3rd Annual Florida Beach Halfathon at Ft. Desoto Park 2012

On the return leg of the halfathon - Nikon D300 with Nikkor 80-200mm @ f/6.3 ISO 400 1/800th shutter priority on monopodI had the opportunity to work with a team of sports photographers to photograph the 3rd Annual Florida Beach Halfathon at Ft. Desoto Park in St. Petersburg, Florida recently.  I really like photographing these types of running, triathlon events as they present unique challenges.  The first is being in kind of an "assembly line" mentality for shooting.  The same subject comes by often, and for a long time.  Can you stay focused shooting the same shot over and over especially after a few hours of standing outside in Florida?  To do this I adapt the mindset of ever trying to perfect the shot of the runner.  This keeps me focused and engaged and of course always trying to produce better photographs.

body paint was a popular form of expression for runners - Nikon D300 with Nikkor 80-200mm @ f/2.8 ISO 2000 1/500th shutter priority mode on monopodOne thing that I find interesting is what the runners choose to wear, what messages are they promoting and how do they express themsleves while running, especially when they see the front of my lens approaching.  The runner above was covered in St. Patrick's Day themed body paint (which was the day before).  

Taking time out to pose for the camera! - Nikon D300 with Nikkor 80-200mm @ f/2.8 ISO 800 1/500th shutter priority mode on monopodMany runners waved or gave some kind of sign and flashed a smile when they past me, like the woman above.  There were of course many more smiles on the way out than there were on the way back in!

All ages participated in this halfathon - - Nikon D300 with Nikkor 80-200mm @ f/2.8 ISO 800 1/500th shutter priority mode on monopodOne major shooting challenge was the fact that due to Daylight Savings Time happening the weekend before this halfathon, the race actually started well before sunrise in near complete darkness!  We were not allowed to use flash either so shooting wide open at f/2.8 and maxing out ISO at 3200 still was not really enough for the first few runners.  Really the problem was the auto-focus finding anyone in such darkness moving so fast, plus the exposure challenges.  Slowly the sun started to rise and slowly ISO could be dropped to reasonable settings.  

I enjoyed photographing this event and was surprised to be cheered on so much by the runners who often also said "thank you!" to me as they past.  When I could I shot out, "thank you for running!"

Kiteboarding at Pass-A-Grille Beach Florida in Stormy Skies

Kiteboarding at Pass-A-Grille Beach Florida - unusual settings needed - Nikon D300 Tamron 17-50mm @ f/2.8 ISO 800 1/500thPass-A-Grille Beach exists at the very southern end of all the gulf beaches of Pinellas County on Gulf Blvd.  It is a quiet place, especially in February.  It is a very quiet place in February just after a storm passes by.  The length of the sandy beach was empty.  The only other human around was floating out above the water kiteboarding under stormy skies.

Kiteboarder floating over Pass-A-Grille Beach Florida - Nikon D300 Tamron 17-50mm @ f/2.8 ISO 800 1/500thAs is usual when walking around with my DSLR, I had only one lens with me.  I knew before I left the house the types of photographs I wanted to make, so I brought the appropriate lens for that job, my Tamron XR Di II 17-50mm f/2.8 lens.  However, this meant when I saw the kiteboarder I could only make wide sweeping shots in which the kiteboarder himself appeared but as a speck.  I felt limited by that then, but now I realize I would not have wanted to make the shots any other way because the story of these shots was largely in the storm itself.  Showing the kiteboarder in the context of the weather was more dramatic than if I had made tight actions shots of him in flat light.

Kiteboarder zooming against the wind at Pass-A-Grille Beach FloridaIf you are looking for a quiet place to just "be," then I highly recommend Pass-A-Grille Beach for its forgottenness, it's end of the land feeling and for its sweeping views of the Gulf.  If you go there in winter, after a storm, you might see someone with a dog and a camera passing you by.  

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28th Annual St Anthony's Triathlon 2011 finish line winners

Filip Ospaly St. Anthony's Triathlon 2011 Men's Winner - Nikon D300 Nikkor 80-200mm -- f/4 ISO 400 1/800thI had the opportunity to work for FinisherPix photographing the 28th Annual St. Anthony's Triathlon 2011 in downtown St. Petersburg.  For all but 30-minutes of the six hour triathlon shooting time I was at FoF, which stands for front-of-finish in sports photography lingo.  The FoF was a pretty good spot to be for numerous reasons, the least of which I was in shade almost the whole time and I had the finish gate to lean against.  There is of course the benefit of being at the exact spot the thousands of triathletes complete the grueling 51km event.  I saw a full range of expressions from happiness, to relief, to glory, to pain.

