Playing at the Game

A beautiful day at the ballpark.

 

06-20-2011

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.

Action photos take split-second timing, anticipation of the action, and full control of the camera.

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!)

The ball is sharp, it's not overlapping anything else and it's moving about 88 mph. (Click on photo for larger view)

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.

Gee, from way up here, everyone looks like toy figurines.

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.

This photo was taken from about 450 feet away. Seriously, that's some amazing magnification.

 

All eyes are on the ball.

 

Check out the red arrow - that's where I set up the camera/telescope combination to take shots of home plate.

 

Instead of stopping the action, how about letting it really show?

Panning with the subject, shutter speed was 1/15 second.

As you can see, it’s not just the players who get to play at the game!

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Dorothy Was Right

 

 

Nothing like a crunchy aphid for lunch.

05-31-2011

At the end of the movie, “Wizard of Oz,” Dorothy says that if she ever goes looking for her heart’s desire again, she won’t look any further than her own back yard.

A couple weeks ago I put out a call asking for the best place to find ladybugs. I wanted to take some closeup shots and I knew this was the time of year for them. I got several suggestions, most of them fell into two camps: 1) drive way the heck up into the hills, or 2) buy a bag of them and wrangle them myself. Instead, I took Dorothy’s advice and looked in my own backyard. Our fruit tree is heavily infested with aphids so it made sense that I would find ladybugs in the tree.

Sure enough. As I got closer to the tree I could hear the faint cry of aphids being devoured alive (and dead).

 

Don't bug me, I'm busy.

This photo raises a question: What do you call a male ladybug? I learned the answer is: a male ladybug.

Gear talk: These photos were taken with a Canon 7D, 50mm f1.4 lens on a 20mm extension tube, and two Nikon flashes (left and right side). (ISO:100, 1/200, f/11) The camera and flashes were mounted on a home-made bracket (natch) that is pretty mobile and well-balanced.  I can get more magnification by using a longer extension tube. Focusing at this magnification is very critical, depth of field is about 3/8 inch.

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Stop it!

src20100711_036a

07-11-2010

I just realized it’s been almost two months since I last updated this blog. I guess you could say I’ve been a bit busy lately…

– shooting several sporting events for SacramentoPress.com

– teaching photography classes at Learning Exchange

– 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
  • ISO 400
  • Shutter speed: 1/6400 second
  • Aperture: f/2.8

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.

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DIY – build a loupe

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Where’s the image? The LCD screen is difficult to see in bright light.

05-13-2010

For years photographers have used a loupe to check focus on the groundglass of a view camera, or to inspect a negative or slide. A loupe is simply a magnifier for very close viewing. With the advent of digital cameras, a loupe takes on a new role.  It’s pretty hard to resist chimping your images while shooting; but out in the bright sun it’s almost impossible to see the image on your LCD screen. A loupe can help by blocking out the light while checking your screen.

This post will give you step-by-step instructions for building your own loupe. The parts will cost you less than $15 and it takes a little less than an hour to make.

The parts to make a loupe will cost about $15.
The parts to make a loupe will cost under $15.

Continue reading “DIY – build a loupe”

Blur + Detail = Action! (Part 1)

Kenny Roberts maneuvers his Yamaha cafe racer through a turn at Laguna Seca Raceway; July 1975
Kenny Roberts maneuvers his Yamaha cafe racer through a turn at Laguna Seca Raceway; July 1975

01-08-2010

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.

Fast shutter speeds freeze action, giving the viewer details about the movement
Fast shutter speeds freeze action, giving the viewer details about the movement

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.

Continue reading “Blur + Detail = Action! (Part 1)”

The Eyes Have It

pepper_eyes

11-21-2009

I hardly ever set my camera on any of the in-camera settings, such as black & white, or vivid, or sepia. I always prefer to do image-tweaking in post-production for two reasons: my computer has much more finesse than the in-camera processor, and I prefer to have the choice of using the original in color. Having said that, I was experimenting tonight with the black & white setting on my Canon XTi, perhaps for the first time.

I took this shot in my kitchen; the lighting was from one overhead fixture with two CFL bulbs. I shot it hand-held at 1/15 sec, f/5.6, ISO 1600, with no image-stabilization. I was trying to replicate the old-school days of shooting pushed Tri-X in available light, manual focus, manual everything. My only comfort was the chimp-factor avaiable with the digital camera.

My dog, Pepper, has the most amazing dog eyes. She has some sort of genetic eye-liner which makes most women jealous. (You can’t see it in this image, but she also has a pretty dark moustache, so I guess that evens it out…)

In line with this attempt, it might be fun to really go old-school and turn off the LCD display, shoot without chimping and then seeing how the images come out later. I could even force myself to wait three days to see the results, just like the good old days.

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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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