Ryu: Lens lens baby

At the airport cafe in Milano. It’s not Milan as there is no “s” in Paris. Matt knows this as people in France calls Detroit “Detowa”. People, let’s give each other some respect for their respective languages. By the way, it’s “sake” and not “saki”.

I am in Milano having shot the Italian Derby: Inter Milan v Juventus. The hype was more than the match, as a very promising 1st half was not a prelude to the extraordinarily dull 2nd half. Alas, that’s sports. As I have alluded to in my previous post, I had a plan in my head when the match was 2-1 and there was about 20 minutes left. To make a long story short, I was shooting on the Juventus end (Juventus attacking) and I moved to the Inter end as if Juventus score their 3rd goal, it will not be as exciting as Inter scoring their tying goal at home. The clock continued to tick and with 5 minutes to go, my wheels started to spin in my head. What will happen at the end? To my back were Juventus away supporters and my guess (an educated guess, nonetheless) was that the Juventus players will come and celebrate in front of their fans. And exactly at this moment, there was the dilemma in my little head: which lens am I going to use?

If you have been shooting sports for some time, you are likely to have accumulated more than one lens. Usually a long one (+200mm) and a wide one (-35mm). This is just an estimate and some of you might even have a lens that zooms from 28mm to 300mm. In essence, it’s long and wide. As a sports photographer, you have to make a split decision as to which lens to use and you have to live with the consequence of your choice.

So which one to use at which moment? That’s like asking whether I prefer pizza or pasta. It depends. What works for me won’t work for you and vice versa. What you should be concentrating is finding out how you can train yourself to make that decision as smoothly as possible. As a general rule, if you want to concentrate on a single player or a single action, you will use your long lens. If you want the environment to play a role, use the wide one. But on the flip side, you can use the long lens to incorporate the environment (ie: shooting the other end of the playing field) and you can go wide but go for an extremely close up of the athlete. I could get further into this, but as I have said this is very subjective. If you have been wandering why your photos have been a bit lame or that they are starting to look like a bad case of deja vu, I suggest going the opposite of what you have been doing. If you’ve been shooting action with the long lens, go wide and get close. Something like that.

You might now be thinking: “Ryu, if you think you’re like god’s gift to all things lens (I might be), when do you change the damn thing? By the way, how is the pizza in Italy?”. Pizza in Italy is good, but I didn’t eat it this time. Again as a general rule, you change your lens when nothing is happening. Action is happening on the other end, time outs, after a goal, between innings, etc…

For argument’s sake, let’s say that you have two lens: 24-70mm and 70-200mm. But you only have one body as your husband told you that you need to wait for Christmas (shout out to all the sports momtographers out there). You have been shooting your lovely child (Fabio) playing baseball with your 70-200mm and you want to switch to the 24-70 so that you can capture the moment when they win the state championship. It’s the bottom of the 9th, with one out to go. Batter is down 2 strikes and your son Fabio winds up and throws…. hold on wait a minute let’s be kind and rewind. Why have you waited this long to change the lens? 2 outs bottom of the 9th, 2 strikes and you’ve not changed the lens yet? You fail as a sports momtographer if you let this happen. You should have changed the lens before Fabio’s team took to the field in the bottom of the 9th. “But what about all the other action that might take place before the ultimate moment?”. Screw it. You have to make a commitment to the moment you want to capture and you need to stick with it. That goes for the position you will take to and the lens you will select. Sure, you want to be flexible, but not with the expense of not being ready for the moment you want to shoot. If you want to be the coolest sports momtographer in Pennsylvania, you go for broke, all day, everyday.

I can already hear the pundits telling me that you’ve got enough time to change lens in baseball and that it’s more important to get everything. Horse manure. I was using baseball as we just had the American Series (let’s not forget we all that Japan is the world champion) and I thought I use another sport other than football. The point is that you prepare yourself for the moment and you have to be ready to sacrifice other non-important moments. There will always be “what ifs” in sports photography, but that’s the beauty off it. The commitments you make might pay you dividends or it might not. But the important thing to concentrate on that one moment you want to capture versus all the mundane stuff that we will sure to trash in Training Ground next month.

Finally, if you are a monopod user and if you have two bodies (let’s all find an understanding partner), you are wondering how to best make that switch from one camera to another. If you are not clumsy like I am, this is going to not take 6 years. More like 6 seconds.

1. Take the monopod with your left hand.
2. Place the bottom of the long lens, where the lens meet the body over your left shoulder. If this is really confusing, I will put a picture of it upon request. Seriously I will.
3. Grab your other camera with your right hand, aim, shoot, and you’re golden.

That’s it. Don’t be that guy who puts the long lens horizontally on the advertisement board. Too long and takes too much space. I’d say practice at home, but it’s better if you practice at the game of your choice. You don’t want to be that guy who’s doing the “You talkin’ to me?” version of lens switching in front of the mirror.

Deciding which lens to use and when to use it, making a commitment to a lens to capture the moment you want, and switching from one lens to another, smooth as butter. These are not everything about lens, but it’s a start. I hope you all realise that reading this post will not make you a princesses of lens. Practice and repetition will. Beckham doesn’t score those free kicks because he read “Free kick: The definitive guide” or Ichiro doesn’t hit those infield singles without ever winning any games by watching “You can hit like Kerby”. Repetition and planning will make you almost perfect. Oh and pure talent will help, but we all can’t be like Scott. :)


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4 thoughts on “Ryu: Lens lens baby

  1. Good advise.As for the camera switch from a long lens on monopod to 2nd body I suppose you turn the lens backwards and let it rest over your shoulder.Thats what I have seen other photographers doing on the field.If not then the picture is welcome.

  2. Eli,

    No, no, no. Don’t turn the lens backwards. That will force you to spin the lens and if you are shooting in a crowded place, you will hit someone with it. You will also lose precious nano seconds spinning that thing. Just put it on your left shoulder (whilst sitting, of course) and you’re done. DO NOT SPIN!


  3. Got it, so you wrap your whole arm around the monopod near the foot of the lens and keep it close to you I suppose.As for the second body, do you have it hanging from your shoulder or do you leave it on the floor if there is space?

  4. Eli,

    For example, let’s say you have the 70-200mm lens attached to a body. The lens (and not the body) is attached to the body. The lens is then attached to the monopod via monopod collar or directly to the monopod. There is a “space” between where the monopod is connected to the lens and where the body is. Your shoulder should be there. No spinning.

    Like you said, then wrap your left hand around the monopod so that you can hold the 2nd body with your left hand and the right hand.

    You MUST have the second body on you with some kind of a strap. Something like the R-Strap or an equivalent does make a difference at it allows you to just grab the camera with your right hand as you are putting the body with the long lens on your shoulder. DO NOT leave it on the floor. That’s another valuable seconds missed as you have to lean down and get it.


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