England v Wales Women’s Rugby

I never seem to concentrate on a single type of photography. A last week it was portraits, a few days ago wildlife photography, the other day food photography, and now sports. I’m sure one day I’ll settle down and find my niche, but until then I’m happy to play around in any genre and learn whatever I can. Sooner or later I should really start concentrating on strengthening a particular style but I’m not at that point yet.

Last week, after the England rugby team had lost to Wales in the Six Nations at Twickenham, the stadium opened its doors for anyone to come in and see the England Womens’ Rugby team take on the Welsh Ladies in the Womens’ Six Nations.

As it was a free event, and we live a stone’s throw from the stadium, we figured it would be a nice way to spend the evening, and give me the chance to try some sports shooting, which I’ve not really ever done before (the closest equivalent is the marine commando display from the Bournemouth Air Festival last year).

Slightly annoyingly, they only had one side of the stadium open, so all of my pictures have empty seats in the background. Still, as it was a free-for-all, sit anywhere you like sort of event, I was able to find my way to some seats near the touchline in the hope of getting some interesting images.

1/6sec, f/5, ISO 100, exposure bias -0.67, 18mm

We arrived a little late – the match was already five minutes in – but England were by then 5-0 up. The first thing we noted was that the women’s game is just as aggressive as the men’s. Perhaps more so – there was at least one almost-punchup.

We shuffled along a bit from the position in the shot above to get a clearer view of the pitch, and I switched over to my 70-300mm telephoto.

Annoyingly, for most of the match the action was at the far end of the pitch, but I managed to get a number of decent shots when the activity came our way.

1/320sec, f/5.6, ISO 2000, exposure bias -0.67, 300mm (cropped)

Whilst I was writing up this post, I looked at that image, and decided it was a bit yellow. This led to me going back through all of the photos from this set and tweaking many of them a bit more. I sometimes do this to one or two photographs whilst writing posts, because occasionally looking at an image with a fresher set of eyes will make you go, hang on, that’s wrong, the white balance is a bit out, or the levels need to be nudged a bit here or there.

Working on these shots has also proved quite tricky. Most of the time I let my camera pick the white balance, because if I had it set on a manual option I’d always forget to change it and have to move it anyway; at least when the camera picks the colour temperature it gets reasonably close most of the time. However, being under floodlights, with the green, green grass, the skin tones, and the red of the Welsh players’ shirts, it was bound to get things a little bit out from time to time.

Often in these situations I will take the colour temperature slider and throw it completely to one extreme and then the other so that when I come back to the central ground my eyes are looking at the image fresh and I’m more likely to find the ‘true’ balance.

For the shot above I decided to try cancelling out the exposure bias to see how it would come out, and with a nudge of the colour temperature from about 4300K to about 3900K I think it looks a bit better:

1/320sec, f/5.6, ISO 2000, exposure bias -0.67 (+0.11), 300mm (cropped)

The difference is slight, I know, but it looks a whole lot more when you are able to flick between the two to compare them. Ultimately, making this change meant that many of the other shots then looked a bit too warm, and a bit too dark. So I went away and adjusted most of them. The annoying thing is that you end up balancing for the photograph next to it in the sequence, which means you can sometimes get to the end of the set and realise it doesn’t quite match up with the shots from the start.

I’m now beginning to realise how much processing I need to do on each photo: a nudge of the exposure, maybe a tweak of the brightness and contrast, a slight prod of the white balance depending on how well the camera guessed the right setting, and finally, if there is any large amounts of red in the shot, a slight adjustment of the hue seems to be the trick to get rid of the documented issues with red that I’ve seen in many of my photographs. Some refinement of the noise reduction and sharpening can also be required if Aperture’s default suggestions haven’t quite done the trick.

I kept the ISO high for this trip, allowing me to get shots at reasonably quick shutter speeds to capture the action. Although we were under floodlights it was still relatively dark, and you want as little blur as possible. I also shot in aperture priority to let in as much light as possible and keep the backgrounds nicely blurred.

As I mentioned earlier, the action spent a lot of the time away from our end of the pitch, but from time to time the action got pretty close.

1/250sec, f/5, ISO 2000, exposure bias -0.67 (0.42), 160mm

Despite the activity being predominantly based at the far end of the pitch, the stretch of my telephoto allowed me to still get decently close to the players, and the 18MP resolution allowed me to crop in a bit more when I needed to. Quite a few of the further away shots were also cropped from landscape into portrait to highlight the action a bit better.

1/320sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, exposure bias -0.67, 300mm (cropped into portrait)

One of the problems from being in the frontmost rows of the crowd and therefore essentially on the same level as the players is that sometimes the professionals (one day I might be able to call them the competition) got in the way. That hasn’t always ruined the photo, however.

1/320sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, exposure bias -0.67, 300mm (cropped)

Although this photo may possibly be better without the photographer in the shot, in many ways I like his presence. It’s almost saying, what’s going on isn’t interesting enough for the professional to bother with.

