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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Helmet Catch Redux

Great football action can be challenging to capture, but it's well worth the hard work.

Lehigh receiver Derek Knott (21) catches a pass despite being hit by Yale's Hayden Carlson (26) during Lehigh’s 63-35 win at the Yale Bowl.

The Photo
Football is often one of the most difficult sports to photograph, since the action can be a pass or run, and takes place practically anywhere on the field. Thus, you have to either correctly anticipate the play or quickly react as it unfolds. While sports photography success doesn’t always require understanding the game, it is extremely valuable in football, when knowing the next likely play enables you to optimally position yourself and point your camera. Another essential element of successful football photography is a very fast shutter speed, 1/500 at a minimum or 1/100 ideally, to freeze the frequent, rapid action, even if this necessitates less depth of field from a larger aperture and reduced image quality from a higher ISO.

Pass plays usually provide the best football action shots, as players extend their bodies to make athletic catches. This game featured an offensive explosion, with 12 touchdowns scored by the two teams, and a school record 524 yards passing for Lehigh. Earlier in the game, one Lehigh receiver made several acrobatic moves and spectacular stretches, but I was not in position to capture those photos. As the game unfolded, I monitored him on likely Lehigh pass plays, and finally caught him in action as he leapt high for a catch, despite Yale’s defensive player draped all over him. It reminded me of the famous Super Bowl 42 helmet catch by New York Giants receiver David Tyree that beat the New England Patriots in 2008.

3 Tips
1. Understanding the game of football makes the game much easier to photograph.
2. Pass plays typically provide the strongest action photos.
3. Use a very fast shutter speed to freeze the motion, even if it requires a large f-stop and high ISO.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Spin Move

A simple college arts and dance show can surprise you with great photo opportunities.

Charlotte Rutty is spun upside down during a Bowdoin College dance show.

The Photo
Every Fall, Bowdoin College invites parents and family members to visit on Family Weekend and experience the variety of activities the school has to offer.  My daughter Megan helped organize a dance performance, so we didn’t want to miss the chance to see her perform on stage.  Yet while Megan was very excited about her own dance number, she said we absolutely should not miss a dance where her friend Charlotte would be spun around her dance partner’s arm. 

Thanks to that tip, I was confident a perfectly-timed photo would capture something special.  However, the dance hall lighting was far from ideal, as performers moved in and out of alternately bright and dark spots on the stage. This required perfect timing to shoot photographs only when dancers appeared in the lighted areas.  In addition, because the dance photos required freezing fast motion, the image quality would be sub-par, since I had to set my shutter speed to between 1/250 and 1/500, use a very high ISO, and set my lens f-stop to a wide-open f/2.8.

When Charlotte and her partner began the dance, they moved rapidly around, side to side and front to back, but I kept focusing and shooting.  At times, they were in the shadows, and I knew those pictures would not be usable, but when they danced in the brightest lit spots, those pictures looked great.  The first time she was spun around in the light, I missed timing the the shot for when she faced forward upside down.  Continuing to follow the dance, they did the spin again, and I timed everything perfectly.  It was a good thing, too, because they didn’t do it again. 

3 Tips
1. College dance shows can provide unexpectedly great photo opportunities.
2. Be ready to compensate for frequent changes in lighting or inadequate lighting.
3. Use a shutter speed that freezes the action, even if you have to lose some image quality by using a high ISO.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Mighty Bogaerts

Photographing hitters at bat requires great timing, persistence and a little luck.

Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts connects with the ball vs. the Baltimore Orioles on September 26, 2015 at Fenway Park.

The Photo
The 3rd base photographers’ well is a pit next to the visiting team dugout at Fenway Park, and it didn’t even exist the last time I photographed a Red Sox home game. It was a special treat to be back shooting my hometown baseball team, and a new experience shooting from this vantage point.  I was determined to photograph a player batting, but capturing a good hitting moment is always difficult, because balls are pitched at 90+ MPH and balls leave the bats at over 100 MPH.  Photographers have to time the moment right and also get a bit lucky, so it’s important to shoot many, many photos in order to get just one outstanding shot.

When Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts stepped into the batters’ box, I wanted to simultaneously capture both his sweeping swing and the baseball.  I had taken several pictures of him earlier in the game, but the photos were nothing special.  On this pitch, I fired the camera as he began his swing, and he lined the ball foul down the third base line straight toward me and the other photographers.  I flinched and ducked away, as a Baltimore Oriole player reached out from the dugout to snare the ball.  The fans in the stands were waiting for a foul ball souvenir, so they complained loudly to the Baltimore player, but the photographers avoided being struck and were very grateful.

In the image, the ball is slightly larger than normal because it is heading directly at the camera, which makes it stand out more than it normally would.  Unfortunately for Bogaerts, he didn’t reach base during this at-bat, but he did continue his stellar season with the second highest batting average in the American League. 

3 Tips
1)      When photographing a hitter batting, fire the camera as the batter begins his swing.
2)      Take lots of photos because you’ll need a bit of luck to time the photo at the moment the bat and ball meet.
3)      Watch out for foul balls coming your way.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Eagle in Flight

Wildlife photography requires finding the opportunity and waiting patiently for an outstanding shot. 

Bald eagle soars along the Mere Point shore in Brunswick, Me. (© Michael Maher).

The Photo
Although the bald eagle is no longer considered an endangered species, it is still exciting when you get to see one of these regal birds up close. Along Casco Bay in Maine, residents have identified a few eagles’ nests high in the trees on both the mainland and offshore islands. They can use binoculars to catch a glimpse of the eagles in their nests or flying overhead, but the view is usually from quite far away. A family member spied this eagle standing on the shoreline, probably searching for fish or food scraps, but I hadn’t brought my very long lens. Looking constantly through my viewfinder with only a 200MM lens, I slowly and quietly walked toward the eagle, trying not to scare it away.  When I got as close to it as I dared, I patiently remained motionless and shot several pictures of the eagle standing.  I don’t know if my presence scared it, or if it simply decided to change locations, but after a while, it abruptly flew off, and I was able to capture a few photographs of the eagle in flight. Whatever its reason for leaving, the photograph of the eagle in flight was far better than any of it standing on the shore.

Three Tips
1) Don’t assume you can only photograph wildlife with an extremely long lens.
2) Position yourself as close as you can, without being intrusive and scaring the wildlife away.
3) Once you are in position, shoot many different types of photos, especially close-ups, of the animals standing still and in motion.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Nose for the Ball

Timing a photo at the just the right moment can transform an ordinary moment into a dramatic picture.

Soccer player takes one on the nose in Lowell, Ma.’s Shedd Park (© Michael Maher, The Lowell (Ma.) Sun).

The Photo:
This is a perfect example of how a great photo can sometimes come along when you least expect it.  I was searching for an interesting picture, struggling to find something worthwhile.  Twice I passed this young man in the park kicking a soccer ball around by himself.  I didn’t see anything else inspiring, so I decided to see if a compelling photo could come from this lone soccer player practicing.  I got out my long lens and watched him for a few minutes, but really didn’t think there was a good picture there.  Nevertheless, I shot a few pictures, stopped, then began photographing again when he kicked the ball over his head a few times.  I captured several shots of the ball sitting on his head, then rolling down his face.  I figured I had an OK photo, and was pleasantly surprised when I discovered I had this image of him balancing the ball on his nose, a far better shot than I ever expected I had.
3 Tips:
1) Sometimes you get lucky and come away with a stronger photo than you think you have.
2) If someone is practicing their sports activity, shoot the normal activity, but watch for the ball in unusual places, or the athlete doing difficult athletic feats.
3) Balancing the ball or seeming to defy gravity are two of the top pictures you can capture.