Archive for the ‘Insights and Analysis’ Category

Football Photography X’s and O’s, Part 4: Equipment Analysis 2

Last time I left off, I had finished shooting my first football game and was left partially satisfied with most of my setup, yet wanting a bit more, especially on the very long end. For my second game the very next week, I traveled out with the team to Palouse, Washington, for an away game against the Washington State Cougars.

Clear skies in Palouse, WA at Washington State's Martin Stadium

Clear skies in Palouse, WA at Washington State

Since the wide and mid-range setup worked just fine, I decided to stick with that, but on the long end I brought a Nikon D200 and Nikon 400mm f/2.8 non-VR lens (Nikon, yucky!).

Long range: Nikon D200 with 400 f/2.8 (35mm equivalent: 600mm f/4.2)
Midrange:  Canon 1D Mark II with 70-200 f/2.8 IS (35mm equivalent: 91-260mm f/3.6)
Wide: Canon 5D with 24-70 f/2.8 (35mm equivalent: 24-70mm f/2.8)
Ultrawide: Canon 5D with 12-24 f/4.5-5.6 (35mm equivalent: 12-24 f/4.5-5.6

Handling the 600mm Beast

Compared to the Canon 40D with 1.4x teleconverter and 70-200 f/2.8 IS I had last time, the D200 equipped with a big prime like the 400 f/2.8 was a very different kind of beast.  To start off, the setup was far more clunky – while a 70-200 and 40D can easily sling over your shoulder or around your neck, and can be handheld without a problem, the 400mm is heavy and on top of that really needs to be used with a monopod.  This is problematic in a few ways:


Football photography X’s and O’s, Part 3: Lighting Situations

One dramatic difference you’ll while shooting a football game is how the light changes if you’re shooting a game that overlaps the sunset. This first game I shot ran the full gamut from daylight to sunset/shade to stadium lights. Experienced sports shooter should already known to shoot in aperture priority, but for those who are relatively new to this sort of thing, see this post for some points about exposure technique for outdoor sports using aperture priority.


Anyhow, full daylight creates problems with extremely harsh shadows, particularly on player’s faces under helmets and such.  The problem is exacerbated if you’re shooting at an angle where the player is backlit or even severely sidelit.  For example, this might be a perfectly usable photo, but it doesn’t quite have the instant eye-catchiness of better sports photos – the entire image is really busy because the brightest-lit areas are the least detailed (field, crowd in background), and the important areas (player’s faces, bodies) are masked in shadow.

Washington State's Christopher Ivory about to collide with California linebacker Anthony Felder

Washington State's Christopher Ivory about to collide with California linebacker Anthony Felder

Contrast this to this fully-lit photo (actually sidelighting from the right, but the player is facing that direction anyway).  Now the brightest (and instantly eye-catching) area of the image is the player’s body and face, which also happens to be the most detailed area and the focus of the image:


California running back Jahvid Best evades Michigan State tacklers

California running back Jahvid Best evades Michigan State tacklers

The key for daylight then (without clouds) is to get into a position where the sun is coming from behind or to the side of you (but still relatively behind, if possible).  Since most games are noon or later, the sun will tend to be on the west side where it sets, so the preference would be to shoot from the west end of the stadium (of course, you may not have this luxury, as sometimes they restrict you to the visiting team’s sideline).  Another strategy is to simply shoot from the endzone – most all football stadiums are oriented facing north-south to avoid playing directly into the sun during sunlight games, so at the very worst you’ll have a side-lit image, which often isn’t bad at all, as the above photo shows.

A closer look at more difficult shaded and nighttime lighting conditions after the jump.


Aperture-priority Exposure Technique (Sports Outside)

Use aperture priority. Why? In dynamic lighting situations (which will be anywhere outdoors), your lighting will be all over the place as the sun starts to decline, clouds roll in, and players move in and out of shaded regions (or for stadium lighting, the better-lit sidelines). There is simply no way to manually adjust the exposure parameters, even if you can think quickly enough to know which settings to switch to.

Use the largest aperture. This goes almost without saying – you want to isolate your subjects in sports photography, and the best way to do that (given a certain camera/lens setup) is to use a wide-open aperture. This also has the advantage of letting in as much light as possible. The margin of error for focus *will* be thinner, but this really shouldn’t be an excuse or barrier to return inferior shots taken at smaller apertures just because it’s easier. Take the out-of-focus shots as they come – every ruined shot should just be an incentive to learn how to effectively track subjects and utilize your camera’s AI Servo/continuous focusing abilities.

