Sunday, May 25, 2008

Heading into Sunday afternoon I was pretty happy with my weekend progress. My wife Julie headed south to North Carolina with her parents on Saturday morning while I stayed back to wrap up 2008 NCAA Women's Lacrosse Tournament. With 2 games on Friday night and 1 game on Saturday evening I was working pretty hard to stay on top of my photos and articles. I think that other photographers have a pretty easy job compared to mine - at least they don't have to write articles and stay on top of box scores!

At the conclusion of Saturday evening (around 2:30am) I was finished cropping and coloring the Divas and Duke lacrosse games. I was also finished with the captioning process. That just left Sunday to write up 2 lacrosse articles and post process the Northwestern photos. I cranked those out in a couple of hours and smiled as I headed back up to Towson for the championship game.

On Friday night I realized that I only had $3 in my wallet for the event and Al had the parking pass. Since parking was $10 I opted to look for another location. Most of the parking lots that adjoin Johnny Unitas stadium are private parking lots and signs warning of towing and fines were everywhere. I ended up parking in the hospital parking garage and I crossed my fingers hoping the gate would be up when I left. Fortunately for me it was.

On Sunday I had an official parking pass and I knew exactly where to park at the stadium. When I arrived I wasted little time in making it down to the field to prepare for the game. I decided to play around a little more with some f/22 shots while the teams warmed up. Lots of specs in my shots... Lots and lots of specs...

I looked around and saw Jeff from Inside Lacrosse. I wanted to chat with him some more but he was really busy getting set up. I also looked around for Patrick Smith. But since I don't know what he looks like I had a hard time looking for him. I follow Patrick Smith's blog and enjoy reading about his assignments and I was hoping to meet him in person. It didn't pan out...

I found myself running up and down the field this evening like Friday evening, and like Friday evening I was alone in that activity. In fact, most of the photographers didn't even walk back and forth on the field. They simply parked themselves at one end, readied their lens, and shot whenever something came into their field of view. They didn't follow the action. Their loss I suppose...

Towards the middle of the game I walked around the stands and took a few stadium shots with the sun setting and painting some red colors on the high cirrus clouds. They came out pretty well and my wife said they were some of her favorite photos. I like trying to take a stadium shot or two during an event to give the viewer a bigger picture of what happened. It's tough to pull away from the action and take those shots but in the end I like them a lot.

When there were 3 minutes remaining in regulation I headed back to my Think Tank suitcase and extracted my 14-24 lens as well as my SB-800 flash. I also picked up my D200 and strapped a 70-200 lens onto it. I adjusted the exposure settings and white balance on the D200 so that I'd be ready for some post-game celebration photos. One trick I've learned in sports photography is that you can dial down the ISO setting and increase the exposure time in post-game scenarios and get good exposures. You don't need 1/1250th of a second of exposure for players smiling with a trophy. You need 1/400th, maybe... As a result you can reduce your ISO to a lower setting and get less grain in your photos.

Of course it's difficult to remember to do this in the heat of the moment. As photographers rush the field and the team begins to celebrate it's difficult to remember: adjust white balance to flash mode, reduce ISO from 4000 to 640, stop down from f/2.8 to f/6, reduce shutter speed from 1/1250th to 1/250th (for flash sync). I need to mess around with the shooting banks settings - I think they can help me in that regard.

After the game I got a few shots of Northwestern with the trophy and they came out pretty well. It's difficult to capture a team with a trophy because they tend to spin around a lot with it when they have it high in the air. You can be in the perfect spot one moment and firing away but then the next moment the player has turned and you're now shooting the back of their head and trophy. And if you're like me and you don't have an external power pack on your flash you can really struggle while your SB-800 recycles!

You can view my photos and my article on the Northwestern Wildcats winning the 2008 women's lacrosse championship over on the DC Sports Box.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Football: DC Divas vs Central PA

The DC Sports Box has received a few requests from local teams for coverage of their summer sports schedule. That's probably a good thing considering we appear to have lost our Nationals credential. I just found out about it on Friday from Al and I haven't had a chance to talk with anyone to get the details. I have a few suspicions as to why we lost the credential but nothing official. Anyhow...

One of the requests came from the IWFL (Independent Women's Football League). The DC Divas are a local football team that plays next to FedEx field and would like for us to cover their games. They play something like 4 home games so it's a pretty trivial matter to go out and support them. They're also very close to a few of us so it makes the decision doubly easy.

I headed out to FedEx field to meet Kirk Queen for the shoot. The game was scheduled for a 7pm start and was against the Central PA Vipers. When I arrived I noticed that the Vipers had only brought approximately 15 - 20 players. I spoke with a few people on the Divas sideline and they said that the Vipers are a new team and Central PA is not a hub for football players. As a result they expected a heavily lopsided game.

