Friday, October 2, 2009

Friday afternoon at 4pm was the perfect time for a Number 1 vs Number 3 game for the field hockey squad. The only thing that could've made it better was more sun!

Clouds were out in force this afternoon for the game and that prevented any nice halo shots or other brightly-lit photos. However, with clouds you can more easily balance the exposure of the player's uniform and their face. When it's full sun and the player's face is under goggles, helmet, or other protective gear it can be difficult to expose their face without over-exposing the rest of the frame. When the light is diffused by the clouds it's easier.

The game itself was interesting because once again the Terps played a top-5 school. As a result there was a lot of action and a lot of excitement when a goal was scored. It was a lot of fun shooting the match this afternoon.

About 1 1/2 weeks ago I decided to plunk down the change for an Aqua Tech 600 in order to protect my 400mm lens against the rain elements. It was about $220 but with over $13k of glass and body that it protects I figured it was a wise choice. I can't easily hand off my football assignments to another photographer (and I don't want to either!) and it seems like every year you get at least 1 soaker at home.

Watching the forecast Friday evening I noticed the frontal boundary moving north and the predictions that it would stall over the DC area up towards New York. Those systems are classic DC drenchers were moisture moves up from the Tennessee Valley and into the metro area, soaking DC, Baltimore, Philladelphia, and New York City. Game time prediction was 80% rain probability with 1-2 inches possible by midnight.

Sure enough it came true and I was tremendously happy I had my Aqua Tech to help me out.

During our tailgate the rain picked up in earnest and I put on my REI rain gear, Rip Curl "Gilligan" hat, and my Aqua Tech. I considered dropping my second body and lenses and leaving them in the car but I opted against it in the end. I wanted to get some flag shots with heavy rain. In the end I was happy I kept my second body so I could get my flag and player shots before the game. However, it was a lot of work to carry it all around. I need to buy a second Aqua Tech for my 70-200mm lens!

On Saturday morning I checked my Explorer into the Regents Drive Garage and hoofed down to the Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex for an 11am contest between the Terps and the Demon Deacons of Wake Forest. Wake and the Terps met last year in the post season and both teams are evenly suited this year.

The match between Maryland and Wake Forest is one of the best field hockey games I've shot. Both teams balanced each other very well and as a result the competition was tight. That always plays out nicely on the shutter. When it's a 15-0 win you don't get much excitement or action in your shots. But when it's a 0-0 game with 5 minutes remaining you get some great shots.

I shot the game using only my 400mm lens and I opted to use some older SanDisk Extreme II cards. I knew I needed 4GB or more but I wanted to do my best to keep it to a single card. I knew I had football in the afternoon and I didn't want to have a bunch of cards to offload when I got home. During halftime and the second half I deleted bad shots during downtimes or when the play was on the opposite side of the field. That allowed me to keep my field hockey shots to 4GB and reduced my post processing time when I got home.

Friday evening I headed over to Ludwig Field for a top-5 showdown between the Terps and the Tar Heels of North Carolina. Ludwig was packed to it's near-7000 seat capacity and Fox Sports Net was on hand to witness the contest.

The lighting at Ludwig sucks. It's ISO5000 at 1/500th f/2.8 and you're still dark. And you can only shoot from the sideline. Shooting from the baseline produces horrible shadows as their is no lighting in the endzone areas of the stadium. None-the-less that's what you're handed to deal with.

I only took my 400mm lens with me and opted to avoid lugging around a second body with a shorter lens. I like the second body with a wide lens for pre-game and post-game shots but doing that at Ludwig at night doesn't make a lot of sense.

My shots came out pretty well because there was great competition. The quality of the exposure is awful but there isn't much you can do about that...

Monday afternoon the Terps faced the California Bears at the Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex. Game time was set for 3pm and I was crossing my fingers for some good light.

Rather than full sun we got puffy high clouds. This presented some challenges for exposure but it's nothing too unusual. There was a good 2 stops of difference in the light when the sun was behind a cloud vs out shining brightly.

I shot the first half with the Terps backlit with the sun. I really like the halo effect in field hockey due to the water spray off the field. During the second half I changed my position and followed Maryland's shooting to the opposite side of the field. It was a lot easier to focus with the sun over my shoulders. It was also a lot easier to properly expose the shot.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Cheerleader: Maryland Terrapins

Golden light is great. The lower the level of the sun in the sky the better. After a Maryland touchdown I was downsun from the cheerleaders as they twirled and flipped through the endzone. I snapped this quick shot of one of them looking back towards the sun. The shot came out well because her face was properly exposed while the rest of the frame was in darkness.

Sharp light can be your friend.

Today was the perfect day for a football game: bright beaming sun, temperatures in the upper 60s or lower 70s, and a light breeze to cool you off if you happen to be out in the direct sun. Kickoff was 3:30pm this afternoon and I couldn't be happier.

Light on the field was superb and the temperature was great. This marks the second week in a row where we've lucked out and avoided the humidity and high temperatures that are typical for the opening 2 or 3 football games at Maryland. The only element that would've made it more perfect is if some high puffy clouds would've settled in.

I chose to shoot the first half with the sun over my shoulders. I could've shot into the sun and gone for some rimlight but I figured that this was football and I didn't want to experiment too much. I stuck on f/2.8 for my aperture and varied the shutter speed to properly expose. It worked well.

During the second half the shadow of Tyser Tower occupied most of the field and I adjusted my position. I shot into the sunlight at times and at a 90 degree angle from the sun at other times. I like the 90 degree angle from the sunlight because you get some decent exposure but you also still get the rimlight.

Towards the end of the 3rd the field entered this interesting state where a tiny sliver was lit by the sun while everything else was in shadow. I positioned myself to take advantage of it and the photos really popped. It was pretty neat because for about 10 minutes we had players in full sun while the background was completely in shadow. Perfect...

Friday, September 18, 2009

After shooting some soccer up at Ludwig I drove down to the Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex to photograph the Maryland Terrapin field hockey team play the Towson Tigers. The lighting at Ludwig was spectacular and I expected equally great light down at the Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex. The Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex is lined with 50 year old oak trees that create really nice shadows on the field so I knew I would have lots of material to work with today compared to yesterday with the overcast skies.

There were so many great opportunities for unique photography with the light and the shadows from the trees today. Unfortunately the gamers (action photos) are what people are interested in. None the less I was shutter happy on the sideline before the player introductions and grabbed a lot of shots with shadows from the trees and bright blue skies that look really great.

For the first half I retreated to the side of the field where the Terps shot. This allowed me to shot my "rim" or "halo" shots. These are shots where the sun is located behind the player. Normally photographers want to shoot with the light behind them but shooting into the light can create unique exposures. In the case of field hockey shooting into the light is very advantageous due to the moist nature of the field.

Prior to field hockey games the facilities group waters the field. Interestingly enough this helps increase traction for the players. The benefit to photographers is that water droplets from the field are propelled into the air as the players race down the field and their feet impact the field. When they shoot or smack the field lots of water droplets are ejected up into the air.

The sunlight bounces off these droplets when you shoot into the sun. When you shoot with the sun to your back you don't see them very much.

I was very much looking forward to my first full-sun field hockey game this season because I really wanted to capture the light reflected off the water droplets.