Maintain a fast shutter speed in the shaded region. The goal here is to have a fast enough shutter speed to avoid blur, and with your aperture stuck at wide-open, you’ll do that by manipulating your ISO sensitivity. Since you’re shooting in a situation with dynamic lighting, you want to choose the ISO that will give you the necessary speed in the darkest area (i.e. in the shaded portion of the field, or when a cloud rolls by and blocks the sun). If you’re maintaining a decent enough speed in the dark areas (say 1/500s), then you’re guaranteed to get a decent speed in any other area, since it’ll be brighter (if you’re getting 1/500s in the shade, you might get 1/2000s in the sun). Does this mean you’ll be using a higher-than-necessary ISO when you’re in the brigher areas? Yes (if you’re getting 1/2000s in the sun, that means you could drop the ISO 2 stops and still get your 1/500s minimum). However, the noise is going to be a minor problem at the lower ISOs where you might deal with this half-lit, half-shaded situation (the difference between ISO100 and ISO400 is virtually indistinguishable), and in any case you’re only over-using high-ISO in the brighter area, where your noise is going to be less (due to greater amount of light) than whatever you’ve already accepted putting up with in the darker area.

The real important point here is that at all costs, you want to avoid slow shutter speeds, since blurred out pictures are completely unusable and unsalvageable, while most agencies (and any skilled photoprocessor) can put up with a relatively huge amount of noise. So take the noise hit in the brighter situations (which is not going to be that much) if it will help you get rid of blur in the darker regions (which is going to be a huge problem)

Keep track of your shutter speeds as lighting dims. Over the course of a late-afternoon to evening game, the sun is going to set and you’ll gradually see light levels drop, and concurrently, the need for longer shutter speeds and higher-ISOs to compensate. If you’ve got some sort of auto-ISO feature on your camera that helps to maintain a specified shutter speed by adjusting the ISO, use it. Otherwise you’ll have to monitor your shutter speeds as the game goes along and bump up your ISO periodically as you see the shutter speeds dip below the motion blur threshold you want.

Consider center-weighted metering with dynamic secondary elements. In most situations, the default evaluative/matrix/segmeneted metering mode on the camera will do a fantastic job of determing correct exposure.  Where these metering modes often get confused is with highly dynamic secondary elements in the image – very dark shadowed stands in the background, or very bright field in the foreground of a shadowed area.  This throws off the metering and makes the camera think the scene is darker or brighter than it really is in situations like rolling clouds or sunset, where the field (or parts of it) may rapidly become lit or unlit.  The solution for this is to use a center-weighted metering mode that will bias the exposure towards your selected subject.  This way things like a dark background or very bright foreground won’t have any effect on exposure – the camera only looks at your primary subject and determines the correct exposure for that, which is all we care about.  Of course, the potential danger in this is that an athlete’s dark or white jersey will similarly throw the camera’s metering off – the best compromise is probably to use a broader center-weighted focusing mode, such as partial metering or center-weighted average, to include more of the surrounding area and balance out extreme variations.

This is part 2 of 4 in Football Photography X’s and O’s, a 4-part series of insights on shooting football.

Part 1: Equipment Analysis 1 (Michigan State game)
Part 2: Aperture-priority Exposure Technique
Part 3: Lighting Situations
Part 4: Equipment Analysis 2 (Washington State game)

Football Photography X’s and O’s, Part 1: Equipment Analysis 1

Life is full of little small choices, and then there are the big decisions.  Namely, 70-200mm f2.8 on a 1.3x crop or 400mm f2.8 on a 1.5x?

I recently had the opportunity to shoot a couple of football games for the paper I work at, The Daily Californian.  It was my first time shooting football game, and as someone who’s generally not been very good at sports photography, I was definitely a bit nervous.

Both games I shot were in pretty good light – the UC Berkeley/California vs. Michigan State game started at 5pm, so it played from daylight through to just about dusk in the 4th quarter.  The Washington State game began at 3pm, so it was pretty much daylight except for a bit of (rather nice) sunset light at the end.

Sunset at halftime at Memorial Stadium, UC Berkeley

Sunset at halftime at Memorial Stadium, UC Berkeley

Equipment analysis – Week 1 vs. Michigan State

The biggest difficulty with football with regards to equipment is covering action that happens over a vast expanse (over 5000 m2 of field area) that can be traversed by speedy athletes in a matter of seconds.  So while you might be sitting nice and cozy with a 300mm lens that perfectly covers the action mid-way across the field, all of a sudden the quarterback can fire off a deep pass or the running back finds a hole and flies off, and you’re stuck without the ability to get the shot.