While there I made a point to seek out Allyson Hamlin. She's the QB for the Divas and somebody I grew up with. We both attended the same elementary, middle, and high school. We also both played on the same teams for several years. Her dad, Paul Hamlin, along with my dad, coached several of our sporting teams over the years. I was very surprised to find that Paul had purchased the Divas a few years ago and is now the majority owner. Pretty small world...

While Kirk talked with the team photographers and some other people I used the pre-game time to catch up with Paul and Allyson. It was fun to see them and to hear about how the team is doing. I told them that we'd be there for the rest of their home games this summer and that we should talk in the offseason about some other ways we could help support them.

Allyson was right in her pre-game assessment - the game was heavily one-sided in favor of the Divas. I wanted to get some shots of Ally looking into the sun but that didn't happen - the defensive back for the Divas kept returning all the punts from the Vipers for touchdowns! I don't think Allyson got a chance to play until 3/4 of the way through the second quarter!

It was a pretty fun event to shoot because it was quiet and low key. Everyone seemed to have a really good time and I got a handful of decent pictures. It was good to get some football practice under my belt. It's the one sport I've shot extremely little of. I think I've actually shot more water polo games than football games at this point. Given that there are so few football games in a season it makes sense to go out and practice during the summer whenever I have the chance.

After the game I had a really difficult time writing up an article. The Divas didn't post a box score or even a game writeup and so I was really going 100% off memory of the game and my photos for my article. As you can see the quality suffered. Please go read about the DC Divas 35-0 win over the Central PA Vipers.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Women's Lacrosse: Duke vs Penn

There was a 30 minute intermission between the conclusion of the Northwestern vs Syracuse game and the start of the Penn vs Duke game. I used the time to review my shots of the first game on camera and delete the bad shots. I've talked with several other photographers and so far I seem to be in the minority with this practice. Maybe it's because I'm trying to streamline my post processing. I'm not sure...

As I'm shooting an event I tend to review my photos during timeouts or other periods of inactivity. This helps me in a couple of ways. First off it allows me to review my work as I take it. If I find that my exposure is a little too much I can make some EV adjustments to help me better meter. If my white balance is a bit off I can make adjustments there as well. Lastly it greatly reduces my post-processing time because I'm working with fewer images on my computer.

Most of the other photographers I've worked with use a combination of PhotoMechanic and PhotoShop to post process. PhotoMechanic is really efficient at loading in hundreds of photos and displaying them in thumbnail view. As you scroll through an index of the photos in PhotoMechanic you can tag the ones you like and bring them into a photo editor. Most people use PhotoShop as their editor.

This process works pretty well and it allows you to keep all of your photos from an event. That's a good thing because you can archive them off and come back to them at a later point if you need a picture of a particular player for some odd reason. I'd probably give that approach a shot except I'm very accustomed to using Aperture as my editor.

Aperture wants to manage your entire photo library. It has the concepts of projects, folders, and albums, and it allows you to dump photos into those buckets. It also can do nifty time slice things like "stack all the photos based on time." Aperture will then go through and identify when you were shooting in continuous high speed mode and take all the like photos and put them together in a stack. You can then go through and pick the one you like and tag it as the representative from that stack.

Aperture 1.5 was a dog from a performance standpoint. Aperture 2.0 is much better but is still a bit slow for some things. I'm hoping that 2.5 will bring a lot of improvements and will get me out of the desire to use PhotoMechanic and PhotoShop for post processing. I don't know though...

Anyhow... as I shot the Duke game I ended up deleting most of the photos due to poor lighting conditions. The lights are certainly better than Ludwig Stadium down in College Park but they were still pretty dim. I shot at ISO 4000 and was only able to get around 1/500th of a second before I was getting too dark. Duke's black uniforms didn't help my situation.

In the end the Quakers ended up winning and I was happy to see that. The Penn Quakers have never been to an NCAA Championship game and it was great to be there to see that. If you'd like to read more about Duke vs Penn in the 2008 NCAA Tournament and see my gallery you can click over on the DC Sports Box.

A few weeks ago I asked Al to submit my name for credentials to the 2008 NCAA Women's Lacrosse Tournament. It was held up at Towson this year and I was hoping the Terps would make it into the semifinals or the finals. Unfortunately the Terps lost in the quarterfinals and I didn't get a chance to take some photos of some Maryland players hoisting a national title trophy above their head.

I was still excited to go to the semifinals and championship game and was looking forward to it for awhile.