I had to bail towards the end of the game so I didn't get to capture the entire game. However, the vast majority of my shots that I ran were into-the-sun style exposures.

After arguably the best birthday of my life I awoke Sunday morning to chirping birds and a beaming sun. Later on in the day the women's soccer team at Maryland faced James Madison. I headed over to Ludwig field to get some shots.

Sunday was my first visit to Ludwig in quite awhile. I shot a lot of soccer during Fall 2008 but Spring 2009 I was vacant as other photographers shot the men's lacrosse team. It was nice to get back to the field.

The weather could only be described as fabulous. Temperatures in the mid 70s with plenty of sun and high puffy clouds. I grabbed my second body and a 14-24mm lens to accompany me with my usual 400mm lens I use for field sports like soccer.

I was so happy that I brought the 14-24mm lens. The shots of the clouds came out very well and I feel like they captured the game better than the tight 400mm lens. For a couple of corner kicks I got down on the ground and shot the player with the clouds in the background.

Field Hockey: Night Shoot

Inside Maryland Sports may run a story on the success of the Field Hockey team. Since DC Sports Box also planned to run a season preview and requested a special shoot of the team I decided to tag along and get a few shots in myself.

Yuchen Nie and I talked about different shots we were looking for and we were both on the same page: a night shoot. We both own strobes and speedlights and wanted to put them to work on the field.

I wanted to get a few shots of both Terrapin goalies (Melissa Vassolatti and Alicia Grater) as well as a midfielder or back. My plan for the goalies was to light the goal with something red, orange, or yellow using my speedlights and then use my Alien Bees AB800 to light the player.

The University was very agreeable to the shoot and accommodated us very well. After a practice they shut down the lights in the stadium so that we were only working with our own controlled light. That was a huge advantage for us. It made working conditions difficult because we kinda stumbled around in the dark but it was worth it.

Although we had the modeling lamps of the strobes it was still difficult to focus. I did my best but several shots were out of focus. The most difficult shot I worked on was for forward Nicole Muracco. I dumped out a pitcher of water on the field and asked her to shoot the ball while I took a photo from on the field. It was difficult to focus on her face because her shot came forward through the focus pane (rather than side to side). We had to take several shots before I finally got one where her face was sharp. If I had another modeling lamp that would help.

It was a very fun shoot and I'm getting much more comfortable and familiar with my strobes, remotes, and with exposure. Artificial light is all about blending the power settings on each of your strobes. The more practice you get the easier it gets!

Saturday evening I headed out to Byrd Stadium and shot the Maryland Terrapins and the James Madison Dukes. It was the opening game for the Terps in the 2009 season and it was very exciting. During the first quarter I ran around so much that I hardly noticed the score. I focused on field position, possession, and what down it was. I didn't notice the score until the opening of the 2nd when I finally glanced up at the scoreboard.

The game was very exciting for spectators and I had an enjoyable time on the field. Most home openers I can remember unfold under sweltering heat where you struggle just to make it down the field. Today's abnormally cool weather (with overcast!) created a nice atmosphere. I'm sure the folks in the stands appreciated it!

I carried my belt with my 70-200mm and my 14-24mm lens. On my other camera I used my 400mm lens. I used the 14-24mm for crowd shots and the 70-200mm for endzone shots. In the end I exposed close to 2000 frames and got all the way up to ISO 3200 at 1/500th. I noticed motion blur at 1/500th so I may crank the ISO higher next weekend in order to get some faster shutter. I love sports.

Post processing at home took a couple of hours due to the large volume of photos. Hopefully next week I'll be more selective in my shots. Maybe not!

Saturday morning I headed down the Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex at the University of Maryland to shoot the Field Hockey game between the Maryland Terrapins and the Nittany Lions of Penn State. The light was suboptimal due to overcast skies.

Clouds act as a giant diffuser and they push down the peaks in the exposure of a photograph. You can use an overcast sky to get great under-the-helmet shots of players faces but at the same time the photos don't pop the same way they do under bright sun or flash. None-the-less you can't control the weather so you have to work with the inputs you are offered.

I knew I couldn't get any decent spary shots due to the lack of direct sunlight so I just stayed on the side of the field where the sun was primarily over my shoulders. I say primarily because it was a mid-day game with overcast. Thus there was very little difference in my shots based on my location on the field.

It was good to get back onto the field and behind the long glass again.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

After shooting my final football practice of the season I decided to stroll down to the Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex to take in some pre-season field hockey. All summer I've been thinking about getting some into-the-sun shots of the field hockey players.

A field hockey field is typically watered down before the game and during half time. Ironically the wet nature of the field reduces the potential for injury. One would think that a wet field would increase the likelihood of injuries but evidently it's the opposite. Go figure...

Late day field hockey games at Maryland pit one team shooting nearly directly into the setting sun. I typically sit with the sun over my shoulder and catch some brilliant light falling on the players. However, I've done a lot more shooting-into-the-sun type shots this summer and I've seen how the light can reflect off of water droplets suspended in mid air.

When a field hockey player swings their stick it can generate an enormous amount of water droplets that fly up into the air. If you shoot into the light you'll get really sharp beams of light coming at you from those droplets. The camera loves it!

The difficulty with this approach is to avoid under or over exposing. The meter in your camera will insist that you are drastically over exposing and it is correct to some extent. For the most part the entire frame will be overexposed. But you don't care about the entire frame - you care about the player that is your subject. You want to properly expose them and since they have their back (or side) to the sun you need to overexpose the entire frame to properly expose them.

Today's shoot at the Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex gave me the chance to shoot from several different angles and try my hand at properly exposing the players. It was very difficult - many of my shots came out overexposed. But some came out very well.

And it gave me an idea for another posed shot I'd like to attempt. It's just an idea right now but I think it could turn out really really well. More later!

This afternoon I returned to the practice fields at Maryland for one final time before my 2 week getaway to North Carolina. The practice was scheduled to begin at 3:30pm but didn't open up until around 4. I was happy with this because it gave the sun a little more time to drop lower in the sky.

Shooting football practice these past 2 weeks has been very instructive to me because it's forced me to look for different angles and lighting to try to keep my photos fresh. It's taught me about using the meter as a guide (rather than an absolute) because shooting directly into the sun is something you're going to have to do from time to time.

Hopefully between now and the home opener on September 12th my football skills won't decline too much.

Monday morning I hit the football practice fields. The light was low because the practice began at 9:15am and that made me happy.

I ran the normal gambit and raced around the field looking for different angles and different subjects. In the end I was happy with the balance of shots I grabbed. After shooting many traditional practices I narrowed down on a defensive line practice headed by Coach Sollazzo. Sollazzo is a caring hard-ass kind of coach. He can think the world of you on one play and think you're worthless the next play. But, he's good and he makes good players great. His energy on the coaching staff is unmatched and without him on the coaching staff the Maryland squad would not look the same. I have enormous respect for Coach Sollazzo.

This morning Coach Sollazzo challenged a player to rise to the season. He could be considered harsh but in football that's what a lot of players need to hear. The lead photo for this blog shows Coach Sollazzo's energy level on the team.

The rest of the practice seemed pale in comparison to Coach Sollazzo's enthusiasm. It was difficult to find squads that responded to his energy level.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Monday afternoon I headed over to the University of Maryland for practice. I looked forward to this practice because it started an hour later than the practices last week and I recognized that the power of a lower sun could create some opportunities for some fantastic photos.

