Roller Derby Team Photo

Sports Team Photo

Juggernauts Roller Derby
Juggernauts Roller Derby

Creating an interesting sports team photo takes a lot more than grabbing an SLR and an on-camera flash. You have to be interesting, creative, and deliver the product in a timely manner. All while working on marketing, computer problems, and everything else.

When I first conceptualized this shot, I was thinking of how I could take the entire Juggernauts team of roller derby ladies from Jackson Hole and place them somewhere else with a little more grit. That is, not dirt grit from climbing the Tetons, but rather industrial grit only found in the city. Looking for ideas, I thumbed through the various roller derby team photos I found online and realized that, for the most part, they were just plain shots in their arena. Boring. Some had lighting but the sparkles from the reflections behind the players were distracting and thus ruined the photos. As a sponsor of the Juggernauts, I had to deliver better.

There was one interesting shot online that was done in a city drain but the lighting was unbalanced, so it was impossible to see the team member’s faces. I had seen some interesting team photos in posters around town, so they were my inspiration. I needed an original Detroit industrial-looking location with a big city in the background. After visualizing my shot, I went about figuring out how to create it. Sports team photography is enjoyable because the players appreciate the work put into the shot. They know what the conditions were when the shoot was done, so when they see the final product, they’re blown away. Based on the Juggernaut’s response, this was no exception.

I was very happy to deliver this photo after a considerable number of hours invested into the photography and the post-processing of the image. The team’s response made me even happier, knowing I had hit the mark. If there are teams looking for compelling and interesting shots, look at the above image and ask, “Do I want a generic shot in the arena or do I want something that sets us apart from everyone else?”

Hire me and you’ll have just that shot.

Jackson Hole Juggernauts

JH Juggernauts
JH Juggernauts

As a photographic sponsor of the Jackson Hole Juggernauts Roller Derby, I was out last night photographing them. They had a bout with the Magic City Rollers at the Snow King events arena. Although the home team lost, it was still a very good bout and enjoyable. Up to the 18 minute mark, the teams were tied, trading points and position back and forth. Then, out of nowhere, the Magic City Rollers rocketed past the Juggernauts and created an overwhelming deficit.

The sport of roller derby has come a long way since the 1970’s, when players bashed themselves up. Now, the rules are heavily enforced, get checks, no elbows, fists or otherwise. They really keep it interesting. Yes, there were many knock-downs. Many intentional. But I never see it as something where the players are trying to hurt each other, just take the opposing player out of play.

Turtle defense #1200
Turtle defense #1200

I had a lot of fun photographing this event, as this was the first time I was able to use my D800 to see how it would do in a sports situation with my Nikon 180mm f/2.8. The camera is not intended to be used for sports, as its repeat frame rate comes in at a paultry 4fps. But that’s not my shooting style. Instead of blasting away, I shoot selective shots, just like when I was shooting surfing. I have no desire to edit 3000 photos at the end of the night. I’d rather come back with a more useful 300. Granted, I can’t get the sequence shots that a D4s would give me, but that’s okay. The resolution advantage that the D800 gives me makes me happy. Besides, I’d be tempted to blast away with a D4s.

Stay down
Stay down

One of the things I did with this event was I was able to use my Nikon SB-800 Speedlights to light up the arena. I was blown away how much better they made the photos. The clarity popped right up. With the combination of the Pocketwizards and Speedlights, I was able to light up most of the rink without issue. Since I was running on 1/4 power, I was able to shoot at ISO 1250 and achieve a nice balance between the ugly green/yellow lighting of the arena and the nice polish of the flash. Once I got the 3rd light set up, I was having a good old time. I couldn’t believe how much better the shots were. It was like shooting in a professional arena with their huge lights. I would have prefered my strobes to be high on the ceiling, but that’s okay. I like the drama the shadows add.

