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Great Scott!

Spotted this while on my trip to the USA…
DMC logo on the front of a De Lorean

Crowd

Yeah, it’s blurry but I like it. Sometimes things don’t have to be perfect to be beautiful

Thousands gather at the main stage for The Bamboos at St Kilda Festival

Fruit is good!

On nom nom nom.

Beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

It begins.  With a glass of egg nog.

This shit is the shit! Can't lose.

This shit is the shit! Can't lose.

The commercially-available stuff is non-alcoholic.  A bit of rum and advokaat would seal the deal nicely, though.

Following the European tradition for Christmas has a few differences.  We don’t put the tree up on the 1st of December, for one, which means we put it up around now, right in the middle of the Christmas rush when I should be out buying the presents for the distant step-grandmothers I never knew I had until some poor bastard decided to remarry and spring the news on us at the last minute.

Going to a Christmas tree farm, expecting to find a tree just perfect for our requirements is usually a challenge as a result.

Fortunately the obsession with trees too-big-to-fit-through-the-door seems to be confined to a select few Christmas obsessives such as myself.  I remember how magical it was to get a massive Christmas tree; I’d spend hours scanning the tree with my eyes, identifying all the decorations (and occasionally relocate a favourite few to my bedroom but this was quickly discovered as they were returned).  Of course, I never got to see the tree till Christmas eve and it was all fun and games to believe that some mystical force (i.e. the angels, allegedly) would decorate the damn thing in a closed off area of the house.  I had believed that if I were to even take a peak, something bad would happen and the tree would disappear and Christmas would be cancelled. As I, like any other child of only a few years of age who likes their free shit around Christmas time, obeyed.  Let me illustrate:

But mommy, I saw it with my own eyes!

But mommy, I saw it with my own eyes!

One day I had to come to grips with reality and the sad realisation that, just like that Easter Bunny, Christmas is in fact, just a commercially exploited holiday when people eat lots, spend lots of money to feed the economy and get drunk however I didn’t earn much money nor did I know what it was to be drunk at such a young age so I didn’t really get the point of it.  I still got free shit, though, so I didn’t complain.  An annoying side effect of this, however, is that trees won’t go and get themselves from the farm and magically call upon the mystical forces of the universe (i.e. the angels, allegedly) and decorate itself, too.  This all had to be done by hand and turns out to be a great deal of work.  Oh, and I apparently had to buy people presents, too! What a sham!

Picking the Perfect Stick Of Pine Needles

A not so beautiful tree stump...

A not so beautiful tree stump...

Christmas Tree side at farm

Beautiful, beautiful trees!

Before I continue, it occurred to me as I was uploading these photos that some people out there don’t like photos of tree stumps.  I can’t remember for the life of me who it was.  I took a wonderful photo of a tree stump once and this person, whoever the hell they were, didn’t appreciate it.  I hope I did a better job this time.

This one’s for you.  Merry Christmas.

So we start by arriving at a Christmas tree farm.  Sometimes it’s damn near 40 degrees out there in the field, so picking a tree can be a bit daunting.  Cool weather (and the urgency of predicted rain that never came, thank you weather guys). So we tell them we want something 8ft or bigger (last year’s was 10 but we decided that was a bit much) and the lovely chaps there point to the farthest part of the farm.  Well, we could use the exercise…

Things to look for: shape, dead branches, how strong the branches are, whether the trunk is straight, trunk width and whether it’s going to require a woodchuck to get it to fit in the stand

Down to the back paddock and we’re greeted with a world where everything looks the bloody same.

Christmas trees! So many choices...

Christmas trees! So many choices...

It all starts to look the same after a while so the important thing is to pick some good trees early on, build a shortlist and then pick the faults with them, otherwise it feels like I’m chasing my tail after a while.  We found three trees and got the decision made mighty fast because we left the sunscreen at home and skin cancer is not a nice Christmas present.  We got it narrowed down to one that we were all “happy” with…

Finally a perfect tree!

Finally a perfect tree!

So, we can already see from the above that we’ve got a gap at the top, trunk was a bit small (but this is better than a bit big for the stand, more on that later), mostly green, nice shape and branches are a bit thin.  The tree was straight – compared to other years, you get trees growing on a hill which really messes shit up.  There were also no bee hives or huntsman spider collections with this tree which is a certain plus (you think that nothing can live in a pine tree but believe me, those eight legged bastards seem to find a way).  It looked big enough so we took it.  Down comes a guy with a hacksaw and we’re the proud new owners of eight feet of pine needles attached to a bunch of sticks.

How the fuck do we get it home? Roof rack, fake rope magic and a tarp – this is to keep the pine needles and sap from the car and to make it easier to carry around.  Or this:

Snug as a bug in a rug!

