Thursday, November 19, 2009

Shooting a meeting and a hockey game with a wedding camera

Warning: this posting has a lot of details about taking pictures and goes on and on about ISO's and f-stop's.
Tonight I went to a couple of events in Moosonee. Once was the 27th Annual General of the Moosonee Native Friendship Centre. This is an organization that I have been involved with, off and on and mostly on, since 1982. Every year the Centre puts on a meeting to present its progress to the community and let the members choose new members for the board of directors. I got nominated but declined but was really, really happy that Dechen Khangkar, the other lawyer in our office, accepted and got appointed. I spent 15 years on the Friendship Centre board and it was a very satisfying experience. I shot pictures at the meeting, mostly quick candids. Lots of shots of staff and artist John Reuben (shown here with Marguerite Wabano who is 105 years old) giving out door prizes as well as people sitting and listening intently to financial reports and brainstorming about a potential new housing project. I took no pictures of people eating or with food in their mouths although I was tempted.
After that, went home and switched lenses but not cameras. I put my Canon 70-200 f2.8 IS lens on a Canon 5DII. I had shot the meeting with the same camera with a 24-105mm f4 IS lens, mostly with flash.
The 5DII is a great camera, it is nice to work in full frame (sensor is same size as a piece of 35mm film so lenses act the same as they would on a film camera. That is great most of the time but for some things, the extra "zoom" from a camera with a smaller sensor is handy. Hockey is one of those times and tonight I was shooting Moosonee Men's Hockey.
At 70mm my lens gave a view of more than half the far end of the arena. At 200mm it was nowhere near as tight as I might have liked.
However, I crop a lot and usually post hockey in 2048 pixel size images so it is possible to get by.
The Moosonee Arena is not a bright place. Tonight I shot at ISO 6400 and started off at 1/500 of a second at f4. That was a little bit dark so switched to 1/400 of a second. Usually f4 instead of f2.8 gives a bit more depth of field which is nice. The pictures are a bit overexposed when it comes to the ice but pretty decent for the objects of interest, a bunch of fast moving men on skates.
I used a custom white balance taken from a whibal card, an expensive piece of gray plastic. The lights in the arena are not consistent, they seem to have two main colourations so alternate shots can look a bit different but the white balance is good enough.At times I have tried doing a white balance based on the ice but find that does not work too well.
I took more than 500 shots at the game so I shot jpg's. I processed them in Lightroom. There is no way that I was going to sit down and go through them and handle them individually in photoshop the way I might for a few very special pictures from a wedding or a sunrise. I picked 299 images including some of the scoreboard.
Most just needed cropping, some not even that. I moved around a bit at the game. I started up high on a ladder leading to a booth at one end, took some shots through the glass from one corner and from behind the goal and then got some from another corner and a few over the wall of one of the team benches.

Shooting through the glass is not always great. Reflections, odd colouration and blur from dirt and scratches are the order of the day. Tonight, I did not do much to the shots taken this way except to make them less soft by adding black.
When I see the amazing shots in Sports Illustrated where they are using a million watts of lighting so they can shot at small apertures I am very jealous. Even at f4 I am putting up with not much depth of field. But, it is better than f2.8 or f2.0. And sometimes, I rationalize keeping a shot where some of the players around the edges are a bit (a bit?) blurry on the grounds that I am taking the shots to show what happened.
Taking pictures of a hockey game is, for me, confusing. Biggest reason is that I do not know the first thing about hockey. I do not skate so I have never played myself. I lack the player's (or fan's) appreciation for what is going on. It just seems like a bunch of guys moving very fast. After taking pictures at maybe a dozen games I am still confused about what is going on. Perhaps I will get better but for now I find that I do not capture the "decisive moments". These for me would be the goals and the saves. I get a few but not enough.
As for the camera--the 5DII is not a sports camera. It only shoots at four frames per second so sequences of action do not always work out that well. I do not trust any of the focus points except for the centre one but it works reasonably well, after all, I am shooting bright and contrasty objects against a white background. But, the high ISO performance makes possible taking shots at a reasonable speed and then being able to use them, right out of the box. When I shot hockey with my Canon 1DIIN I did not dare go above ISO 1600. That meant that I had to up the exposure in processing with predictable results.
Sports cameras are expensive but I am dreaming about getting a 1DIV. I suspect it would be just as nice at ISO 6400 as the 5DII and likely better. If I could shoot with it at ISO 12800 I could up my speed a bit so pucks would look better or use f5.6 once in while. Of course, it would be nice to get back that higher shooting rate and faster focus.
Enough about equipment.

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