Aug 29, 2012

Some tips to make your high school football pictures better

One thing I have learned over the last five years of shooting high school football is that, for parents, a terrible picture of their own child playing is still a good picture.  That said, everyone would rather have good shots.

Football vs Ennis-4694
Some parents have bought decent DSLRs but still get blurry photos.

Unfortunately, high school stadiums are usually dim.  It is one place that spending a bunch of money on lenses really can help, but all is not lost.  Here are some things to thing about.

Choose lenses appropriately.  A cheap 300mm zoom will not let in enough light for crisp action shots.  For example, as a Canon guy, I would skip the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 and go for the Canon EF 100mm f/2.  It may seem counterintuitive, but the tradeoff will get you much faster shutter speed.

To make up for the shorter lens, Get as close as possible.  Any cropping you do afterwards will really reduce image quality, so it is important to fill the frame as much as possible.  Move to stay close to the action.

Do not rely on "Sports Mode."  Yes, the camera makers put it there for a reason, but not for low-light. Most sports mode settings will not bump to the highest ISO settings.  Learn how to force the camera out of its comfort zone.  Manual mode it is.

The built in flash is a waste of battery.  Unless you are on the sideline and the action is within 10 yards, it isn't going to do much except giving nice red eyes to everyone in the picture.  Adding a big flash can be useful if you are on the sidelines (many small newspaper photogs use them).  I don't like the look myself, but I am going to try a few tricks this year.

Here are a few example pics along with the settings used.  Note.. all of these have been brightened up and had noise reduction applied in Adobe Lightroom.

To set a standard, how about Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.
Of course the light is good.  Everything is good for the pros and HD television cameras.  It is roughly four to eight times brighter than any of the 3A and 4A high school stadiums.
ISO 1600, f2.8, 1/800
Don C. Johnson: Sports

Terrell Memorial Stadium
Terrell's field has no track, so that lights are relatively close to the field.  That isn't enough to make up for the lack of bulbs.  It is one of the most difficult places to shoot in the area.
This is ISO 6400, f2.8, 1/500.
Don C. Johnson: Terrell vs Kaufman

Crandall High School
The stadium had some upgrades a few years ago that helped a lot.  Very dark shadows, but the light is much better than it was.  You can see how much more detail you get with lower ISO.
ISO 2000, f2.8, 1/500
Don C. Johnson: Football vs. Crandall Oct 22

Kaufman Lions Stadium
New turf helps a bit, but Kaufman is still very dim stadium.
ISO 6400, f2.8, 1/320
Don C. Johnson: Terrell vs. Kaufman August 28

Greenville High School
The press box may be absurdly high and the turf needs replacing (as of 2011), but the lights are decent for a high school stadium.
ISO 3200, f2.8, 1/640
Don C. Johnson: Terrell at Greenville

Mesquite Memorial Stadium
Mesquite Memorial is a nice place to shoot.  The lights are nice enough, but also it is in a bowl at one end, giving a nice clean background at least part of the time.  Of course there is that nifty tower at one end to play with as a background element as well.
ISO 3200, f2.8, 1/800
Don C. Johnson: Terrell at Poteet

Red Oak High School
I've only shot here once.  Not the brightest, but I still managed to get a lot of shots I liked.  There is something to be said for even distribution of light as well.
ISO 3200, f2.8, 1/500.
Don C. Johnson: Terrell at Red Oak

Forney High School
Forney's lights are nice and bright.  Even better, they are positioned at the ends of the field, giving better light in the end zones and in players' faces.
ISO 3200, f2.8, 1/800
Don C. Johnson: North Forney vs Dallas Roosevelt Sept 23

Tyler Rose Stadium (Earl Campbell Field)
Lights aren't mentioned in possible field upgrades in Tyler, but it sure would help.  The stadium has potential to be a great little bowl, but right now it is ugly and dark.  On the positive end, the giant video board can work as a softbox at one end zone :)
ISO 6400, f2.8, 1/500
Don C. Johnson: North Forney vs Carthage Playoff

Lancaster High School
Very nice facilities in Lancaster, including good lights.
ISO 3200, f2.8, 1/640
Don C. Johnson: Terrell at Lancaster

Ennis High School
Decent lights in Ennis...
ISO 3200, f2.8, 1/640.
Football vs Ennis-4694

For any high school stadium after the sun goes down, I generally start with ISO 3200/f2.8 and see what it gives me for a shutter speed.  From there, it is all experimentation.  Often, in older stadiums especially, there are hot spots on the field that are brighter.  It is worth paying attention and waiting for action in those spots.