Snug as a bug in a rug!

Yep.  It looks like some sort of child in a whatever the hell you call it.  Hell I don’t know. it’s a Christmas tree and it’s ready to roll.  That’s about 70 bucks worth of dead tree there, which isn’t bad value.  Some tree farms will try and sting you upwards of $100+ for that dead shit.  Don’t buy into their lies and propaganda – shop around.

Back home, the bastard goes in a bucket of water for a few hours.  This helps soak up some water into the trunk which helps keep the tree greener longer.  Some people actually place buckets of water underneath these trees to keep them green and smelling great throughout the Christmas period.  I’ve never done this.  The tree usually lasts fine until the 6th when it comes down.  Besides, the stand is metal and will probably drink as much water as the tree but turn it into rust instead.  And there are complications if a bucket of water were to come in contact with the cabling for the lights.

A thirsty tree!

A thirsty tree!

I’d show a photo of the tree leaning against the house but let’s face it, it’s boring as heck and you probably don’t care.  Time for some egg, a few hours of wasting time on the PC and it’s back into it.  Bringing the 8ft tree inside was easier than last year’s 10ft tree.  There is an upside to the drought after-all!

Because bringing a tree inside is rather boring to see, let’s skip right to the final picture:

Oh, shit.

Oh, shit.

Yeah, guess that didn’t go too well.  While the tree is actually stable (enough) at this angle as the stand is supporting it, the tree is actually not in the stand properly – one thing we didn’t watch for, and that was the distance between the lower branches and the bottom of the stand – so the tree is actually supported by these lower branches, which sadly had to go.

Look, it's a Christmas tree in a stand. I think that's obvious.

Look, it's a Christmas tree in a stand. I think that's obvious.

See that? It’s a Christmas tree stand and perhaps the most awesome thing I’ve ever seen.  It was made by a chap who owned a local Christmas tree farm but he since sold up and moved on.  These stands are never to be seen again.  The bolts are nice – they actually screw in to the trunk to prevent it from moving, creating a very stable fit.  This tree doesn’t fit in the stand very well – in previous years we’ve had trunks that don’t fit in the stand at all as they’re too big.  Branches, at this stage, were removed and the tree was stood up again and adjusted and it looks better now than it did before.

Next step, the lights.  There are five sets of lights on the tree this time.  Only one set had a dead globe:

Oh shi-

Oh shi-

Depending on how the lights are wired, some sets will stop working completely (making globe replacement fun as you have to practically look at each globe with a magnifying glass) or one globe will die and the rest of the globes will glow a little brighter, which in turn, places a greater stress n the globes and all of them will progressively fail faster.  Want to start a house fire? This is the way to do it.

Fortunately with 150 or so lights, it’s going to be fine.  This set has been used for many years like this but sadly we’ve been unsuccessful in locating a replacement globe.  We’ve thrown out the box they came in and I’m sure in the bottom of one of eight large decoration boxes we have, there’s a globe that will fit this set perfectly.

With that sorted, bring on the tree!

Lighty lights!

Lighty lights!

Much better (the blue light in the background is from the subwoofer).

Inside that wrapper is one of about eight different Pink Lady chocolate flavours!

Inside that wrapper is one of about eight different Pink Lady chocolate flavours!

Now things get a bit interesting.  With the lights on, the next step is to put some chocolates on the tree.  We follow the Hungarian tradition of using Szalon Cukor (take THAT, spelling checker!) which looks remarkably like the photo I took of an actual specimen hanging on the tree.  These are basically candies wrapped up in a decorative manner. The tradition involves wrapping them individually and then tying them together with string.  These then act as weights to bring the branches down in preparation for the decorations as once the heavy decorations go on the tree, the branches will slowly fall and the decorations will fall off again – which will inevitably be the most priceless valuable decorations we own.  Since we don’t follow the tradition to the letter, we replace the traditional home-made stuff with chocolates from Pink Lady because they taste better and it requires less effort.  So three kilograms of premium chocolates later, the tree is ready to stand for a while and prepare for the onslaught of decorations.

Lightroom 2 vs. 3 beta vs. out-of-camera JPEGs.

I’ve long since been an advocate of shooting in raw.  There are many benefits such as the ability to adjust exposure and perhaps the most important for me – white balance, before the shots hit the web or press.

Unfortunately my tool of choice – Adobe Lightroom 2, has failed to impress me with its poor colour accuracy.  I do, however, love its noise reduction routines allowing me to get a nice smooth look to my images even when shot at ISO 12800 or 25600 out of the 5D Mark II.  My solution to get NR working well is to go to uncompressed TIFF first using Canon’s Digital Photo Professional, then import into LR2, then apply NR and export – a big pest!