Earlier in the week I found out that one of my contracts for a customer I enjoy working with was not going to be renewed. It's negative because I'm going to miss working with the people on the contract that I've lost. But on the other hand it's positive because I'll be able to spend more time with my other customers. And in truth those other customers have been with me for longer than the team that cut me. As a result I was happy to head out onto the lacrosse field, take some fun photos, and take my mind off the recent contracting news.

The setting for the NCAA Tournament was really nice. Johnny Unitas Stadium (at Towson University) is a nice football stadium and they also use for lacrosse. The sun sets over one of the endzones and I like those stadiums. It limits you in what you can shoot but if you decide to go with the light you can get some fantastic exposures and really rich colors late in the day.

The first game between Northwestern and Syracuse played out while there was plenty of light to work with. I ran back and forth down the field with almost every possession and managed to get a bunch of shots I was really proud of. None of the other photographers ran. Most of them didn't even kneel.

By the end of the game the sun had fully set and we were getting into a mixed bag of light from the sky and from the overhead lights. I left my neutral gray card at home but I think I did alright with my white balance. I considered shooting raw but then decided against it - too much work in post processing to touch up the white balance. I used a stadium wall as my neutral gray color and it worked out pretty well.

You can read more about Northwestern's win over Syracuse in the 2008 NCAA Women's Lacrosse Tournament over at the DC Sports Box.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Earlier in the week we received the nod to come to Byrd Stadium for the opening round of the 2008 NCAA Men's Lacrosse Tournament. The Terps were scheduled to play Denver in Byrd Stadium, and I asked to be assigned to the event. I only covered 1 other men's lacrosse event this Spring and I didn't have the confidence that anyone else on the team would ask to cover this event.

Yuchen's been pretty cold on convering Terrapin sports and has focused mostly on Navy and Georgetown this Spring. I can understand his perspective - I think he's bored with shooting Maryland events after working at the Diamondback for a couple of years.

When I arrived at Byrd I wasn't quite sure where to go due to the construction. I parked in Lot 1 near the tennis courts and headed down to the south gate. A Maryland tent with some official looking people was set up and I was able to check in with the media people. Fortunately I was on the writers list so they let me down onto the field to work. Most of the other writers work up in Tyser Tower but I was really there as a photographer and accordingly I wanted to be on the field.

It was pretty difficult to carry all of my gear down onto the field. Byrd stadium is a large stadium and the media people forced me to walk around to the North gate in order to enter the venue. Normally the media can enter near Gossett Team House and take the steps down onto the field. But today that section was closed and I was forced to walk down the shallow steps of the lower section of Byrd. It really made a difference! I'd rather walk 20 steep steps rather than 50 that are shallow.

I again saw Greg and that was nice. It's fun when you know someone on the sideline and can chat with them. We didn't talk too much during the game but we casually interacted.

I also met a photographer from Inside Lacrosse. I didn't catch his name but he was really friendly. He and I were the only photographers on our knees when taking photos and he actually commented on it. He said that he likes seeing photographers standing up. When I asked why he responded: "because then I know I'll get a better shot than them." I thought that was pretty funny. I feel the same way though - if you shoot from down low it really makes a difference.

When he asked why I shoot from down low I told him it's because you get a better composed shot and you also tend to capture more of the players faces. In sports where the ball is mostly on the ground or can be dropped down onto the ground the players tend to look down to follow it. If you're down on your knees you can get their eyes as they track the ball. If you stand upright you migth lose their eyes under the helmets.

The game was fun to shoot. I originally thought I'd use a 400/2.8 along with 70-200/2.8 on a DX sensor. I never used the 70-200/2.8 and put it away at half time. The 400/2.8 on an FX sensor performs so well.

I tried shooting at f/22 with a shutter time of 1/25th of a second. Patrick Smith (from Towson) gave me the idea from a few photos on his blog. The shots were fun but the narrow aperture really shows the dirt on your sensor. It really shows how badly I need to get a cleaning kit.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

As I walked out of Robert E. Taylor Stadium I was proud of Dave and I for providing so much coverage of the 2008 ACC Softball Championship. There was literally 1 other photographer present, and he was on official assignment from the ACC. It's unfortunate that more photographers were not present because it was an excellent opportunity to get your feet wet at a pretty significant event.

Some of the photographers I've met have aspirations of shooting the NBA playoffs, or of attending a PGA event, or in being present at some triple crown race. But they never make any progress towards those goals because they never get out and shoot the smaller events. You don't just wake up one day and get invited to those big ticket events - it takes years of practice to improve your skills, network with people, and reach the level where you're invited to attend.

The ACC Softball Tournament would have been a great chance for a lot of amateur photographers to crawl out of their apartments or homes and shoot a first class event with relatively little hassle. I was really surprised not to see more Diamondback photographers or reporters, students from the Journalism school, Capital Gazette, PG Gazette, and College Park Gazette reporters present. Anyhow...

After the match I peeked over to women's lacrosse and noticed that there was approximately 15 minutes remaining in regulation. I headed down there with Dave to take a few photos. My brother Andrew was there using my D2H and 400mm f/2.8 lens on a monopod. I attached my 300mm f/2.8 to my D3 and started shooting it hand-held style. I got a few shots and Andrew did as well. As a result we were able to put together a decent photo gallery.

The lighting for lacrosse was good. The trees around the field hockey and lacrosse complex are close to the field and as a result you don't get much sky when you take pictures. That worked out for the game because the sky was really bright and white, which disrupted your exposure. Having the trees present as a blocker in the background allowed me to properly expose the players faces without having to worry about overexposing the background.

Our brief writeup of the Maryland Terrapins vs the Temple Owls in the 2008 NCAA Tournament Quarterfinals round can be found over on the DC Sports Box.

Walking back down to Comcast from Shipley Field was pretty easy. I thought back to how many times I rollerbladed that route and how much the campus has changed since I started a short 12 years ago.

I made it back in time for the conclusion of the championship game between NC State and Virginia Tech. The lighting continued to be a challenge for the event - high level overcast with low level thicker clouds. It was very easy to overexpose the clouds while underexposing the players. I did my best...

At the end of the game I prepared my body and lens for some close up shots. I was hoping that the Hokies would lift the trophy above their heads in celebration but that didn't pan out. The celebration was pretty subdued and the players left the trophy on the ground for the most part. I used my 14-24mm lens along with an SB-800 flash. I wanted to make sure I exposed the faces of the players rather than relying on the f/2.8 lens.

I'm glad I opted for the flash. I'm usually conflicted about using the flash since I have narrow my aperture down to f/5.6 or f/6, but in the end it makes a good shot. At those smaller apertures the background is significantly less blurred but with a flash the subject pops out of the frame a lot. As a result you get a similar effect when flashing at f/6 and shooting naturally at f/2.8 - you can achieve the isolation you want.

I gave my card to the Virginia Tech coach after the game but never heard back from him. Hopefully they found the pictures online and have taken a look at them and like them. Here's a link to our article on the Virginia Tech Hokies, 2008 ACC Softball Champions.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Softball: NC State Huddle

Sunday was a crazy day... The ACC Softball Championship game, senior photos for the Terrapin baseball team, and the NCAA Women's Lacrosse tournament all kicked off at 1pm. Earlier in the week I sent out a call-to-arms for DCSB shooters and writers, but my rally call fell on deaf ears. Nobody was willing to come out and cover one of the events for us, and I was forced to improvise.

Dave and I planned to cover the softball and baseball events but that left the women's lacrosse event up for grabs. It was arguably one of the most important events but I wanted to make sure that we had coverage of the softball game. The baseball seniors mattered a lot to us as well because we covered 12+ games for the Terps this season. To blow them off on their senior day would not be good...

But this post is about NC State Softball...

Before the teams were introduced Dave and I talked with an assistant coach for NC State. She asked who we shot with and if they could pick up some pictures from us. We both responded that she could, and Dave offered her our card. The tough part here is working within the confines of the DCSB while also supporting the teams. Al's position is that he doesn't want to offer photos for free to people, and I agree with that position to a certain standpoint. But I think there's a difference between offering photos for free to parents and fans vs providing photos to the teams themselves. There is clearly a difference in selling a $10 photo for private use to the parents of a player vs providing a photo to the NC State University for use in their media guide.

Right now we're young and trying to figure all of this out. Should we charge MORE to NCSU for the photo since they are an organization that plans on distributing the photo? Or should we charge LESS because our organization will get more reach and we'll get in good with NCSU? I don't know. Selling the photo is a quick win for us, but what's the long term cost? I don't know.

I've pursued software development for so long and issues like this come up often. When they arise I never have doubts in picking the correct path. Experience guides me in the right direction. But with sports photography all I have is intuition. So far my experience in sports photography has taught me that the players in this game are very different from the players in software development. They are territorial, predatory, arrogant, belligerent, and confrontational.

Can I draw upon my successful experience in software development to help me plot the right path in this confused environment? Maybe. Julie offers a lot of ideas and insight, but she also lacks experience in this domain. Both of us are software engineers and as a result we try to keep our head above water and above the fray. Will that strategy work in photography?

The nice thing about shooting huddles is that the regular sports photographers consider this beneath them and thus don't pay much attention to them. That offers me a chance to shoot something unusual that might be valuable to someone.

