Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Photographing night football games

I'm adding this post to note a personal milestone overlooked in yesterday's post, the one featuring photographs from the Indiana Warriors NAFL semipro football game Saturday at Manual High School.

Until this past Saturday, I had not shot photos of a night football game since my first year out of college, when, as editor of the Columbus (Wis.) Journal-Republican weekly newspaper, I covered the Columbus Cardinals high school football team and used a 35mm film camera (shooting in black-and-white) and a Nikkormat zoom lens.

I would not have even remembered the detail about the camera if not for Paul Gero, who I met during my year in Columbus and who I mentioned here in a post last week. When he and I reconnected two years ago, he reminded me of the photographic gear that the Columbus newspaper used back then, something I had long forgotten. Gero, however, having spent his entire career in professional photography (mostly newspapers) and who now runs a wedding photography business in southern California, remembers it well.

My 30+ years of rust showed after I reviewed my images on the computer Saturday night at home after the game, but I nevertheless felt encouraged: I came closer to what I was hoping for than I expected.

At the game, I used my Canon 30D and Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS lens. I shot most of the game at the long end of the focal range (200mm), ISO 3200 and using the shutter priority mode (set at 1/250). I think it would have been wiser if I had gone at least another shutter increment or two faster, which would have pushed my f/stop to nearly wide open, as most of my images at 1/250 came out with the f/stop at 4.0 or one stop wider.

While most of my images were sharp at 1/250, so many of the better captures also had some blur (from subject movement, not camera shake) in areas I would have liked to have seen frozen, something I think a faster shutter could have gotten me. Still, the lighting at Manual High School's field was what I had expected -- not nearly as good as I had hoped and not what most photographers would prefer. And I kept the shutter at 1/250 because I feared that going faster and pushing the aperture to its maximum would cost me sharpness in the depth of field window. In retrospect, because of the distance I was from the subjects/targets, that probably should not have been as significant of a factor.

Because of the extremely high ISO (and 3200 is the highest my 30D will go), I did have to apply a noise-removal filter to all of my images in post-processing, and I was fully expecting to do that. It's the trade-off for needing to use those settings on the camera for night action. Fortunately, the software did help in that respect. When I reviewed the pictures after the Noiseware application, the serious noise was barely detectable.

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