LR3 has since been released which seems to give me very similar results to the JPEGs I get out of the camera (or Canon’s DPP, for that matter).  But there’s no luminance NR, only colour NR which is still a BIG help and removes the purple banding effect I typically get with images I imported with LR2.

Here are three images – you decide which is best!  Note that the colour wasn’t harmed by the colour or luminance NR setting that much – not to the degree we see here between the LR 2.x and 3 beta images.

Matt's birthday - JPEG out of camera (5D Mark II), ISO 12800.

Matt's birthday - JPEG out of camera (5D Mark II), ISO 12800

Matt's birthday - 5D Mark II via Lightroom 2.x, Camera Standard profile, ISO 12800.

Matt's birthday - 5D Mark II via Lightroom 2.x, Camera Standard profile, ISO 12800, 100% color NR, 100% luminance NR.

Matt's birthday - 5D Mark II via Lightroom 3 beta, Camera Standard profile, ISO 12800, 100% Color NR.

Respawn registrations full – again!

So we’ve recently run the most successful Respawn LAN gaming event ever. 

In fact, it’s the most successful LAN event we’ve had in Melbourne since Shafted LAN’s Big Day In around 2003 and the biggest that we’ve seen in our venue since 2002.  That’s a long time for the community to pick back up again but to be honest, we’re still trying to figure out what caused the sudden jump in popularity.  Are the games getting better? Do we have more people coming to LAN events for the first time and if so, why?

These are the questions that we’re asking ourselves because it took us by surprise.

We’ve already hit maximum capacity in seven days from opening registrations for Respawn LAN 13.  We didn’t get around to e-mailing our playerbase – this was scheduled for last night as we had to confirm some more details – but it’s amazing that the community has come together so quickly.  It makes us sit and wonder – what if we took things further and actually put the word out there?

From my nine and a half years of being involved with running LANs and over four years at the helm of Respawn,  it’s the first time that I’m personally willing to say that we can pull off another Big Day In-style event.

What I found amusing was when I was mingling with the players (as I like to do sometimes – if I have the time, during the event) and asking them what could we do better, the most common response was to run more often.  We were initially a bit skeptical about this but due to various plans changing, we’re running a cluster of three events, 12, 13 and 14, around six weeks apart and so far we’re seeing an excellent response from the community.  If all goes well at the end of our 14th event, we’ll probably run more of them which should give us more momentum to get that 1000+ player event happening.

Obviously, we’d love to have around 1500 plus but this depends on a lot of factors.  Well, because more, right?

The final challenge we have right now is to reunite a community that’s fragmented.  In the days of the Shafted LAN Big Day In, there were only a handful of popular games – Counter-Strike (1.x), Quake III Arena and a few smaller games such as Battlefield 1942 (now that was a game, Wake Island was an awesome map and I’m really looking forward to seeing 1943 being released).  I believe we also ran a Natural Selection competition but that game was, quite frankly, shit and nothing anyone could ever say will convince me otherwise however if people want to play it, nobody is going to argue… too much.  There was the usual strategy games such as Starcraft and that was about it.

Now we’ve got CS 1.6, CS Source, Call Of Duty 4, Half-Life 2 deathmatch, Battlefield 2 (1942 died a slow horrible death, which is a shame because it truly was an awesome game), Warcraft III (1v1, DOTA), Starcraft (yes, this is HUGE in Korea and consequently in the WCG competition), Unreal Tournament 2004, Quake III – and we still haven’t touched on the explosion of networked multiplayer console games via the XBOX 360 and Playstation 3.  What of Guitar Hero/Rockband as well? The community is huge but catering for each and every group means we will only have the capacity, all things being equal, to take on about 20 people from each sector.

That’s, quite frankly, pathetic.

This is the key thing we will be able to achieve with a larger event – we’ll be able to offer sufficient critical mass where we can have a few hundred players from the main gameplay groups.  Sure, competitively we’ll focus on a subset of the above and a sprinking of whatever is bleeding edge but we’ll also cater for particular communities who want to come along and play games that would be less likely found at a smaller event such as Tribes 2, some of the racing sims such as Live For Speed and so on.

It would be nice to see Quake III Arena make a comeback, too.

In the coming months, we will be trying more and more of these smaller games and spontaneous competitions and we will be dabbling with the lesser accessible communities.  Coupled with increased even frequency, we think we’ll finally be able to reach the wider community.

A rambling about the past nine years of LAN gaming in Melbourne

Respawn LAN v10 has been announced. It’ll be our third year running and will be nine years since the first LAN gaming event in that venue run under the banner of Shafted LAN, the team I was part of before I founded Respawn LAN.

