This past Friday, Civic Field in Bellingham, Wash., was host for the Northwest Conference Track & Field Championships. All the High Schools in the area participated. The field filled with students from all over the Northwest.
As a volunteer photographer with the Northwest Conference Athletics, I had a front row seat to the organized chaos. Luckily I’ve shot events like this before, so putting my “Press Hat” on, I rambled off to find my assignment: Long and Triple Jump with some track as they circled passed my position.
As I was shooting this not as a photojournalist but as an event photographer, my goal was to get as many of the kids as possible. Afterall, who doesn’t want photos of their kids as the land in soft sand while making funny faces.
There were multiple challenges I had to overcome: Backlighting of the competitors, and the girls and boys competing at the same time.
When I arrived at the long jump pits, I saw that they had two parallel stations: one for boys and the other for girls. My thinking was they would rotate girls competitors then boys. But, no.
They ran both at the same time and I was hoping at least the competitors would be staggered. But, no. One competitor down each lane at the same time.
So I had to go from one lane and shoot them as they landed, swing my lens to the next lane and hopefully catch that competitor as they landed. Not too difficult. Unless they ran at EXACTLY the same time, then I just concentrated on one.
The other challenge was the incredible backlighting. As it was mid-afternoon when I started shooting, the sun was about 75 degrees above the horizon and to the left. To overcome this, I used the “Sunny 16 Rule” and overexposed by one stop. This gave me workable highlights without dropping out too much detail in the shadow areas.
During the breaks from the long jump action, I drifted towards the track and shot the runners as they passed me. For the photo below, I panned as they went by. I closed down my aperture all the way down and overexposed by one stop (which only blew out the most extreme highlights) to get a shutter speed of 1/30th. I wanted the background blurred with a sharp runners face.
Panning to Accentuate Speed:
By the time the finals began for the Long Jump, the Sun had settled too low and the light turned horrible. The flare was relentless and ruined most pictures. So to challenge myself and get something different, I shot from the side.
Switching from my telephoto to my wide-angle (17-35 f/2.8), I took a few test shots as the athletes warmed up. I picked a spot on the ground perpendicular from where I thought the apex of the arc the jumpers created as the went up and over the pit.
Once I figured out where the apex would be about, I placed my camera on the ground right on the edge of the pit, angled it up, and shot a few test frames as to get the crew on the other side of the pit on the bottom of the frame. This helped exaggerate the height of the jumpers and kept them in frame.
As the competitors jumped from the line, there was a distinct “thump” and that was my cue to begin shooting. As they went over I watched then quit shooting before they landed. It worked for a few, but the above photo was my favorite as the athlete had the best “pose.” To me it shows him really pushing it to get the last few inches.
When the Long Jump competition was over, I moseyed to the finish line and began shooting track. There were still a few races left. Mainly the long relay races.
So once again, I used panning to help accentuate the speed of the runners and try to capture the handoff. I got a few photos, but nothing I would rant and rave about. I just like the two I posted.
While I walked around searching for photos, I noticed the reflection of the field in the press box window at the top of one of the westside sections. I liked how you could see the field and the spectators in the stand. I worked it for a few minutes.
Later in the afternoon or early evening, the light on the north side stands was dramatic. I worked it as much as I could to get something nice. But everyone was just sitting in their seats. As I turned to walk away, the little girl on the left started running up and down the stairs. So I shot a few frames.
After editing the photo in Photoshop, I zoomed in tighter and liked the composition. I just don’t know which one I like better. What do you think?
Running Up – Tight:
In the last shot, I was just waiting for a race to begin when I looked up and saw the reflection in the press box windows. I like it so I found a spot that would give me some balance in the image. It’s a quickie, but after coming home and editing, I really wish I would’ve shot just the windows super tight.
Again, which of the photos is your best and why? Do you have a questions about technique such as shooting into the sun? Or Panning? Or keeping sane in all the chaos?
Thank you for stopping by to read and view my work. Feel free to comment, critique, or just ask questions.
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Paul “pablo” Conrad
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