Friday, November 14, 2008

Lynchburg Soccer Game - Lessons in Sports Shooting

Sunday afternoon Skyler had her last soccer game of the year and I was excited to be there to see it. Not only is Skyler on the team but the team is coached by her father, my brother-in-law Jake. I figured this was a good time to break out the Bigma and practice my sports shooting. A little known piece of history is that back in 1991, I made my first venture into photography sales shooting little league football. That was back in the film days and after this weekend, I'm surprised that I got any images back then that were reasonably good!

I forgot how difficult it was to follow the action, adjust for changing light, and attain sharp focus on the spur of the moment. The latter may have actually been easier back then because we had trained ourselves to manually focus lightening quick. The autofocus, at least on the Bigma, doesn't react that fast (although it is still impressive for the type of lens). If I had a split screen, I may have switched to manual but since I didn't, I decided to stick with the auto.

The next issue is focus hunting in continuous mode. While linear or solo sports are fairly easy to get a lock on and track, a bunch of 7-year old girls wearing like colors and running in a pack causes the focus to jump from person to person. I switched over to selective focus for a good portion of the shoot knowing that I was going to miss a few shots because the focus took to long to lock.

One of the keys to sports photography is knowing the game so that you can predict where the action will occur and be ready to focus on that spot. At first this doesn't sound like a big deal; however, when you are looking through a 400 - 500 mm lens, your field of view is super narrow and you cannot see all of the action on the field. The great sports photographers have mastered keeping there non-shooting eye open and trained on the field. I haven't mastered this ninja trick yet. Instead I follow the player that I believe, based on experience, will make the play.

A team of 7-year old girls absolutely wrecks this plan because the playbook gets tossed and anarchy generally overtakes the field as soon as the ball is in play. The good thing is that they are not that fast. The best plan of attack is to follow the ball. You can guarantee that they will generally converge in a pact wherever the ball ends up.

During the game, I made one major mistake and forgot to set my camera to shutter priority. I was still in aperature priority from some shots that I took before the game. I was also set to iso 200. Instead of shooting at an action stopping 1/800 - 1/000th of a second, I fired away most of my shots at 1/180th. It wasn't apparent until I got the images into post and the motion blur was prevelant. In hindsight, I would have bumped the iso up to 400 (it was semi-cloudy/strong sun mix) and set the shutter priority to 1/1000th sec.

Luckily, I did manage some keepers although I missed some awesome shots! Next game I'll be sure to go over my checklist beforehand. If you haven't shot a sporting event, you go down to the local rec field on a weekend and take a couple hundred photos. It is excellent practice regardless of the style of photography that you prefer.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Mountain Top Portraits

While up in Blue Ridge Mountains on Sunday, Dea, Jake, Skyler, Caleb, and I took the opportunity to take a few family portraits (well, I hid behind the camera. lol) after we finished breakfast. We drove up the Parkway, stopping at various overlooks to see if they offered a nice background. Most of them had far too many distractions to make a decent backdrop; however, we luckily found a few that worked out great.

Iso 200, f/11.0, 1/180 sec, 50mm

Of course (and there's always an of course), there were the normal little gremlins. In my haste to load my gear into Jake's Explorer, I grabbed the wrong light stand meaning that I would have to handhold the remote flash and I wouldn't be able to use the Softliter. The latter wasn't as much of an issue because the wind was blowing at 30 knots and the umbrella probably would have taken a trip down the mountain side. Thank goodness for the Nikon SB-900. I set the exposure based on the background and then used iTTL for fill-flash. The light balanced well and wasn't too overly harsh.

Iso 200, f/11.0, 1/180 sec, 50mm

Dea, Jake, and the kids were real troopers. In addition to the heavy wind, the air temp hovered around 40 degrees. I was shocked that I didn't have to clean up much nasal drip in post! Fly away hair on the other hand was a bit of a nightmare to clone out.

Iso 200, f/11.0, 1/180 sec, 62mm

I have one more set of images coming out of this trip of Skyler's soccer game. I should have them up in a day or two.

Iso 200, f/11.0, 1/1250 sec, 22mm

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Blue Ridge Parkway - Peaks of Otter - Bedford, VA

On Saturday, I drove up to Lynchburg for a 2-day vist with Dea, Jake, Skylar, and Caleb. It was a great visit. Skylar and Caleb are as adorable as ever and took great pleasure in beating up their uncle Trav. It also gave me a chance to shoot a ton of photos including landscapes, portraits, and sports.