Shafted LAN was the premiere LAN in Melbourne for, well, any LAN gaming event.  We were involved with the AGDC LANfest events and brought Australia’s largest LAN gaming event, the Shafted LAN Big Day In, to fruition.  We were involved with AusGamers and ran the only Cyberathlete Professional League (CPL) official BYO PC LAN event in Australia. Things were very exciting; up until BDI, nobody knew where this whole LAN thing would go.  Then things dropped off a little.  We lost a bit of motivation, people changed and Shafted LAN wasn’t getting the numbers that they used to.  It was clear that something had to be done.  I was always talking about running a LAN event entirely under my direction.  The loss of enthusiasm from the Shafted admin team was reflected upon the community.  People were less excited.

The truth was, Shafted LAN was dying.  I didn’t expect their last event in December of 2005 to, well, be their very last.  When we embarked on injecting some flavour of New into the LAN gaming community, we saw, just one month later, an entirely new crowd come to our inaugural event.  I had hoped to capitalise on the existing community formed around Shafted but that was not to be; with a new name came an entirely new flavour of LAN gaming and the older crowd simply vanished from the radar.

Was it that people just simply moved on?  Shafted LAN was driven by a core community of what, 30 or 40 people, most of which were on the admin team with a fairly flat hierachy.  Then you had the admin assists and the players.  But that’s not how it started, just a few guys who went to the Fragware events (I had attended their second last event, number 13, at a church hall) and decided it was time to start their own.  Since then, the core gamers who drove Shafted LAN had moved interstate or overseas, had jobs, met girls and got married and life has simply moved on.  Perhaps I picked up the tab at the right time and it was even a slow start as the LAN community was already breathing its dying gasp; QGL in Brisbane stopped running their events and we saw a downturn in numbers for attendance.

That community, the pub nights, the Tasty LANs, it was all fun and games.  Literally.  We were one lively social bunch and I have held many fond memories of those times since and I can say that it’s good to see that same sort of community form around Respawn.  Sure, there are disagreements, tension between people.  You get that with any social crowd but it shows in our events now that we have a very solid following.

But I reflect upon the last nine years of LAN events in Union Hall and I realised that back then, there was a certain spark to those events.  Kind of like meeting that special girl for the first time; you know there’s just something magical in the air.  It was a very new thing, nobody knew where LAN gaming would go.  The leader of Shafted LAN had grand plans of infusing a LAN with a rave-like atmosphere which, funnily enough, materialised on its own by a completely different community forming Bluewire LAN.  The key was to create an immersive experience, not just a place where people dump their PCs and sit in front of screens but a social environment where people interact and get involved.  I will never forget the amount of excitement you’d witness when people were entranced by their games of Quake 3 or Counter-Strike, shouting and general mayhem which related to the game.

I don’t see that anymore, in fact, I attended a LAN event last weekend where I swear I could have fallen asleep in the middle of the venue due to the low level of noise in the hall.  People just weren’t getting excited anymore.

Back when Shafted LAN was big, broadband had only just taken off.  Optus Cable Internet was released in mid-2000, a few years since Shafted LAN had started running – back then, Telstra’s BigPond Advance product was the only cable Internet service and was priced at $65/month with 100MB of included download and additional traffic was a whopping 35 cents per meg.  The other option was to use a dial-up modem but the high ping times detracted from the gamer’s experience.  So Optus came along, offered unlimited downloads and lots of gamers signed up, however coverage was limited so not everybody could sign up for a few years.  ADSL was only available a few years later so many homes were left with dial-up as their only option – or just pop along to your favorite LAN party for some low latency gaming action.

But it was summer of 2002, in January, when the largest Shafted LAN event was held, packing over 460 people into union hall at La Trobe University.  Known as the ‘nerf gun’ Shafted, we gave everybody a Nerf gun as they walked through the door.  It was absolutely hilarious and it’s always the iconic event that attendees have always spoken about since.  Broadband was becoming popular and so was the event, pulling 350 people on a regular basis every two months and topping out at 1000 players for the Big Day In a year later.  So we can probably debunk broadband as the catalyst here.  World of Warcraft only came a few years later, although MMORPGs such as EverQuest were around at the time – and yes, some of the older gamers have taken up WoW instead of their regular casual gaming of CS and Quake-style games.

So that’s not it.

The professional gamers who lined up at 10am to get stuck into the Counter-Strike competition of those early Shafted events had since found home in LAN gaming cafes which was a radical change from when Shafted LAN was the centre of the Victorian CS community.  These LAN cafes would make it easier for teams to play for a few hours with less committment – they’d no longer have to lug their PC and LAN cafes were more adaptive to these players bringing their own mice and keyboards.  These guys were, however, a minority.  A significant minority but they weren’t the core driving force of those 400 plus player events.