I've been very fortunate this summer that my other contracting work has placed me close to the University of Maryland at College Park and has allowed me to jump over to campus for a 25 minute photo shoot and jump back to my other commitments. I recognize that this is a unique opportunity that will probably not present itself again in the coming seasons so I've made a conscience choice to take advantage of it this year.

This afternoon I took my regular approach of running around as quickly as possible to as many different drilling stations so I could capture as many different drills as possible from as many different perspectives as possible. It's a lot. But I have knee-pads. And yes, you are free to make jokes about that.

The light on Monday was particularly perfect because it was late-day 5:25pm light and it had a lot of color in it. Additionally, the players tend to look down (rather than up) so the lower the light the better the chances are that I can get some exposure up under the helmet.

I shot some offensive linemen on the block today while propping up my monopod on my left knee and discovered a new technique. I was able to anchor my monopod between my thigh muscle and my knee pad and that provided enough stability to allow me to aim my 400mm lens towards my subjects. This position allowed me to stay up for a good 6 minutes while part of the team drilled. During part of that 6 minute period one of the players washed down with a water bottle and I was in the perfect spot to capture the moment. It was worth the bruise on my leg...

Football: Scrimmage

Saturday evening I headed over to the football practice fields to shoot a scrimmage. It was scheduled to begin at 5:15pm and I managed to convince my family members to give me to 6:00pm to shoot before I returned home to rejoin the rest of the collective to celebrate Julie's birthday.

During those 45 minutes I shot as many different players and angles as possible. In post processing I thought "wow" as I imported over 500 frames. It was a lot to process.

The event itself was decent because it was the first time the offensive and defensive teams got a chance to square up to each other. It was a lot more difficult to capture the action of the event because it was not sequenced - it was a scrimmage rather than drills. I looked at this as good practice for the upcoming football season.

Towards the end of the scrimmage I managed to catch a shot of a wide-receiver who snatched a catch and looked to run up the sideline. My focus was sharp and the lighting was just perfect to catch his eye as he stared down the defensive player. The shot in this blog post is one of my all time favorites simply because the receiver's eye is wide open.

The photo gallery of the first Maryland football scrimmage of the 2009 season can be view over here.

This morning sparked the beginning of 2-a-days for the Terrapin football squad. I attended the morning practice at 9:15am and it was brutal.

Meteorologically the wind often drops to zero over night for a variety of reasons not covered in this blog. Morning can be a very difficult time to exercise because the humidity is very high and there isn't very much relief from wind. I'm sure the football program knows this and wants to take advantage of it as a way to improve the skills of the team.

So Saturday morning I showed up to capture the first 5 periods of the practice. Even though I've shot practices at 4pm during the previous week I think that this morning's practice was the hottest. The air was stagnant and almost tangible due to it's humidity. The water girls were the saviors delivering cooling to the players.

It is amazing to me that men with such large physiques, augmented with protective pads, helments, and jerseys, could function in the Saturday morning heat ... much less perform. I drew a heavy sweat just running up and down the field to capture photos. I was very humbled.

The practice went much like the rest of the practices this week in that it was heavy drills that lasted 5 minutes before the players moved on to a separate location to practice. I ran around looking to capture as many different lighting angles and perspectives as possible. My late afternoon shoots this week and my early morning shoot has given me a more intimate relationship with my meter. I appreciate the complexities of exposure under harsh lighting conditions. And I understand how the meter can guide you but cannot be used to tell you how to expose. It's been a very illuminating (pardon the pun) experience.

Friday afternoon I drove over to the practice fields on campus and shot the Football team practicing at 4:25pm. The light was perfect because it was somewhat late in the day. I had several different angles I could work with and that opened up a lot of options for me.

I've been playing around with shooting into the light and today I used that technique a lot. However, I like to keep a balanced gallery so I took some traditional shots with the sun over my shoulders.

My equipment for today was my D3 with a 400mm f/2.8 lens. I've been shooting f/2.8 exclusively this week since Tuesday and I've been very happy with it's performance. In the past I've shot with a narrower aperture (f/4 or even f/5.6 at times). My motivation for shooting narrow was to increase sharpness. However, I've found that I can increase sharpness in post-processing to good enough level. The out-of-focus background is more apparent to the viewers of my photos than a slightly sharper subject. Lightroom is amazing.

My lead-in photo for this blog is Junior wide receiver Adrian Cannon (7). I have several shots of him reaching out to make a play and he's quite remarkable. Inevitably my best shots from the practice involve him in some way or another. The shot I featured for this blog post is an example of him reaching out to make a catch. My only regret is that a coaching assistant is camera right and ruined what could have been a perfect shot. Oh well...

Chris Blunck's slideshow from today's Maryland football practice is viewable on Flickr.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The sun was much more favorable for this afternoon's practice. There were some storm clouds afoot but the weather wasn't overcast like yesterday. A lot of photographers like overcast because it diffuses the sunlight but I prefer the direct sun. I would rather try to work with it than against it and hope for an overcast sky.

I skipped lunch today and showed up at the practice field hungry and thirsty. Fortunately I had time to head home and change into shorts before the photo-shoot. I'm really happy I spent my 20 minute lunch break at home changing rather than showing up to the artificial turf in jeans and an office shirt - it was crazy hot today!

The usual crew of reporters were present today: a guy from the Washington Times (I don't know his name), Seth (from Inside Maryland Sports), Fabian (from MGN), Mark Clem (from Terrapin Times), and Keith (from Terrapin Times). We all chatted briefly outside the gate before practice began and we were permitted access to the artificial turf.

During our pre-practice chatter we remarked on the 2003 Hurricane Isabel practices. Mark Clem remarked on how the practice schedule was shifted around to accomodate the inclement weather and how a 4pm practice had been bumped up to 6am so the team could get in their drills before the bad weather arrived. The support staff for the football team arrived at 5am to prepare everything. When the players arrived at 6am the support staff amped the regular practice music over the public address system. Mark said that 10 UMPD cars arrived within a few minutes... I lol'ed.

He said the police told the support staff they had to turn the music down because it was a nuisance to all the students in the dorms across the road. The athletic support staff, with the fear of Coach Friedgen in them, refused and told the police they'd have to take the issue up with the coaching staff.

I thought that was hilarious.

I remember Hurricane Isabel (albeit not from a photographic or athletic standpoint - I was interested in the depression from a meteorological standpoint) so this was pretty funny to me.

For today's practice I decided to open to f/2.8 to see how things went. I'm sold on it. My shots came out sharp from Lightroom's post processing. I'll reconsider this during indoor sports (e.g basketball, wrestling, and volleyball). However, for now I'm sold on f/2.8 on outdoor sports.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

It's mid-week and I've shot more these past few days and I've shot over the past month. Sports are on the brink of returning and I can't wait.

In addition to football kicking into full-speed the Maryland Field Hockey team is standing up and will play it's first exhibition game this weekend. Unfortunately it's up in Boston so I won't be able to attend. We're trying to schedule a shoot with a few players and I have some ideas of some poses I'd like to set up.

