Wednesday, January 24, 2018

My last practice before the 2018 Winter Olympics - Photographing San Jose Sharks ice hockey

Like so many things in this world, in order to get good at something, it takes practice. Athletes put in a lifetime of practice before they reach the pinnacle in their careers.  And these athletes also make sure to warm up before each competition. Well, believe it or not, being a photographer involves much of the same regiment. It is for this reason that I have been photographing more ice hockey in the last month, as I prepare to shoot for USA Hockey (and other sports) at the upcoming Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, Korea.

Last night I photographed the San Jose Sharks vs. the Winnipeg Jets game, since it is the last home game before I head to Korea. And I was trying different camera settings to obtain the best images in different conditions. More on that in a little bit...

Before the game started, I decided to try something different. I mounted a Canon 600 EX-RT flash behind the sharks mouth and gelled it red. I thought is would be cool to try and backlight the skaters as they entered the ice. As it turned out, it did not make much difference, since the sharks mouth was lit pretty well anyways. But it was still a fun experiment.

The ceremonial puck drop was done by this cute little girl, Lilly. She had both of her legs amputated, and then lost her home and prosthetic legs in the North Bay Fires a couple of months ago. I love the reaction of Blake Wheeler (captain of the Jets) as she approached them.

I was taking photos of Lilly, and just after she dropped the puck she was supposed to shake each players hands. She forgot to do this and started to walk away. But then she realized her mistake and flipped around to shake their hands.

She was so cute...and I love the sequence of images.

I wanted to get some shots of my friend, Brent Burns. Love the beard!

As the game started, I shot some images to determine the best camera settings. As it turned out, I shot in manual mode at ISO 1600, f/3.5 and 1/1000th sec. I was also playing around with the location of the focus point and determined that the point just above the center point was best for framing the action. And, of course, I was shooting using the IO Servo mode of the Canon 1D X MKII camera to help track the players as they skated towards and away from me.

For the NHL games, we can shoot through holes in the glass, but this is not the case at the Olympics, where we have to shoot through the plexiglass. Ugh. Whether shooting through a hole or not, there are other things for me to think about, like the optimum focal length to shoot. When shooting on the glass, I almost always rely on the Canon 70-200mm lens. After looking at most of my images from last night, I determined that staying in the 100mm range was the best for capturing the action and not cutting off skates or the tops of sticks.

And as in any photography, it is important to look in all directions for good shots. During one of the timeouts, I looked to my left and saw these three cute kids who had come down to the glass to see the rink up close. I loved their expressions and reflections and grabbed some photos of them. (I quickly switched from manual mode to aperture priority since the lighting is very different in the stands as opposed to the ice.)

About the same time, I looked over and saw Mike Aldrich (my friend, and the equipment manager of the Sharks) and waved hello. He made this funny face, so I had to grab a shot of him.

I switched back to manual mode and kept shooting the action on the ice. At times, I would change the aperture to f/4 or f/4.5 to try and get more of the athletes in focus.

One of the things I had to learn when starting to photograph sports was to remember to capture the action AND the reaction. It is easy to get tunnel vision when capturing a fast action sport. And when the team scores a goal, I sometimes want to look at the camera and see if I got a good shot of the puck going into the net. But I am always reminding myself to keep photographing the athletes to get the celebrations (and at times, the disappointments).

Shooting at 1/1000 sec allows me to freeze the action.

Ultimately this is what I am shooting for; a sharp photo of my team scoring a goal. In order to have a real winner of a shot, I need to have our skaters in the frame along with the goalie and the puck needs to be visible. All three of those elements are in this shot.

Here is a shot of Joe Pavelski (the captain of the Sharks). Just like Brent Burns, Pavs is a friend and I like to send them some photos for their keeping.

At one point, Connor Hellebuyck (the goalie of the Jets) parked himself on top of Chris Tierney and let him know that he did not belong in the goalie's crease.

This shot is a good example of why I practice shooting. A big part of shooting sports is capturing the peak of action. It is that split second that helps to tell a story. I saw one of the Sharks players who had a clear shot at the goal, so I quickly used my back-button to focus on the goaltender and fired off a bunch of shots to freeze the action. And I got that exact moment where Hellebuyck made a save.

This is another example of that split second timing, with the puck being deflected from Joe Thornton's stick. These images are the perfect examples of why I rely on the speed of the Canon 1D X MK II (at 14 frames per second) to help get these shots.

These two shots were taken with a fraction of a second from each other. Both are good shots of the puck going into the net. The first image has the puck just about to enter the goal...

...while this second image shows the puck (hard to see) already in the net. I like the goalie's face better in the second shot, but the puck placement is better in the first shot. I guess this brings up another point. Sometimes shooting sports is a little bit of luck. I happened to be on the right side of the ice last night to see 8 of the 9 goals scored. But that is never guaranteed. I have photographed other games when I was on "wrong" side of the ice and captured no goals at all.

After the game, I switched from the Canon 70-200mm lens to the Canon 24-70mm lens and went into the locker room to get a couple of shots. This is a photo of Joe Pavelski being interviewed to get his reaction to the 5 to 4 overtime loss.

I went through all the images last night using Photo Mechanic. I deleted all the bad images and selected my favorites. I edited some of my favorites in Adobe Photoshop CC and sent them to the team. My preparation for the Olympics does not just involve capturing the photos, but also in the workflow and editing techniques.

At this point, I think I am ready to photograph the Olympic action. Now I just need to buy warm clothes for the bitter cold weather in Korea and start packing camera gear. But that is coming in the next blog post.

Till then...

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