A different approach to hockey photos

The Playoffs-7

My wife’s hockey team is in the midst of their playoffs. I was banned from taking pictures from the bench when they introduced a rule requiring everyone on the bench to have a helmet, though in all the games I’ve been to this rule is randomly enforce. Regardless, I was left to shooting through heavily marked glass and more recently, a “fog” that is on the inside making photography more challenging than I wish for.

The Playoffs-4With the season coming to a rapid conclusion, I decided to “hang” around the benches and start to “creep” into the door at the rear, giving me a fairly clean look at centre ice and one end. I would then travel between the two benches to get the different ends of the ice. I’m pleased to say I got away with it. This time.

The Playoffs-3Back in my digital darkroom, I started “playing” with some of the filters in Color Effects by NIK Software. I started to get an interesting look. Sort of a watercolour with an old-style hockey feel to it. There is a “detail” filter I use and combine it with some vinetting (light and dark) to enhance the subject.

I like the look. It’s a little different for an action shot. As an experiment, I even took a rapid set of photographs while the players were “still” for a faceoff to try an HDR. The state of alignment with HDR software these days gave me a pretty good image, though getting ready for a faceoff isn’t my idea of a captivating image. Still, I can keep an eye out.

The Playoffs-2

At the rink, I shoot on a D300s (crop sensor) using a 70-300mm at f5.6 in manual. The lighting is fairly even across the rink but I shoot in manual so the exposure doesn’t vary as the amount of white ice in the picture increases or decreases. The ISO is 1600 and I use NIK Define to reduce the noise before I run it through any of the creative filters.

I would appreciate any comments you have on the photographs and if interested, can provide more specific information about the steps I took and the filters I used.

The Playoffs-5

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Music in the neighbourhood

Chris Hale B&W

My neighbourhood is in transition. Thankfully, in a positive direction. An art gallery opened a block away and about once a month, it hosts muscians who live in the area. It’s a tight fit, but the music is great.

Chris Hale lives across the street and plays the sitar. When he invited me to hear him play, I jumped at the chance. As usuall, my first questions is, “can I bring my camera?” Turns out there were many who did. The lighting wasn’t great, mobility was difficult, and because we entered from the back of the gallery rather than the main entrance, late arrivals sat at the front, preventing a clean shot.

Given circumstances where detailed, noise-free pictures are difficult (I don’t like using flash in these situations) I tend to try and photgraph with something else in mind. Black and white is an obvious choice as we will accept noise disguised as grain. In this photograph, I actually used NIK’s to0ls to create a more “pencil drawing” effect than a traditional B&W high-contrast shot. I did a couple of colour versions of some photographs that have a more watercolour feel to them.

Another thing I like to do under these conditions is to focus on details or use “creative motion blur.” I focus in on the hands and capture the motion against a fixed instrument. I still have to process these.

But most of all, I want to make sure I enjoy the music.

You can find chris at christopherhalesitar.com

 

Snow, beaches and the Doodle

Doodle Shoeing

We recently got a dumping of snow. The most in a number of years. Parts of the Greater Toronto Area got towards 40cm, though we here in the east part of town only received 20 to 25cm. Falling on a Thursday evening through Friday, it gave us an opportunity we hadn’t been able to explore all season – going snowshoeing without driving anywhere.

We layered up, grabbed the snowshoes out of the basement and made the short walk to a park that leads to the beaches. It felt funny snowshoeing on the beaches, but it was great. Molly the Doodle loves snow and sand equally, so she was in her element.

I’ve been playing around with HDR and managed to grab a quick burst of three photos. The latest software deals well with ghosting and small movement well and this photo seemed to come successfully.

So many changes

Rome Square

I’ve been making changes. I was working with Adobe CS4 for over four years and wanted to upgrade to CS6 for a while but first needed to upgrade my equally old IMac. Apple released some new IMacs in November of 2012 so I decided to make the move in January and now sport a new, much faster computer with the latest version of Photoshop.

Not enough change. I decided to use Lightroom instead of Bridge to give me better management over my growing library of photographs. So I am now learning a new interface and workflow in addition to all the new features in CS6.

Not enough change. I added NIK software’s products. Since I teach at a local college, I am able to get academic discounts for both hardware (minimal) and software (about half price), so I’ve invested in some tools while the price is right. The NIK software tools integrate nicely into Photoshop and Lightroom; I haven’t tried them with Aperture as yet. I still use Aperture as a final “library” as it is integrated with all my other tools (two IPhones, two IPads, AppleTV, ICloud, etc.).