The light was software this afternoon from some clouds low in the sky. There was also some drizzle towards the end of our 25 minute viewing and that made for some interesting shots. That reminds me that I should probably order my Aqua Tech soon in anticipation of the Fall sports and the inevitable rain storms I'll be out at on a cold Thursday evening.

I've been shooting through the long glass for the past 2 practices: 400mm. I've stuck at f/4 but I think tomorrow I'm going to open up to f/2.8 just to see if it makes any noticeable difference in the sharpness of my shots.

I also changed some of my publishing procedures and they have become significantly easier. I'm pushing directly out of Lightroom and up to Flickr. I can post a link to a slideshow from Flickr up on our website. This works a LOT easier than firing up my own custom-developed software. A LOT easier! I'm very excited...

Practice Day 2 came around quickly and a 4:25pm start time gave me some great light to work with. The lower the light in the day the more pleasant it is to play with. You can get completely different feels from your subjects when you shoot them with light from different angles. For instance, you can go for a really traditional shot where the light is over your shoulder and the subject is looking directly in your direction. Or you can flip it 180 degrees and shoot directly into to sun and rim the player with light.

Both are great and all the angles in between create interesting effects as well. I like working when the light is low in the sky because there are so many options you can explore as a photographer.

Like yesterday we were limited to 25 minutes of shooting and observing so I had to move quickly to get as many shots as possible. I timed the practice perfectly and walked in just as they began their first set of drills.

Football: Maryland Practice, Day 1

After heading home, showering, cooling off, downing some Tylenol, and offloading my posed and candid shots from the Media Day event I headed back to campus for a 7pm practice. The start time was pushed back due to the oppressive heat and I was quite happy to shift my afternoon activities around so I could hit football at 7pm rather than 4pm.

Practice was enjoyable to shoot because I hadn't seen the team in action since the April 18th scrimmage. We were only permitted to shoot and observe the opening 5 periods, each of which has a 5 minute duration. As a result you have to move around quickly and shoot as much footage as possible. I managed to grab the defensive line, QBs, offensive line, wide receivers, and some coaches.

Exposure was not difficult tonight because the sun was down below the clouds and was regular and consistent. ISO 1600, f/4, 1/500th or faster shutter worked just fine.

Post-processing went pretty quickly. I dropped 505 exposures down to 28 published photos.

After roughly an hour of shooting various football players in several different posed positions I put down my 14-24mm lens and readied my 70-200mm for some rapid fire candid shots. The coaching staff signaled the team to join the staff over in the stands for a team shot. It took several minutes for the players to line up based on size and squad. During that time I rushed around and ripped about 150-200 frames of the players hamming it up with one another.

After shooting carefully posed shots and balancing the ambient sunlight with my own artificial light it was kinda nice to go back to just pure ambient light. As usual the meter saved me as I moved all over the field in different positions relative to the sun. Sometimes I shot with the sun over my shoulder, sometimes I shot with with the sun right in front of me.

To my surprise the candids didn't come out completely under or over-exposed. I expected them to not come out at all because of how quickly I was moving around the field and throwing the shutter around.

Football: Maryland Media Day Poses

As we closed out July the heat really turned up in the Washington DC area. The Sunday before Media Day at Maryland the forecasters predicted the hottest temperatures of the year: high of 98 with a heat index of 105. And there we were: scheduled to photograph the football team down in the bowl of Byrd Stadium on the hottest day of the year.

I've shot 2 other football media day events at the University of Maryland and in both instances the heat was overwhelming. Prior to this year's event I put together a game plan of my own:

  • Wear short-shorts (GAD), light colored shirt, and bring my photo-hat
  • Bring water bottles in a cooler filled with ice
  • Bring towels to put over my cameras so they don't reach 150 degrees in the heat
  • Arrive 30 minutes early to set up and test all of my equipment

I also gave considerable thought about how to pose some of the players. In my bag of tricks was an AB-800 strobe and 2 SB-800 speedlights. I brought an umbrella but didn't pull it out - instead I stuck with a 20 degree bee cover for my strobe. I gelled one speedlight with light blue and rigged it all together with Pocket Wizards. The last speedlight I left as white and I used it for supporting light in different poses.

It was interesting to work with the football player in posed scenarios. Some of them were uncomfortable around the strobe and speedlights while others took quite naturally to it.

I started off the exposure process by starting at f/16 and 1/125th second exposure at ISO 100. That was a little bright during full sun so I brought it down to 1/250th and narrowed to f/18. That looked pretty good. I then worked on the output power of my strobe.

I started at 1/8 and brought it up to 1/4, then 1/2, and eventually full power. The players varied in complexion and their distance to the strobe. Some players were comfortable posing within 3 feet of the strobe while others stood back a good 5-8 feet. Even though I'd reposition them or adjust my own position I found that they'd back up or shift. So I'd work with zoom or I'd dial up the strobe output power to compensate.

Unfortunately there was a lot of noise in the background from other photographers and teammates. There really isn't anything I can do to control that though.

I was very happy, although exhausted, by the end of the shoot. I wound up with 105 shots we can run in the magazine and they look pretty good. During the middle of the shoot I inadvertently smudged the front of my 14-24mm f/2.8 lens. The smudge mark is present on several of the shots and that disappoints me. But I learned a lot from the event. I'm looking forward to the next posed photoshoot of some athletes!

On Sunday I packed up my gear and took the metro down to Verizon Center to catch the Mystics take on the Indiana Fever. I was looking forward to seeing Terrapin greats Crystal Langhorne and Marissa Coleman on the hardwood. It's too bad I missed the game a few weeks ago where Kristi Toliver competed against her former teammates. That would've been cool to shoot.

Every time I walk out onto the floor of Verizon I'm humbled by the scoreboard. It's incredible. Sometimes I want to just stand there and stare at it in awe.

Settings for the evening were the usual indoor stadium white balance, ISO 2000, 1/500th shutter, and either f/2.8 or f/4 for aperture. I've gone back and forth on whether to shoot f/2.8 or f/4. The D3 gives me the high ISO so I can narrow down to f/4 and pick up some extra sharpness. However, Lightroom exports contain sharpening that does a pretty good job. So the question is: do you use the optics for sharpness or isolation? I don't know the answer to that...

For lenses I stuck with my standard basketball issue: 300mm and 70-200mm. From time to time I wish the 70-200mm could back out to 35mm so I could catch the players under the hoop a little easier. I guess the real question is: would I trade mm at the long end of 70-200mm in order to get wider? If Nikon sold a 35-150mm would I use it? I don't know...

It was good getting back onto the court and taking some shots of the team.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The into-the-sun shots in my last Freedom shoot really jumped out at me and during this afternoon's game I wanted to take every advantage of the afternoon sunlight. I arrived with 10 minutes to go before first kick and I trimmed down my pack. This afternoon I only carried a 400mm and a 300mm with 2 Nikon D3 bodies. I also lotioned up with sunscreen before the game and chose a baby-blue t-shirt to wear for the game. I was determined to defeat the sunburn syndrome I've experienced so many times while shooting outdoor sports as a red-haired photographer.

I arrived and took my position at the side of the field that looked towards the sun. During the last game the Freedom shot towards this goal in the first half so I figured I was safe. However, as the teams took the field it looked like the Freedom would shoot towards the opposite side of the field. I was very surprised by this!

