Thursday, January 27, 2011

Photographing basketball (proper camera settings and white balance)

A couple of days ago, when heading off to my daughter's basketball game, I decided to grab my camera and take a couple of shots even though it was a preseason game. A couple of months ago I did a seminar on sports photography at B&H Photo in New York and people asked a lot of questions about shooting indoor basketball games. Why so many questions about this subject? Well...typically these games are played in courts that are not well lit, they color cast of the lights is terrible, the action is fast, and many cameras just can not keep up with all these challenges. So, for this blog entry, I am going to concentrate on the proper camera settings and tricks of the trade to help people shoot better in these tough environments.

One way to get crisp images, without a lot of motion blur, is to shoot images when the players are not moving very fast. Here I took a shot of my daughter and her friends being coached by my neighbor, Dave (ohhh...the patient man that he is!). Some people might say "hey, they are standing in one spot which is not very exciting", but it helps tell the story. You can see from the image that everybody is having a good time. This is not a super competitive league and I think that this helps to convey that message.

I typically will use my 70-200 2.8 IS lens so that I can zoom in and grab some tight shots even if the players are on the other side of the court. Here, the lens allowed me to focus in on my daughter and Dave, without letting them know that I was doing so.

Standing back and shooting from a distance lets you capture the real looks and emotions. Here, Danielle (Dave's daughter), looks up to him for some coaching advice.

Most people who take pictures inside a gym will notice that their images have a dark yellow coloring. This is caused by the fluorescent or incandescent lights that are typical in these buildings. The way to "fix" this problem is to many adjust your white balance settings. You should look in your camera manual to learn how to set your white balance. I usually bring a small accessory, called an ExpoDisc for doing this, but I forgot to bring it last weekend. did I change the white balance on my camera? I had my daughter stand still and I shot an image isolating just the white of her jersey. I then used that image to "tell" my camera that this was white inside this particular building. Was it perfect? Nope. But it was a heck of a lot closer to the correct shade than if I had left the camera in Auto White Balance mode.

Now for some action shots. The key to capturing the players frozen in motion, is to get your shutter speed to at least 1/320 sec (preferably even faster, maybe 1/500). There are two ways to get this shutter speed with your camera. The first is to crank up your ISO. I shot these images at ISO settings of 2000 or 2500, which buys me more shutter speed. Secondly, I was shooting with the 2.8 lens wide open (set to 2.8) to grab as much light as possible. For those people who try to shoot in this type of environment with a point-and-shoot camera, or an SLR with a slower variable aperture lens, will have a very tough time getting good shots. You just have too many variables working against you.

Another common question that I get from people is in regards to the focus of the camera. They want to know how to track the players even when they are running quickly towards the camera. If you try to shoot images with your camera in the standard "one shot" focus mode, you are bound to get out of focus images. Why? Because when you first press the shutter button and focus the camera, and the player is 20 yards from you, everything will be sharp. But, if you shoot in continuous mode (which you absolutely should be doing), with each step closer to you and your camera, they will be more and more out of focus. If you put your camera in "servo focus" (otherwise known as continuous focus), the camera and lens will track your moving subject and continually change the focal distance as you fire away.
Even though you might be tempted to shoot all of your images in landscape mode, try rotating the camera and taking some images in portrait mode. This works especially well with taller players or people taking free throws (where you want to isolate just one person).

One of the biggest challenges when shooting in many school gymnasiums is all the distractions in the background. Your best bet is to find a shooting position with the least amount of distractions (if at all possible). Here, I took a picture of Ali and Danielle (best friends) with the score barely visible in the background.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Some sad news from the water polo community

I just recently started photographing some of the local water polo matches in my hometown, as I start my preparations for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. A couple of months ago, I went out to Santa Clara University to shoot some scrimmages there. And then, two weeks ago, I went out to photograph my neighbor and his club team at a local high school. Each time, I make sure to check in with the coach of the team, to make sure that I could shoot from the base of the pool and to offer up images for their own use.

Two weeks ago was the first time that I met Coach Ron Freeman, and as it turns out, it was the last time that I would meet him. I went out to shoot more images at a tournament today and found out that Coach Freeman had a massive heart attack and died a couple of days ago. What a shock.

They asked me if I had any images of him coaching his last game and so I looked back and sent them some. Here are a couple of my favorites.

It is really hard to believe that I would photograph this man one day and then a couple of weeks later, find out that he is no longer with us. From everything that I heard, he was a real fixture in the water polo community here, and he will be sorely missed. I dedicate this blog entry to a man I didn't really know, but someone who affected so many of our friend's lives.

Now on to some of the images from the sport that he loved so much. This is a shot of my neighbor Patrick (my son's age), who was coached by Coach Reed for many years.

He shoots and he scores! Patrick puts one right through the hands of the goalie.

One of my favorite angles to shoot water polo, is from a very low position. I like to lay down on the pool deck and shoot just above the water line. When shooting at a wide aperture, it really helps to separate my main subject from the others. The key to shooting this sport is to capture the intensity of the action (around the ball and away from it as well).

In between periods, the team listening to their interim coach.

After my neighbor's game, I stuck around to shoot some of the final match. Again, looking for the peak of action and key moments of the game.

