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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 ›




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




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