Good luck!

Don J.

Aug 27, 2012

Monday Photo Roundup - Aug. 27

THS Football Scrimmage-0147
Shooting sports is one of the most fun (if less profitable) parts of the photo biz.  It is also a little bit competitive.  You can try to be in the right place as often as possible, but most important is to get the shot when you are there.

I am a space geek and a huge fan of astronauts in general.  Here is an interesting look at the coverage, good and bad, of the death of Neil Armstrong in newspapers across the country.  It is fairly unforgivable to get the wrong photo.  And I think the flag on the moot at half-staff is too clever for its own good.

If you want to do a "Trash the Dress" session call me.  But don't try to swim in your wedding dress.  This is such a sad and tragic tale...

Speaking of photography-related deaths... stay away from the bears.  

If I say, "Black and white photo of steel workers eating lunch on a beam high above New York City," you can probably get the classic photo by Charles C. Ebbets in you head.  Now it is an inspiration for a documentary film.

Lots of planning puts a ton of still photos into a massive music video...

Dream Music: Part 2 from Marc Donahue on Vimeo.

If you want to shoot video and stills at the same time, how about attaching a GoPro Hero to your DSLR?  Works for SportsShooter-in-Chief Robert Hanashiro.

If bigger is better, how about a giant Holga?

Summer Canon rebates are coming to an end...

While on the Canon Rumors... how about a giant-megapixel Canon dslr to compete with medium format specs? 

Aug 23, 2012


Are you ready for some ...

Yes, it is once again time for the wonder of Friday night lights.  The terribly dim, but still fun to shoot high school football season starts for me tomorrow night with a scrimmage matchup in Terrell.

I have met lots of moms and dads who try to shoot from the stands... I will post next week about how to get some decent shots.  Unfortunately, the early season games are the only ones with any sort of evening light to work with.

I also have a few shooting tricks and ideas that I want to try this season...  stay tuned.

Aug 21, 2012

Cover Story - Kaufman County Life fall edition

For the fall edition of Kaufman County Life, we featured three new head football coaches at area schools.  Unlike the last cover (coffee!), this one required some more preparation and logistics.

The concept was to have all three coaches standing together on a football field.  At this point in the year, brand new head coaches are the busiest people on the planet, so actually getting them together would be impossible.

They were generous with their time, however, and traveled to the Tribune office for individual shots.  I chose a very high angle (from a stepladder) to give an exaggerated perspective.  A low angle would have worked too, but the high angle emphasized their faces, and allows the football field background to have more impact while not identifying any particular school as a location.

Keeping the camera, lens, lighting and shooting angle the same is the only way to make the images come together well.  I shot everything with a 5D and 14mm lens.  Key light was a 3x4 softbox high and just to camera left, and 2x2 softboxes on each side and slightly behind the subjects.

Each coach posed separately, so I did my best to pose them in the right spot as if they were standing together, in relation to the ladder.  Everything was on white seamless to make the cutout easier.

Terrell coach Kevin Wilson came in first and chose to be on the right.  That is a full 9' roll of paper to get an idea of how the 14mm lens warps perspective.
KCL Coach Cover-5415

North Forney coach Lance Gary was up next in the center spot.
KCL Coach Cover-5423

And Crandall coach Todd  John rounded out the bunch.
KCL Coach Cover-5428

The field was a bit trickier, because there is no way to really match the light.  Instead I went to the North Forney field early one morning to catch nice light that would show the texture of the turf.  I wanted to make sure to get some lines or numbers to identify it as a football field.  The only problems were dodging the shadows from the light poles and some kids playing ultimate frisbee :)
KCL Coach Cover-5461

Time was short, but it all came together pretty nicely.  I would like to go back and adjust some things in photoshop after seeing the final print, but overall, I think it works.  It is visually interesting enough to draw the eye.
KCL Coach Cover-9077

Next up, I will tell you about my trip to jail for another story in this magazine....