Softball: Georgia Tech vs Virginia

I believe 5 games were scheduled for Friday. Only 1 actually took place. The Washington DC region was caught up in ridiculous rain event that brought 2-3 inches to the area in a constant downpour during the day on Friday. As a result most of the games for Friday were pushed until Saturday morning.

I was scheduled to cover the 5:30pm and 8pm games. The first revised schedule I received pushed the 5:30pm game back to 7pm and the 8pm back to 9:30. I kinda cringed at the thought of starting a softball game at 9:30pm. It wouldn't end until 11pm at the earliest. Post processing (photo touch up and article writing) takes nearly 2 hours if I know the team. When it's two unknown teams it takes me longer. And when I get home I like to touch base with Julie for awhile to catch up on what's new in her life. With a 9:30pm start time I wouldn't get home until 11:30. Then I'd catch up with Julie until midnight at the earliest, and I wouldn't wrap up my post processing until 0200 at the earliest. That's a tough schedule.

Fortunately they called the 9:30pm game and pushed it to Saturday morning. That left just 1 game to shoot on Friday night. Although I was happy at the prospect of not going to bed at 2:30am Saturday morning I was also a little sad at not having another game to shoot.

It was a bit unusual to shoot a game at the softball field knowing that Maryland was eliminated from contention, but that's part of the job I suppose. It was still fun watching two teams fight it out for a win, but it wasn't the same without a Terrapin jersey in the mix. At the same time there was a strange disassociation I had with the event: I really didn't care who won and who lost...

Dave informed me that he had spoken with someone from Maryland who gave us the nod to sell some photos from the event. I was happy to hear that we received the approval. Without their thumbs-up we'd be risking a lot. And I anticipated a bunch of requests in the following week for photos of the tournament.

After a 20 minute intermission the Terps took to the field after the NCSU vs GT game. I was pleased to see the Terps take to their home field and hoped that they would win so they could continue their drive into the ACC Tournament. Unfortunately the Terps fell behind early and couldn't recover, losing 2-0 to the Eagles.

I really can't say enough about how well the D3 performs. The D3 is leaps and bounds beyond the low-light capabilities of my D200. The D200 can shoot up to ISO1600 without noticeable noise. But it quickly degrades in it's quality before reaching ISO 3200. On the other hand the D3 can safely shoot at ISO 4000 with the same level of noise as a D200 at ISO1600. I have no metrics to back that up ... just photos. You can go take a look at my D200 vs D3 high ISO low light comparisons on my Flickr page.

I enjoyed taking photos at the softball game. I used the 300mm f/2.8 lens that I'm demoing from Nikon. I used my monopod for most of the shoot but felt pretty cheesy in the process. I hand-hold my 400mm f/2.8 lens during basketball and the 300mm f/2.8 is considerably smaller and lighter. A monopod is pretty awkward to lug around and it can be restrictive when you lean up against a wall or on the side of the dugout.

From time to time I'd shift off to just hand holding the 300mm and I was much happier.

I also used the 14-24 f/2.8 lens Nikon loaned me for some experimental photos. I was really happy with this picture of a dark blue sky while overlooking the Maryland Terrapins dugout in the 2008 ACC Softball Tournament.

During the evening I talked with a few parents in the stands who requested photos of their daughter in the competition. I handed them my card and asked them to contact me. Earlier last week I talked with Al and Dave about DCSB selling some Softball photos. Having been approached several times on the first night I felt vindicated in my pre-emptive requests that we figure out how to handle these orders from fans. Sure enough it panned out ... we were there, moving around and getting the shots, and people wanted to buy our photos.

The issue of selling collegiate photos is a tangled web of interpretation and legal precendent that we have very little experience navigating. Personally I expect we'll screw up at some point and go down the wrong path and upsetting an apple cart somehow.

At the highest level, the NCAA is concerned about the commercialization of student athletes. If I'm a credentialed photographer at an NCAA basketball event, and one of my photos is used to hype a Nike shoe that can be used against the student athlete in the photo. The NCAA can (and has) revoked a year of eligibility for the player and banned the photographer from NCAA events.

The conference can come after you too. There are stories of different conferences (e.g. ACC, CAA, Big-EAST, PAC-10) pursuing civil suits against individual photographers after photos of student athletes have appeared in periodicals that the conference determined to be "commercial" (non-editorial) in nature.

And then you have the individual school. Let's say that the parent of a student athlete wants to buy one of your photos so they can print it and put it up in their family room. Seems like private use and there shouldn't be any problems, right? No... Sure you may be clear from an NCAA and conference, but you still have to obtain the school's permission? Why? Because the school's logo appeared prominently in the photo. And the student attends the school. The school may have a deal with a local photographer they use whereby the school gets a cut of whatever revenues are generated by the local photographer for the sale of photos. As a result they may not want you to sell photos.

