I took a knife to a gunfight…and lived.

 

Raley Field, home of the Sacramento River Cats

07-28-2012

Figuratively speaking, of course.

I regularly shoot Sacramento River Cats baseball games for Sacramento Press. The River Cats are the MILB AAA team that feeds the Oakland A’s.

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.

 

Pre-game ceremonies, shot with a Panasonic GH2 and Canon FD 50mm f/1.4 lens

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.

 

Panasonic GH2 setup (left) weighs almost 1/4 of the Canon (right)

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)

 

Action moving toward the camera is easier to capture.

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.

 

Approaching the plate...

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.

 

Even under the park lights, the Panasonic GH2 keeps up with the action.

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.

Waiting for the right instant can be a great alternative to spraying and praying.

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.

The Canon setup handles sports in low light very nicely.

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.

Next time? I’ll probably do the same thing.

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College football is a blast

Be true to your school

09-24-2011

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.

Serious football happens here.

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…

Looks like a normal crowd shot…
…until you look closer – what the….?

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.

Diving for yardage.

Point after touchdown

Wear your team on your cheek.

For the record, #35 has the ball.

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).

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No whine before its time

12-26-2010

Last week I watched and photographed part of the full lunar eclipse. The eclipse started around 11:30 PM and lasted about 3 1/2 hours. The photo above was taken during the “totality” phase, when the moon is completely in the Earth’s shadow. The sun’s rays bend a little as they pass through the Earth’s atmosphere, slightly illuminating the moon with a reddish tint. While a normal moon exposure is the same as midday sun (remember the “Sunny 16 Rule?”) this exposure was much lower, about 12 stops lower than daylight.

Occasionally a cloud bank would pass overhead, blocking out the view and giving no indication about how long it would obscure the eclipse. It was cold. And yet, I noticed an unusual “calm” as I watched and waited.

It was unusual that I felt so patient. In other situations, like stop-and-go traffic or standing in a long line at Costco, I would find myself getting antsy and gripe about the long wait. I would scan other lanes to see if they were moving faster and even take a chance and move over, usually to learn that there is no gain to be made. (“Price check on Register 4.”) But during the eclipse I noticed that I was content to wait patiently. This is kind of funny because there was nothing I could have done to make it move along faster! It was going to take as long as an eclipse takes. Period.

I was calm because I had no expectation that it could be different.

I need to apply this to other situations…like traffic, and grocery lines, and life in general. Some things will take as long as they take. No amount of griping or whining or lane-jumping will make a significant difference. And there is some research that suggests that lane-jumping actually slows down the traffic for everyone. I think I need to change my expectations about how long things (should) take.

My photo business will grow when it grows. My golf game will improve at its own pace…if at all. I will finish projects at the exact time they need to be finished.

Or as I used to say often to others….”let it go and let it grow.”

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Independence Day – 2009

towerbridgefireworks

July 3, 2009

Happy 4th of July!

After the Sacramento Rivercats game ended on Friday night, they had a pretty nice fireworks display at Raley Field. This was taken from across the Sacramento River along the promenade. I included one of the towers of the Tower Bridge because I wanted a stationary and recognizable object in the image in order to provide some scale to the fireworks.

Fireworks photos are pretty easy, if you can control the shutter speed of your camera. For a time exposure, a sturdy tripod is essential to keep the camera from moving during the exposure. I used a 10 second time exposure for this shot – I also set the lens at f/22 (ISO 200). This gave me a good base exposure for the bridge. I just locked the shutter open while a few fireworks bursts went off. It’s hit or miss, sometimes you’ll get a lot of bursts (and sometimes more is not better), other times, there won’t be very many bursts.

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Moonlight on the rocks

img_4883

01-10-2009

This is the view from Trinidad’s Turtle Rocks Oceanfront Inn along the North Coast of California. The most significant thing about this photograph is that it was taken by moonlight. It was a full moon on the night of this shot and a 30 second time exposure was all it took to capture this image. The tell-tale signs that this is a time exposure at night:

  1. Small amount of star trails in the sky. At 30 seconds, the trails don’t show up much, but they are there.
  2. The light of a fishing boat along the horizon.
  3. The blur of the waves – there is plenty of ocean movement in 30 seconds.

The Turtle Rocks Oceanfront Bed & Breakfast Inn is a treat. The rooms are spacious, comfortable with great views of the ocean. The owners, Francine and Roger, are very friendly and accommodating, making sure that your stay is the best possible.

Some additional photos from the area:

img_4783

img_4851

img_4864

This is definitely a Do Over.

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Night Fountains

09/01/2008

Downtown Sacramento has a pedestrian mall that connects Old Sacramento with the Community Center. Some of the blocks in between are a little under-developed, but at the end of the mall near the Community Center, several restaurants and outdoor venues provide a nice open area for quiet time. These fountains have a nice calming effect among the city traffic. I also have a daytime shot of these fountains, for a different perspective.

This photo was a 15 second time exposure, which allowed the flowing water to take on a very silky look. It also converted passing cars into white and red light streaks. Time exposures require a very sturdy tripod and lots of patience.

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