I took this photo five years ago as a personal assignment. I wanted to illustrate how it feels to ride a bicycle on a busy city street.
The California Bicycle Coalition asked if they could use the photo as part of their campaign to pass a law requiring drivers to give bicyclists three feet of space on a roadway. Of course, I agreed.
This week Governor Jerry Brown just signed the “three-foot” legislation, Assembly Bill 1371. The bill is not heavy-handed; it has a base fine of $35. I’m also guessing that most drivers won’t change much of their behavior because of AB1371. After all, we’ve had laws on the books for decades about stopping at a stop sign, yielding right of way to pedestrians and, more recently, no texting while driving. If you look around, you’ll notice that these laws aren’t always followed by some drivers either.
At least there’s a law now.
If you’re interested in knowing how this photo was taken, it was pretty simple. I modified a shelf bracket to mount a small DSLR camera onto the rear axle of my bicycle. I used a 10-20mm lens for a very wide perspective, set the shutter speed to 1/30 second for some blur effects, and used a small radio remote to fire the camera while I navigated in traffic. After about 250 shots, I found at least one good one (above).
The baseball park is located at Raley Field in West Sacramento and the park has a little more than 11,000 seats, plus some lawn seating. It is a great and comfortable venue for watching baseball.
My normal gear haul for shooting sports is two Canon 7D camera bodies and three or four lenses. The Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 (non-IS) lens is my standard sports lens, the other lenses are usually chosen when I am packing for the game, sometimes on impulse. One time, I took a telescope to a game, just for something different.
After adding extra batteries, a monopod and a water bottle, the gear pack usually weighs about 30 pounds. Fortunately I am able to set the pack on the ground most of the time I am at the game. I do like to shoot from different locations around the park, including from behind the back fence, so I do add up some mileage lugging this load around.
As I was packing for a game last week, I decided to pare down the load and travel lighter. I brought one Canon 7D body and the 70-200 lens. But for a majority of my shooting, I wanted to use the Panasonic GH2 camera with a few smaller lenses.
The GH2 is a micro four-thirds format camera which has a 16 MP sensor that is slightly smaller physically than the sensor on the 7D. The sensors in the GH2 and the 7D are pretty comparable according to some of the diagnostic websites, although the 7D does have an advantage in low light. More on that in a minute.
The entire Panasonic camera system is smaller than the Canons, so the reduction in weight (and pack space) is pretty significant. For example, a Canon 7D with a 70-200mm lens weighs in at 4.5 lbs. The GH2 with a 45-200mm lens weighs 1.25 lbs.
Using the Panasonic setup did leave me with a few technical challenges. The Canon lens is two stops brighter than the Panasonic lens, so I knew I would be shooting the GH2 at a slower shutter speed. With action photography, freezing motion is a pretty big challenge. Frame rate is another. The Canon 7D will shoot at 8.5 frames per second, the GH2 lags a bit at 5 fps. And the 7D’s low light advantage would become more apparent as the evening progressed and the park shifted from daylight to stadium lights.
Side note: The GH2 has a super high speed frame rate – something like 40 frames per second. But this comes with a trade-off. In this mode, the sensor resolution drops to around 4 megapixels, and after shooting a burst of frames, the camera needs about 10-15 seconds to write the images to the card. And this is with a Class 10 card!
So how did it go? The proof of the pudding is in the eating.
I left the Canon gear in the pack until later in the evening when the light levels dropped. Shooting with the GH2 was a delight. The light weight made it much more pleasant to hold without tiring out my arms (and back and shoulders muscles). It was fun to stand in the photo pits along the baselines next to the photographers with the traditional “sewer-pipe” sports lenses. The technological disadvantages I mentioned above were not an issue since I adjusted my technique to compensate. (Imagine that)
To compensate for the slower shutter speed, I shot more photos at the edges of the action. For example, instead of trying to freeze the batter swinging a bat, I included photos of him approaching the plate or looking at the umpire. I also shot some of the action that was moving toward or away from the camera rather than across the frame.
To compensate for a slower continuous shooting rate on the GH2, (“only” 5 frames per second!) I paid more attention to timing my shots to align with the action. An extra benefit was having fewer images to cull through later when editing the photos for submission.
These are the same techniques I used when shooting sports with a film camera. At best I could push process Tri-X film to ASA/ISO 1600 to get an acceptable image. Anything higher than that was pretty much unusable. This limited shutter speeds to something crazy low, like 1/125 second.
With film and processing costs at stake, I used to shoot fewer images, way fewer. I was more particular about which players I would cover, and what plays I would follow. And when the action would unfold, I would pay close attention to capture the one shot at the right instant. 8 frames per second seems like laziness at times. Just spray and pray.
The Panasonic GH2 had a couple of advantages over the Canon 7D. Using the electronic viewfinder on the GH2 is a huge improvement over the 7D. I’ve gone on in previous posts about how much I love the EVF, so I won’t repeat myself here. Even with the slight black-out of the EVF when shooting sports, it’s terrific. The GH2 also has a great AutoFocus control, right where I need it. It’s located in the thumb placement on the back of the camera and I found I used it regularly to lock focus. The best part is it works like a toggle, so I can hit it to lock and then relax my thumb until I want to change focus, then hit it again. I’ve programmed the AF button on my 7D to also control auto focus, it just requires that I hold it down continuously.
