a strobe or speedlight) and meter for that exposure while throwing the background into darkness. A third alternative is to throw your background into overexposure while your subject is relatively dark but properly exposed. This works very well in stadiums...

If the sun is setting and bouncing hard off white concrete and white bleachers in the background you can meter for your relatively dark player and make them stand out in the overall picture. It's true that they are darker than the background but they are still isolated, and that's what you're going for.

This poses a real challenge though because the meter in the camera is going to spike in reaction to the abundance of ambient light reflecting off the background. If you properly exposed the background your subject in the foreground would be underexposed. What you're shooting for in this situation is an over-exposure of the background with a proper-exposure of the subject. The meter isn't set up to do that kind of thing...

One technique one can apply is to follow your subject from a dark area of the field into a light area of the field while adjusting shutter speed. Metering the subject while the background is in shadow will allow you to properly expose him/her when the background is in full-sun. Remember: the key is to properly expose the subject, not the background. Of course, this is a challenge. And I have by no means mastered it or even been able to reproduce it.

So during my first return trip to the field in a few weeks I decided to go with this approach when faced with the realization that my subjects would keep their faces looking away from my shutter.

The shot I chose for this post is variation of the approach I described above. In the shot I exposed for the player but the background was in the shadows relative to the sun. In the shot you'll notice the sweat beeds in mid-air as the Red-Stars player heads a shot out of the 18-yard box. This should give you an idea of some of the detail you can capture when you shoot into the light.


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