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Chris Wood’s PhotoBlog

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Sporting Event Photography

I rarely have the chance to write an actual article for my blog – but I finally have a break in the action and the race I shot last weekend was pretty fun so I thought I’d put something together here.

My primary business these days involves portraits of families, wedding photography and some corporate photography. But I got my start in photography covering sports events and I still fit as much of that part of my business into my schedule as I can handle.

Last weekend Scott Stolarz asked me to come out to photograph the Stage Coach Century Ride. Although this type of job usually involves collecting some promotional material for the Race Director – it is primarily about getting a great photo of EVERY athlete for potential sale.

When I got the information about the job I pulled up the google earth images plus the Photographers Ephemeris (and of course the weather forecast) to get an idea of what I would be dealing with. My excitement after this research was mixed to say the least. The location of the ride would be across an absolutely stunning landscape in the Anza Borrego Desert. But unfortunately the logistics dictated that ALL my pictures be taken directly into the sun. As a portrait photographer taking pictures into the sun is just standard practice – but for this type of event photography, you typically want the sun to be directly on the athlete’s face.

When I arrived at a nice looking location the thermometer in my car read 2 degrees above freezing but the sun was just about to peak over the horizon and the sky was already a spectacular shade of blue – so I knew the temperatures would climb quickly.
sunrise

Given the spectacular landscape – but the difficult lighting conditions, I decided that I would bring 2 cameras for 2 completely different shots . You can see my setup below (click for enlarged picture)

I set a long lens on a tripod and I even used a teleconverter so I could get my first capture at a very long distance and then I would have time to pick up the second camera between shots. Shooting directly into the sun without the benefit of any fill lighting means that the wider apertures normally used for sports photography would only increase lens flare and add to the washed-out look of the image. So losing the stop of light caused by the teleconverter (turning an 200mm F2.8 lens into a 280mm F4 lens) was not a big deal. In fact as the day went on (and things got brighter) I started to close off the aperture even more. After a quick test frame with the long lens I could see that the image was going to be just as difficult as I had suspected. Even with the sun just barely peaking over the horizon I was already getting a very flared out image – and as the sun came up this was going to get worse.
highway

But with regards to the telephoto shot I was taking, there was really very little more that could be done about it at the time (there would be some simple “image developing” tricks that would fix these pictures up a bit after the race). The next thing to do was to set up the wide-angle shot for which I would be providing some high powered light to overcome the backlight situation. There were 2 fundamental problems that I knew I would encounter with this shot. First, riders would often come though in a “pack” – and lighting an entire group of riders was going to be extremely difficult. Second, with the harsh desert sun I knew I would be using a LOT of power in my light which meant that my recycle time would slow down. I was using an Alien Bee AB1600 bounced off a soft silver umbrella produced by Westcott and powered by the now out-dated Vagabond II (heavy battery packs are great for holding lights down in a breeze). I have used this combination many times before so I knew it would give me a lot of power with a pretty nice light… but I also knew that I would not be able to take 3 pictures in 4 seconds as the situation would sometimes demand.

Setting up shots at sunrise without a test subject is always a difficult thing to do because the light is changing so fast. As an event photographer you can’t just spend the first 10 minutes of the race trying to dial in your settings – you need to have everything as close to perfect as possible before the first athlete ever shows up. So to test out my lighting I went and stood in the road where I thought I would be taking pictures of the athletes and I checked my exposure with a self portrait. The results looked promising so I decided to run around in circles for the next ten minutes (gotta stay warm) while I waited for the first athlete
self portrait

The race had a staggered start that lasted 2 hours. The athletes crossed timing mats at the start and the finish – and their total time would determine the winner. With the very cold early morning temperatures I was not surprised that the early part of my day was VERY slow (only 3 athletes started at the official start time of 7AM). As the first athlete came into view I grabbed a test shot to make sure my settings were still OK since the light was changing very fast. At this time of day the newly installed Ocotillo windfarm was still visible in the shot, which I thought was pretty cool, but I knew that the harsh lighting would soon kill that part of my image
windfarm

As the rider got closer I grabbed a tighter shot of him with the telephoto lens and then I quickly picked up my second camera body to prepare for that shot. What became immediately clear to me is that I would have a problem that would last all day. I had been hoping that the athletes would ride very close to the edge of the road – but many of them were drifting all the way across their lane of road (maybe they were afraid of me?). In any case, the first rider had come and gone and I had a chance to see how my pictures were going to come out
rider1

