Four Things I Learned Being a Sideline Photographer for the Reign FC vs Washington Spirit
It was an interesting evening. Called into action only two days before “the event” by my good friend, Ryan Sales (http://salesonsounders.com/, http://cheekybackheel.com/, http://www.prostamerika.com/category/sounders-fc) as the Cheeky Photographer, I knew I would have my job cut out for me. I looked forward to the evening – my first actual moment as a pitch-side, sideline, Sports Photographer! A member of The Media! Yes, it was going to be a great night.
- “It’s all about the Lighting, son.”
These words stuck to me like glue last night. We arrived at the Starfire Sports Center (http://www.starfiresports.com/) about an hour and a half before sundown. The light was great. There was a massive amount of “almost sunset” light available, and the field was washed in it. I would start the game out with my back to the sun, and my subjects lit up like Christmas trees. For the first 45 minutes, lighting wasn’t an issue, and I was enjoying myself immensely, going at fast shutter speed, catching the battles, the runs, the kicks. It was, in a word, epic. “Welcome to the Pitch, son!”
And then it happened.Halftime arrived, and simultaneously the sun departed behind the Hills of Tukwila. The light reached that fine and deadly line between “not enough” and “still not enough”. The sun had fully vanished, but the world was awash in the blue of twilight. The ballpark lights were on, but weren’t yet contributing at all. I prayed to the camera gods for halftime to go longer than 15 minutes, so the ballparks would have a chance to be effective. The camera gods let me down. The end of halftime came, and the ballparks were as effective as a flashlight at the bottom of the ocean. Starfire, it turns out, is not the most lit-up park one might frequent. The lights are set on four poles, each at a corner of the pitch. Each stand has maybe ten halogen lamps, about 40 feet off the ground. They light things up enough for players and fans to see whats going on, but unless you’re shelling out tens of thousands for your lenses, pictures aren’t going to happen. I started switching lenses, jacking ISOs, trying every trick I could think of to get shots.
- “It’s also all about shutter speed!”
Starting out the game with that beautiful behind-the-back sunset gave me the chance to shoot at between 1/1600th and 1/2500th of a second on my shutter. I got stop-motion shots. Soccer, captured in a moment. I didn’t need to tweak, I didn’t need to adjust. I just needed to shoot. I rattled off shots in quick succession, and lived in the moment. I was A Sports Photographer. It was epic. The dream was realized.And then the sun gave up the ghost.
Sunset was gone, and the Dark Times were upon us. I started lowering my shutter, dropping at one point all the way to 1/1000th of a second. My pain was palpable. You could palp it, if you wanted. When I realized I just couldn’t keep up, I started incremental steps of my ISO, just to stay at 1/1200th of a second shutter speed, the lowest I had decided I could safely go. My ISO climbed steadily… 200… 400… 600… 800… 1200… 1600… When I reached 2000, I knew something had to change. It was time, in as fast an action as I could, to switch lenses. I very quickly and agonizingly found out first hand why the Pros carry two or three bodies with them. Swapping lenses out in the midst of action is bad times. Missed opportunities, missed shots.
I stepped down from my 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 to my 28-75mm f/2.8. I had the light back, and I quickly dropped my ISO back to manageable levels. But somehow, it kept getting darker. The ballparks were acting like a flashlight on its last legs, their light sporadic and spotty. The ISO climbed once more. The last ten minutes of the match were approaching, and the best I thing I could think to do was take the final plunge.
I switched to my Nifty Fifty. I knew my sensor was large enough that even with no zoom I would still be able to crop down and get some shots in post. I was now shooting live, on the pitch, full action soccer, at night, with a 50mm f/1.8. I had entered the phase known as “This is gonna suck, Jim.”
- “There’s a reason the Pros drop money on those massive blunderbuss lenses.”
In the end not even the mighty hero known as ISO can save you when you try to take shots in darkness. My Nifty Fifty valiantly tried to keep pace, but pretty soon I acknowledged that it was time to call it a night. I wasn’t packing the 20 pound behemoth lenses of the other photogs on the sidelines, and that meant my shooting was over. I flipped the switch on my body, cutting power and signalling to my psyche that I was, indeed, done.I had had an epiphany. Lightning had just struck my brain.
I was a day-time sports photographer. I wasn’t about to drop $10,000-$25,000 for a lens that would be used purely to provide pictures for a non-paying job. My gear would rock in the daylight, but for night time I would henceforth only be taking artsy shots.
- “There is always one last shot.”
The night was over. The stands were clearing. The fans were heading home.As I walked toward the entry of the pitch, my fellow Cheeky cameraman, Jacob, mentioned in passing “Hey… There’s David Estrada.”
I perked up. I smiled. I looked. Sure enough, there he was! And with two other Sounders! I knew this would be a great moment to get a shot. I walked over, but he was posing with strangers, and I knew my moment wasn’t right then. I walked back to the exit, and quickly found my wife, Joann. I told her who I’d seen, and suggested we go say “Hi!”. We approached the Guys, and I piped up with “Hey, David – can I get a picture of you and my wife?” He was all smiles, and agreed. The Nifty Fifty made a reappearance, and the shot was taken. Then David suggested a picture with the other two guys, which I quickly agreed to since I didn’t want them to feel slighted. And that quickly, my wife had a new cover picture for her Facebook page! We had a high note on which to end the night.
All was well with the world.
~Many thanks to Ryan Sales, without whom I would never have found myself on the sidelines of the pitch for a pro soccer game. I will admit that part of the reason I was there is my constant pestering and cajoling, trying to get Ryan to use his position as a writer for two or three publications to get us Press Passes so we can be “On The Scene.” Cajolery aside, Ryan came through in a fantastic way for us last night, and I fully plan to go to many more Reign FC games.