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Shooting an athletic event / kids tri...

M38A1

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This past Sunday was the third or fourth year I've been asked to shoot the Colins Hope Kids Triathlon FINISH LINE. Getting the 'right' look has been an evolutionary process (and I'm still not sure I've got it right) that I thought I'd share what I've learned so far.

These will sort of set the stage for the text which follows:

Here's a shot I found of what it looked like. That's me on the left side of the frame 10yds inside in the lime vest. One girl is just crossing the finish line, one has just crossed and she is to my side and the two blue shirt people are the folks handing out the medals. It can get stacked up with a bunch of athletes getting medals at some times. There's also an aid station just behind them and you can see the security fencing to keep it sterile for me and the athletes.
i-STFjfdp-XL.jpg


Here's what the gross image looks like
i-67tdHBt-XL.jpg


Here's the finished product
i-k9P8Hcp-XL.jpg





Lighting:
First off, considerations such as lighting are critical. Having shot a lot of athletic events, sun/light placement is critical to getting the shot to have a half way decent opportunity at looking good. This venue is pretty nice in that the early morning rising sun is usually obscured by homes/hillside for a short period of time, followed by a low deck of summertime clouds that finally disappear yielding to bright sunshine (short of the year it tried to rain). So in the mornings, I've learned that using an off-camera flash works to fill in some lacking contrast. Depending on which body I use, I'm either using my pop-up flash as the commander to drive a slave unit closer and to the side of the athletes or triggers. The newer body has no on-board pop-up flash, so I mounted the CactusV triggers. Started out with a warming gel on the flash head but ditched that shortly after a few test shots as just too much warmth.

Bicycles races, motorcycles, automobiles, kids/family.... It's all the same generally speaking. You want the light more to the front of the subject rather than behind. The more to the side the light source is, the more of a potential for shadows to creep in that may have to be addressed.


Distance and Lens Compression:
I've watched a LOT of finish line shots being taken to see how others are doing it. From what I've observed, it boils down to either a 24-70 or a 70-200 and much of that is dependent on what the distance available to the subject crossing the actual Finish Line is, as well as how much 'clutter' there 'might' be between you and the athlete.

For the past shoots, I've used the 24-70 f/2.8 and it has served me well. This year, after watching the finish line at SpaGirl Triathlon at Lost Pines the day before, I opted for my 70-200 f/2.8. I decided on that to try and get some compression between the subject, the finish line banner and athletes behind them. I wound up at 15 yards behind the actual finish line when I setup. A few test shots looked promising until I remembered when four, five or six kids come in at once there's a tremendous amount of 'people clutter' as I'll call it. In other words, when a gaggle come in at once you have to be able to grab them all best you can very quickly. Being that far back, the angle of shooting is much more narrow, thus people can be in front of others and there's not much you can do about it. By being closer, you can isolate the subjects quicker and hopefully get a fairly clean shot of them. In some instances there's nothing you can do so there might be multiple competitors in the same frame. That's just the way it works out sometimes.

So I moved to the 24-70 again and up to the ten yard mark for this shoot. I had all my gear with me to include the 70-200, lens bag, flash(s), flash stand, pocketful of batteries, triggers, little camp stool and monopod with a ball head so I could shoot portrait mode. Also, at SpaGirl, the finish chute/line was much smaller so there was more competitor instead of dead space.


Shutterspeeds, ISO, Aperture, Focus Mode, Burst Mode, Monopod:
Since the event is held during daylight, you can run a pretty nice shutterspeed for this. Yet you are limited by flash sync speed and possible banding in the image the higher you go over, say 1/200th. This is only a factor in the early morning race. Kids running CAN give some motion blur on the hands or feet at 1/200th. The older kids (up to the max of 15 years old for this event) will most certainly have some motion blur simply due to their speed at 1/200th.

So I settled on 1/250th for the little kids and using the off-camera strobe set to 1/8th power off to the side and closer to them than I was sitting.

ISO floated between 800 and 320 as the day progressed. I started out at 800 then as the daylight increased dropped it down into the 320 range. This still allowed for good shutterspeeds in the 1/500th range and f/11-14 throughout the day.

Focus mode MUST be "Continuous" and I opted for "Single Point" vs "Dynamic". Using the continuous mode, once the focus bug is locked onto the target it won't let go as the target continues to move. This is CRITICAL for moving subjects such as athletes. It simply won't let go almost insuring a perfect in-focus shot every time. I used single point over say, a 9pt dynamic as the single point I put on their face and it locked to the face which pretty much fit INSIDE the focus point on the camera screen. Using a dynamic mode would have 'hunted' for a focus point which could have tried to lock on the points 'outside' of a single point and grabbed the background elements, other runners, spectators etc. No, I don't back-focus. I lightly press the shutter release to lock my target and fire from there.

Burst mode was selected in the medium range for the first batch of slower kids. So I was shooting in the 6-8 frames per second range and I made sure to grab two frames per kid as they crossed the line. If what they were doing looked interesting, I grabbed a few more, but not much as I didn't have the luxury of staying focused on any one kid that long as another might come through and I'd miss. That's my biggest fear - missing a single kid's finish. As the speeds of the athlete groups picked up, I went to "Go-Fast" mode at 11fps but still only grabbed three for most to choose from. Yes - it makes a difference in either blinking eyes, a better looking 'stride' etc to be able to choose from three vs one or two frames.