I like this shot because the goalie's eyes say it all. You can see the concentration in his eyes, but you can also see the opportunity that the shooter has. And...yes...the shooter did score. (Photographer note: When photographing water polo, being played outside on a sunny day, it is really important to shoot with your back to the sun. You want the athletes face's to be well lit. If you shoot in the other direction, you are almost guaranteed to have harsh shadows and ugly lighting. Also, make sure that you have your focus mode set to "Servo" to follow the action. Keep your ISO low, since you will have plenty of light and shoot wide open to isolate your subject. Lastly, you will want to shoot a lot of images to get those keepers!)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Another model shoot (with Chelsea Rose of the Ford Modeling Agency)

A couple of weeks ago, while on holiday break, I had a chance to practice my studio photography once again. I was lucky enough to photograph Chelsea Rose, who just recently signed with the Ford Modeling Agency.
We started with just one studio light with no light modifiers (to her left) and played with the shadows.

And then we set up a second studio light (with a beauty dish) to her right and put a soft box on her left. After an outfit change and some modifications to her makeup, we shot some more.

Amazing how an outfit change, a change to the makeup, and a change to the light setup, can make Chelsea look like different people. You can see attitude changes in her expressions and I am trying to capture that in my shots.

This is my favorite shot from the evening. I like the outfit, the expression, and the lighting on her face. Chelsea seems to have a very natural smile on her face and her eyes really pop in this photo. (Photographer tip: I edited this image in Adobe Photoshop, removing stray pieces of hair and fur from the hood. I also whitened her eyes by 20 percent to bring them out a bit more. For the final skin smoothing, I used the Imagenomic Portraiture plug-in.) 

After I completed the editing to this particular image, I wondered what it would look like in black and white. I like both images and can not decide which is my favorite. Which do you prefer?

Monday, January 10, 2011

A very different - and very special Bat Mitzvah

This past weekend was a very special one for the Henry family, and for me too. It was the day that Analise celebrated her Bat Mitzvah and another special day for this special family. As you can tell from the images below, this is not your typical Jewish family. Heck, this is not your typical family!

Lets start with Karen and Penni. I was lucky enough to photograph their wedding a couple of years ago when gay marriages were allowed in California. On that day, they introduced me to their three adopted children (all siblings from another mother). They told me in advance that the kids were a little shy and may be tough to photograph. But when I met them, all I saw were these really nice kids who needed to get to know me and trust me, before I turned a camera in their direction.
(Photographers note: It is really important to get to know the people you are photographing before you spend the day with them. Your knowledge of them, and the comfort that you establish, will ultimately help you take better pictures. Both of you will be more relaxed and it will show in your images.)

The Henry family is not only a same sex marriage, not only are they bi-racial, not only did they adopt three kids, they are also Jewish. Now that is different - and they celebrate that! As the Rabbi said during the Bat Mitzvah, "this family has chosen to be a part of every minority group." I quickly pulled out my iPhone and wrote that down because it describes them so perfectly.

Analise looked great for her big day. We were lucky enough to have overcast skies, so I could shoot outside with no harsh shadows.
I love taking this "Yad Shot" with the 50mm 1.4 lens wide open. I have taken this many times, but wanted to highlight Analise's darker skin over the Torah. Why? Because it was a first for me and different from the norm. Love that!

Analise walking with the Torah.

This was a really touching moment between Rabbi Magat, who is a good friend of the family, and Analise.

Half way through the service, while scanning the crowd in the sanctuary, I saw this cute little girl in her mother's arms. She had this great expression and I grabbed a couple of shots before she turned away. (Photographers note: When photographing an event like this, always make sure to look around for the "other shots". We tend to get very fixated on the main subjects in front of us, but if you focus too much on the obvious, you miss moments like this.)

Monday, January 3, 2011

Photographing a baby - Beware, these are very cute!

Last week, a friend of mine asked me if I would photograph his 3 month old daughter. Without hesitation, I agreed to do this for him and his wife. I did so for many reasons, first of all, he is a friend and I wanted to give them some nice images of their daughter and secondly I wanted to photograph a young child, which I really have not done that much of recently. My kids are teenagers and it has been  long time since I have captured images of a cute little baby!

I asked my friends to bring some different changes of clothes and some of the babies blankets.  We started with this cuddly little outfit, which was too darned cute on her!

I shot these images at f4 with one softbox. I adjusted the lighting and white balance in post and used the "Portraiture" software from Imagenomic to smooth her skin. I am really amazed at how the skin smoothing plug-in can have such a great affect even on a baby's skin.

I just loved capturing the innocense in her eyes.

Then we changed to this red outfit and shot some more images. Personally, I liked the other outfit better, but the color really pops in this image.

And...of can't do baby pictures without taking some shots of them in their birthday suits. 

On the two images above, I turned the camera at a 45 degree angle to get some different looks to the images. I like these two shots because, with the angle of the shot, she really fills the frame.

And then, towards the end of the photo session, we did one last change of clothes and handed her a favorite toy. I had dad right behind me to draw her attention towards the lens (while mom hung on to her from behind) and got this image.
Lastly, we had mom put out her hand (with the ring in full view) and had her daughter hold on to her finger. I really like this image, since it shows the comparative size of mom and her daughter. I think that the black and white treatment accentuates the simplicity of the photo.

(Photographers note: All of these images were taken on a high table so that all of us adults could do what we needed to do, from a comfortable position. For all of the images where she is sitting up, I made sure that one of the parents was holding her from behind, so that she would not fall forward and off the table! In the first 4 images of this blog entry, I used Adobe Photoshop to edit out the parent's hand, which was to the right of the child (and to our left).