Iso 200, F/11.0, 1/750 sec, 20mm - 5 image HDR

The first set that I have to share are high dynamic range (HDR) landscapes that were taken on Sunday on the Blue Ridge Parkway. We made the hour drive to the Peaks of Otter Lodge for breakfast. I know it seems like a long way to go to get breakfast; however, it was definitely worth it. The food was good and the lodge and views were spectacular. I can't think of a better place for a weekend getaway whether it be for photography or just an escape from the daily hustle and bustle of life.
Iso 200, F/22.0, 1/180 sec, 18mm - 5 image HDR
Seeing that we missed the peak of the season by a couple of weeks, most of the trees were well past their transition and the leaves had either turned brown or had completely fallen, providing a captivating landscape of dieing vegetation intersparsed with brilliant yellows and oranges. When most people think of fall color photography, they immediately imagine images loaded with bright, perky colors. I decided to take this session in a different direction, illustrating the darkening change to winter. This concept was further emphasized seeing that I was shooting in the worst light imaginable, midday sun. To compensate, I chose to bracket my exposures by (5) 1-stop increments and then merge the exposures in Photomatix Pro to create a single HDR image.

Iso 200, F/11.0, 1/1000 sec, 22mm - 5 image

If you have an upcoming weekend that you want to steal away for a romantic weekend or to just recharge your batteries, think about heading up to the Lodge. It is well worth the trip! Over the next couple of days, I will be posting the portrait and soccer photos shot over the weekend as well. I'm also planning an upcoming post on HDR. Check back soon.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

LLS Team-In-Training Update

The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Team-In-Training fundraising and training kickoff meeting for the Shamrock marathon/half-marathon is this Thursday night. I'm excited to report that we have already raised over $1000, more than half of the $1900 goal that we had set 2-weeks ago. The generosity and caring leaves me speechless! Special thanks to those joining the team recently including: Jill Beninato, David Rogers, Sara and Richard Gerloff, Shannon Tipton, Marsha and Len Rutherford, and Gretchen Reid.

While the contributions have amazed me thus so far, something happened this past weekend that nearly left me in tears. My 10-year old niece called me Saturday afternoon to say that her younger sister, two of the their friends, and her had heard about the TNT from their meemama and decided to take action. The little entrepreneurs delved into their craft kits and began making jewelry. They then created poster board LLS signs and decorated their red wagon before going door-to-door, selling their creations for $2 each. Within an hour, they had raised $30 and completely sold out their stock. Savannah and Meggie later told me that next weekend they are going to rebuild their inventory and are not planning on stopping until they raise $100. Think about just how awesome that is to hear!

Earlier today, I was reading an article on cancer in the latest issue of Men's Health. It listed lymphoma as one of the most common for men. One in 46 will pass from it. Of those that contract it without it being Hodgkins related, there is less than a 26% survival rate. Advances have been made in finding a cure and the dollars raised by TNT have contributed to both the necessary research as well as helping assist the families that are already dealing with the cancers. Unlike many organizations out there, LLS & TNT guarantees that 75% of their donations go directly to the programs for research and assistance programs. Please visit our TNT webpage for more information on our progress or to make a donation. We look forward to you joining the team in finding a cure!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Saturday's Beach Portrait Session

Saturday afternoon I had the pleasure of photographing two very nice families down at the VB oceanfront. They were a referral from Jill Beninato over at Sit.Stay.Smile Photography. Jill specializes in pet photography and digital art; so if you have a 4-legged critter at home, you will want to stop by her site for a visit.

The families requested some journal style shots as well as the standard posed portraits, posing a big challenge in that it was a bluebird day without a cloud in the sky to diffuse the sun. In order to tame the harsh light, I used a Nikon SB-900 fired through a Softlighter II and a 7' bounce panel for additional fill. The setup was easy enough for the portraits but journal style shots would be tough. Luckily Sophie, a friend's daughter, volunteered to help out. What a life saver! I bet she never expected to be chasing kids around the beach holding an umbrella on a 8' stand. :-) Here are a few of images from the session: