Demystifying the world of sports photography

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Latest

Podcast: Episode 38 – After The Game

Podcast: Episode 38 – “After The Game”

Listen and download links here:

- Subscribe and listen via iTunes (We’ve re-published our audio feed, but you may need to unsubscribe and resubscribe. Technology is fun!)
- Get RSS feed
- Get MP3 (Click to listen or right click to save it to your computer)

News

Matt ended his basketball season and started his rodeo season. Ryu went to Curacao to shoot baseball.

Master Class
Finishing up our answer to a listener question we get to part 3, what to do after your shoot.

Training Ground
Training Ground is now on video. If you’d like to participate (and we think you should), enter your pictures in the Flickr thread and make sure to tag them BLFSTG201403.

Training Ground will now be split off from the podcast, and will run approximately two weeks after the podcast.

You Win

Our March 2014 themed competition was “Dominate Me

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We had a tie for first Brendan Bank with this surfing picture and Михаил Бормин with this snowmobile picture.

Third place was Eddie Think with this skateboarding picture.

The April 2014 themed competition is “Patterns”. Goto our BLFS flickr group page for competition rules and to enter.

Cross-Counter

Ryu chose this basketball picture (last picture) by Lucy Nicholson, and Matt chose this Paralympic ice sledge hockey picture by Pavel Golovkin.

Special thanks to…
Our producer Robb Massar
Icon by Arvin Bautista

*Please Read Below*

Big Lens Fast Shutter is funded solely from the pockets of Ryu Voelkel and Matt Cohen. If you think the information we give you about sports photography is making you a better sports photographer and as a result a well balanced human being, please show us your appreciation by clicking on the “Donate” button and send some of your hard earned dollars/euros/Brixton pounds our way. People who donate will be mentioned on our next show unless you want to remain anonymous. Thank you for supporting us and may the force of sports photography be with you, always.
Donate Button with Credit Cards

Podcast: Episode 37 – At The Game

Podcast: Episode 37 – “At The Game”

Listen and download links here:

- Subscribe and listen via iTunes (We’ve re-published our audio feed, but you may need to unsubscribe and resubscribe. Technology is fun!)
- Get RSS feed
- Get MP3 (Click to listen or right click to save it to your computer)

News

Matt shot out the rest of his basketball season and is preparing for hitting the road for rodeo season. Ryu went to Curacao to shoot baseball.

Master Class
Continuing to answer a listener question we get to part 2, what to do once you get to your shoot.

Training Ground
Training Ground is now on video. If you’d like to participate (and we think you should), enter your pictures in the Flickr thread and make sure to tag them BLFSTG201403.

Training Ground will now be split off from the podcast, and will run approximately two weeks after the podcast.

You Win

Our February 2014 themed competition was “You, me, and angles

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The winner was jrash168 with this beautiful wrestling picture.

Third place was Alessandro Giorgi with this billiards picture.

Third place was Bashar Alshabi with this basketball picture.

The March 2014 themed competition is “Dominate me”. Goto our BLFS flickr group page for competition rules and to enter.

Cross-Counter

Ryu chose this Olympic skiing picture by past BLFS guest Jed Jacobsohn, and Matt chose this Iditarod picture by Nathaniel Wilder.

Special thanks to…
Our new producer Robb Massar
Icon by Arvin Bautista

*Please Read Below*

Big Lens Fast Shutter is funded solely from the pockets of Ryu Voelkel and Matt Cohen. If you think the information we give you about sports photography is making you a better sports photographer and as a result a well balanced human being, please show us your appreciation by clicking on the “Donate” button and send some of your hard earned dollars/euros/Brixton pounds our way. People who donate will be mentioned on our next show unless you want to remain anonymous. Thank you for supporting us and may the force of sports photography be with you, always.
Donate Button with Credit Cards

Ryu: Curacao, it’s more than a drink

Morning.

I’m on my way to Hannover to check out this CEBIT thing with my wife. I won’t get into the specifics of why I’m going to CEBIT or why my wife is annoying me whilst I write this post, but let’s just say that life is good when you get to go and checkout the latest gadgets and geek out for a day. Last year, my partner (sorry Matt, I’ve been unfaithful) and I went to Dominican Republic (DR) to cover baseball there. It was a successful trip as DR won World Baseball Classic and we got enough publications to be interested in our story.

Fast forward to December 2013. I reconvened with my partner in Japan (he’s a real Japanese, unlike myself) and we discussed where to go next. Since Wladmir Balentien broke Sadaharu Oh’s single season home run record and Andruw Jones contributed to the Rakuten Eagle’s championship run, Curacao was hot. I had no idea where it was, but that was where we were heading next. Tickets were booked, interviews were scheduled, shorts and sandals were packed and we arrived on the Caribbean island only to find out that it was carnival week on the island. Long story short, it was an uphill battle to schedule shoots and interviews because people wanted to party and not work. Which is a bit weird because it seemed that everyday life was a party there. Jjust so you are aware and no hard feelings towards me on a Caribbean island in February, I spent a total of 30 minutes on the beach. Therefore the other 10050 minutes were spent doing what I came there to do: shoot baseball.