Back when Shafted was in its prime, there were a few games that were popular.  You either played Counter-Strike or Quake.  There were three versions of Quake – QuakeWorld (Quake 1 but optimised for multiplayer gameplay), Quake II and Quake III Arena.  Quake 2 had a somewhat cult following due to its slow game speed compared to the intensity of QW and Quake III Arena.  Professional gaming popped on the face of the earth with people like Fatal1ty attending the CPL Pacific event to claim first place in the Quake III Arena competition.  Other games, such as Team Fortress, Capture the Flag (both QuakeWorld based), Starseige Tribes and Unreal Tournament were still popular but substantially less so.  You were either a CS player or a Quake player (or if you played real-time strategy, Starcraft was the only one you’d play).  You’d go to a 300 plus player event and you’d play one of a few games so there was always a chance – a strong chance, that a large game was going to take place of your favorite game.

A few things changed since.  Battlefield 1942 came out, popularizing the world war II theme for gaming.  The simplicity of its gameplay was alluring and this game took over LANs for a brief moment in time and some of us even thought that it might displace Counter-Strike but this was not so; the tournament capabilities of Battlefield 1942 were lacking in comparison and game bugs weren’t resolved until the game was several months old.  Warcraft III came out, living up to the hype and anticipation that only Blizzard can do, giving the real-time strategists two choices.  A Battlefield 1942 mod, Desert Combat, split the community between those who played the original game and those who enjoyed the faster jets and helicopters that Desert Combat offered.  Battlefield II came out a few years later, Medal of Honour blipped on the radar for a second before it faded into the distance.

Then there was the biggest new release of recent times – Half-Life 2 and bringing with it, Counter-Strike: Source.  Some gamers stuck with the older game as the physics engine and gameplay are substantially different and some moved to the newer version.  With every game release, we had fragmentation.  Some stayed, some moved on and before we knew it, we now have 300 or so players rocking up to play 50 different games. So now the best way to actually play Battlefield 1942 is online – at peak times, because that’s the only time you’ll find enough players on the server to play a functional game.

New games such as Far Cry 2, Quake 4 and so on, only last a short time.  The gameplay doesn’t feel as exciting  as the older games.  This is not in my head – I have much more fun playing the older games than the newer ones due to the simplicity and of course, most new games are all team-based, requiring a lot more effort and committment to play.  QuakeWorld was largely duel-based or free-for-all so you could jump in a server, play a few rounds and that’s it.

In case my rambling hasn’t been coherent, I’m pointing the finger squarely at the game industry.  Want to know the secret to the Nintendo Wii’s success? SIMPLICITY. The games are developed and engineered to be fun and enjoyable and it’s different.  It’s not like we have Call Of Duty trying to be just another Counter-Strike or Battlefield because an imitation is never going to match the original.

We’ve been talking, the Respawn group and have also noticed this disturbing trend.  Can we do anything about it? We’re going to try running an old school LAN event so that we can have an environment specifically created to play these older games.

Sadly this won’t address the fragmentation, the core reason why the the community isn’t as close-knit as before.  For this to be solved, we need a killer game.  A game that’s fun, enjoyable, accessible to all in terms of skill, yet advanced enough to allow scope for professional gaming.  A game that doesn’t necessarily require a team to play so anybody can join a server and participate.  A game that can bring the community closer together and unify those fragmentations this very industry has been successful in creating.

Until then, anyone up for some Quake III? Drop me a line.

-z

Uni Games: on swimming, photography and a rewarding week.

A Team Monash player produces an unusual expression as he is confronted with an opposing player

A Team Monash player produces an unusual expression as he is confronted with an opposing player

On Thursday night, I decided I was going to shoot the swimming finals.  They wanted me to shoot the athletics and knowing the lighting I’d face at Olympic Park, I’d be expecting ISO 3200 and beyond if I was going to stop any action…. The original plan was to hang around at MSAC but a mad dash to the soccer was required for an article that didn’t even request the photos in the end…  but that soccer game was intense.  Melbourne University beat Monash, 2 to 1 and the umpire seemed to miss very critical details in the game such as contact but strangely enough, only when it was a Monash person who was the victum.  Still, a close game with a great high-spirited team and I was witness to what was some of the most inspirational encouragement from any sporting coach I have ever heard.  I can’t recall his name but this guy was amazing, the way he captivated every single person on that team during time-outs.  Even at the end of the game, he was just incredible with the way he put his words.

Soccer final: 2 - 1 to Melbourne Uni.

Soccer final: 2 - 1 to Melbourne Uni.