Don J.

Aug 20, 2012

Monday Photo Roundup Aug. 20


One of my wonderful nieces.  You don't need a bag full of photo gear for a trip to the park.  This is a 5D and 50mm at dusk.  Can't go wrong with that combo.

More iPhone journalism.. how about Time Magazine sending a photog to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Photographer Taryn Simon will make you ponder a lot about photography, national secrets, truth and the criminal justice system... among other things.

If you are in a dark-sky location... how about using the Milky Way as your family photo backdrop?

For world-traveling photogs..  Chase Jarvis shares travel tips.  He would know.

Tips for aching photographer backs?  Sure - on SportsShooter of course.

While on SportsShooter.. check out the monthly contest winners for some inspiration.

I can't believe Football season is upon us.

Have a great week everyone.

You are being watched :)

Aug 18, 2012

Too close for comfort

I enjoy photographing lightning, even though it is a bit scary.  From a distance the beauty and power of it are just too beautiful to pass up.

So tonight I was on the front porch as usual, but this storm's electrical fireworks were primarily in the clouds.  Beautiful, but not the lightning bolt photos that I want.

The depth of the clouds is really nice, though.  This was my favorite from that part of the storm. Lightning-8889

A cell of the storm was moving from the left (behind my house and a line of trees) we could tell that some cloud-to-ground strikes were getting closer.  One struck close enough to hear the sizzle, and I had my hopes up.

And then the sky exploded.  A bolt (lightning really surges several times during the course of a strike and makes lots of pops and booms) hit directly across the street, I believe striking the basketball goal in my neighbors driveway.  And I picked up my camera mid-exposure to come inside.  That is way too close for comfort.
Too Close-8990

Lighting is not safe, folks.. do not try this at home.

After wrapping up the post, I couldn't help but notice some nice (and more distant) lightning happening out the window.

I liked this one..

Have a great weekend,

Don J.

Aug 13, 2012

Monday Photo Roundup Aug. 13

Don C. Johnson: Blog

I had a lot of fun last week shooting some marketing images for Trinity Valley Oral Surgery.  The staff is great and from what the clients had to say, the service and results are great as well.

Wedding photogs like to say that the photos and the rings are the only thing you keep from the wedding ceremony, so that is where to spend the money.  That is true of the Olympics too.  Yes, I'm still gushing over Olympics photos and photogs.  Here is a nice Reuters behind-the-scenes piece.

Would you had over your camera to the world's fastest man?  Usain Bolt took some nice shots after winning in London.

Photogs are always searching for a new way to make unique images.  With so many top people shooting at the Olympics, NYT's David Burnett goes old-tech to separate himself from the rest.

The Olympics and a Texas Monthly cover are two things I'd like to shoot :)

Now we can go back to regularly scheduled programming, right?

Don't forget, family photos in August get a free large canvas print!

Now.. here is another version of the photo at the top.  Same setup, just dropped the black fabric background to use the blinds.  I switched to a lower aperture and used a lot more reflected ambient light to get the bg out of focus.
Don C. Johnson: Blog
Have a great week.

Aug 6, 2012

Monday Photo Roundup Aug. 6

Don C. Johnson: Blog

We spent the weekend with friends near Salado... lots of beautiful scenery in that part of Texas.  There are infinite possibilities for photos as well.  Our friends were involved with the Salado Legends musical production, so we took some quick photos in their costumes.

I wish more communities were willing and able to pull off fun arts productions like that.

Yes, I'm still obsessing over Olympics photography.  Jeff Cable posted a nice gear guide, but it also is a nice read to get some insights on the non-stop work required to shoot the biggest sporting event in the world.  His photo posts are worth following for sure.  And he has a great hairdo.

A lot of the photo community has jumped on the Google+ wave.  I am going to up my effort there, but so far it seems more like a networking and learning opportunity than a marketing platform.

Photoshelter has a great post on night photography, star trails etc.

Photo inspiration for the week (and one of the best looking photographer websites out there... Tim Tadder.

Have a great week.