Which brings me to the photograph above. It is a photo I took on my trip to Italy last year. I’m going through all my photographs looking for low-light samples for a book I am writing on the subject and came across this one. I decided to experiement with some of my new software and this was the result. I love the original version taken at dusk on a long walk through Rome, but I also like the look of this more artistic style. In some ways, it reminds me more of how I remember the square than the original.

Perhaps it’s just the way my mind works.

I would love to hear any comments you have around extensive manipulation or editing of photographs. I am a huge fan of “art” in its many forms and look at any “picture” as the artist’s expression, whether it be “realistic” or “interpretive.”

Isolation

20110213_mono mills_0040

I have a fondness for isolating an element in my photographs. The use of “white space” if you will, which in this case is literally the white of the snow. My interior work, working with people at events, uses mostly “black space” as a way of isolation. Two different approaches to the same end – directing the eye.

I came across this tree at the top of a small hill as I exited Mono Mills park on a hike. The weather had deteriorated over the course of a few hours decreasing visibility and as I neared the parking lot, I noticed how this lone tree stood out. With a little help from Photoshop, I increased the contrast (levels) and ensured the background was a stark white. I prefer this colour version to the black and white because of the strong green of the tree.

Mono Mills Snow Reeds

This second shot of grass in the snow is another way I have isolated the subject, in this case using more contrast against a white background. I cropped it to be wide and thin to give a panoramic effect and left it in colour as I prefer the brown tones to black and white, though it does provide a different visual. I general use the levels control after selecting based on colour to make adjustments, and is how I manage the “white space” in both photographs.

It seems to be a method of getting creative photographs in less than ideal conditions. In the bright mid-day light with snow all around, isolating a subject and letting the rest over expose still creates an interesting photograph.

 

A splash of colour

Mono Mills Barn

Winter, at least in snowy regions, can bring a monochrome look to the world, making a splash of colour stand out that much more. I was hiking through an area known as Mono Mills when I came across this barn with very colourful red doors. Couldn’t resist, despite the deep snow and the cold weather. Molly the Doodle, who loves the snow and to go hiking was thrilled with the little “off-trail” side trip to get a better angle.

Pictures like this remind me why I like walking with my camera, particularly in areas that are new to me. You never know what is around the next corner.

Snow Shoeing

Collingwood Golf Course

I’ll take my camera just about anywhere. Snowshoeing is a good example. I like to hike, so this is a natural extension when the snow is too deep to wade through, which it can be in Collingwood. It is a great place to snowshoe as there are a lot of trails and some of the golf courses allow cross-country skiing and snowshoeing – they even have marked trails, which is good as it is easy to loose your bearing in all the trees and white.

This shot was on a golf course. It had started to snow, but wasn’t too cold that I couldn’t take my gloves off and take a few pictures. The lighting was good; nice and diffused, but the snow was “bright” and I had to make some exposure adjustments. I’ve processed this photograph in black and white as well, but prefer the muted colours against the white and bare trees. It prints well.

I think I will do a series of “winterish” photographs for a while, in keeping with the season – it is very, very cold and snowy today in Toronto.

Hockey is back

Pegasus016While the NHL has been on strike, hockey has carried on for everyone else. Whether you are a parent, a fan of minor league or amateur teams, hockey has continued as usual. In my case, I’m married to a hockey player. My wife plays every Saturday night in an all-women league here in Toronto out of Moss Park arena. And, of course, I get to take photographs.

Pegasus043

It’s a small arena, with little seating save for a small area near the entrance, which is away from the cold of the ice, but poor for taking photographs. This is where I hang out to warm my hands; otherwise I’m circling the rink, trying to find a good location where the glass is still clear.

Up until recently, I would get behind the bench and take pictures from there. There is a little extra room behind the bench where I could pace and get a clear shot without any glass in the way. I just had to watch for errant sticks and the occasional sharp blade on my exposed toes. Eventually, they passed a rule not allowing anyone without a helmet to be on the bench and I’m not going to try and take photographs wearing a hockey helmet and mask.

SLY_7609The lighting is usually pretty good and fairly even across the rink. I will pump the ISO up to 1600 or 2000 to get a reasonable shutter speed and enough depth of field. I set a custom white balance using the ice surface, especially if I’m shooting in JPEG mode. I shoot JPEGs if I think I need very fast frame rates without filling the buffer. Perhaps for a playoff game. Lately I’ve been shooting in RAW mode without any trouble.