In the latest podcast which should be dropping (I’m in with the kids) soon, I mentioned that I had to come up with fresh perspective on shooting baseball. The reality is that the after DR, I felt like I have left it all on the field. Needless to say, I was nervous. What if I couldn’t come up with any other way to shoot this sport? If so, would anyone be interested in buying these photos? Would a massive failure here equate to me losing all my clients? Is it over for me as a sports photographer? I kid you not. My doomsday scenario was in full mother fucking effect.

My concern became a nightmare as I stood on a baseball field in Curacao with sweat running down my spine. My mind was racing. What am I supposed to do? What can I do? Then I told myself, “Go. Shoot. Because there’s nothing else you can do.” And I did. At first it felt awkward. After that passed, it felt even more awkward. It only dawned on me that this was not the time to force the issue. Unlike a match, I had time here. Even though I had the carnival eating away at my time on the island, I knew I had time. If I fuck it up today, I still got tomorrow. So I relaxed a tiny bit. Enough for the game to come to me. Then my photos became better. Not on the first day, but from the next day and so forth. I had to just let go of myself a bit and observe. To be slightly calmer than usual. At the end of the trip, I had photos that I was relatively happy with. Not happy happy, because that never happens with me and my photos. Ever.

What did I learn in Curacao? That there is another way to approach sports photography besides my usual way of full panic mode and racing at 194km/h (that’s how fast we are moving now on the train). Although I will not change the way I approach the way I shoot sports, I now know that it’s okay to let some air into the chaos in my brain if it is needed. To wait for the moment to come to me rather than to chase after it like a sailor on the dock after a whore.

Anyway, crisis averted until Cuba in 2015. :)

Ryu

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*Please Read Below*

Big Lens Fast Shutter is funded solely from the pockets of Ryu Voelkel and Matt Cohen. If you think the information we give you about sports photography is making you a better sports photographer and as a result a well balanced human being, please show us your appreciation by clicking on the “Donate” button and send some of your hard earned dollars/euros/Brixton pounds our way. People who donate will be mentioned on our next show unless you want to remain anonymous. Thank you for supporting us and may the force of sports photography be with you, always.
Donate Button with Credit Cards

Podcast: Episode 36 – Golden Bib

Podcast: Episode 36 – “Golden Bib”

Listen and download links here:

- Subscribe and listen via iTunes (We’ve re-published our audio feed, but you may need to unsubscribe and resubscribe. Technology is fun!)
- Get RSS feed
- Get MP3 (Click to listen or right click to save it to your computer)

News

Ryu & Matt don’t talk much about news, but Matt does talk about things that can affect inspiration.

Master Class
We skipped Master Class in favor of spending more time on the Golden Bib.

Training Ground
Training Ground is now on video. If you’d like to participate (and we think you should), enter your pictures in the Flickr thread and make sure to tag them BLFSTG201402.

Training Ground will now be split off from the podcast, and will run approximately two weeks after the podcast.

You Win

Our January 2014 themed competition was “Seasonally appropriate

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The winner was Trevor MacMillan with this hockey picture.

Second and Third places are empty this month.

The February 2014 themed competition is “You, me, and angles”. Goto our BLFS flickr group page for competition rules and to enter.

The Golden Bib

To hear who won, you have to listen to the podcast. The nominees:

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Cross-Counter

We also skipped Cross-Counter this month to spend more time on the Golden Bib.

Special thanks to…
Our new producer Robb Massar
Icon by Arvin Bautista

*Please Read Below*

Big Lens Fast Shutter is funded solely from the pockets of Ryu Voelkel and Matt Cohen. If you think the information we give you about sports photography is making you a better sports photographer and as a result a well balanced human being, please show us your appreciation by clicking on the “Donate” button and send some of your hard earned dollars/euros/Brixton pounds our way. People who donate will be mentioned on our next show unless you want to remain anonymous. Thank you for supporting us and may the force of sports photography be with you, always.
Donate Button with Credit Cards

Training Ground: Mid-January/Mid-February 2014

Here is the Mid-January/Mid-February 2014 Training Ground video.

Please don’t forget that Training Ground will be posted in the middle of the month and it will not come out at the same time as the podcast. Therefore, the next deadline for submission is mid-November.