I made some small adjustments to accommodate for a more diverse “rider position” (time for a new test frame…)
self portrait number 2

By the time the second rider came through I thought I had everything pretty dialed in
anza borrego bike race

The next thing to happen would really test one of my other concerns on the day – how would my setup do with teams of riders coming through. This team (3x champions) were MOVING – plus they were way out in the middle of the road. So as I snapped my long-lens shot I know I would need to make a tough decision with my second shot. I ended up shooting them from the side and focusing on only 3 of the 4 riders because my “beam” of light was not going to be nearly wide enough to catch everyone. I left the back wheel of the lead rider in the shot so he was not totally forgotten – but I simply was not going to be able to light up the whole team at once.
Team Broadcom
team Broadcom

After all that – the next 3 hours went pretty smooth. I ended up with about 1000 captures (600 athletes – 2 cameras) that pretty much all look the same (the primary goal of event photograph) so I was happy. I went back to the start finish area to grab some promo material and wait for the finishers, and then drove the 90 miles back home in time to take over with my Daddy duties so Mommy could go to work :)
Stage Coach Finishing Medal

If I end up with the same assignment next year I’m not 100% certain what I would do differently. One option would be to bring a second set of lights to light up the riders with the long lens. But that is a really difficult thing to do because you NEED to shoot everybody in exactly the same location (where the light is). I could also try to double up on the lights for my wide angle shot so I could run lower power settings and get better recycle times. It is all worth considering – but maybe next year it will rain and make EVERYTHING different so there is not much use in getting too strategic at this point.

Thanks to Scott Stolarz Photo Works and to Shadow Tours for having me out for this year’s event. I’m already looking forward to the next one.

Posted January 13th, 2013.

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Occupational Hazard: Being a Photographer with Two Adorable Boys

Children of photographers… beware :)

Normally when I’m out with the boys – the cameras stay at home.  Managing 2 little boys is enough of a challenge without throwing thousands of dollars of camera into the mix.  But a few days ago when we took everyone on their first camping trip, it seemed like a good opportunity to bring a camera along.  Of course I only came equipped with one camera and one lens, but they seemed like a good choice (Canon 5DmkIII plus 35mm F1.4L). We ventured up to Mount Laguna to the Burnt Rancheria campground for this very quick overnight trip.
Camping at Mount Laguna
Mount Laguna Children
Cooking and Camping
Camping Baby
Feeding Charlie
Camping with my boys
Bed time in tent
Mount Laguna Astrophotography
Family Photo Mount Laguna
Dave Portrait
Sun Flare Portrait

Posted September 19th, 2012.

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Feel Good Festival

I had a super fun opportunity to capture some action at the House of Blues last night.  Chad Scott (of the Chad Scott Band) helped organize the event as part of the San Diego Feel Good Festival.  The aim of the festival is to help promote positive  music and healthy lifestyle choices including yoga, fitness and healthy food… The opening act was Steve Gold

Steve Gold Band

Steve Gold Band
The second act in the night was Simone Ressner and Chris Burns peforming some “Acrobatic Yoga”. I was completely unsure what to expect – but the performance was surprising true to its billing. It was somehow both Acrobatic and Yoga at the same time. I don’t know how they pulled it off … but it was amazing.

Acrobatic Yoga

Next up was Chad Scott’s own band

Chad Scott Band

Chad Scott Band

Chad Scott Band

Chad Scott Band

The final performers of the night were Avasa and Matty Love

Avasa and Matty Love

Avasa and Matty Love

Posted June 22nd, 2012.

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Portraits in Anza Borrego

Its going to be December next week which means its time for Christmas cards.  I combined a trip to Anza Borrego State Park, California with chance to take some family portraits for Dane and Tomoko Kuta

For those not familiar with Anza Borrego it is a desert park with stunning landscapes

Anza Borrego State Park, California

Canyon Sin Nombre (that would be no-name canyon) from above

Canyon Sin Nombre, Anza Borrego

Anza Borrego Portrait

Family Portrait

Posted November 29th, 2009.

