My wife, Patty, mentioned that I take photos to an acquaintance whose daughter is on the James Madison High School varsity field hockey team. Their team had made it to the 2017 Virginia state quarterfinals, and the result of my wife’s conversation was that I was given an opportunity to give these kids some evidence showing that they can do great things.
Madison’s opponent and host was W.T. Woodson High School, and when I got to the field I noted that Madison already seemed to have a photographer taking photos of their team, but Woodson did not. So, I arranged with the other photographer that I would take photos of both teams, so that Woodson would get some coverage as well.
Unfortunately, the weather, and the shooting conditions for the game, were miserable – drizzle, with temperatures in the high 40’s – and of course it was dark. But, the game was excellent! Both teams played hard, and there were chances to be had at each end! Both teams should be proud of their performance!
Below you’ll find links to the password-protected galleries that contain the photos that I took. I didn’t split them out into galleries by team, because in just about every photo where a player from one team was making a good offensive play, a player from the other team was making a good defensive play. The only reason why I broke the set into two galleries was to reduce the chance of timeout or memory-limit errors when people attempt to download them.
- November 7, 2017 – W.T. Woodson HS vs. James Madison HS – 1 of 2 (112 photos)
- November 7, 2017 – W.T. Woodson HS vs. James Madison HS – 2 of 2 (112 photos)
And as always, here are some of the better photos, with their camera settings and any other notes. Below the photos are the more significant lessons that I learned from the experience, which I hope will further improve my photography.
1. Ok, so now I know that I can shoot in the rain
It had been raining steadily all day long, and now, with the temperature dropping, I was going to go out it in. Good plan!
After hiking in Spain, Scotland, and Canada over the past year, I wasn’t concerned for myself. But I had never gone out to take photos using over $5,000 worth of equipment in such a steady rain. Luckily, about 6 week before, there were threatening conditions for an Annandale HS game, and so I dropped by District Camera in Burke, VA and bought a cheap OP/TECH USA Rainsleeve for my camera. This loose-fitting plastic cover is really intended to be used with a long lens, but I figured I could make it work with my DSLR and my little 105 mm prime lens. The only hitch was that the Rainsleeve designers assumed that it would be used with cameras that have a removable eyepiece, such that the eyepiece can be removed and reinstalled to pinch the plastic sleeve, with a hole in the plastic such that the viewfinder would not be obscured. Since this is not the case with my Nikon D500, I just rolled up the plastic so that it was mainly protecting the lens and the front of the camera, and I secured it with a larger rubber band. The back of the camera got wet, but the Rainsleeve didn’t obstruct the viewfinder, and with a little moisture, the camera wasn’t any worse for wear. And the Rainsleeve is reusable, so I’m ready to go out and do it again.
2. Initial Photo Screening
Ever since I started using Camera Bits, Inc. Photo Mechanic 5 to ingest and then screen photos off the camera disk, getting to final delivery of a set of photos has become a lot easier. There is much more that I could use it for (and I have from time to time), but for now, just being able to start deleting photo rejects as additional files are being loaded on my computer has made the work go much faster.
As I’ve learned, getting decent action shots of fast-moving sports at night is very difficult. You have to use just the right settings, and you have to tailor them for the lighting conditions at different fields, and in different areas of a given field.
I’ve found that, with the Nikon D500 DSLR, if you don’t constrain the ISO (pixel gain) to be 2000 or less, you will amplify the inherent sensor noise to the point that you will create objectionable graininess in the image (My refusal to believe this has had no measurable effect on its truth.). But also, I’ve found that for varsity field hockey, any attempt to use a shutter speed below 1/800 seconds will result in blurry images (Apparently, 1/800 seconds isn’t bad for capturing rain drops either.). Together, these things (in addition to the distance to the subject) drove me to use a lens that is at or near the largest aperture available (to collect as much light as possible), at the largest focal length. For the equipment I own, that is currently the NIKKOR AF-S 105 mm, f/1.4 prime lens (not your typical sports lens). My next option would be the 70-200 mm f/2.8 telephoto zoom lens, which actually focuses faster than the 105 mm prime, but it also has a much smaller aperture. The result from using this camera and lens with these settings is that the images are intentionally under-exposed, which allows me to make selective adjustments in post-processing.
I took these shots in the camera’s Single-Point Autofocus mode, which was probably best for these conditions, since for this game I was shooting more far-away shots than I usually do (Since I had never photographed these teams before, I thought I would give them (and the referees) some personal space.). But since both teams’ uniforms were solid colors, using Single-Point Autofocus made it hard for my camera to focus when I did get a chance for closeup shots, because the single focus point sensor didn’t have enough contrast near the small focus point to lock focus. So, I ended up having to throw a lot of them away. Note to coaches: Think two-tone jerseys! Anything that adds contrast (stripes, bands, etc.) really helps a camera lock focus! Note to Self: Get more comfortable in quickly switching between Single-Point Autofocus mode and 25-Point Autofocus mode on the fly (This will be interesting.).
As usual, although I had the D500 set to record RAW files to the camera’s XQD card, and JPEGs to the SD card, I only used the JPEG files, and I threw the RAW files away. This is because I’ve found that the in-camera JPEG compression algorithm essentially filters out some of the remaining pixel noise by changing adjacent pixels that are near the same color to exactly the same color, so that the image can be described blob-by-blob, instead of pixel-by-pixel. The effect is the loss of pixel-to-pixel (and white balance) adjustments, but it also automatically eliminates a lot of the noise in the image before I start to amplify it again when I restore the correct exposure in post-processing.
For post-processing the images, I used Corel AfterShot Pro 3 (I’m going to look into trying PictureCode Photo Ninja as an alternative, due to its well regarded noise reduction algorithm.). The first thing I do is to crop and straighten the image to see if I can get a pleasing composition out of it. Then, now that I have an underexposed JPEG, the first thing I do in post-processing is to monitor the histogram of the image while I increase the overall exposure just to the point where some of the pixels start to clip at the high end. Then, I boost the Fill Light setting, increasing the brightness of shadows and flesh tones (This also seems to filter out some sensor noise and skin blemishes.). Then I increase the Vibrance setting to increase the sheen on shiny surfaces to make them ‘pop’. Then I increase the Blacks to get more sharpness. Then I increase the Contrast, just to the point where the brightest pixels start to clip. Finally, I increase Saturation, only if necessary.
If I wanted to add photo effects, then I would have used Corel PaintShop Pro. But in this case, I was trying to get the photos posted as soon as possible, so I just edited and published.
As usual, I used a RavPower iPlug to transfer some of the better photos to my iPhone, and then I posted them to my Instagram sports photography account.