If you want to participate in Training Ground, please go here: Big Lens Fast Shutter Flickr Group

Enjoy the pain. :)

*Please Read Below*

Big Lens Fast Shutter is funded solely from the pockets of Ryu Voelkel and Matt Cohen. If you think the information we give you about sports photography is making you a better sports photographer and as a result a well balanced human being, please show us your appreciation by clicking on the “Donate” button and send some of your hard earned dollars/euros/Brixton pounds our way. People who donate will be mentioned on our next show unless you want to remain anonymous. Thank you for supporting us and may the force of sports photography be with you, always.
Donate Button with Credit Cards

Matt: Shooting Basketball

We’re in the middle of basketball season now, and your pictures are seriously killing me. In an effort to save the season, I’m going to address the two major issues and I’ll take any questions you might have in the comments.

1. Yes, most high school gyms and many college gyms have bad lighting. Too dark, comical color balance, painted walls and floors, I’ve seen them all. Guess what? The pictures you get will either be good or not, and there’s no grading curve based on the conditions. My first newspaper assignments were high school basketball. This is where I first learned the lesson that camera technology will not save you. Yes, I could get 1/500th at 6400-12,800 ISO, but no, those pictures wouldn’t look good. Often times 1/500th isn’t fast enough anyway, and even if it is, you still have to deal with either cycling fluorescent lights giving off different colors shot-to-shot or color casts that are so far away from white that you can’t get a custom white balance or even fix it in post processing. Particularly sadistic schools paint their walls in team colors that end up being brighter than the floor.

All of this is a hassle, especially when you’re shooting for newspaper money or no money at all. But as long as you have to put your name on the pictures, it’s still your responsibility to solve these problems. And in general, there’s only one solution: adding light. So after my first newspaper assignment at the edge of aesthetic value, I looked around online for information on how to light basketball. When money and time are not limited, you buy a bunch of arena strobes, mount them in the rafters, and hook them into the building power supply and a Flash Wizard. This is an expensive proposition and very time consuming if you have to put them in and take them out more than once a season, so this setup is generally only used by official photographers for NBA and major college teams. For the rest of us, it’s probably going to be speedlights and Pocket Wizards. Luckily for me, I found Strobist, and their post on high school basketball. After experimenting and talking to some other people I refined this technique a bit to work with the gear I had:

2x Nikon SB-800s (any decent speed lights will work)
3x Pocket Wizard PlusIIs or Elinchrom Skyports (cheaper options available, but these are the most reliable)
2x 8ft lighting stands
various connecting cables

I placed the lights in the corners of one end of the gym, as close to the baseline as safely possible, with the stands at max height so the light would be above head level. I taped and sand-bagged the stands for stability, and pointed each light at the foul line to provide overlapping coverage in the lane. Depending on the gym I would set the flash power to 1/4 to 1/2 and leave it. During warmups I would set the shutter to the max sync (1/250) and then adjust the aperture for exposure and the ISO to deal with how much ambient light I wanted in the pictures. Make no mistake, this is low percentage shooting. Things that happen outside of the light throw will be too dark. If players get between the light and your subject, they will be in a shadow. You can only shoot as fast as the flash can recycle without overheating. But if you are careful, you will get some pictures.

Lowell's Robbie Pollard tries to block a shot from Lincoln's Deend Parker.

(Things to keep in mind: Coaches and/or refs can veto the whole thing, so before doing the work, get permission. Dealing with off-camera lights and light stands or clamps introduces added risk. Consider getting dedicated photography insurance.)

But lights or no lights, the pictures still have to get better. We stress shooting wide, but now we need to take it the other way with basketball. The pictures we’re seeing coming in to the Flickr group are a mess because there’s too much going on in the frame with extra players, bad backgrounds, too much depth of field, all with the action happening too far away. It’s time to go back to basics, and that means simpler, tighter pictures with better control over depth of field. Shooting now in well-lit arenas, I’ve been having success using the older Nikon 85mm 1.4 along side my 24-70 for action along the baseline and my 70-200 for pictures along the perimeter. Shooting these three lenses wide open and at appropriate distance (closer for the 24-70, further away for the other two) I can get enough of the background blurred out so that the pictures aren’t too busy. This should be your starting point, and as you get better results and work on your timing, you can start to anticipate the action and be ready when the player with the ball moves into the clear. There’s a lot of motion and a lot of players in a small space for most of the game. Use the extra bodies to frame your subject. Don’t worry about “fitting everything in”, this is just going to lead to the same busy, low-impact pictures. Rather make choices. Do you really need the hoop in the picture? Where is a good crop point? When this player jumps, how much air will he get? If this shot misses, where is the rebound likely to go?

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Mississippi at California 3-16-11 17

Stanford at California 3-5-11 86

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And don’t forget about the things that go on in between plays.

