Now that the football season is finished, I’m waiting for it to start again. Since there will be no EURO for me nor will I get to strut my stuff in London couple months from now, I’m in “don’t move, because it will cost money if you do” mode. If you ever thought freelance sports photographer is a cool job, you might want to think again and again. But it doesn’t cost me anything to write a blog post, so I shall do just that. :)
Just last week, I was in Hamburg to shoot Brazil and Denmark. Brazil and non-European countries are a bit lonesome this summer as they’ve got nothing to do. Therefore, the obvious solution was for them to do some part time work so that they can feed their family. The match started at 3:30PM. Sunny day. Shadows on the pitch. Pockets of light everywhere. Day games in stadiums are probably the most annoying thing ever for a sports photographer. Since we deal with subjects that move around and won’t sit still (think dogs, not cats), you have to find ways to cope with finding a way to expose the scenes correctly, no matter the mix of light and shadows. Below are the steps I have taken to deal with them.
1. Go manual young man
After about 10 minutes of shooting, I realised that I was consistently achieving underwhelming underexposed shots. Cameras today are smart. A lot smarter than you and me and Mr. Hawking combined. 3D matrix (and the other camera manufacturers equivalent) meters the entire scene and combines that with their “in this situation, give this exposure” data. It’s like photography magic. But what it cannot do is to see like our eyes and in tricky situations, like the ones I faced that day, it just doesn’t work. Extreme shadows and extreme light equals disaster and I was fed up. Therefore I decided to go manual. I set it to 1/2000 and f3.2 with 800 ISO. My plan was to turn the shutter speed dial according to where the players were on the pitch.
Ah, let me paint you the scenario. Everything is peachy until the players move into the part of the stadium where A) the players are in the shadows B) the stands is bathing in sunshine. What made it even worse was the LED advertisement boards which were constantly changing.
After 3 roundtrips of players going up and down the pitch, I decided that my plan sucked. The fact that I had to look at the meter bar and my shutter speed all the while composing the scene made it impossible for me to concentrate on anything.
2. Compensate my exposure
Exposure compensation (EC). The plus and minus that we all should be using because it’s a one-step make it dark, make it light button. When came up with this solution, I thought that I have reached sports photography nirvana. I even thought about writing a book about it. “How I conquered the shadows: One man’s fight against the evils of midday stadium lighting”. The camera was set at 1/1000 f3.2 and Auto ISO. Therefore, the only thing I had to worry about was adjusting EC according to the scene. I knew that when the players were in the light, they were almost always exposed correctly automatically and when they moved into the shadow I will bump up the EC. Obviously it didn’t work. So much so that I almost cried. In theory, it was a plan for the ages. Simple yet elegant. But in reality it was less than adequate because it still meant that I had to gamble on the exposure when the players were in the shadows.
This is what happened. When the players move into the shadows, the camera is exposing for the entire scene which includes the almost burnt up stands as well as the ever changing LED advertisement board The metering bar is showing “Hey, you’re exposure here is awesome”, but in reality she is lying to me because when I look at the picture, it’s not awesome at all. This EC method doesn’t work, because I cannot rely on the metering bar and I’m stuck guesstimating everything.
3. And finally…
The match is winding down and I now want to throw my camera AND the lens at the goalkeeper. What can I do? I cannot do everything manually, because it’s just too much. Cannot rely on my Spidey senses to dial the correct EC. Then I came up with something that didn’t really occur to me. What if I expose all the scenes on the players and nothing else? Instead of using 3D matrix metering, I’ll just use spot metering. From what I’ve read, it will expose on the focus point that you are on and not only on the central focus point like it was back in 1987.
The results were…. okay. Even if I’m exposing only on the player, there’s also a difference on how much light is falling on them and it did not give me the consistent results that I wanted. But, the number of severe underexposure were reduced dramatically.
Unfortunately, my solution to this age old problem is not enough for met to get a book deal, but I’m hoping that you can chime in on this topic. Have you been in the same situation and what did you do to overcome it? I’m also certain that if you solve this, you will get a Nobel Prize for physics and for a peace of mind.
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