My daughters and I can’t wait for NCAA volleyball to start…
At most sporting events I’m in attendance because I want to *watch* the event. I’m always tempted to carry my camera with me but I generally leave it at home so I’m not distracted. When I attended the semi-finals of the NCAA volleyball championship this past December I left my camera behind. However, when I saw that fans were allowed to carry in any camera/lens combo they wanted, I decided to take my camera and 70-200mm f/2.8L IS to the championship match and at least take a few pictures.
While warm ups were going on I experimented a bit with settings. When shooting any fast-action sport one is generally trying to freeze the action (there are exceptions to this of course). If you don’t use a relatively fast shutter speed you have no chance of getting a decent photo of a hard kill for instance — unless your goal is to turn the ball into a blur that you can hardly see in the frame. Manual mode is pretty much a given in a venue like the Alamodome as the light never changes and being very well-lit a fast shutter speed is possible (the gym where my daughters play is not so well-lit and a really fast shutter speed isn’t possible) . For shots of the action on the court I settled on using manual mode with 1/750s to 1/1000s shutter, f/2.8 aperture, and ISO 2000. Generally the only time you vary your exposure is if you are taking shots of the crowd as opposed to the court (the crowd near the court was lit a stop or so less than the court).
I was able to convince the elevator operator to allow me and my son upstairs to the skybox area so we could take some pictures from a different perspective. While there, a pro photog plopped down two seats away from us and we got to chatting a bit. I asked him what settings he typically used in the stadium and they were 1/1250s, f/2.8, ISO 2500 — not far off what I was shooting. He said my settings were fine for the lens I was using (70-200mm) but he wanted that slightly faster shutter because he was using a 400mm lens and needed some help compensating for lens movement. We talked about depth of field (DOF) a bit too. Up in the balcony we were maybe 200 feet from the net which gave him a DOF of approximately 10-12 feet (depends on the camera body…he had one of the Canon 1D bodies I’m sure). That really required accurate focus — if he accidentally focused on a back row the action *at* the net would be out of focus. When I shot at 200mm, I had a great DOF of about 52 feet to work with.
My 5D mkii has great high ISO performance which is nice for these sporting events but one huge deficiency is its (relatively) low frame rate — not so great for sports. I was kind of jealous of the pro as he machine-gunned frames when a kill was imminent. Of course, the slow frame rate cuts down on the number of images I need to go through in post 🙂
Most people who like to do HDRs are suckers for reflections. I’m no exception and when my children and I walked into San Antonio’s Alamodome for the NCAA volleyball championship I saw these shiny floors and decided to fire off some brackets. I set up the camera to fire 3 brackets (the max on Canon) with the auto timer and set the camera on the floor. It would’ve been nearly impossible to change the settings without moving the camera so I didn’t even try. I took another set of brackets with more crowds in the picture but the motion was too great to process reasonably.
I ran this through Photomatix and then brought the tonemapped image into Photoshop along with the brightest exposure. I used a few adjustment layers on the bright exposure to semi-match it to what I wanted to fix — the people in the hallway and a few other areas where ghosting had caused some weirdness in the tonemapped image. After blending those areas in, I went to work on the result with a half-dozen other adjustment layers (mostly curves). There are some missing people-parts but I don’t really mind as it gives a sense of motion and the work to clone in new pieces wouldn’t be worth it.
I was saving this so I could post it in honor of the Longhorns making the final four in the NCAA tournament but…they lost in the regional final over the weekend. Illinois managed to win and will face USC on Thursday.
Here it is:
Just for fun, here are some pics from the University of Texas Longhorns vs. Michigan State match in the second round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament. I hadn’t ever brought my camera to Gregory Gym but decided to for this last home match of the year. I used only my 17-40 f/4L (“long” lenses are not allowed) and took most pictures from my seat. Right away I discovered that the color temperature is not consistent throughout the place — something I hadn’t noticed until I took pictures — but I didn’t attempt to fix the color at all. It’s amazing how our eyes just adjust to the situation but the camera cannot. Most (all?) of the images were shot in manual mode at f/4, 1/500s, and at ISO 3200 since I didn’t have the benefit of using any strobes like the official photographer (he has four strobes mounted in the rafters). I chose the fast shutter speed in hopes of freezing the action reasonably well. For shots in between the fast action (preparing for service for example) I could have switched to a smaller aperture and slower shutter but I was mostly there to enjoy watching the match and didn’t want to fiddle with settings. “Photography” wasn’t number one on the agenda for the night. The pictures are by no means awesome but in any case recorded a fun evening watching volleyball with my girls.
Of course we cheer for the Longhorns…for now. However, my alma mater (Illinois — the #3 seed) is still in the tournament and should they meet Texas in the finals we’ll be behind the Fighting Illini (we already have our tickets!). My kids know they will be grounded if they choose to favor the Longhorns 🙂
And finally, what happens when your shutter is open and the stadium photographer triggers the strobes in the rafters.