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Matt: 2014 Plan and Goals

Last January I wrote about my plans and goals for 2013. How’d I do? Well let’s take a look:

1: Think of the season as a whole rather than “I need to get pictures of XYZ cowboy because I may not see him again for a year.”

This one was pretty easy. With all of the rodeos I would shoot already confirmed before the season, it was easy to think about what I wanted to do rather than what I NEEDED TO DO RIGHT NOW at each rodeo. I had some specific assignments where I needed specific pictures, but in general I was able to take advantage of each situation to get the pictures I wanted.

2: Shoot looser at some of the smaller arenas.

It’s nice having super-tight action pictures, but looser pictures give editors and designers more options, and artistically provide more context. I shot a lot more action with a 70-200 than in previous years.

3: Devote time during slack (rodeo’s version of qualifying) to getting tight singles of all the team ropers.

This was my main goal of 2013, and came from having to say no when clients called asking for team roping pictures. There’s not a whole lot more irritating than getting to the point where clients know to call you but not being able to give them what they want. Say no a few times, and they’ll know who not to call. So from my first rodeo of the season through the last, I shot all the team roping there was. The work was rewarded with several covers and double-trucks, but more importantly it’s actually changing the way other people shoot team roping, and changing what clients expect. In the long run that means two things: we’ll all have to look at fewer awful team roping pictures and I’ll have to come up with a whole new way to shoot it. Which I’ve already done.

4: I’m going to continue a long-term project I thought of towards the end of last season.

So much for plans. The intended project was called Faces & Buckles, and I didn’t make one picture towards this project in 2013. After I came up with Under the Brim, Faces & Buckles was suspended. I’m going to continue both projects in 2014 because they serve totally different purposes creatively, possibly adding another one knocking around in my head.

5: I’m going to just flat out work harder than I did last year.

I busted my ass in 2013, but there’s always room to work harder.

2014

Everything for me starts with an honest assessment of my work over the last year. This year was strange in that I arrived at two different conclusions. As I was editing my Best of 2013 slideshow, I felt like I had 600 pictures legitimately vying for the 100 or so final spots. But when I was working on my 10 best for BLFS, I felt like I had trouble coming up with 10 great yet totally different pictures. So I went back to my archive and flipped through every rodeo picture I made in 2013, about 10,000 in total. Patterns emerge when looking at a large group of pictures like that, and it wasn’t what I found, but what I didn’t find that will shape my 2014. Simply put, I had a lot of ideas in 2013, some led to outstanding pictures, but I ended up spending too much time making much more interesting versions of the same boring pictures that “rodeo photographers” get. Yes, rodeo is about cowboys and cowgirls, horses and bulls, ropes and hats. But like everything else, there are details that hide in plain sight, invisible only because they happen so often that our brains just filter them out as noise. There is both beauty and meaning in these pictures, witness my favorite picture Ryu made in 2013. I honestly don’t know what the rodeo versions of this picture consist of, but I’ll find them over the course of this season. I imagine I’ll get quite dirty in the act, but good pictures don’t come from standing still or sitting on Pelican cases or camping stools. I may not sell a single one of these pictures, but the process will make my other pictures better, and the increase in variety will give me flexibility at the end of the year.

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So even if you don’t have the same responsibilities or opportunities, you can still make an honest assessment of where you are, what holes you have in your library in general and your portfolio in particular, and make a plan to move forward this year. Think of your schedule as a whole rather than thinking game-by-game. If you know you’ll be shooting your local HS football team’s home games or 20 baseball games, think about what kinds of pictures other than conventional action you want to try. Start with one game, shoot from anywhere but the places where you normally would. Get off your ass at one rodeo and make one picture someone wouldn’t expect. Shoot wider or longer than the situation would ordinarily call for. Risking missing a handful of ordinary pictures to maybe get something different and great doesn’t sound like much of a risk to me. Work toward the goal of having greater variety in your archive at the end of the year. From all the questions about “keeper rate” I know the urge is there to play it safe and get as many pictures as possible. Concentrate on making great pictures, because I guarantee one great picture makes a shoot, while 1000 average frozen action pictures makes you an average photographer.

I’ll also of course plug our new portfolio review service Critical Beatdown, and the old standby Training Ground. You’ll be much better off getting honest feedback from Ryu and I than from your friends and family. Training Ground remains free, Critical Beatdown gets you our undivided attention for $100.

*Please Read Below*

Big Lens Fast Shutter is funded solely from the pockets of Ryu Voelkel and Matt Cohen. If you think the information we give you about sports photography is making you a better sports photographer and as a result a well balanced human being, please show us your appreciation by clicking on the “Donate” button and send some of your hard earned dollars/euros/Brixton pounds our way. People who donate will be mentioned on our next show unless you want to remain anonymous. Thank you for supporting us and may the force of sports photography be with you, always.
Donate Button with Credit Cards

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