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Why I Don't Want to Shoot for Sports Illustrated

For sports photographers, the name Sports Illustrated brings shivers down the spine.  They are the assignment to strive for.  The top printed magazine in the business.

I have no desire to work for them as a staff photographer.

Oh sure, I used to, but no longer.  I was able to hang out with a few of their photographers last year at the Summit Sports Photography Workshop (off-topic, if you can afford to go to this, definitely go to this).  I had dinner with them, hung at the bar with them, and that's when I made my conclusion.

It's nothing against SI at all, I have absolutely no bad feelings towards them.  But while the photographers had some EXCELLENT stories, and it sounds like a great time, they still all wound up in the same place - a crapload of traveling.

I have nothing against traveling either. I love to travel and see new places, experience new things, and meet new people.  However I love my family more.  I don't have any desire to be gone 5 out of 7 days, come back for 3, and then leave for another 4, all in the name of covering some event.  I'm sure it would be fun...at first.  But living out of different hotels, never having a homecooked meal, and of course, being away from my family that much just doesn't sound like fun to me.

So you guys can keep your snazzy courtside view at the NCAA finals, and your shooting of the Olympics. While I love to shoot, my family is more important to me, and THAT'S all that matters.



Pro events can be overrated

NHL.  MLB.  NFL.  Each of these hold a level of prestige since those are professional sports organizations.  We "ooh" and "aah" over how cool we perceive these athletes to be (well, some people do at least). There are many photographers who think they've "made it" when they get to shoot a professional event.

Granted, that's pretty cool, but with that level, comes its own set of problems.  In the MLB, you can normally only shoot from the 1st photo well, or the 3rd base photo well.  Want to get something from behind the plate of the pitcher? Tough, there are paying customers in those seats.

Going to an extreme sporting event like the Winter Dew Tour or XGames you're told where to stand, where to go, and where you can shoot from. Want to shoot from the knuckle of the jump?  Tough luck, only NBC photographers get to do that.

Don't have a 400mm camera? Oopsie, the fields are so big you're pretty much out of luck there.

Having shot some of those events, yes, they're very very cool to shoot.  There are media areas with food (sometimes free, sometimes not), people to talk to, and "omfg I'm shooting the Colorado Rockies!"  However I'm finding I like shooting the smaller events better.

Bobby Monday from SolVista Slopestyle competition

This past weekend I was up at SolVista Basin for a slopestyle competition (my favorite photo is above). Nobody told me where to shoot from - I could go anywhere as long as I didn't interfere with the competitors.  I got to meet the guy that created the terrain parks there and talk with him. I met many of the competitors and interviewed the winner without fending off hordes of media.  I could plan my shots to minimize background interference as much as possible (really hard with lift lines and lampposts in the way), and score some cool shots.  In fact, I probably didn't even necessarily need to ask anybody if I could come shoot, although I did as a courtesy thing, and it was very easy to find whom to talk to beforehand to ask.

In the fall I shot high school softball.  Were there parents sitting behind homeplate?  Yes.  Did I ask them super nicely if I could get a couple shots of the pitcher and possibly block their view for a couple of minutes? Yes, although I didn't end up blocking them since I was on the ground and they were in the bleachers.

I think everybody is concerned about "if I don't shoot professional sports, I can't get that killer shot."  Untrue! While it may take a little more effort since little Timmy doesn't dive for the soccer ball or "bend it like Beckham" every play, the opportunity is there.  It still is cool to shoot professional events, but don't knock the amateurs where the access is better and easier.



A Few Sports and Concert Tips

I've been learning a lot about shooting various sports and concerts over time, and wanted to share some of what I've learned/others have told me about here.  I'm not going to go over the whole "be respectful and considerate thing" since I've mentioned that before, and honestly, it should be obvious.  Most of this stuff will apply across the board to both.

I need to give kudos to Alan Hess here, some of this stuff he mentions in his Photoshop World Concert Precon, and in his Kelby Training class, but I don't remember which ones. It's one thing to be told, and another thing to see it in reality.