In all the sports I shoot the home team shoots towards one side in the first period and then things switch. That's just the way of things. However, this afternoon the Freedom shot towards the opposing team in the first half.

I stood my ground and shot into the light looking for my halo shots. However, it was tough because many of the Freedom players had their backs towards me. Additionally, I was positioned on the attackers left hand side of the field. Most of the attacks came up the right side, which meant I had all the dirty background of the home and visiting team. I moved over to the attacker's right hand side of the field and that opened up a LOT more shooting opportunities as the Athletics drove up the wing. However, when they inevitably crossed I didn't have the same quality halo like I had when shooting from attacker's left. It was a tradeoff - if I stayed on attacker's left I'd have great shots of crosses but they'd be few and far in between. If I stayed attacker's right I'd have so-so shots before the cross but I'd have a bunch of them. And there'd be action there as the Freedom tried to redirect, steal, etc...

I stuck in my position for 2/3 of the first period and then moved to the far end of the field so that I could shoot some Freedom attacks into the sunlight. I figured that I didn't want all of my shots from the game to be alternative-style halo shots. From the side of the field where the sun was over my shoulders I was able to grab some decent shots. I shifted around from attack-left to attack-right and caught a lot of action on the right hand side of the field. The light wasn't as favorable but it was decent.

Strobist says that flash mounted on the camera is dull because it fully-illuminates the subjects but it fails to show depth. A flash mounted off-camera can cast shadows based on a subject's features (brow, chin, nose, lips, etc) that gives more life to a photo. Shooting 30-45 degrees off of the sun can give some shadows on the players that bring them to life.

Shooting from the attacker-right corner for the close of the first half was beneficial because I caught favorable light that provided some depth to some of my photos. It was a good spot to be in.

However, in retrospect, all my favorite shots from the afternoon came from looking into the sun. It was very difficult to properly expose the players because often times the background reflected so much light that the cameras's built-in meter would report the image as over-exposed. Many of my shots turned out under-exposed because I did not anticipate how off the built-in meter could be.

During shoots I often review shots during dull periods of play. This works well inside buildings but it can be difficult outdoors when your eyes are adjusted for bright sunlight. During this "shoot-into-the-sun" experiment I tried to review photos but the LCD was simply too dark to give me a good idea of how well my shots came out. I attributed the darkness on the LCD to my eyes failing to adjust rather than to the shot being underexposed. I had to throw out many of my into-the-sun shots afterwards.

However, many of the shots came out very well and I was very pleased with them. The Freedom play 2 more home games this season. I can't make 1 of them due to a family commitment but I might hit the other one up. The difficulty is that it is played during the week and up in Gaithersburg. It'd be much easier if they played all home games in DC!

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.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Men's Basketball: Elite Camp

Saturday evening at 11:09pm a customer of mine emailed and asked if I could shoot a basketball camp at Comcast Center the following morning at 9:30am. A Sunday morning basketball camp on campus? I thought it had to be a mistake...

But sure enough it wasn't and the Terps were hosting a summer camp in Comcast Center for some high school players from around the region. To my surprise many of the varsity squad were playing, referee'ing, or coaching. Even the coaching staff was on hand (including Coach Williams) to observe the players and offer advice.

I focused on a handful of players and got the shots we needed. It was enjoyable being back inside Comcast and seeing the team scrimmage. On the way out I had to catch myself though - I instinctively went to bundle up before heading out the freight-door of Comcast. My Pavlonian instinct was that the outside temperature would be freezing due to the cold weather that is common during basketball season. It was quite a shell shock stepping out into a sunny summer mid-80s environment!

It's been awhile since I posted. But hopefully I'm back for awhile. My responsibilities increased a lot in the late Spring and I couldn't find the time to maintain my blog as religiously as in the past. But now that summer is here I believe I'll have a better shot at regularly updating my blog.

That being said...

On Saturday I shot a Freedom game down at RFK. My new Garmin Nuvi 760 routed me around a traffic jam on the BW Parkway and took me through Washington DC to avoid the delay. I made it to the venue with a few minutes to spare and headed to the field to assemble my gear.

Fortunately the weather played along with the game. Despite showers all week Saturday was sunny and spectacular. There was plenty of light on the field!

I shot the first half with the sun over my back and focused on the Freedom defense in the near side of the field. Towards the end of the first half I walked over to the far side of the field and shot into the sun. I like the halo effect you can get when you shoot directly into the sun. I got a nice shot of a player with some sweat coming off her brow after she headed a corner kick. It would've been better if I had caught her eyes. But oh well...

Earlier this week I reorganized my Lightroom Catalog. I have over 35k files in the original catalog Lightroom created when I first ran it less than a year ago. When I switched from Aperture to Lightroom I noticed a remarkable speedup. However, it's been running slower and slower as I cram more and more files into it. After doing some research I decided to split out my images into separate catalogs.

Of the 35k files in my catalog 30k are in the "Maryland Terrapins" folder. I split those off and made a separate catalog for the Terps. I then partitioned my remaining 5k files into a Personal catalog (family, friends, work, etc) and Projects catalog (night life, professional teams, etc). The key to this was asking Lightroom to avoid placing DNG copies in the catalog as well as to skip thumbnail creation/copying.

While my "Maryland Terrapins" catalog is still large and slow my other catalogs move along a lot faster. I've given some thought about how to carve up the "Maryland Terrapins" catalog but I haven't come to any conclusions yet. A logical choice would be to demarcate my Terrapins catalog based on sport or based on time frame (e.g. FY2008). However, the down side with that approach is that I couldn't easily cut across sports or produce a full dump of all my published Terrapin imagery. So it's still up in the air. I have some time until Fall semester sports begin in earnest so I'll probably come up with something between now and then.

Friday, April 3, 2009

On Wednesday evening I headed over to Eppley Natatorium to report on the meet between the Maryland Terrapins and the neighboring Colonials of George Washington. Maryland's had a tough ride this season and has only competed in 2 meets at home this year. The squad was on the road for the past 45 days and competed against top-25 teams on the west coast. With this evening being the final regular season home meet for the Terps I wanted to make sure I was there to capture it.

I went with a 400mm remote (using a PocketWizard MultiMax) trained on the Maryland goalie using manual focus. Unfortunately I didn't have the focus quite right in the first half and all my shots were off by about 3 feet of focus. It sounds like a lot but when you are a good 50 yards away the 3 feet is a pretty slim margin. None-the-less the shots were unusable. I corrected in the second half and was able to walk away with some publishable shots of Ashleigh Jobson in goal.

At halftime I had some fun and got a pretty cool shot of the team as they prepared to return to the field for the second half. I held my D3 out over the pool a good 2 feet while using a 14-24mm lens at 14mm. I was really happy with how it turned out. After breaking the huddle I headed over to where the referee dropped the ball and grabbed some shots of both the Colonials and the Terps swimming it down. They weren't as great as they could've been - the remote pole that Yuchen Nie uses in some of his huddle shots would've been really useful.

All in all the game was a lot of fun and I played around with the shutter speed a lot. The nice thing about water polo is that the swimmer's faces don't move around much compared to football, basketball, or lacrosse. The movement is in their arms as they fire a shot or make a pass. Thus you can slow the shutter to something like 1/250th and you'll get some nice blur on their arm that shows motion.

Go take a look at my article and photo gallery of the Maryland Terps water polo team facing the George Washington Colonials over on the DC Sports Box

I headed to a python programming conference in Chicago over the weekend and that prevented me from attending the Maryland Sweet Sixteen game against Vanderbilt in Raleigh NC. With Coleman's historic 42 game in the record book I looked to the calendar to plan how I would make it down to Raleigh on Monday for the game against Louisville.

The NCAA has rules about credentials that stipulate a requirement where photographers have to follow the team on the road in order to be granted Final Four credentials. With a win on Monday evening the Terps would advance to St Louis and I really wanted an opportunity to shoot a Final Four. As a result I was compelled to travel to Raleigh on Monday afternoon to shoot the game against Louisville in order to preserve my credential to St Louis.

Julie headed south with me and we had a great time on the drive down. The weather was sunny, the traffic was light, and the GPS was a lot of fun as it told us exactly when we would arrive. We had a long chunk of time to talk and get reacquainted, which was really nice considering I was just in Chicago for several days a programming conference. We arrived in Raleigh roughly 1 1/2 hours before tipoff and headed to the RBC Center. My parents were also in town for the game so we surprised them at the entrance to the arena. They were really excited to see us and were filled with smiles. That alone made the trip worth it.

Navigating the RBC Center was a breeze. I found the media room and tucked away my bag and laptop before heading out to the floor. I took a few samples and was pretty surprised by the flatness of the light in the arena.

Photos shot with flash have a lot of pop. That is, the histogram of the colors is very spikey. This provides great differences in color and brightness in the photo. I'm not sure if how much a photo "pops" is a factor of narrow aperture or if it is determined by the type of light that illuminated the subject in the frame. After tonight I lean towards the type of light being the driving factor.

After a few test shots I noticed that my photos seemed really flat. The RBC Center was well lit and I could shoot reliably at ISO 1600, 1/500th, and f/3.5 but my photos didn't have the same "pop" as they do in Comcast. The colors just seemed flatter.

The shoot was a lot of fun because I was in a new arena and surrounded by excited fans rooting on their team. Unfortunately Maryland lost but that opened up some decent tear-filled shots. It was sad to see Kristi Toliver and Marissa Coleman lose so badly in their final game in a Terrapin uniform but at the same time you can't forget the accomplishments of the two players. National champions with over 2,000 points each is no small feat.

After the game in the press conference I bumped into a photographer/videographer from Inside Women's Basketball. I didn't catch her name but I believe it's Kelly Kline after checking out their website. I bumped into her back during the Maryland vs Mississippi State game earlier this year while she was shooting some SLR Video in the media room after the post-game press conference. SLR Video is an exciting new area of imagery that combines the action of video with the detail of still photography.

A typical 1080p signal has a resolution of 1920x1280 which is roughly 2.073MP . In contrast a 10MP FX D3 sensor captures at 4236x2832, which is over twice the detail of a TV camera. The D3X, with a 24.5MP FX sensor, shoots images at 6048x4032. If the D3X could shoot SLR video it would contain roughly 3x as much detail as a 1080p signal.

Additionally, the image processing engine on a D3 is a streamlined monster that brings out great color and dynamic range in a photo. The colors on a SLR camera are considerably richer than stills shot on a TV camera, even when you drop down to lower resolutions. Simply put, a 2MP shot on a D3 will outshine a still from a TV camera due to the image processing engine on the D3.

Some really bright people in industry have looked at the greatness of SLRs and asked: what if we leave the shutter open and simply shoot video straight off the sensor? With sports photography cameras already reaching 11fps it's not too unreasonable to think about striving for 18 more frames to get us up to TV speed. In fact it seems unavoidable. I predict that in 10 years SLRs will shoot 25-29fps. Mark my words.

During the Maryland game over the winter I didn't catch the name or the outlet of the videographer/photographer shooting SLR video in the media room but I was extremely interested in what she was doing. It was the first application of this exciting new area of imagery that I had witnessed. Naturally, when I bumped into her at the Louisville game I was very excited to hear about how the SLR Video interview came out.

Fortunately she gave me a flyer that directed me to their website. I found the video of Kristi Toliver after the game interviewed for Inside Women's Basketball and it looks really good. Go take a look!

On Tuesday evening I returned to Comcast Center for my final home game of the 2008/2009 season for the Maryland Terrapins. The women's basketball team hosted the first and second rounds of the NCAAW Tournament and after Maryland's win over Dartmouth on Sunday I had the privilege to return Tuesday night for a tilt between the Lady Terps and the Utes from Utah.

I'm no stranger to Comcast and have learned a lot this season about shooting basketball from a variety of different angles. During my first year or two my excitement about being on the baseline and my inexperience proved too much from the standpoint of exploring the arena. This season the newness of shooting basketball has waned and I looked for different angles and spots to shoot from. By roaming around the various parts of the Comcast Center I learned a lot more about effective ways to shoot basketball.

Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your perspective) this evening's game was packed with fans. The higher the attendance the more difficult it is to move around in the stands and shoot from different angles. I did my best but the limited space cornered me into 2 or 3 spots in the first half. I built on Sunday's experience and brought both my 300mm and my 400mm into the stands. I used the 300mm for play on the close end of the court and the 400mm for play on the opposite side. I was very pleased with how well it worked.

Post processing this evening was especially time consuming due to the large volume of photos I shot. With this being the last game I wanted to capture as many shots of KT and Coleman as I could as well as of the visiting Utes.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

This afternoon I shot the Maryland's women's basketball game against Dartmouth. I've shot every home game for the Terps this season in Comcast and I'm very comfortable with the light and the environment.

Drawing on my great experience using the 400mm from the stands I decided to rely more heavily on the long glass for the second game of the afternoon. I remained in the stands for the entire first half and shot at 300mm and 400mm. It was partially by choice and partially by necessity. Amazingly all of the photo spots on the floor were occupied. I say "amazingly" because in the 2008 NCAAW Tournament there were very few photographers on the floor. I'm not sure what's different this year but every available spot was taken.

I wasn't upset though because my shots from the stands often come out on equal footing to my shots from the baseline. There's a lot more light up there and you get a lot better shots of players faces when you are up higher.

At halftime I retreated from the stands and made my way onto the court for a spot on the baseline in the second half. There was 1 spot that opened up on the Maryland baseline for the second half and I grabbed it. I stayed out on the court to hold my spot for fear of it being taken by another photographer!

I shot the opening minutes of the second half with my 300mm lens but I quickly switched to the 400mm with 15 minutes remaining. The transition to the 400mm was a bit difficult at first because it's such a powerful zoom but the shots came out really well. You definitely get more shots on the 300mm but the quality of the shots on the 400mm is simply amazing.

The only problem I had this afternoon came during post processing. Last night while cleaning one of my D3 camera bodies I noticed a compartment in the battery area that seemed to detach. I decided to explore it and I found a battery present. I believe it is the CMOS battery and sure enough when I post processed today all my photos were out of order. When I removed the latch it disconnected the CMOS battery and the date on the camera reverted to 1970. Oh well... Guess I learned my lesson there. :)

On Sunday afternoon I photographed the Utah Utes battling Villanova in the opening round of the NCAAW Tournament. Comcast has been a great venue to photograph this season and I've learned a lot about shooting basketball this season. I pay a lot more attention to which center is going to tip and which hand they use to tip along with which direction each team will face in the first half. All of this input flows into the equation of where to sit so you have the best chance of catching a great shot.