The monopod was wonderful as I didn't have to hold the camera up the entire event. BUT..... I learned that as the kids approached you and you panned with them, the angle of their attack changed which upset the vertical orientation of the camera to some extent. ie: the frame got a little crooked the more I pivoted the camera to the side/away from the finish line. A simple fix during the crop phase of post to correct where that happened.


White Balance, Image Quality and Metering:
I selected "Cloudy" for my WB setting as I wanted a bit 'warmer' looking image. That has been pretty standard for my shooting these types of events. I shot .jpg/fine which renders a really nice image straight out of the camera and I have like a bazillion shot buffer capability if I needed it. Metering was Center Weighted for a couple reasons. Primarily, I focused on their head so I wanted that to be 1)in focus and 2) perfectly exposed. The rest (background, sky, etc) can all be addressed if needed in post with a few clicks. But getting the kids face right was paramount for me this time. I DID run into a few problems with differing complexion tones, but again, an easy fix in post on the few I had to address.


Offending Parents/Security:
This is a biggie in years past. Last year there were limited barriers on the sides of the road between me and the finish line, thus I had lots of parents who would jump in front of me to take their kids shot that I would miss and potentially miss other kids. To me that wasn't fair to the rest of the kids so I recommended a 'sterile' finish line that had significant orange construction fencing both before and after the finish line where only athletes could get in there. It worked BEAUTIFULLY. It also gave me a bit of security in leaving my gear in a pile if I wanted to leave the area.


Post Processing:
Of the 375 or so kids I came away with just under a thousand shots and that included a dozen sponsor type shots for grins. I started the off-load from my card to my laptop, then the import into LR. That was quick, maybe 20min. The cull and post I spent about 10 hours on in addition to the six hours at the venue and maybe an hour total drive time. So at this point, I've got maybe 17 hours in this as a volunteer.

The cull is easy.... Just go through each image in LR and mark the 'keepers' with a 1, filter on "unmarked" and delete those. Then, go back and work the "ones". First up was a standard Clarity +15, Vibrance +15 and Saturation +2. That's about it. As I worked my way through the shots, I did a little shadow work here and there as needed. But the shooting/color adjustments were minimal.

The crops I really wrestled with. The finish line chute is Sooooo big compared to these kids - like TWO CAR LANES WIDE and eight feet tall that the kids get swallowed up in it. Then I wrestled back and forth on is the Colins Hope "Prevent Drowning" part of the sign important or the actual kid? After a bit of back and forth with the father of the child for whom the organization was created as well as Duke, we came up with leaving the banner in the shots and adding a watermark graphic for the event. Since I saw in the same spot for the entire shoot and kept the same basic focal length, I did a global crop sync across all the remaining images. Then when I got to the next image, I didn't have to do the crop square creation. Instead, all I had to do was move the content to fix the existing cropped box.

The watermark was pretty easy for Duke as it only took him a few minutes to get me the .png file, then from LR it's a snap to add that to the image. I selected lower right corner and proportional so it would stay the same size.

All shots were exported at 1200pixels (12 inches) on the long side at 300dpi which should give the parents a good clean 4x6 and 5x7 with their crop.


Final Results:
Once the shots were edited and done, I simply exported them to a subdirectory on my laptop, created a gallery in SmugMug and uploaded them. The link was then passed along to the organization as well as my Facebook page which was shared again with the organization and members. If you want to see the entire body of work, here's the link: http://www.scottstrancephotography.com/Content/Client-Work/20150913-Colins-Hope-Kids-Tri/

There you have it. A day's worth of what goes into a shoot like this. Hope some of the info can help others should they try to shoot an event where this may be applicable.

If you have questions, fire away and I'll try to help



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M38A1

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This was representative of last years attempt... The banner was HUGE and I recommended they get a smaller one which they did. The older kids had to duck under it. And it was almost a rain-day too so I had the flash out with an umbrella and shot TTL. The problem with this approach was the banner really reflected the strobe light. And I think the WB is a bit too 'cold' for my liking I opted for a textual footer for the event name last year as well.
i-fLLgpLj-XL.jpg
 
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M38A1

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Lastly, this was a concept Duke presented. I really liked it the best in some flavor/variation. Yet the organizer opted to go with the banner so since it's his event, it's his call. But Duke was on to something with this approach
i-r68h8Vc-L.png
 

M38A1

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Good photos and a good cause. :clap:
Thanks Bruce....

Colins Hope was founded after Colin Holst drowned in a public pool with parents, friends, lifeguards and others around. The organization was created to raise awareness of childhood drowning and provide educational opportunities, events and programs to prevent childhood drowning. This is one of several events they host each year.

Childhood drowning is the NUMBER ONE cause of death in children under the age of four. And as of this past Sunday, September 13th 2015 - SIXTY EIGHT children in Texas alone THIS YEAR have lost their lives due to drowning.

Their site can be found here:
http://www.colinshope.org/Default.aspx


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Great write up Scott. This is a good primer for any of us going to do event work. Your gallery of images showcasing the event this year is in my opinion your best yet. Next year, I will try to come down and help and get some shots of the swim and or bike maybe in the transition zones.... looks like it could be fun.

Plus... I can just dump my un-edited images to you and let you have all the fun in LR! :)
 
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M38A1

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Thanks, Duke....

Your golf shooting and my incessant continued questions on how you do that has helped me tremendously in shooting action sports. So I look at this like a mutual learning experience for both of us. :photo:

I have no doubt you can shoot ANY ColinsHope event in the future and I'd be happy to toss your name in the hat.


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