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2009 4th of July – San Diego Harbor

As a Canadian transplant living in San Diego I figured I needed to get out and experience a real American 4th of July.  I anticipated big crowds so I figured I’d head to some “quiet little spots” that I know about….

WOW – did I ever underestimate “big crowds”.  Without getting into details I’ll summarize the experience by saying I left home at 7PM for a 9PM fireworks display – I got to my destination at 8:30PM and I was home by about Midnight having spent 5 hours travelling to and from my destination for the 15 min display.  The Police were stationed at every major intersection preventing me from getting anywhere near my intended destination (which leaves me wondering how anyone else was able to get in there?) so I ended up at “Plan C” which didn’t give me the pictures I had intended to take but at least it was a fun crowd.  In spite of the traffic and parking nightmare that accompanied this little adventure I had a great time.  I now know for next year where not to go at least…

4th of July

4th of July

4th of July

Posted July 5th, 2009.

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Tofino British Columbia

The trip to Tofino was a wedding gift that took us a year to cash in – but it was worth the wait.

We left San Diego and it’s 70 degree weather for the west coast of Canada prepared for the worst.  Jamie wore her winter boots on the airplane expecting cold weather at the other end and we were suprised when we got off the plane in Victoria to find that the temperature had warmed up considerably and that Jamie was significantly over-dressed.  We rented a car and headed to Jodi’s place where we planned to spend a night before heading up the coast the next day.

Mocha #1 of the trip

Tuesday morning we walked over to grab a coffee and a visit before heading off.  I have a ritual of sampling a Mocha in every city I go to in a global quest to find the best chocolate flavored coffee.

When we arrived in Tofino in our rented Toyota Matrix the weather was still sunny and beautiful. After checking in at the Abalone Inn to dump our gear we went for a walk to Chesterman’s Beach and then out on the Tombolo to Frank’s Island to check out the tidal pools.

Chestermans Beach Tidal Pools

Frank Island - Tofino

Frank Island - Tofino

In anticipation of some great evening light we headed in to the town of Tofino and stopped by the harbor before heading over to Tonquin Park to catch the last rays of sun for the day.

Tofino Harbor at sunset

Tofino Harbor at sunset

 

Tonquin Beach at Sunset

Tonquin Beach at Sunset

The next day we woke up to a more typical day in the rain forest of the west coast with light showers and fog

Abalone Inn

We went for a walk around the property at the Inn before heading in to town

Workshop at the Abalone Inn

Once in town it was time to accomplish 2 tasks.  The first task (of course) was to continue my search for the perfect Mocha

Mocha #2 of the trip

While the second task for the day was to get a little work done. As a consultant you work whenever there is work to be done and you play whenever you get the chance – so putting in 2 hours of work in a nice internet cafe in Tofino was no big deal. Lets just hope I get the contract I was preparing a proposal for :)

Writing a proposal in a cafe in Tofino

Writing a proposal in a cafe in Tofino

The town of Tofino is quite small so its worth parking your car and going for a walk. This little church just one block from the ocean was surrounded by quaint homes and businesses that were all beautifully maintained.

Church In Tofino

On our final day in Tofino I finally decided it was time for some series exercise instead of just strolling around town. The beaches around Tofino might just be the best beaches in the world for running on. The sand is firm and the terrain is flat. On top of that the weather could not have been better for running in with a slight mist in the air and a temperature of about 55 F (10 C). Yup – that was the best run I’ve been on in a long time.

Running on Chestermans Beach

Running on Chesterman's Beach

We headed back to Victoria the next morning and spent a night in a Bed and Breakfast called Fairholme Manor in Rockland.

While in Victoria we got a little bit more sun just before leaving so we went for a walk through Beacon Hill Park

Beacon Hill Park

 

Posted April 14th, 2009.

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St Patrick’s Day Parade – San Diego

St Patrick’s Day Parade in San Diego. I put my photos into a slide show here – This one is just for fun…

Posted March 29th, 2009.

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February 11 2009 – Sedona, AZ

Sedona in the snow

 

Snow covered Cactus

Snow covered Cactus

 

Tlaquepaque mall

Tlaquepaque mall

 

Devils Arch

Devil's Arch

 

Catholic Church

Catholic Church

 

Airport Mesa Trail

Airport Mesa Trail

 

Cathedral Rock

Cathedral Rock

 

Cathedral Rock

Cathedral Rock

 

 

Self Portrait

Self Portrait

Posted February 15th, 2009.