Hockey_0079

I shoot in manual, taking a few preliminary shots to get an exposure I like. All that bright white ice can throw the exposure meter off, underexposing the players. And using compensation works for some photographs, but not all. As you change the amount of ice in a photograph, your exposure compensation has to change as well. Too much work. With manual, I pretty much can leave the exposure alone so long as the light doesn’t change regardless of the composition or zoom changes I make.

SLY_7582Having an understanding of the game helps me anticipate what may happen, however at this level of play, anything can, and does happen, mostly to the enjoyment of the game by all. There is usually action around the net, so I will camp out either at the blue line looking in towards the net or on occasion, behind the net to one side to get players rushing in. Other times I will focus on a particular player and follow them around with my camera taking shots. This can create an interesting sequence. If the player is crossing in front of you, you can pan with them and get a great motion blur in the background.

Hockey_0006 B&WIt would be interesting to put one of those mobile cameras onto one of the players, or the goalie and see what the video looks like. Perhaps that will be next year’s project.

In the meantime, I would rather be at a game taking photographs than watching one on TV.

20110212_Beth Hockey_0102

Cleaning up the garbage

Garbage 1We have a garbage problem on our street. Specifically, the business at the end of our street has been using the location to collect garbage from a number of other “low rent/short term” rental properties and then eventually, have it picked up. But it is a real eyesore in addition to whatever health problems are potentially resident in the pile.

No amount of calls to the city seemed to make any difference despite the number of municipal bylaws that were being broken. It is an odd neighbourhood; one in transition where the retail stores seem to do whatever comes to mind. Last year two restaurants simply decided to build outdoor patios without any permits. You practically have to walk on the street to get past one of them.

Garbage 2So, back to the garbage. It takes a certain amount of persistence to finally connect with someone in authority at the municipality, at least with someone who cares. That’s where my IPhone comes into play. Each day I would walk Molly the Doodle past the garbage heap and take a photograph and instantly send it to the municipal bylaws officer. She would then make frequent visits to the location and started giving fines.

At one point, the location property manager claimed that the local residents were throwing their garbage into and around their bin. However, they have a clearly marked pickup truck that routinely brings garbage to the location and a photograph of this activity ended that conversation pretty quick.

Garbage 3So on a recent walk over the Christmas break, it dawned on me that I haven’t seen any garbage there for some time. It seems to have worked. The persistence and the photographs. The “instant” sending of a photo and the response by the authorities. I can’t thank the bylaws officer enough as without the response to my photos, nothing would have changed. We ended up working as a team.

I’m not sure that the problem won’t reappear at some time. Still, it seems to have worked. So, while the photographs are of garbage and exceptionally poor quality, they have made a statement all my early phone calls could not.

Now, about those illegal patios.

Hanging around the bar

Kim Cooke -1

I thought on this eve of a New Year I would reflect on a technique for low light photography, as I assume a number of photographs will be taken this night. Of course, I am referring to those taken without flash, but I will be likely taking both tonight at our annual New Year’s Eve party.

Kim Cooke -6When I am photographing an event, I have learned to for pockets of light. Invariably, the bar seems to be reasonably well light regardless of the venue. Not only does everyone eventually find themselves at the bar at some point in the evening, they tend to “pose” and I find very self-reflective portraits evolve.

So, as I wander the room, I move to spots where I can watch a light source and wait. It almost sounds like I’m hunting.

Scott_RayThe light can be contrasty and is often directly overhead. Still, considering the situation, the poses can overcome the technical aspects of the photo – high grain and poor light.

Early in the event I circle around and try to take a number of photos being very obvious with the camera. I do this so everyone gets familiar and bored with the guy with the camera and start to ignore me. It is later in the event (evening) where I get the better shots. They are more relaxed with me and, generally, alcohol is involved (not me, them).

Deep in ThoughtI don’t like using flash at events if I can avoid it. (There are times, such as presentations, where flash is expected, so I pull it out then.) I find flash moves the focus from the people enjoying themselves to me. Not what I want.

SLY_8788 B&W VeniceSo tonight, I will have my camera handy and wander around taking photos. I’ll make sure the lighting works in my favour for a change, and I will “hang out” in a couple of key spots and “capture” my guests.

I hope everyone has a wonderful (and safe) New Year’s Eve.