But after shooting the soccer, it was decided that we really didn’t need shots of the athletics so I covered the siwmming anyway.  It was a lovely cool Melbourne springtime evening to be poolside at the sports and aquatic centre.  Lighting was.. a bit of a pest but workable.  They ran about one third of all the lights so I was stuck at around ISO 1600 to stop any action but thanks to the 1D Mark III this was no big issue. And boy, did we do well poolside! We cleaned up pretty well, coming second overall for swimming.  Our swimming team did us proud and it was an enjoyable, relaxing evening at the pool. But I don’t understand why there seemed to be a subdued interest at best from spectators in the swimming.  I suppose athletics isn’t much different.  Did we all get bored with secondary school swimming carnivals?  Who knows… but outside of the Olympic Games, swimming takes the back seat.  Not many people knew about the FINA world swimming championships being held in Melbourne at this very swimming pool last year despite the fact that they were even televised!  It’s a real shame that this sport has been under rug swept given that the Australian Sporting Commission uses a swimming image as the background of their advertising.  So clearly not all is lost.

ISO 1600, f/2.8, 1/800th sec

ISO 1600, f/2.8, 1/800th sec

 
So it’s all over and done with now.  I fired some three thousand frames – not much for four days of sporting competition by professional standards but it was enough for a taste of what sporting photography entails – it’s challenging, hard work and tiring.  It’s a type of photography that stresses fast-thinking, high-end equipment and short reaction times.  It was by far the toughest assignment I’ve been on yet but I feel some of the results have been worth it.
 
I shall make a note, however, that communication is always of paramount importance when covering sporting events such as the university games.  Events are on at different times, with different teams and competitors.  Journalists are out there, writing stories and they need a photographer on the double to get a shot done for their article.  Unfortunately not everybody has a habit of keeping their phones on them, charged, switched on and so on.  We live in the connected world where five minutes is enough to cost any media organisation the entire headline. 
 
We win! Team Monash takes the gold.

We win! Team Monash takes the gold.

Any photographer can stand in the pit and take the same shot as 15 other photographers.  Any journalist can write the same story, on the same scores about the same event.. but only one team, working together can produce coverage that feeds the needs of the digital world and that is to fulfill the expectation of near-instant coverage.  It’s a shame I didn’t have more resources to play with – an Internet connection, a wireless file transmitter and a method of documenting which photos were of who and when would have been invaluable in producing word-class coverage but this wasn’t exactly a world-class event.  This is no Olympics and perhaps some of my expectations were set a bit high.
 
Team Monash plays to victory on the show court at MSAC. Poor lighting resulted in 1/800th of a second, f/2.8 at ISO 6400.

Team Monash plays to victory on the show court at MSAC. Poor lighting resulted in 1/640th of a second, f/2.8 at ISO 6400.

Another tip I can offer, another observation is that it only makes life harder when you try and take the same shot as everybody else.  No, the other photographers are not onto something secret when they’re standing in the same place, shooting with the same lens and the same settings.  There’s no real ‘golden rule’ to photography.  It is as much of an art as it is a science.  For example, most basketball photos I saw being taken at around 1/320th-1/400th of a second – even some as low as 1/200th of a second.  I found 1/500th wouldn’t even stop the action and reviewing shots on those low resolution 320×240 screens, even the glorious 3″ screen on the 1D Mark III doesn’t always tell the full story.  See the photo to the right? 1/640th at ISO 6400.  I did take some shots with the 85 f/1.2 wide open but the AF couldn’t quite keep up – and the extremely narrow depth of field isn’t always desirable.  And the ISO 6400 performance of the 1D III is great, not fantastic but good enough, about where I’d sit the ISO 3200 performance of the 40D.  I barely saw another photographer exceed 1600 – there’s no written or unwritten rule against using high ISO speeds in lower lighting conditions and this is where the next evolution of the Canon 1D series will rewrite the book on sports photography and the fear of high sensitivity.
 
The Team Monash uniform wasn't professionally designed however it was a head-turner!

The back of the Team Monash uniform - this was not professionally designed but was still catching a lot of attention.

And even f/2.8 can be too slow in some cases.  The venue for badminton was probably by far the worst lighting conditions I have ever shot in.  The shot on the left, to achieve the action-stopping 1/1000th of a second shutter speed, I used the 85mm f/1.2L II, wide-open at 1.2 with the ISO set to 2500 on the 1D III.  I took other, better shots than this but as you can see it doesn’t look too bad – certainly usable – and I can’t say I’ve seen a single badminton shot that stopped the action that wasn’t at least two whole stops under.  The players weren’t moving that quickly so the AF speed wasn’t too much of a problem.