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Death Valley – California

Death Valley Map

Death Valley Map

As you enter death valley you begin to realize that you’ve landed on Mars.  With both a bachelor and masters degree in geography I had been learning about this place for years but death valley is a prime example of how classrooms and books can never replace the value of experiencing nature first hand.

We accessed the park from the south traveling up the 127 before turning west on the 190. Shortly after hitting the 190 the sun disappeared and we lost our impressive views on our way to the Furnace Creek Campsite.

Road to Death Valley

Road to Death Valley

Furnace Creek Campsite

Furnace Creek Campsite

We woke up early the next morning (in fact we woke up long before dawn every morning we were there to get the early light) and we drove up to Dante’s View. The drive took us a little longer than expected and we found ourselves running down a trail in the pre-dawn light trying to find a nice place to set up for a nice picture. The View from Dante’s was everything it was advertised to be and we spent a a little over an hour up there taking pictures and taking in the view

Dantes View at Dawn

Dante's View at Dawn

Before the heat of the day really set in we decided to do a canyon hike advertised in a guide book we had picked up (I can’t find the name of the hike anymore but it is at Mormon Point just south of Badwater).  Unfortunately the description of the “Canyon to the right” was a little ambiguous and we ended out on an exposed south slope rather than staying cool in a deep dark canyon as we had planned. Eventually we got things figured out and we were treated to our first Canyon hike of the trip

Canyon Hike

Canyon Hike

We finished our first day in Death Valley with a tour through Artists Drive and to check out the Artists Palette

Artists Palette

Artists Palette

Day 2 started with a pre-dawn trip to Twenty Mule Team Canyon.  Going strictly by maps of the area it did not look like there were a lot of really good places to catch nice sunrise photos.  We were quite fortunate throughout the trip that whispy high clouds stuck around to help keep the photos a little more interesting

Photography at Dawn

Photography at Dawn

20 Mule Team Canyon

20 Mule Team Canyon

Mid-day hikes again took place primarily in the many Canyons on the edges of the valley.  These hikes were typically pretty short but there was lots of diversity in geography – with both conglomerate cliff walls and shear bedrock.

Canyon Hiking

Canyon Hiking

Golden Canyon

Golden Canyon

Between hikes we just had to stop at Badwater to wander around at the lowest dry land on earth – 282 ft below sea level.

Badwater - Death Valley

Badwater - Death Valley

As we made dinner on day 2 we couldn’t help but notice another of Death Valley’s famous attributes – spectacular stargazing opportunities.  In this image of Orion I was able to capture a glimps of the Orion Nebula just below his belt.

Orions Belt

Orion's Belt

On Day three our pre-dawn trip took us to the sand dunes at Mesquite Flat.  Jamie and I have been conducting a long-term “trash the dress” session that is not yet complete.  When we have finished I will post all images but here is a sample from the Mesquite Sand Dunes.  Pre-dawn in the desert can be REALLY cold so I credit her bravery for going shoeless and sleaveless before the sun came up.

Mesquite Dunes

Mesquite Dunes

Trash the Dress

Trash the Dress

Through the middle of the day (still day 3 here) we travelled along Emigrant Canyon Road to Wildrose Canyon near the base of Telescope Peak.  The geography here once again showed the increadible diversity found within the park.  At nearly 5000 feet above sea level the temperatures are significantly cooler and the north aspect slopes are heavily vegetated.

Jeep trail in Wildrose Canyon

Jeep trail in Wildrose Canyon

Wildrose Canyon

Wildrose Canyon

Day 3 finished with a trip to Zabriskie Point for sunset.  This is one of the closest sites to see near the Furnace Creek Campsite and it had some really nice views.

Zabriskie Point

Zabriskie Point

Zabriskie Point

Zabriskie Point

By the time we got back to Camp on Day 3 we realized we had covered most of the park including 7 short hikes. What we did not get around to doing was getting to the Race Track and summiting Telescope Peak. Both of those activities were designated for a future trip and we decided to head home one day ahead of schedule.

One Final Sunrise

One Final Sunrise

Posted November 23rd, 2008.

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