I like the shot, it has quite nicely captured the action without any blur and you can clearly see the exactly what’s going on. It’s just a shame the seats in the background are empty, as it looks like this is a warm-up or training session rather than a full-blown international.

Whilst the main ‘sport’ part of the day was going on down the far end of the field, I took the opportunity to take photos of some of the individual players.

1/320sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, exposure bias -0.67 (+0.39), 300mm (cropped)

Now, be honest, if this was a photo of a man, you’d assume he was scratching his balls in that shot, wouldn’t you?

Even when things were going on a bit further away I managed to get some decent action shots.

1/320sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, exposure bias -0.67 (-0.68), 300mm (cropped to portrait)

I also tried to get a few ‘clever’ shots with the ball moving but in focus and the background blurred. It wasn’t entirely successful, in part because of how my position was restricting my framing options, but this shot didn’t come out too badly.

1/250sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, exposure bias -0.67, 300mm (cropped)

The main part of the problem is from the distance I was at the ball takes up very little of the frame, and cropping so extremely as to change that fact will result in too much of a drop in quality for it to be worth it.

It wasn’t all action, I did try to get some interesting shots of the surroundings. I’m hoping that RBS might give me some money for this one:

1/200sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, exposure bias -0.67, 300mm

Sometimes, there would be a skirmish facing in the right direction for a decent shot.

1/320sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, exposure bias -0.67 (+0.38), 300mm (cropped to portrait)

As I said earlier, there weren’t many holds barred – this match was just as full contact as the men’s game.

1/400sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, exposure bias -0.67, 240mm

I managed to grab a few shots where you just wish they’d been facing in the other direction. This shot is pretty good, the ball and the player’s arm is pretty sharp whilst the rest of her is blurred with motion, but the shot would be a lot more interesting if you could see her face.

1/160sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, exposure bias -0.67 (-0.31), 300mm (cropped)

At least she kicked up some turf as she ran off in the wrong direction.

1/400sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, exposure bias -0.67 (+0.03), 300mm

Another problem I encountered was, from the angle I was shooting from, I would often get cluttered backgrounds. Normally this isn’t too bad, but sometimes other players appear quite close in the background, and as such are still mostly in focus and harder to differentiate from the action. This is one such example.

1/320sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, exposure bias -0.67, 300mm (cropped to portrait)

When the play did make it down our end I was able to get some shots of the team reactions.

1/320sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, exposure bias -0.67 (+0.64), 300mm

Every so often the action would get close enough that I didn’t need to use the full zoom of my telephoto. That didn’t mean I wouldn’t use it, as it would allow me to get slightly more creative images like this next one without the need for cropping.

1/250sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, exposure bias -0.67, 300mm

This next shot is one that could easily threaten to get a bit busy.

1/400sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, exposure bias -0.67 (+0.55), 300mm

In the foreground we have someone taking a kick, frustratingly with the ball obscuring her leg making this action not as clear. But then we have two other players part way through tumbling to the ground – I particularly love the way the England player (the one in white for my uninitiated readers) is levelling her gaze towards the continuing action. Finally we have the running player on the left who has somehow managed to get herself out of focus despite being between the kicking player and the falling players.

Sometimes, when looking though sets after I’ve edited them for the purposes of writing up these posts, I will stop and wonder why I kept a particular shot. Often the shot will end up deleted, but on occasion I will remember why I kept it around.

This is one such shot, kept solely because I found it amusing that one of the players is clearly using a tactic that you wouldn’t see in the men’s game.

1/320sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, exposure bias -0.67, 300mm (cropped)

After half time, the teams reversed ends. A side effect of this meant that one single player always ended up in my frame whenever the action got close. I have no idea who she is, but she was always there or thereabouts whenever I was shooting. After a while I was worrying it was going to look a bit obsessive.

1/320sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, exposure bias -0.67, 300mm

As is often the way in rugby, when the action gets, er, actiony, it ends in what is technically termed a ‘bundle’ which can be hard to make sense out of. As least in this particular bundle at least one of the players is pretty sharp.

1/500sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, exposure bias -0.67 (+0.17), 300mm

Now, as any long-time readers will know, I love to shoot photographers. I mean, er… well, you know full well what I mean, because I quite often make that joke as well. I’ve not heard any complaints so I’ll probably keep reusing it.

Anyway, the point is, this doesn’t just apply to people with stills cameras. Sometimes the TV people need to be captured too (yes, that’s another joke I make quite often. It amuses me).

1/160sec, f/5, ISO 2500, exposure bias -0.67 (-0.69), 135mm

Of course, there wasn’t just video cameras there, so I made sure some of the paid photographers got sorted too.

1/320sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, exposure bias -0.67 (+0.77), 300mm

Tweaking the white balance of these shots was sometimes tricky, because just about every shot has skin tones in it. Are the players tanned or pale? Quite what shade of red should the shirts be?

The problem was bad enough that for a while, this player looked hispanic.

