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The Future of Roller Derby

VR-Soy-200816-80Earlier in the year, Jamie Potter wrote a great piece on how to attract more fans to Roller Derby, and I highly recommend you go and give it a read. I agree with pretty much all of it, but have a slightly different take on where I think the sport is going, and last weekend’s Pride game really solidified my thinking about this.

By the skaters, for the skaters.

Until last weekend I was pretty sure that this philosophy was holding the sport back. It’ll be hard to grow it beyond what it is if the skaters have to do everything themselves and don’t let anyone else in.

This is based on the premise that the sport needs to grow, host big national competitions and get into the Olympics. I now think this is wrong and is exactly the sort of thing the sport’s organisational structure seems to be designed to prevent. Bear with me.

Derby is governed by committees of skaters who, I suspect, don’t all care about grand strategic objectives. They just want to skate. I don’t think that structure is an accident. And you know what, that’s fine.

You have one job. Empower young women. Show them that they can compete in a demanding physical sport that has nothing to do with anything other than their willingness to try, and is organised, financed and governed entirely by their peers.

Big tournaments are great as something to aspire to and to get the word out, but the battle needs to be fought at the local level. Flyers, fresh meat days, local games, the feeling that this is something that is difficult but achievable. It will grow, but if the last year has convinced me of anything, it’s that forcing it is a mistake.

VR-Soy-200816-98At the Pride game on Saturday I saw something that I haven’t seen in a while. A couple of hard fought games that were played for the sheer joy of it. Beaming smiles on the faces of friends about to thump each other. Competing was more important than winning. They were boutfits, the refs and NSOs wore rainbow colours. Not of this detracted from the gameplay. Derby seemed to get a bit of it soul back and I remembered why I fell in love with this sport in the first place.

I’ve had my disagreements with the spot over the handling of photography and that sometimes keeps me away from travel games and tournaments. But I really don’t care about that. The battle for hearts and minds a local one, and that’s where I want to be.

Bring it on.

DaveMc, August 2016

Edit: I’m specifically referring to the women’s game here as that’s where most of my experience lies. I don’t know how MRDA is organised, so I can’t really comment.




Roller Derby Photography – what and where to shoot

Previously I’ve posted Roller Derby photography articles about colour, equipment and camera settings, as those are subjects close to my heart and easy for a huge camera geek like me to write about, but I really should address the mechanics of and etiquette of shooting roller derby, so here it is.

Game Basics

A (very) basic introduction to the sport.

DerbyTrackDerby is played on an oval track, see rubbish drawing to the left (I’m a photographer, sorry), usually laid out on a standard sized sports hall. Each team consists of up to 14 players, with 5 on track at any one time – a jammer (the points scorer) and 4 blockers. A game consists of two 30 minute periods, split into plays called jams that last up to 2 minutes.

At the start of a jam the jammers (star on their helmet) line up on the jam line, and the blockers (the pack) take up a position anywhere between the jam line and the pivot line. The Pivot (stripe on their helmet) has special rules relating to the pivot line, but that’s rarely a factor in the modern game.

When the whistle is blown, everyone moves. The first jammer to legally clear the pack becomes the lead jammer and can stop the jam at any time by touching their hips.

On lapping the pack, a jammer will score 1 point for every opposing player they pass. Opposing players can stop this by physically blocking the jammer. Read more ›




Roller Derby Camera Settings

When I started shooting Roller Derby I was a studio photographer with studio equipment and experience. I almost never shot moving subjects and rarely shot without a tripod. The next couple of years were spent climbing a steep sports learning curve. Five years on and I kinda feel like I know what I’m doing with derby, so I decided to write some of it down in the hope of saving others some time and pain. I’m going to cover camera settings, shooting rules and etiquette, and the shooting locations and angles that I like to use. I’ve already written about colour and the equipment I use.

First up, camera gear and settings.

Basic Terminology

I’m going to assume that you might be unfamiliar with some of the basics, so if you know your way around a DSLR in manual mode you might want to skip ahead a bit.

Exposure: This is basically how bright an image is. If it’s too dark and the shadows are blocked up it’s under exposed (not enough light). If it’s too bright and the highlights are blown, it’s over exposed (too much light).

Exposure is a combination of 3 things, how much light gets through the lens (the aperture), for how long (the shutter speed) and how sensitive the camera is to that light (the ISO).  Increase one of those and you have to compensate by decreasing one of the others to keep the same exposure.

Aperture: Also called an F-Stop or a Stop. This is a variable sized hole in the lens that lets the light through at known levels. It’s like the iris in your eye. Look at your eye in a mirror and then shine a light in it. You’ll see the iris close. That’s an aperture.

ApertureThe full stops include: 2.8, 4, 5.6, 8, 11, 16 and 22, with each bigger number letting through half the light of the previous one. As you stop down the depth of focus increases, but you pay for that with less light. If your camera is working in 3rds of a stop there will be intermediate values between those, but the main stops are the ones we remember. They were etched onto film camera lens barrels. They’ll be on a screen somewhere on a modern camera.

Read more ›




Roller Derby Colour

Back when I started using flash to shoot Roller Derby (in an attempt to get sharper blocker shots for GRG bout programme covers) I had huge colour balance problems.