 
The 85L was also a great lens for volleyball coverage and some basketball but I still think the 70-200 f/2.8L IS was the best lens for indoor basketball on the 1D III.  I’d probably tip that the 200 f/2 IS prime telephoto would also be a viable alternative and a popular one.
A table tennis semifinal comes to an end as Melbourne University struggles to advance to the final

A table tennis semifinal comes to an end as Melbourne University struggles to advance to the final

 
So my first experience in shooting sports?  It certainly is all-consuming but for four days when I lived and breathed this style of photography, I have learned so much, not just about photography but about sport, about human interaction, about meeting people, making friends, forging friendships.  It was fortunate that we were all working towards a common goal and that we weren’t in any direct competition with each other photographically.  Covering a sporting event is a
Another Team Monash swimmer

Another Team Monash swimmer

sport in itself.  It requires stamina, endurance, strategy, determination and a strong mind to shoot for a large event.  I can only imagine what the Olympic Games would be like to cover and it would be an opportunity I would love to undertake.

 
Victory for Team Monash in the pool

Victory for Team Monash in the pool

For all those who I met during the last week at the University Games, thank you.  It’s been a fantastic week working with everybody and I only hope to have similar opportunities in the future.
There’s still some more things I’d love to say but I might leave that till another time.  Hope you enjoy the photos!
Tristan
 
Diving in...

Diving in...

Our Team Monash cheering squad at the pool

Our Team Monash cheering squad at the pool

Uni Games Day 3

Team Monash swimmer at MSAC
Team Monash swimmer at MSAC

Day 2 was hectic.  Yes, this post is about day 3, the now, but yesterday was a nice introduction and steep learning curve to the world of sports photography.  Long story short, the 10 frames per second of the 1D Mark III is the key to obtaining many critical moments in gameplay for ball games, especially volleyball where things move very fast.  The key to making a useful photo from a ball game – and one I’ve commonly seen neglected, other than the obvious sharpness and focus factors is that there should be a ball somewhere in the photo to give it some meaning.

Team Monash basketballer
Team Monash basketballer

This can be tough.  43 milliseconds plus human reaction time delay is enough to miss a shot by the time you get the ball in the frame.  It’s times like these that I envy the rangefinder users out there, where the viewfinder has a smaller box inside of which you frame things in, the peripheral area around the box is just useful to frame your subject accordingly.  This makes it really, really nice to fire a shot when you see the ball enter the frame.

The other issue I ran into is lighting.  MSAC isn’t the best lit venue, even the so-called Show Court had the worst lighting conditions of the lot.  Not all lights were on, so in order to get the action-stopping 1/800th of a second or faster, I was needing ISO 3200 minimum.  400D users, please don’t even bother unless you have a 200 f/2 and then you’ll be able to scrape by on 1600.

Womens' Volleyball: Monash vs. RMIT

Volleyball: Monash vs. RMIT

And it was also the first time I shot jpeg, emphasising the need to get everything right including white balance before I fire the shutter.  Fortunately I did keep the raws and the shots weren’t as urgent as I had originally thought, so I had time to process those images – but the 1D III did a fine job of in-camera noise reduction and jpeg processing.

“I’m a professional”.

So, where was I?  That’s right, day 3.  Other than the requisite early morning, I was surprised when I went to my current favorite place to get a banana smoothie (at Monash University, mind you).  They’re the only guys who do it right, incidentally, like what Feeling Fruity used to do before they went bust.  But this time, the woman over the counter decided to put some orange juice in.  I thought I was seeing things but upon questioning it, she told me the following phrase:

“I am a professional, I will make it taste good”

Monash swimmer diving in for a quick 50m lap

Monash swimmer diving in for a quick 50m lap

… huh?  I wasn’t going to argue.  Maybe it was an excuse for being half asleep, but she did everything else right and the resulting beverage was quite fine, although not as creamy as I would have preferred.  It’s not something I’d do, say, when taking a photo – if someone told me how to take it, I’d probably listen, after all, they’re the people who are requesting my services, not the other way around.  One time I was given a shot of Cointreau in a pot of Hoegaarden at the Euro one night many years ago.  The barman suggested it but didn’t force it upon me.  This turned out to be a win move however I haven’t heard of this being done ever since.  A Zardoz(tm) approved additive to Hoegaarden.

So off to the sports and aquatic centre again for more swimming heats.  It was a bit easier to follow this time around, although photographically I don’t know whether I did as well as yesterday morning.    I met some nice photographers there who were shooting for RMIT.  All the photographers I have met so far – both paid and volunteer – have been really nice at these events.  A stark contrast to the professionals I’ve shot alongside at other events where bringing home that one shot is what

One of my favorite swimming shots thus far.

One of my favorite swimming shots thus far.

sells and the competition is fierce – that prime position or pressing the shutter at the right moment, pointing the lens in the right direction can be as euphoric as winning the match.  However, here, there, it doesn’t matter – we’re all shooting for ourselves, no agendas other than to bring the best coverage we can.  To record history.

That’s what sports and event photography is all about.

