During their 2018 National District tournament, I was contacted by a senior player on the J.E.B. Stuart High School (since renamed Justice High School) varsity soccer team, asking if I would be willing to take photos of their semifinal game. I had already committed to taking photos for at least one game for seven other high school teams, and I was well behind in editing photos for the games I had shot. But this kid had taken the initiative to contact me out of the blue, so I wanted to do whatever I could.
Unfortunately, that JEB Stuart playoff game conflicted with a Thomas Edison High School girls varsity soccer playoff game that I had already intended to shoot. So, I told him that I had to decline, but I asked him to let me know if his team advances to the District final. He did, and they did. But unfortunately I had to tell him that I couldn’t shoot that game either, because I was heading out of town that Friday for my niece’s wedding. So, once again, I asked him to let me know if they advanced. I didn’t hear from him after I got back in town, so I assumed that they didn’t make it to the Regional tournament. I was disappointed that this young adult took some initiative, and was both patient and understanding, but I wasn’t able to make it pay off for him.
Then, two weeks later I saw an Instagram post from J.E.B. Stuart Athletics saying that the boys would be playing in the Occoquan 6A Region semifinals that night. So, even though my best camera (Nikon D850) was out for warrantee service (The shutter had locked up while shooting the Edison girls playoff.), I went out and shot the game that night using my backup camera (Nikon D500). At the game, I got a chance to meet the player who had contacted me, and as was evident from our previous contacts over Instagram, he just seemed like a great kid. I was happy to see his team win the semifinal game that night in four overtimes, plus penalty kicks.
They played in the Occoquan 6A Region finals a couple of days later, so I went out and shot that game as well (still using my D500). Once again, they won, so they were moving on to the Virginia State quarterfinals.
By that point, my D850 was back and sporting a brand new shutter mechanism, so I went out and shot this game as well. They won once again, so they would be heading to Richmond!
It was fun watching these kids play their hearts out during these games, and succeed. They should be very proud of their achievements.
J.E.B. Stuart High School vs. T.C. Williams High School – Occoquan 6A Region Semifinals (May 30, 2018)
J.E.B. Stuart High School vs. West Potomac High School – Occoquan 6A Region Finals (June 1, 2018)
J.E.B. Stuart High School vs. South Lakes High School – Virginia State Quarterfinals (June 5, 2018)
Here are some of my favorite photos from these shoots, showing the main camera settings that I used for each.
1. Avoid matrix metering when you have a dark background
One of the things I noticed while editing some of these photos was that in some cases the white jerseys of the home team came out overexposed, such that the pixels were actually saturated (I couldn’t restore detail by reducing the exposure in post-processing.). This issue was most significant when the background in the image was especially dark. The reason for this is because, most of the time, I was using Matrix Metering, so the camera was adjusting the sensor gain to bring the overall exposure of the image to a medium grey. Obviously, with a dark background, this will force the highlights into overexposure.
In some cases I switched to Center-Weighted Metering (centered on the chosen focus point), which prevented saturated pixels on the subject, while allowing light sources to be saturated. In cases where I can keep light sources out of the background, I should probably try using Highlight-Weighted Metering instead. Because the background conditions may change depending on the direction I’m shooting, I should probably also turn on ‘blinkies’ on the LCD display, to show me when I’m getting overexposure.
2. Check all settings on the LCD before you start shooting
When I started downloading the files from the second game to my computer at home, I noticed that the files were in TIFF format instead of RAW + JPEG*. This didn’t turn out to be a big deal, but it is just a reminder that I should check all of the settings displayed on the LCD before I start shooting.
3. WordPress (or the Photography theme) seems to limit photo file sizes to 24MB
Having great lighting conditions allows me to use a low ISO (sensor gain) setting, which reveals more detail in the images, because of the wider available dynamic range in the sensor signal. When these more detailed RAW images are converted to JPEG at the highest quality setting, the resulting JPEG files are quite a bit larger (assuming the same cropping dimensions), because the image has more and smaller areas of distinct color/intensity that have to be ‘blobbed’ by the JPEG compression algorithm.
Apparently, using my Nikon D850 45 Mpixel DSLR, the resulting files can be greater than 24 MB. I wouldn’t have noticed this, except for the fact that I had one JPEG file that wouldn’t successfully upload to my WordPress server. It is not clear whether the limitation was imposed by the server, the WordPress application, or the Photography theme that I use. In any case, I kept getting an HTTP error whenever I tried to upload a photo greater than 24 MB. I’ll have to watch for this in the future.