Once the light levels dropped to the lowest point, I pulled out the Canon gear and used it during the last couple of innings. It certainly does handle the low light nicely, and I didn’t mind the extra weight of the rig, since I wasn’t using it all evening.
One thing I haven’t discussed is the credibility factor. I’ll admit I was a little self-conscious about not slinging around a huge camera/lens combo. This is often the sign of a “serious” sports shooter. But those little fears dropped off quickly as I found myself enjoying the process of using smaller scale gear (and much smaller cost!) and applying some brain power to get the results I wanted.
I recently started shooting photos for Sacstatesports.com – a sports-news outlet that features stories on the athletic teams at California State University, Sacramento – better know as the “Sac State Hornets.”
The energy at these games is incredible. The home field seats were pretty well filled, and amazingly, the visitor’s side had a respectable attendance, especially considering the visiting team was from Montana.
One of the things I really like about college sports is how hard the athletes play. They will give it their all on the field. They aren’t playing for a salary, but for the enjoyment, the ambition and the potential. And when they do well, their teammates get excited, too. Of course, the crowd is very loyal and loud. At this game, the Sac State Hornets beat the Montana Grizzlies, 42-28. It was the first Hornets’ victory over Montana in 17 games, so the student crowd was especially rowdy.
Funny thing, I took some crowd shots of the grandstands and it wasn’t until I edited the images after the game that I noticed a strange spectator in the crowd…
I have no idea what the “Green Man” was about…and nobody around him seemed to care much about it. I guess they were used to it.
I look forward to shooting more sports for Sacstatesports – after all, Sac State is my alma mater.
For you gear heads, I shoot with two Canon 7D’s, one with a wide zoom (17-40mm, f/4) for close action and the other with a tele zoom (70- 200mm, f/2.8). At night games, I need to set the ISO around 3200 so I can get a decent shutter speed (around 1/500 second).
I have the fun opportunity to shoot lots of local sporting events: Minor League Baseball (River Cats), NBA (Kings), United Football League (Mountain Lions), Tennis (Capitals), college sports, etc, etc.
Sports photography is always a challenge of techniques – it requires touch-typing all the camera buttons while looking through the viewfinder (no time to peek), anticipating and following the action, keeping track of exposure and manual focus, and oh yeah, watching out for that line drive foul tip that zips over the top of my head. It helps to learn to shoot with both eyes open. So far so good.
But after a while, and I hate to say this, it gets kind of repetitious. After nailing a few dozen batting shots, fielding plays, double plays, home plate collisions, manager/umpire dirt-kicking exchanges, crowd reactions, and mascot hi-jinks, I start to wonder, “What ELSE can I do?”
And that’s when the fun really begins.
First, I like to get right behind home plate and capture the ball in flight between the pitcher’s hand and the catcher’s glove. Shallow depth of field leaves very little time for the ball to be in focus. Even at 1/8000 of a second(!) it is mostly a matter of lucky timing to capture that one instant when the ball passes through the plane of sharpness. (It helps if your camera can crank out 8.5 images per second, too!)
Next, it’s kind of fun to take a high viewpoint shot of the field and apply some fake tilt-shift effects in Photoshop to give it that “miniaturized” look.
Then, for something completely different, how about putting the camera on a telescope and taking shots of home plate from the area behind the center field fence? The shots below were taken from a distance of about 450 feet away. I think the effective focal length (after calculating the crop sensor factor) worked out to about 2000 mm.
Instead of stopping the action, how about letting it really show?
As you can see, it’s not just the players who get to play at the game!
– working on a large commercial project that includes photography, design and press-printing the final product
– performing serious engine repair on my little beater truck.
The image at the top is a popular shot in sport-shooting. It was inspired by an iconic baseball photo (wish I could find it!) When I enlarge the high-resolution image, I can see the logo on the baseball in nice detail.
This photo is a combination of preparation and luck. The technical info:
Camera: Canon 7D in manual exposure mode
Lens: Canon 70-200L f2.8 – manual focus
Shutter speed: 1/6400 second
I manually pre-focused on a spot midway between the pitcher’s mound and home plate, put the shutter on continuous release (8 frames per second) and made several attempts. This image was the best one of the bunch.
I have always enjoyed action and sports photography. In fact, it was my love of motorcycle racing that led to my love of photography. As a young adult, I spent countless hours tromping around the Laguna Seca Raceway, loaded down with camera gear, in pursuit of the ultimate racing photographs. Riders, like Kenny Roberts above, would race their motorcycles at lightning speed, challenging the expertise and fast reflexes of both themselves and sports photographers.
Action photography offers some special challenges. First of all, when dealing with high-speed action, it is important to capture enough frozen detail to give the viewer a “picture” of what is happening. Still photographs can disclose plenty of information not discernible to the naked eye. Check out the long-jumper below, frozen at the peak of her jump.
Her facial expression and outstretched arms are captured in great detail, this is something that you may not otherwise be able to see during the jump.