You walk alone with the ghost of time

It’s eerie and saddening to walk about venues that were once host to world-stopping events.  The Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre was host to the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games swimming events.  The outdoor pool was built specifically for this purpose however little remains of what once was.  Two out of three stands were since taken away and are now just empty patches of grass or concrete.  No signage remains; it looks like any other public pool with perhaps a slightly larger than normal grandstand.  Just one.

Baron: the Melbourne Olympic Stadium

Baron: the Melbourne Olympic Stadium

It still had that look of new, however it was hard to conceptualise how some of the world’s biggest swimming stars once swam in that water.  The likes of Libby Tricket, Stephanie Rice, Ian Thrope have all done more than a few laps in that very pool with the world watching, perched at the edge of their seats.  The giant cavity of water was host to the entertainment of the world and now, barely a breath of the same magic and glory remains in this now pedestrian structure.

 

It wasn’t until we arrived at Olympic Park where things really began to set in.  It’s a gloomy venue for sporting; the track has faded, the colours seem washed out, the stands are of the similar construction of the original swimming pool that was used for the 1956 Olympic Games here in Melbourne and hasn’t changed one bit.  The five coloured rings stand prodly and tall on the outside of the venue.  A small, deserted ticketing booth sits outside.  It’s hard to believe that an Olympic games event could ever have been this small, although it should be noted that some grand stands were removed entirely, making way for grassy areas or temporary tent-like structures where the University Games set up for this week.

QUT high jumper wishes he was playing something else...

QUT high jumper wishes he was playing something else...

Old, empty grandstands echoed the cries of the past, the athletes, the spectators and the glory that was once here some 52 years ago.  This stadium is now home to the occasional rubgy match however daytime use is frequently seen by nearby schools for athletics days.  Volunteers for Athletics Australia would conduct things like the starting of races, set up the timing equipment, the hurdles, make announcements, rake the sand-pit level after a long-jump had completed and so on.

But all this gloom didn’t stop the shenanigans from one QUT student who decided that running with a footy was a better idea than actually attempting the long jump.  I think he certainly did do his University proud in the eyes of his friends…

Unfortunately I missed the shot of the jump.. which was more like a dive into the sand.  Perhaps this was to compensate for the lack of diving at the university games, which is quite a shame as I have always enjoyed watching diving and it will definitely be an event to see at the Olympics in 2012 which I hope to attend.

Uni Games Day 2

So, what happened to day one?  Who knows, but it’s day two of the Australian University Games.. and it’s the first day of shooting various events at the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre.

The weather looks great, top of nineteen but a bit chilly at 6am in the morning.  I’m a morning person if I get enough sleep the night before, which naturally, I didn’t.  Last night I finally became the proud new owner of a Canon EOS-1D Mark III – and.. wow.  Compared to the Mark II, this thing is a joy to use (not to say that the Mark II wasn’t; but the III is a vast improvement.  The model I picked up was second hand but in immaculate condition.  It fired a fair amount of shots beforehand but includes the Canon AF sub-mirror fix which plagued the early bodies causing issues with autofocus – so this thing still has some warranty left on it.  Not a scratch on the body as it was used in a remote situation with 9 other bodies for shooting a movie using stop-motion animation.  She had two 1D Mark III bodies, kept one and sold the other.  And it was just by chance that I found it on eBay at the right moment.

The person I bought it off shot movie production stills, you know, when they are shooting a movie, they want someone to take some still shots for promotion and so on.  That’s what she did; her partner directed and produced movies.  I don’t quite know what.. but I did find out that advertising is the bread and butter of this industry.

And it was refreshing to meet a photographer who wasn’t a gearhead.  She had absolutely no idea about the 5D Mark II and its video capabilities… perhaps she knew about the high ISO stuff but this feature I thought would have been one that sent the movie industry into a flurry of excitement.  Perhaps so, but it looks like there are still people out there who are concerned with actual photography rather than the gear they are using.

She had no idea about the 1D Mark III AF issue.  Mind you, I wonder how many people actually were aware of it.

But back to the gear (of course), this is what my bag currently has in it for the next four days:

  • Canon EOS-1D Mark III
  • Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II
  • Canon EOS 5D
  • EF 17-40 f/4L
  • EF 24-70 f/2.8L
  • EF 70-200 f/2.8L IS
  • EF 35mm f/1.4L
  • EF 85mm f/1.2L
  • EF 300mm f/2.8L
  • EF Extenders 1.4x & 2x
  • EF 15mm Fisheye
  • Various accessories including extra batteries, blowers, cleaning bits etc
  • Sandisk Extreme memory cards (CF and SD)
  • Two card readers – one SD, one 99999-in-one
  • PowerBook G4 15″ (still waiting for Apple to release a MacBook Pro that supports 8GB RAM..)
My back will thank me at the end of this week once it’s over.