A quick colour 101 for non-photographers. Colour is said to have a temperature, because it’s defined as the colour that would be produced if an ideal black-body radiator is heated to that temperature. Heat a piece of iron to 900 Celsius and it’ll glow red hot. Heat it to 5778 Kelvin (5504 C) and, assuming it hasn’t vaporised, it’ll glow the colour of the sun. 5778 K is really hot. Digital cameras expect daylight to be 6500 K. Confusingly, what we refer to as warmer light (more orange) is produced by cooler temperatures.

So the problem is that usually the hall lights are warmer (more orange) than the flashes, so the closer a skater is to a flash the colder (bluer) the light on her will appear. At worst, skaters close to a flash will be lit with more cold light, and at the same time skaters further from the flash will be lit with more warm light, so it’s impossible to get everything the same colour when editing. As well as making the editing much more complex this annoys me more than a little.

Now I know that most people probably wouldn’t notice as what they’re looking at is the gameplay in the image, but I’m a photographer. We worry about these things. And as anyone who had a good giggle and my reaction to them opening the Berlin Arena skylight in the middle of a game will tell you, I’m kinda picky about colour calibration.

BoutDay GelsThe solution is to add colour correcting gel filters to the flashes, and these are readily available in different strengths – most commonly full CTO (convert to orange), ½ CTO and ¼ CTO. The problem is trying to figure out which filter, or combination of filters is needed for an unfamiliar hall. It’s difficult to eyeball this as your eye tends to compensate for the colour of the ambient light, and after a while you just stop seeing it. Then you look at a correctly balanced image on a camera screen and it looks too blue.
Read more ›




Packing for Toronto

World Cup Gear

On Thursday morning I leave for Toronto to shoot the first Roller Derby World Cup with Team Scotland. Weight is an issue, so I have to travel light.

Yea, right.

It’s not just camera and film any more. These days there’s also the laptop and the graphics tablet and the image viewer and the hard drives and the batteries and the memory cards. And don’t forget the chargers. And all of the cables.

I did stick a light meter in there as well, just for the sheer nostalgia of it.

Really looking forward to seeing so many teams in such a shot space of time. Lots to shoot, edit and post while I’m there. Possibly not a lot of time for sleep.

If you’re there and you see an excited and slightly overwhelmed Scottish photographer please give him a wave and say Hi.

DaveMc




Glasgow Caledonian ARC Lighting Problems

For a while now I’ve been struggling with exposure and colour balance problems when shooting roller derby at the Glasgow Caledonian ARC. Every so often a shot will be underexposed and usually of a slightly warmer colour temperature than the shots next to it. At first I thought this was a a problem with the camera’s exposure system, but when shooting on manual I’m getting the same problem – two shots taken seconds apart, with the same camera settings, can have different exposures. It doesn’t happen a lot, but it has resulted in the loss of some good shots.

These two unedited shots were both taken with an exposure of 1/200th of a second at f/2.8, but the second one is about a stop darker than the first and is slightly warmer – look at the colour of the floor and wall.

Sometimes the underexposure is much worse, but this was the best side-by-side example I could find.

It took me a while to figure out what was going on here, but eventually I remembered that when I was shooting with slower shutter speeds I noticed something odd about the lighting. It flickers.

 This can be seen best in this detail crop of this panning image, taked with an exposure of 1/40th of a second at f/4.0. Look at the faces in the background – each one is repeated 3 times. So during the exposure the overhead lighting flashed 3 times.

My guess is that the lights are flashing about 100 times a second. Way too fast to be visible to the human eye, but if a camera shutter is set to an exposure shorter than this then there is a danger of catching the lights when they’re at the low point of their cycle, underexposing the image. As dimmer lights tend to be warmer, this would also account for the shift in colour temperature.

Unfortunately the slowest shutter speed that completely freezes the motion is about 1/200th of a second. Dropping this to 1/100th of a second to avoid the exposure issues results in more shots lost to blur than would be lost to underexposure.

Other than using flash, which I don’t really like doing, there’s not a lot that can be done about this other than avoiding shutter speeds faster than 1/200th of a second as this is likely to make the problem worse.

So far I’ve not encountered this problem anywhere else I’ve shot, so it seems to be quite an unusual feature of the ARC lights.

DaveMc




Pivots of the Caribbean

Next Saturday, 26/11/11, I’ll be travelling to Dundee to photograph the Silvery Tayzers playing the Fair City Rollers Fear Maidens. This will be my last shoot before I leave for Toronto to shoot Team Scotland playing in the first roller derby world cup.

DaveMc




GRG Home Teams Final


The last game of the Glasgow Roller Girls 2011 season, the Home Teams Final between the Death Stars and the Bad Omens is next weekend at the Glasgow Caledonian ARC.

I’ll be there to photograph the bout and eat cake. If you’ve not been to a roller derby game before, attendance is highly recommended. You can pre-purchase tickets here or pay on the door.

Hope to see you there. I’ll be the hairy one with the camera running about like an idiot.

DaveMc




Blogging

I’m a pretty terrible blogger, but as I’ll be heading out to Toronto in a few weeks to cover the Team Scotland competing in the first Roller Derby World Cup I thought I might put in some extra effort and make the occasional update here.

If I can arrange internet access when I’m there I’ll be uploading photographs of the games before I get home. Watch this space.

DaveMc




Links

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