Going for the knockout
Going for the knockout

There was another photographer there from Utah last night. He was using on-camera flash, but the light fall-off from his vantage point was so bad that the rest of the arena looked dark. In my class, I talk about how to achieve a nicer balance. If he would have boosted his ISO to 1600, he could have achieved a good balance between his on-camera flash and the arena lighting. Granted, the on-camera flash would have still been unflattering, but at least his shots wouldn’t look like they were shot in a cave. If you’re reading this, I have a DVD available for sale that would help you out!

I’ll have to try some rear-sync stopped motion at the next bout. That should give some even more interesting shots!

Advertising in roller derby

IMG_2470smI photographed for the Juggernauts roller derby a few weeks ago. Their catalog is out now with my advertisement in it. Thank you Thrasher!

It was a fun time photographing all the ladies, as it was a mad rush to complete the job during their practice and still make them all look good. No pressure there.

As a sponsor of the team, I really enjoyed the interaction and I look forward to working with them throughout the season. This roller derby isn’t your 1970’s material with hair pulling and punches. The referees are very strict on the rules and I still haven’t figured it all out.

One of the interesting things about this type of photography is I have the chance to make something a little more creative than just the high-key relatively flat light portraiture. As the graphic artist and team managers were on-board with my idea, I was able to run freely with what I thought would work.

As with all photo sessions like this, I made sure to take plenty of shots because some end up as blinkers, funky faces and the like. It’s just the nature of photographing people – sometimes you catch them at just the wrong time where they don’t look just right. After sifting through those photos and deleting out the bad ones, I ended up with a good selection of material for the team to work with.

IMG_8625smYou can see to the right the layout concept. I photographed the players in different poses so that the layout artist could place them in rows and columns with a unified look. It actually came out better than I had hoped. Chalk up one for a little advance planning!

Giving the art director and the layout artist something to work with and lots of options was very important for this work, as there might be something unforeseen that doesn’t work with one or another player. It’s difficult to think of all the possible issues one might encounter, as I tried to do during my expedition across Antarctica. But I always try do my best with what’s available and most of the time it works out pretty well.

We also created their first poster as well. The shot was a composite of multiple pairs of players made to look like a movie poster. There are more posters coming out out, so be watchful.

Jackson Hole Roller Derby

Last night the Jackson Hole Roller Derby Juggernauts, normally the Valley Vixens and Grizzly Belles, became the Heros and Villains in what

I said stay down!
I said stay down!

was their last match of the season.  They have competed all throughout the summer of 2013 with different teams.  To make things interesting, each team dressed up as either super villains or super heros.  It made their normally entertaining costumes absolutely outrageously funny.

One of the photos I ended up with is on the right.  The fun thing about photography is that sometimes you end up capturing something that totally did not exist.  In the photo, it looks like the super hero is going for the knock out punch on the super villain.  The best part is the super hero looks like she is just going to clock the super villain more as a slightly irritating job and without anger.  It as though she said, “Look, I have to defeat you and then get back to my newspaper job.  Don’t take this personally.”

Team costumes
Team costumes

The technical

Photographing roller derby is fairly difficult, as the rink is dark and the racers are tightly packed in, so there are a lot of blurry and out of focus pictures.  One trick I did was to shoot in 12-bit raw, intentionally underexposing a stop, allowing for a faster shutter speed and slightly wider depth of field.  The plan was to get sharper images and sacrifice a stop of light.  Since I was shooting in raw, I would easily be able to recover one stop of exposure in Lightroom and just apply it across the board.  I have used this technique when shooting bands, too.

Most of the shots were done at 1/320 sec at f3.2 and at ISO 1600.  On the Nikon D300s, ISO

Pain of blurry shots
Blurry shots are painful

1600 is fairly grainy.  Although that is not ideal, blurry images from a slower shutter speed or shallower depth of field is far worse.  Grain can be fixed or ignored, blur cannot.

I shot with the Nikon 180mm f2.8 and the 85mm f1.4D lenses.  Although I would have liked to use a 70-200mm f2.8 VRII, that lens is a little out of the budget at $2300.  Since I don’t shoot too many sporting events, it really isn’t an issue.  Plus, the new lens is a G version, meaning there is no aperture ring, making it impractical to use the lens for time lapse videos.