Saturday, January 24, 2009

US Figure Skating Championship

On Friday, one of our photographers had to back out of a fairly large assignment at the last minute for a family emergency. Needless to say, it left me and the primary assigning editor scrambling for a replacement. Unfortunately, we couldn't find anybody in reasonable driving range, so of course, as pretty much the only person on staff who also shoots, I ended up being sent to this assignment. So, the day before I was scheduled to go down to Tampa for the Super Bowl, I packed up my bags early and made a pit stop in Cleveland for the 2009 US Figure Skating Championship.

I'm sure this comes as no surprise that this was my first time covering a figure skating event. And this will probably be the case with many other winter Olympic sports, as we draw nearer to the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games. That said, I wasn't really worried about it. My boss pretty much summed it up: "It's like swimming" in the sense that if it moves, shoot it!

Well, not so fast. As I've preached many times before, it's one thing to just photograph something that moves around and get it in focus. It's a whole another thing to do so with clean backgrounds. Of course, the easiest way to do this at a skating event is to just go up into the concourse, and use the nice white sheet of ice as your background:

It was pretty easy to just follow the competitors around from up there, and I was happy with those results. Nothing terribly original, but it is exactly the kind of images that a client looking for figure skating images would be looking for.

That said, I got a little bored just sitting up in my perch in the upper levels, as all the pictures started to look the same. It's not like tennis where even though the sport itself is repetitive, changing your position on the court yields a different image because of the way the sun is shining, or the way the lines on the court get positioned. Here you are indoors and on a sheet of ice, so no matter which way you face it will look exactly the same! So, I decided backgrounds be dammed, I'm going to shoot from downstairs. Look at how ugly it is (I didn't use this shot, it's just an example)!

The only way to combat that is patience, and a long lens. So I pulled out the 400 (which is what I used to shoot with from the concourse), and shot everything super tight. I also waited for the skaters to drift into a spot on the wall that was clean of all ads, and a spot where there were no fans seated.

Needless to say, this drops the photo output pretty significantly, so for the last few individual skaters (and the most important ones for that matter), I went back to my perch up top because I wanted to be sure I got something of them to file.

From that vantage point, I got kind of lucky and got a nice moment after the final competitor and eventual champion Alissa Czisny received some gifts and a hug from who I would assume are friends or relatives.

But when it came to the real awards ceremony, I got the ol' Beijing treatment, where only "pool" photographers got to shoot front and center (aka Getty, AP, Sports Illustrated, etc). So all I could really get were partially obstructed views of the medal/awards ceremony (thank you TV camera man for always standing in the way).

Not amazing, but it's a shot we need to have. Unfortunately, this will probably always be a problem for our organization, unless we start to strike some deals and make some noise in the industry. I know we have some things in the works, so hopefully we get to that point by the time the 2010 Vancouver Games come around!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

"Sneaking" Out to Shoot

Well, I waited three months before finally posting again.... so you're thinking this probably should be the most amazing post I have ever written! Well, if you're judging that by game magnitude and importance, then yes it would be right up there. Since I last posted, I have been to some of the biggest events in the sporting world, including the Winter Classic, the BCS Championship Game, and the AFC Championship Game.

But photo wise, not so much. Why? Well, even though I feel like I can shoot with the best of them, my value is greater to the company as an on-site editor pushing other photographers' pictures out (I will be doing the same thing at the Super Bowl in a few weeks, and I will explain that process more in that future post). So even though people tell me that they are jealous that I get to go to all these events, I always counter by saying that it's not that glamorous.... because as an editor, I will spend about 90% of the time in some basement work room. Any shots I get to shoot are just a bonus.

Typically when I am editing a game, the one thing that I will get to shoot pre-game features. I personally do not feel like there is much value in these photos like these, other than they are kinda cute-sie photos that we get out on the wire so that a gallery of images exist on the website. In doing so, our clients will know very early that we are at and will be actively transmitting from the game.

Other than that, when I am at a game primarily as an editor, I will shoot early in the game (because I have no pictures to edit at the start of the game, so I might as well make some of my own). Depending on venue and sport, I might have access to the field, or I might not. Obviously for a hockey game, space is limited because there are only a finite number of photo holes. So I have to go around and look for something different. At the Winter Classic (I was actually snubbed as a shooter for this one becasue the deal was for me to never be assigned as an editor if it's my hometown team playing... oh well), I went upstairs and shot the opening face off loose:

At the AFC championship game, I was allowed onto the field to shoot, so I did so as I normally would... at least for a few minutes:

I actually got a few photos from the AFC championship game that I was happy with, including cherry picking part of the trophy celebration:

But typically, when I am at a game primarily as an editor, I won't get to shoot long enough to get anything really spectacular. On top of that, I do not want to place myself next to one of my company's photographers, because it's silly to get a shot identical to another photographer. So I am usually left with odd shooting positions. For example, in the BCS championship game, I got a couple of decent shots, but they are from areas of the field that I don't usually like to shoot from. With the Gators driving for a touchdown, I positioned myself at about the 15 yard line. Typically, if a team is in scoring range, I will plant myself in the corner of the end zone so I can get the team crossing the goal line for a score. However, we already had a photographer there, so I was looking for a "reverse" or "profiled" angle of the play. Nothing spectacular, but these are two pictures of the Gators running the speed option that you don't typically see....

So that's just a small sample of what I have been doing recently. I shoot a lot of regular season stuff still, but when it comes to the big events, I move back into my game manager/editor role and only get to cherry pick some action here and there. Next week, I play editor again as I head down to Tampa for the Super Bowl. So check back soon to see how an editor works at a big game!