1/250sec, f/5, ISO 2500, exposure bias -0.67 (+0.38), 220mm

Frequently when the action came down our end there wasn’t much interesting going on that could be clearly seen and photographed. Which is annoying, because the money in sports photography is of the action, and of the celebrations. That’s the main things that people want. So I was lucky to be able to capture a shot of a bit of celebrating after something good happened (no idea what but it wasn’t a scoring event).

1/400sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, exposure bias -0.67 (+0.81), 300mm

It’s that girl again. For reference, she was wearing a number 11 shirt, so there may be someone who is able to fill in the blanks on who she is, but also you will be able to pick her out of any of the other photos she might have snuck into. Like this next one.

1/400sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, exposure bias -0.67 (+0.64), 300mm

She was actually cropped out of this next photo, in order to get a little closer to the action.

1/500sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, exposure bias -0.67 (+0.32), 300mm (cropped)

Now look, I know I’m coming across as a middle-aged guy denying a futile crush here, but this woman kept on showing up in exactly the right places for nice photos.

1/500sec, f/5.6, ISO 3200, exposure bias -0.67 (+0.55), 300mm

At this point I pushed the ISO a little higher – up to 3200 – to try to get some better static shots. Which turned out to be perfect for this shot where everyone is standing around doing nothing.

1/400sec, f/5, ISO 3200, exposure bias -0.67 (-0.06), 300mm

I love the composition of this shot; the players are arranged in a diagonal line at different distances from the camera, and they are all doing something slightly different, each of which is a stereotypical pose or action for a field-based sportsperson. Also at least a bit of it is in focus.

It wasn’t long before I managed to grab an action shot, one I was pretty much in the right spot for.

1/320sec, f/5.6, ISO 3200, exposure bias -0.67 (-0.45), 300mm (cropped)

My final action shot of this (admittedly rather long) post features… ah, no one in particular. Just some rugby player.

1/640sec, f/5.6, ISO 3200, exposure bias -0.67 (-0.94), 300mm

My closing shot (thanks for staying with me to the end) is another slightly abstract one, another gentle nudge for RBS to give me money. Or at the very least a polite request for them to not sue me for reusing their logo.

1/320sec, f/5.6, ISO 3200, exposure bias -0.67, 300mm (cropped)

The estimated attendance for the match prior to kickoff was about 3,000, but a fair amount of the east stand was full, so we probably exceeded that number, so we made our way out of the stadium a few minutes before full time. We didn’t miss any scoring, but obviously I didn’t get any shots of the celebrations of the winning team.

The England women fared a bit better than the men’s team, and ran out 33-0 winners.

6 Comments

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  1. It looks that was a really good game!

    You have considerable photography skills, Rob. I like how you posted what aperture settings your camera was at. I’m taking a photography class this semester, and it’s a really good class so far. This will definitely help me. 🙂

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    • Wow, with all the comments flying into the Borough Market post I almost missed that this was for a different post. I was worried my post on the rugby had gotten a bit lost under the swell of people…

      It was a good game, although hoping for photogenic action tends to make you support whatever team brings the action closer to where you are. This is one of my first times trying this type of shooting so I’m glad you like the result!

      I always make a point of publishing the camera settings with most photos on this site – I really think it helps fellow aspiring shooters when they can see a little more of what went into a shot than just the end result.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. Good luck with your class!

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  2. Assuming from your narrative that the photos are posted in roughly the order you took them, you can really see the progression as you adjusted to sports photography! The ones from the second half, to me, came out better than the first and the best one is second to last in my opinion.

    Very interesting stuff with the white balance being screwy, it’s something I’ve always battled with when I’ve taken the camera to rugby matches (which I haven’t for quite some time now), and that yellowy hue is very familiar to me!! But your tweaks with the exposure bias and light temp do seem to have corrected it on the whole. I’m taking notes for the Wembley match although there will also be daylight to contend with there!

    Actually, depending on the colour of the strip the teams are wearing, some of these could be candidates for ‘selective colour’ style processing? Like your phone box photo.

    Some photos I’ve done of rugby, although they’re now very old: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cjtrigg/sets/72157594313701636/

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    • I pretty much always post photos chronologically, so yes these are in the order they were shot! I think the second half benefitted from some closer action, but it does also sometimes take me a while to settle down into shooting in a new environment like this.

      I think you can still sometimes see the colour balance a little out on some shots. To be honest, selective colouring didn’t occur to me, despite me playing about a bit with colour (although that was mainly adjusting the hue to put the Wales players in purple shirts).

      Wembley will be interesting – don’t forget you’ll have me there to contend with too – but I think we’re sitting further up and away there, aren’t we? I’m hoping the daylight will make things a bit easier with the colour balance (and shooting at a lower ISO) but we’ll see!

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  3. It’s always good shooting with another person, or people, I’m looking forward to it! We are indeed higher up, but a lot of the photos I have on Flickr are taken from roughly the sort of place so with the telephoto lenses it could be ok. We’re also nearer the centre so shouldn’t be limited too much by where the action is happening.

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