Size doesn’t matter as long as there’s enough to go ’round.

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

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