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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Sometimes, there would be a skirmish facing in the right direction for a decent shot.
As I said earlier, there weren’t many holds barred – this match was just as full contact as the men’s game.
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.
At least she kicked up some turf as she ran off in the wrong direction.
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.
When the play did make it down our end I was able to get some shots of the team reactions.
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.
This next shot is one that could easily threaten to get a bit busy.
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.
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.
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.
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).
Of course, there wasn’t just video cameras there, so I made sure some of the paid photographers got sorted too.
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.
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).
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.
She was actually cropped out of this next photo, in order to get a little closer to the action.
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.
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.
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.
My final action shot of this (admittedly rather long) post features… ah, no one in particular. Just some rugby player.
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.
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.