One of our friends in the neighborhood volunteers with our local Swim & Dive team. Recently, while speaking to my wife Patty, she expressed interest in me taking photos at one of the Dive Team meets. Patty knows that I’m always looking for new challenges in photography, so she signed me up.
Unfortunately, my first opportunity to shoot one of these events ended up being their last home meet. But the weather for the meet was gorgeous, and at least the first half of it benefited from beautiful Golden Hour sun, which, together with some close to optimal camera settings, resulted in a lot of nice photos.
WCRA Dive Team Meet (July 10, 2018)
I ended up with 294 photos from this event. If you click on a thumbnail below, you will download the higher resolution image.
Here are some of my favorite photos from this shoot. In the captions, I show the key camera settings that I used.
1. Highlight-Weighted Metering worked well with the bright sunshine and a dark background
The canopy of leaves in the trees beyond the subjects provided a nice dark dappled background for these photos, and the bright sunlight on the subjects allowed me to use a near wide-open lens aperture (even while using a fast shutter speed to prevent motion blur). The near wide-open lens aperture then minimized the depth of field (depth of sharp focus) of the image, putting the leaves in the background out of focus, and thereby increasing the emphasis on the divers. But it was the combined use of the near wide-open lens aperture setting, together with the camera’s Highlight-Weighted Metering setting, that forced the camera’s sensor gain (ISO setting) to the lowest possible value, as it tried to prevent the highlights in the image (primarily the divers’ skin) from being over-exposed. This lowest possible gain setting then maximized the resulting overall dynamic range of the image (the number of discrete brightness levels captured in the image), allowing the camera to clearly show fine differences in brightness, which in this case exposed the fine muscle definition for the divers.
The lighting conditions changed significantly during the 2-hour event, so unfortunately, the senior divers that competed later in the event ended up being shadowed by the trees to the west of the pool. But still, the end result was pretty nice. I did take a few photos using Matrix Metering, instead of Highlight-Weighted Metering, but I found that it made the background brighter, reducing the emphasis on the divers, and it also over-exposed the skin tones, saturating the fine details.
Overall, I think Highlight-Weighted Metering worked great for this application.
2. Maintaining sharp focus was challenging
As usual, my main criteria for deciding whether to keep and edit each one of these images was focus. In well-lit static scenes (portraits, etc.) focus is pretty easy. In diving, it is a bit more challenging. In every focusing cycle that the camera’s processor performs, one of the things the processing algorithm is looking for is the same spatial pattern of light and dark that it saw at the focus points in the previous cycle. This is pretty easy when the subject is moving either across the field of view, or toward or away from the camera. But what about when the pattern is flipping head over heels?
For this shoot I used a tight 3 x 3 cluster of 9 focus points to drive the focusing algorithm, which I zoomed in to fit nicely over the girth of the subject, either on the swimsuit, or when possible, across the eyes. In general, maintaining focus through the dive was easier for the girls than for the guys, because the larger areas of their suits provide a larger pattern for the camera to lock on to. For the guys, in some cases, those little Speedo’s disappeared from the image completely, and all the camera had to focus on was flesh, which provides significantly less contrast, and is therefore harder for the camera to focus on. As in photography for all sports, high contrast pattern uniforms help tremendously in capturing in-focus photographs. Solid color uniforms? – not so much.
In addition, I found some images where the subject ended up almost in line with the axis of the camera lens, so I really needed a decent depth of field to make sure that I didn’t end up with cases where the best image focus was at the diver’s feet. This is why I got off the wide-open lens aperture setting (f/2.8), and reduced the setting to f/3.2. In some cases, this still wasn’t enough to have the full length of the diver in focus, but I didn’t want to shut down the aperture too much, such that the camera would have to increase the sensor gain to compensate (resulting in more sensor noise in the image). When the junior kids were diving, I probably could have shut down the aperture to f/3.5 to get more depth of field, since the direct sunlight on them would still allow minimal sensor gain, and therefore minimal sensor noise. With the Seniors, who were no longer in direct sunlight, I had to keep the aperture near wide-open.
In taking photos of a dive meet, your options for getting to the best positions are kind of limited (that is, if you don’t want to get wet). I ended up on the pool deck on either side of the diving well. Just like other sports such as soccer and field hockey, diving is mostly a heads-down sport, because the divers are focusing on the water below them. So in order to get as many face shots as I could, I had to be as close to the water as possible. It would have been nice to be able to shoot from directly in front of the divers, because I would have ended up with more clear face shots (Since the divers enter the water with their hands in front, when shooting from the sides you end up with many shots where their arms block their face.). It would have been nice to have some shots from above also, but the lifeguard stands were in use. Overall, I think I used some of the best positions available (especially because they allowed me to capture the sun shining in the divers faces). But in the future, I should look for other options as well.
Also, some time in the future, I’d like to try to get photos from right at the water level, so that (if the timing is right) the image could show the divers both below and above the water line. I’ve got some ideas about how to do this without spending a lot of money on new equipment, or damaging the equipment I already have.