1) Try to get away from other photographers

This is more true in concerts, because in a lot of sports, you have a set place to shoot from.  Like for the Colorado Rockies, you can shoot from the 1st base photo pit, the 3rd base photo pit, or the concourse, nothing in the stands.  But for high profiled concerts where there might be a small photo pit, and a lot of shooters, try to not get caught up in the fray.  When I shot Mayhem Festival, everybody started on the right side for Megadeth, and was packed like sardines there, and I started on the left, and had a lot more breathing room.

2) Watch your background

In a lot of cases, you really don't have much of a choice.  If you're shooting a high school soccer game on a field which is surrounded by a fence with houses, the best you can do is make sure the background is as out of focus as possible.  However in a lot of cases, just moving around and switching angles is good.

I really like this snowboard photo, but the lift is in the background. Something I should've been more aware of when shooting it.

3) Shooting wide vs shooting tight

I know people who shoot very tight on their subjects so they don't have to crop. I also know people who shoot wider on their subjects and crop just a little bit if they have to.  Neither is right or wrong, just be aware if you shoot tight, to be careful of things you might cut off, like the guitar stock.  Not that I'm saying you never want to cut off the guitar stock, but there's ways to make it look good.  Personally I like shooting just a tad wide since I do have a bad habit of cutting off the top of the stock when I'm trying not to.

4) Don't crop at a joint

Cropping a person tighter is fine, just don't crop directly on top of a joint (knee, shoulder, elbow).

5) Microphone stands and microphones suck

That's it. They're a necessity of shooting at a concert, but they really suck because they're always in the way of something.  Just be careful how you shoot the performer that's behind the stand, and you should be ok.  

Here's an example of a really horrible angle to shoot the singer at since you can't see his face.

6) Watch your shadows

More of a function of concerts than of sports, but the lighting can play some weird tricks on the performer's face.  A lot of times if the singer is right up against the mic, you'll get a weird shadow on their face.  If you wait until they hit a high note and pull back just a little bit, you'll get less of a shadow.

While I'm not a big fan of this photo regardless, it shows what the shadow can do.  In this case, it's cutting part of his face in half.



Shooting Baseball: Trials and Tribulations

Last week I noticed that the Arvada West JV baseball team was taking on Fairview High School, so decided to head out and take some photos.  I got there early to scope out the area, and noticed the entire field was surrounded by a fence.  Not just a backstop, I mean the entire field.  That was going to be problematic as it's extremely difficult to keep focus through a fence.

Hed_110406_3756.jpg

My new attitude is "even if you expect them to say 'no', you still need to ask," so I introduced myself to the JV coach and told him I'd love to get some photos to give him and the opposing coach.  He immediately told me that I could come inside the fence and stand next to the dugout (which was later changed to "if you need to stand in the dugout while we're in the field, go ahead").  Problem solved.

Hed_110406_3805.jpg

It was a very overcast day out, so I knew I'd have to do a lot of color correction in post processing.  (this was the event that made me go out the next day and buy a Datacolor Spydercheckr).  The biggest thing about shooting sports is that even if you know the game really well, and hope to anticipate the action, things don't always go like you'd hope.

I switched dugouts every now and then to get different angles.  From the home dugout, the only way to get the front of the batter was if they batted lefty.  I could get great shots of third base, but first was kind of far (yet another argument for a 300mm lens).  I had a great line on the pitcher.  And if someone stole second, I had to be careful that the third base coach didn't step in front of me (unfortunately I managed to not get anything of anybody sliding into second because of this).

Hed_110406_3556.jpg

Also this wasn't a game where a whole lot happened, at least in the 90 minutes I was there. Oh sure, there was all the standard baseball stuff, but not a lot of exciting plays that I was actually in position for (in terms of being able to get the shot at that exact moment).  Or if I was in position, my auto-focus wasn't focusing on the player quick enough, so I'd miss it.  Live and learn.