Although the school may not be able to legally block you from selling photos they can block your entrance to events by declining your credential requests.

In summary ... be careful if you want to sell photos of college athletes. Get permission from your school before you try to do it. This is what I'm doing at the DC Sports Box. It's better to partner with and work with people in this realm than to make assumptions and work against them.

All that being said, Maryland has been good to us and gave us the nod to sell some photos from this weekend's event. With their official nod, and a few requests from the fans, I'm looking forward to turning the page in the history book for our young organization and seeing what's ahead.

Will selling photos turn into something substantial for us? Or will it backfire somehow? Will it aggravate other photographers? I don't know... All I know is that we have to move forward and as we take these steps into the unknown all we can do is do our best to stay inbounds and off anyone's official shit list. Here's hoping we can color within the lines...

Softball: Georgia Tech vs NC State

After working onsite with a customer all day I shrugged off my laptop shell and headed down to College Park to shoot the 2008 ACC Softball Tournament. All season we've observed the signs pointing out the tournament this coming Spring. Al put us in for credentials and we were granted access.

The Maryland athletic department has been very good to us this Spring and that makes me really happy. In the Fall we (I) had a lot of problems getting into events and obtaining access to the field. I think that Maryland has finally warmed up to us and is starting to work with us on a more regular and positive basis. Dave Lovell has really played a big role in this.

Dave's shot a lot of softball games this spring and written a lot of articles. His presence at the games has been noticed and that's been helpful to us. As a result when we requested credentials for the ACC Tournament we were granted them without any problems.

I was pleased to be able to shoot this event. Softball is fun - it's such a small stadium, the players all yell and scream for their team, and the fans are very loyal. It lacks the formality of a basketball event but it makes up for that in the friendly atmosphere that unfolds on a late Thursday afternoon at the ballpark.

When I arrived I grabbed my 14-24mm f/2.8 lens and attached it to my D3 body and headed down to the field. I towed along my 300mm lens for later use, but for the player intros I wanted to shoot wide.

The players were great and didn't object to my presence on the field at all. If my Maryland experience is anywhere similar to what happens on their campuses it means they've had very little exposure during their season. They were all happy and excited that somebody was there photographing their participation in the ACC Tournament.

Of course there weren't any other members of the media present other than the official ACC Photographer. That didn't surprise me at all...

The game was a lot of fun to shoot and I got some decent shots while the sun was still out. The games were all shifted around due to rain in the area and the 5pm start time was pushed back to 7:30pm. Light was tough to find but it existed...

While there Dave told me that a bunch of people approached him with interest in purchasing some photos from the events. He's working with Maryland to obtain authorization for that. If it pans out it'll be a step in a new direction for the DC Sports Box. As with all new steps it brings risk... We'll have to see how it pans out.

In the mean time please go over to the DC Sports Box website and read about the ACC Softball Tournament, Day 1 results.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

After taking some huddle shots of the NC State softball team prior to the ACC Championship game I headed over to Shipley Field to photograph the Terrapin senior baseball class. There were 8 seniors that graduated this Spring.

I decided to walk across campus. The weather was nice, and I enjoyed walking across campus while I attended school at Maryland. Although the walk was uphill from Comcast to Shipley it was worth it. It was kind of difficult to carry a long lens and big camera body but it wasn't overpowering.

Dave suggested I carry the 300mm f/2.8 lens and attempt to get a few in-game shots. I didn't think I'd have the time but thought it'd be better to have the lens and not need it rather than need the lens and not have it. He was right - I used the lens to get a few shots of the person who sang the national anthem.

When I arrived I bumped into Greg Fiume. He was there for the senior photos and was planning on sliding down to the women's lacrosse game. I was kind of surprised that he wasn't shooting the softball championships, but after talking with him it made sense. There weren't any Terrapins in the championships, and there were Terrapins in the women's lacrosse quarterfinals. Therefore he shot the women's lacrosse game.

The senior photos were so-so. It's difficult to compete with the team photographer. All the players know to look at him (rather than you) and so most of my shots of them from straight on didn't turn out well. I got a few straight on photos at the end that worked though. Midway through the ceremony I shifted around to the side and took photos of the players as they met their parents at home plate.

I asked Dave Lovell to SMS me when the softball game got into the bottom of the 4th inning. As soon as the seniors were wrapped up I received the notification from Dave to head back to Robert E. Taylor stadium for the conclusion of the softball game. I packed up my lens and headed back down towards Comcast without having fired a single action shot. Oh well...

More information on the 2008 Maryland Baseball Senior Class can be found over on the DC Sports Box.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Baseball's not my favorite sport to shoot, but this afternoon I was longing for Shipley field. I walked outside around 3pm to get something from my car and the weather was so nice. I really looked forward to packing up my laptops and heading down to College Park to shoot a game.

I arrived and found there to be no photographers present. Well actually there was one photographer present: a person from the Diamondback who I've only seen at one other game (the one last night).

I was hoping I'd bump into Greg so we could catch up. I haven't seen him in a few weeks and I've been curious if he's been working a lot on Nationals games in the new stadium. I also wanted to ask him what his plan was for the weekend to see if there was any way we could help him out. But he wasn't there so I guess our catching up will have to wait.

The Terps played Nate Steelman (aka Nathan Steelman, aka Nathaniel Steelman) this evening. He faced 2 batters. The guy from the Sun missed him, and who knows if Steelman will get another shot at pitching this weekend. Hopefully he will and the Sun shooter will get his shot.

Dave Lovell did a good job today with sending out an invite to our entire photos group that details this weekend's activities at Maryland. I set up a schedule a week or so ago in Google Calendar and Dave moved it over into Excel so he could send it out in PDF format. I would've preferred Google Calendar for the collaborative aspect of it, but in the end it probably doesn't matter much with this group of people. They don't seem to be the most technically savvy people I've met and asking them to do collaborative calendaring might be asking a bit much.

The important thing I'm looking for is that people other than me are communicating and doing it in a way that allows the rest of the group to learn. I don't want to create a chain-of-command, or a master-slave relationship at the DC Sports Box. I'm shooting for an informal loosely-knitted group of people that self-organize in ways that are highly transparent. I view the role of the DC Sports Box "editors" to be: provide infrastructure, get out of the way, and help people excel at what they do. The three roles go hand in hand: infrastructure (email lists, IMs, peer-to-peer relationships between photographers and writers) allow the management structure to get out of the way. Management still exists, but it's focus is to make sure that the engine is running efficiently and to make sure we're going in the right direction. Management doesn't necessarily take care of scheduling the timing of the events, who works them, etc ... it just makes sure that the events aren't getting missed. Lastly, we need to just get out of the way and let people excel at what they do best. We should offer some coaching advice when necessary but we need to let photographers go work the crowd, writers to promote their work, and IT people to go wire up new extensions for our site.

All of this is unfolding and will come together in the next few weeks as a business plan for our group. Right now I'm just focusing on putting together thoughts, defining roles, and encouring people to begin thinking of us as a cloud rather than a bunch of individuals. It's a challenge, but hopefully it's one that we can overcome.

In the meantime, please go read about Maryland Baseball's 7-4 win over Towson at the DC Sports Box. Or you can go directly to my Flickr Page that shows pictures of Maryland's 7-4 win over Towson.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

I've had a few days off (maybe a week) to recharge my camera batteries and it's been some welcome time. It was good to get outside and behind the lens again this evening and I'm sure I'll miss it more during the summer as the shooting opportunities become fewer and further in between. I'm completely sure I'll miss the convenience of Maryland Athletics in comparison to Mystics, Freedom, and Nationals games.

There are a lot of events to cover this weekend. I received word on Sunday that the first rounds of both the men's and women's 2008 NCAA Lacrosse Tournament will be played at Maryland. The men descend on Byrd Stadium at 12 noon and the women take over the Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex at 1pm on Sunday. Both of these high profile events conflict with other events. On Saturday the Terps host the 2008 ACC Softball Tournament semifinal rounds at noon and 2pm. On Sunday the Terrapin baseball has their senior photos, and the 2008 ACC Softball Tournament championship game is played.

Dave Lovell is lending a hand but we could use some more support. Al has taken a somewhat laid-back approach to this weekend's activities and said "we just can't cover it all." I'd like for us to cover as much of it as possible so I'm reaching out to other photographers I know hoping they can step in and lend a hand.

Greg Fiume will also be caught up in this mix. I've wondered what he plans to do with all the events that will take place at roughly the same time. I hoped to bump into him tonight at the baseball game, but given it was against UMES and on a Tuesday night I gave that a 1 in 10 shot of actually happening. Hopefully he'll be at the game tomorrow evening against Towson.

I asked Al to submit me for credentials for the men and women's LAX games. Hopefully he's taking care of that and I'll hear back soon that I was approved. Al's not very communicative through email or telephone and lots of times photographers (and writers) are left uninformed as to the status of their credentials. Sometimes we don't find out until the day of the event. This presents a lot of scheduling conflicts and introduces an unnecessarily level of stress into an already pretty tense (and fledgling) business. I've tried to encourage everyone at the DC Sports Box to communicate more frequently through email, instant messaging, text messaging, phone calls, etc but it seems to fall on deaf ears for the most part. A few of us instant message each other, but we're by no means a majority. I hope this will improve in the future.

Tonight's game was a quickie: just over 2 hours. That's lightning fast for a baseball game. Of course the Terps played a team they have a 5-45 record overall against so that helps. The stands were nearly empty. There were probably 50 people on hand for the event so it was very easy to move around.

I saw a Baltimore Sun photographer on the field who was there to take pictures of #11 Nathan Steelman. The Sun is doing a feature on him where they highlight his service in the US Army. I recognized the photographer from men's basketball games, but I couldn't remember his name.

We talked about online-only entities vs print media, and I told him that we really embrace the richer content we can deliver online. It was nice to describe to someone the richness of online media (podcasts, video, high resolution imagery, sound, smooth transitions between photos in slideshows, mouseovers, interactive behavior through blogs and comments) and have them actually listen to me. Most of the time when I say we're "online only" I get looks from people like "you're one of those people..."

As always you can find my photos of the game over on my Flickr Account and you can read my article and view my photos that highlight Maryland's 6-0 win over UMES in college baseball.

Friday, May 2, 2008

I've had a photoset in my queue for almost two weeks and I finally got through it tonight. Both Dave and I attended the Terrapin's game against Old Dominion. I offered to write the article and we would use his photos. I wanted to "give him the night off" from the writer's desk since he's been doing so much work for us lately.

News at the DC Sports Box has been very positive as of late. Yuchen and Al had a bit of a problem over getting Yuchen's name submitted for a credential for the women's and men's 2008 ACC Tournament at the University of Virignia in Charlottesville, but they squared it away the day before the event. I'd really like for us to become more proficient at submitting credentials and communicating their status. I think I could whip up a quick Django app to handle it for us.

It's a good thing that Yuchen headed to the tournament because we've been swamped with requests for photos from various players and athletic departments. The University of Virginia is interested in including some of his photos in their media guide. It's exciting and rewarding when we receive recognition for our work. I've considered Yuchen to be one of the best photographers I know and I'm happy that he's getting the attention he deserves.

Al has talked a lot about the dilemma of us charging for prints. On one hand the NCAA specifically permits the selling of photos for "private use". But on the other hand it's up to the individual school's media relations department to decide whether or not they will offer you credentials to their events. What that boils down to is: the NCAA makes the rule, but the school is the ultimate judge. If they don't approve of you selling prints then you're not going to be able to sell your prints.

In the next week or two we're going to cover several high profile NCAA sporting events in the Washington DC area, and I anticipate some requests for photos will be forthcoming. We'd like to get all of this stuff behind us so that we can move on to bigger and better challenges, and in that light we're going to extend our hand to the University of Maryland to see how they would react to us selling our photos for private use.

I'm not quite sure what to expect from this, and the eventual outcome for use remains a mystery. Will Maryland flat-out reject our request? Will Greg Fiume interpret this as competitive behavior? How will this impact our presence on the field at events? These questions, along with many additional questions, weight heavily on my mind as we take these steps forward into uncertain territory. The last situation any of us desire is to create a conflict with either Maryland or Greg.

It will be interesting to see how things go over the next few days to say the least.

On other fronts... As the Terps wind down their Spring schedule I'm forced to look back at a full year of sports photography. It's truly been a transformational experience. What started as an interesting side-project that cost $500 for a D40 and an 18-55 variable aperture kit lens has turned into a full-fledged second job (albeit unpaid for the time being) that has infringed on my day job on more than one occasion. I've partnered up with some excellent writers and other photographers and have worked alongside them both in the field and in the ether as we upgrade and improve our site.

Last year I was greatly saddened at the end of the Spring season and the departure of Maryland athletics from my weekly routine. This Spring I look back on the games I've covered as well as the Maryland games that Dave and Yuchen have covered with happiness in seeing the growth of my own photographic skills as well as the growth of our group. As I focus on the few months ahead of relatively slow activity I look forward to improving our site, growing our business, bringing in new people, and expanding our reach. I view the summer as a vacation from the 2 games per week and 5 on the weekend sprint that unfolded last Fall and this Spring. With some luck I'll be able to sit back on my MacBook Pro, sling some Python, and transform our site into a pluggable, mashable, web 2.0 experience that will really distinguish us from the competition. Oh the places we'll go!

But for now it's time for bed. There aren't too many games left this Spring and they promise to be exciting. Make sure to check back (or have your aggregator check back for you!)