I changed my approach slightly this afternoon by bringing my 400mm lens into the stands so I could better photograph the far end of the court. I typically shoot the better part of the first half from the stands and focus on Maryland's shooting on one end using a 300mm lens. That usually puts the other end of the court out of reach for the 300mm but today I decided to extend it by switching to the 400mm on the far side. The results were great!

The only problem I had was from crowd density. There were enough people in Comcast this afternoon that I had to take a suboptimal spot in the stands where I wouldn't disturb anybody. My position behind a handrail blocked about 1/3 of the far side of the court. I suppose it wasn't too bad though - the area of the court the handrail blocked was close to the Maryland bench and there would've been a lot of noise from the coaches standing up and directing the defense.

I got some great shots of Utah shooting in the paint in the first half and moved down to the floor at halftime. Rather than offloading I thumbed through my photos on the camera and weeded out the out of focus, cluttered, or boring shots. At the end of halftime I had it down to roughly 100 photos.

During the second half I shot entirely from the baseline and got some great shots of the defense. It's incredible how much difference there is in the quality of the light on a 300mm prime lens vs a 70-200mm lens. I use the same body, same exposure settings, same AF strategy, and same white balance but my 300mm shots come out looking incredible while my 70-200mm shots come out lacking. I wish I knew how to make my 70-200mm shots look like my 300mm shots. Maybe an 85mm prime would look better...

After the game I fired off a quick lead-in photo while I started post processing. I didn't get very far before I had to head back down to the court for the Maryland game vs Dartmouth.

After 10 days off I got back behind the lens and shot a baseball game at Shipley field between the Maryland Terrapins and Boston College.

The game was televised and there were cameras on the first and third base lines as well as behind home plate and in center field. I seem to recall a handful of games that were recorded last year but I don't remember 4 cameras on the days when the games were captured.

I took advantage of the TV behind home plate and climbed up onto the roof of Shipley to capture a wide angle shot of the field and the stadium. Unfortunately there weren't very many fans in attendance and the stadium looks pretty empty. None-the-less it was a fun shot to take, even though the camera man barked at me to "walk lighter". I don't know if that is physically possible. Walk "software" maybe, but "lighter"? Last time I checked I didn't have control over gravity or could quickly manipulate my body mass.

I also shot from a variety of angles including on the ground at first base. I was going for a shot where I could see completely under the runner as he slid back into first. I couldn't get quite low enough though and my exposure was too dark. I'm going to give it another shot when it is sunnier.

Julie wrote up an article on the Maryland vs Boston College baseball series and I posted my photos up on the DC Sports Box.

Gymnastics has been an interesting sport to photograph. It is played in the Comcast Pavilion where the lighting is extremely difficult to work with. On the other hand, the gymnasts work to perfect their routines over the course of the year. That makes them somewhat predictable. Additionally, they are offered a 3 minute "touch" period where they can warm up and practice their key movements. Observing their practice period before their actual exercise helps you as a photographer anticipate what direction they will face and how they will perform.

I've gotten steadily better in photographing gymnastics this season and this evening's match was my final competition for the season. I anticipated the routines pretty well and was able to prepare for where the gymnasts would be when they finished a routine. I also worked with the available light a LOT this evening and slowed down to 1/320th at times when there wasn't very much motion.

The colors in my photos from this evening were remarkably better than before. I'm not sure how that happened or if there is any way I can reproduce it. It might've been the added sensitivity and slower shutter speeds that produced more accurate colors. Or it might've been leprechauns - I don't know. I was just happy that in post processing the colors didn't come out completely green and yellow like they normally do in Comcast Pavilion.

Julie attended the meet and wrote up an excellent article for the DC Sports Box. My photos are also included. Click over to the DC Sports Box to read about Maryland gymnastics win over Pittsburgh and view my pictures and photos.

Football: Scout Day

On Wednesday afternoon I was sent over to the practice fields to photograph some Maryland wide receivers running routes for scouts from the NFL. I haven't shot this event before so I didn't know what to expect. I packed my standard bag and towed it out to the practice fields.

I was surprised to see so many members of the media present. A couple of people had 400mm lenses and I wished that I had brought mine. Fortunately I keep my 300mm in my standard bag and I was able to make do.

I took all of my shots from as low on the ground as possible so that I could really make the football players stand out. All of the other media at the event stood upright with monopods shooting through 70-200mm lenses. I was happy to be on the ground a few inches off the artificial turf and my photos came our really well. Of course not as well as a 400mm lens but...

Post processing went very quickly for this event because I only had a handful of photos. A quick publish to the web and I was back at work on the keyboard an hour or so later...

After returning home from a trip to the University of Virginia I headed over to Robert E Taylor Stadium the following afternoon for a softball game between Maryland and the visiting Gardner Webb crew. Maryland hosted a tournament this weekend and all told I believe there were 5 or 6 games played over the course of 3 days. It was quite a lot of softball from what I hear.

Dave and I did some synchronized shooting for part of the game. We used PocketWizards to synchronize our cameras and I brought handheld radios so that we could communicate. During baseball my brother and I relied on some primitive hand gestures to signal each other and agree on the subjects to track. I thought that handhelds would work better. It's a toss-up...

The handhelds emit an awkward blip noise when you finish talking. The noise is very disruptive and obnoxious. I'm sure that fans around us wouldn't appreciate the distraction and I'm doubly sure the players and coaches wouldn't take kindly to it. It was also difficult to grab Dave's attention over the radio because he often tucked it into his camera belt. Visual signals were much more effective.

If we had earbuds, vox, and microphones it would probably work much better. But if we jumped to those accessories we'd have the wires that we'd have to deal with. After a post-mortem after the game we both came to the conclusion that hand signals were probably the best bet.

We also talked about how best to manage the media produced by synchronized shooting. Regularly when 2 people photograph a game both sift through their photos and send 12-13 individual shots to whomever is designated as the "gallery publisher". The gallery publisher integrates the other person's 12-13 shots and then uploads the gallery to the site.

However, when you are synchronized you have to consider who is going to do the photo merge of the synchronized shots. Additionally, how are you going to handle that in post-production if the shots are on the same media as the rest of the other shooter's photos? Despite having our timing synchronized our focus isn't always sharp, the shot isn't always interesting, and the exposure isn't always right. In post production you have to go through the 15 or so synchronized "setups" and then pick 1 or 2 that actually worked out. Doing so requires access to the photosets from both photographers.

We're thinking that before we do any additional synchronization we're going to assign mashup responsibilities with merging and publishing. Whoever is the person that's going to merge will give a card to the secondary shooter to be used whenever we do synchronized shooting. After the game the second shooter can take their own card home and return the synchronized card to the merger for mashup in PhotoShop.

The game this afternoon taught us a lot of things and I believe that after another few games we'll have a nice process down that will offer us some incredible shots!

You can't find more photos of Maryland softball's win over Gardner Webb on the DC Sports Box.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

On Saturday Julie and I traveled to the campus of the University of Virginia at Charlottesville to report on the final men's basketball game of the 2008-2009 season for the Maryland Terrapins. Julie did an extensive pre-season review ofmen's basketballand also wrote up a couple ofgymnastics events for the DC Sports Box. She's also reported on a couple ofwrestling matches. She's also gotten involved with baseball recently. Her recent involvement with the DC Sports Box is really invigorating!

After working through some last-minute credential request issues we were both approved to attend the game. Julie wrote for the DC Sports Box while I shot for Inside the Shell. The travel time from College Park to Charlottesville VA is quite reasonable (2 hours) and the mileage is decent (126 miles from house to arena). John Paul Jones Arena is quite remarkable and the lighting is superb! I was able to shoot ISO 1600 (and even 1250 sometimes!) at 1/500th at f/3.5! Wow!

Although John Paul Jones Arena only seats 11,050 the venue is really nice. The brickwork, lighting, and scoreboard are top-notch. Several people I work with remarked on the scoreboard by saying "it looks like a little Verizon Center." The University of Virginia pulled out all the stops in building the John Paul Jones Arena and the experience really shows it.

It took about 8 minutes before the fog of the opening player introductions cleared and I could get a clean shot. However, once that fog cleaned up I was really happy with my exposures. ISO1600 through a 300mm at f/3.5 and 1/500th and I was properly exposed. Everything was great except for the venue officials.

The backstage Arena officials were polite and courteous while helping me find my way to the media room. However, the floor officials were typical - arrogant, condescending, and closed minded. I don't want to go into the details but I'll just say that I felt really unwelcome at the event, and that was surprising considering Virginia is 9-17 this season, the students are on Spring Break, and a lot of paid ticket holders were missing this evening.

However, the light was spectacular! ISO1600 at 1/500 at f/3.5 and I was sufficiently exposed! I needed a touch of lightening in post production but it was nothing like Comcast. In Comcast Center I'm at ISO2500 or 2500 at f/3.2 at 1/500th. It was very refreshing!

On the quick drive home both Julie and I got a chance to write our articles and post process our photos for publication. Driving up route 29 from the campus is dreadful and the timings of the lights are awful, but once you escape the greater Charlottesville area the drive is quite nice. I'm looking forward to next Fall's football game with the Wahoos and hopefully Julie will join me!

There was much anticipation of the Maryland final home game matchup against the No. 10 ranked Wake Forest Demon Deacons. With a win over No. 2 ranked Carolina and a narrow loss to Duke it seemed like the Terps finally got their feet under them and a home matchup against a top-10 team was a great opportunity to secure their inclusion into the NCAA Tournament.

Unfortunately the Deacons had other plans.

Maryland honored Dave Neal before the game this evening by bringing his family out to the court and presenting the lone senior with his jersey behind glass. Dave Neal has had a tough 4 years while playing injured and behind the likes of Bombale Osbey and James Gist. However, Neal has been a cornerstone for the Terps this year both symbolicly and physically on the court. He's the only man the Terps can put in the paint this year to protect against the opposing team on defense. Braxton Dupree hasn't filled that role this year and Neal has been the lone forward out to protect the basket.

I was a little late to the game but I knew that the senior ceremonies would be quick. I readied my SB-8A power pack and 24-70mm lens before heading out to the court. I got some decent shots before game, however, the ceremony wasn't too momentous. As a result the photos were pretty bland and I don't think we even decided to run them as part of our gallery on Inside the Shell.

Like the Boston College women's game I approach Greg Fiume and asked for permission to shoot the player intros and team huddle for the final home game. Greg agreed and I took my position close to the perimeter during the player intros. I put my camera to the ground while I shot at roughly 20mm to capture the bench while the spotlight shone down on them.

Afterwards I was really happy with how the photos came out. I tried to stay as close to the out-of-bounds line as possible so that I didn't interfere with the spotlights or TV and that worked out pretty well.

As usual I shot most of the first half from up the students section. To my surprise Coach Gary Williams played Braxton Dupree for several minutes and during that time I captured a dunk by the sophomore. Braxton began the season as a young-and-hopeful starter but was unfortunately relegated to bench warmer and didn't serve playing time in several in-conference games. His unexpected re-appearance was very interesting from a domain perspective and his dunk made for a great photographic capture. Unfortunately I think that the impact of my capture of his dunk was lost because he only played a couple of minutes and the Terps lost the game. However, had the Terps won and had Braxton played more minutes the photo might've been a headliner. Funny how that happens ... same photo but just different circumstances.

Olympic Sports at Maryland is starting up for the Spring and that introduces some welcome changes to the schedule. Olympic sports are typically outdoors and can be a lot of fun.

This Saturday marked our first involvement with Spring Olympic Sports and both Julie and I attended the Maryland vs Quinnipiac baseball game played at Shipley Field at Maryland. Julie has started writing for the DC Sports Box and has covered a couple of wrestling matches, men's basketball games, and gymnastics meets. She has a background in English and Journalism and her experience is relevant to our growing organization. It's also been nice to have her at the same games I attend because we're able to spend more time together.

Baseball is a difficult sport to cover because the teams typically play 3 games in a series and each game takes at least 3 hours. Some games have gone as long as 5 hours. When you add it all up you're looking at a least 9 hours of gametime for a series compared to 40 minutes of gametime for a basketball game. It's a huge difference!

This afternoon I shot the Maryland vs Quinnipiac game while Julie wrote. Andrew has shot a couple of women's lacrosse games this year for Maryland and he arrived at the baseball game to return some of my equipment. I brought 2 PocketWizard MultiMax units for an experiment I cooked up a week or so ago...

The idea was the use multiple photographers to capture parts of a game while synchronized using Pocket Wizards. Two different photographers from different vantage points communicate with one another and agree on a focusing pattern while one photographer controls when the shutter is released. As long as the cameras have their times synchronized you can very easily line up the timestamps on the resulting files and build a nice composite picture of an event that occurred using different perspectives.

With Andrew's help I took a stab at this approach during the Maryland vs Quinnipiac game. We started out with Andrew on the first base line on a 400mm lens shooting the pitcher while I sat behind plate on a 300mm on the pitcher. The problem we had was that the 400mm was too strong from the first baseline. It was difficult to relay that information to each other because we didn't have radio contact.

The next approach we tried was for me to be on the first baseline following the ball while Andrew was high above 3rd base following the ball. We got some decent shots with this approach. The tightest shot we got was a combination where I was low and got a Maryland batter diving back to first while Andrew caught the pitcher making the throw back to first. It really came out well in post production!

Having personal radios would've helped a lot because it would've meant we didn't have to run around the ballpark to communicate. I plan on picking up some batteries to run the radios we use for skiing so that the next time I head to a multi-photographer event I can use radio to communicate.

I also headed way over to the football practice fields so that I could climb the observation deck and shoot through the 400mm from a great distance from the outfield. the angle was definitely unique and I wish I had a 600mm or 800mm lens to use from that position. It's close off the pitcher to catcher line but down the second base to third base alley so it's a great spot for some long shots. I'd love to marry it up with some PocketWizard multi-angle shots but I need to think about how to compliment the shot well.

While I was perched up there I was fortunate enough to capture a steal to second base (including a slide) as well as a batter rounding third heading for home. It's a great spot but it's a huge distance from the ballfield.

Julie's article, along with my photos, of Maryland's sweep of Quinnipiac in baseball at Shipley Field can be viewed up on the DC Sports Box.