Baseball is like any other sport though - unpredictable.  I worked a lot on getting different shots of the batter and the pitcher, as well as trying to keep the ball in the photo (thank you Canon 7D for the fast FPS rate).  JV still has a few more games this season, so I hope to be able to get out there again.

Hed_110406_3690.jpg

More photos can be seen in the Ogre Photography SmugMug



NCAA Basketball Practice

I found out early Wednesday morning that not only were some of the NCAA Basketball games being played at the Pepsi Center, but the practices were open to the public.  I called down there to ask about camera/lens restrictions, and were told there were none since it was a practice, so after a quick lunch, I headed off!

Richmond Spiders

One of the funniest things I saw there was that the name of the venue is the Pepsi Center.  The NCAA tournament is sponsored by Coke.  They had to cover up everything that said Pepsi Center on it, especially under the jumbotron. 

I'm going to reiterate here the absolute most important thing when you bring your camera someplace. Others will tell you the same thing, but it's really true.  Be nice to the people around you.  It worked completely in my favor today.  Also, if you talk to somebody "official" on the phone, remember their name.

Once I got to the Pepsi Center and tried to get in, I was told my 70-200mm lens was too big and I could only bring in a 4 inch lens. I mentioned what the guest relations person had told me, and very, very nicely asked to speak to a supervisor.  While waiting, I had a very pleasant conversation with the entrance folks. The supervisor finally showed up, and I told him who I called, who I talked to, and what I wanted to do (I wasn't with a media outlet, wanted the photos for myself, and would be happy to sign a waiver or something).  He was very nice and understanding, mentioning that it's the NCAA rules and not theirs, but since I was given misinformation, it was ok today since it was practice, but not to try it during the games tomorrow.  I thanked him profusely and headed on in.

Vanderbilt

Although I couldn't get on the floor to get in the "preferred press photo spots" (ie. behind the net), I tried to get as close as I could.  99% of the people who showed up to watch the practice sat midcourt, which left the corner by the basket completely open, in the front row (and pretty much the entire section behind that).

I did get told by one of the floor Pepsi Center people I couldn't have that lens, but when I mentioned the supervisor I spoke to and what he said, she said it was fine. 

And in both instances, I did apologize for not having the correct information, and offered to put my camera away.

Nothing But Net

This was my first attempt at shooting basketball, and I learned several things about it.

  • There's a good reason why the photo people are behind the net.
  • Even at 3200 ISO, shooting at 2.8, I was barely pulling off 1/500 on the shutter speed.
  • Basketball practice is pretty boring.
  • It's really, really hard to get a shot of the ball leaving the player's hands when they shoot.
  • I really like my camera, but for basketball it normally doesn't focus quick enough.

Each team had 40 minutes of practice, so I stayed for the Richmond Spiders, Louisville Cardinals, and the Vanderbilt Commodores.  There were other teams practicing later on, but I couldn't stay for those.

Practicing shots

It was definitely worth taking the time out to go do, and I have a better understanding and more respect for basketball photographers now.  Once next season starts, I'll have to try it again.



Kid's Karate Test

Once a month at the Zultimate dojo, all the kids who are ready for their next belt get a chance to show their stuff in front of the senseis, and prove that they really are ready. As one of the instructors at the dojo who normally teaches and helps out, I put on a different hat this time, and decided to photograph the test.

Sadie

The lighting was a normal fluorescent lighting (hence, not that good), with only a window at the front of the dojo letting in some natural light. Shooting at a high ISO to get a halfway decent shutter speed was the only option here, and the most of the time I was at ISO 1600. Fortunately, the noise reduction in Lightroom 3 has gotten very good, enabling me to get rid of most of the noise in the photos without sacrificing quality. I shot with a custom white balance, and used my 50mm/1.8 lens.

Photo from Kid's Test

The kids did great with all of their material, and it's a lot of fun to see them progress to the next level.

Ben