The men's and overall winner, Filip Ospaly, is featured above crossing the finish line at 8:41am.  He would have entered the water at approximately 7:20am.  The women's winner, Sarah Haskins, featured below, crossed the finish line soon after at 8:55am.  She looked happy.

Sarah Haskins St. Anthony's Triathlon 2011 Women's Winner - Nikon D300 Nikkor 80-200mm -- f/4 ISO 200 1/800thThere is a lot of timing that goes into making a FoF shot besides the usual focus lock and framing issues.  Early in the morning the finish path was striped with shadows.  So I had to use settings either for the shadow or direct sunlight, and depending on the time of day, one was better to use than the other.  Of course this also meant that I had to wait until the triathlete ran into either the sunlight or shadows before pressing the shutter.  Once the best settings are locked in, it still takes some time to get into a rhythm for framing the shot, timing the shutter release and waiting for the athlete to do her or his particular form of celebration.  Unfortunately, the winner crosses first and thus there is no practice beforehand to find the best patch of shadow or sunlight.  So it makes getting a good shot of the winners and the other early finishers a challenge.

2011 St. Anthony's Triathlon cyclist in downton St. Petersburg - Nikon D300 Nikkor 80-200mm -- f/4 ISO 640 1/1250thI began the morning of the triathlon shooting the "bike out," which is the term used for describing the location where the triathletes first get on their bikes and start out on the road course.  This was another challenging shooting situation with cyclists rolling very quickly requiring a fast shutter speed and quick timing on the framing of the shot.  The long shadows across the street also caused auto-focusing problems so I ended up switching to manual focus and waiting for the cyclists to cross a designated spot on the street (a crack actually) each time then pushing the shutter.  This produced better, more consistent results for me.

St. Anthony's Triathlon 2011 - faces of victoryThe triathletes really crossed all age groups and body types.  By no means was everyone under 40 years old and super fit looking.  I found myself being very impressed as the announcer called out people over 70 years old finishing, and finishing strong.  Nowadays one can be an athlete in any decade of life.  

High School All-Star Baseball at Al Lang Stadium

Seeing so many baseballs in one place fascinated me for some reason.It had been awhile since I photographed baseball, so I was excited to have the opportunity to photograph a high school all-star game in Al Lang Stadium (downtown St. Petersburg).  I had never been in that ballpark before so I did not have an idea of its size, which is of course larger than the usual public fields I have photographed other high school baseball games at.

Have to wonder what decade the name STREAKS was chosen in?This larger park meant I had to use ever mm of my Nikkor AF ED 80-200mm f/2.8D lens in order to get as close to the action as possible, despite being able to plant my monopod at the end of either of the dugouts.  More of a challenge to deal with was the fact that the park was totally exposed to the blazing afternoon Florida sun.  I was not able to get my back to the sun from any angle, so I had to really concentrate on getting focus locks in such challenging conditions.  

Not a scene of exhaustion, just one of stretching!After the sun, a huge shadow fell across the infield for the last few innings!  Manual settings were mandatory to try and get a decent exposure in the lower light and still freeze the action.  

The goal of baseball photography - get the ball in the frame while the batter swingsAnd I do not have that many actions shots to show for my 3 hours of shooting.  At first I did not know it was an all-star game, but I sensed the energy and interactions between the players seemed much less than other tournaments I had photographed.  These high school players came from all around Florida and did not know each other for the most part.  So the camaraderie was just not there.  Even though there were a lot of runs scored, the black team raced out to a 10-1 lead, they were all standing runs, no big home plate confrontations at all.  

They were not the only ones waiting for some action that afternoon.I have to admit my mind did start to wonder in the latter innings as the action really slowed down and I had already gotten all the essential batting, fielding and group shots . . . and then they decided to add a tenth inning!  

Fighting for 3rd base - Nikon D300 Nikkor 80-200mm f/2.8D @ f/4 ISO 500 1/640th EV +1.33 manual exposureFinally, in one of the final innings there was a decent play made for third base right in front of me.  As you can see the shadow had fallen across the infield, causing me to use some very unusual settings, least of which was cranking the exposure compensation up to +1.33.  

IronKids National Championship 2010 St. Petersburg Florida

Lots of good vendors at IronKids National Championship 2010 St. Petersburg -- iPhone 4 HDR modeIt had been a while since I photographed sports, a type of photography that is very fun, exciting and challenging to shoot.  I recently became a freelance sports photographer for ASI (Action Sports International) and the 2010 IronKids National Championship right here in St. Petersburg was my first gig with them.  I had a good first experience with ASI, though I used their memory cards and have not seen any of the fruit of my labor (hence only the shoddy iPhone 4 photo above).  It was a very strange experience to come home after 9! hours of shooting and not be able to see a single image.  It seems I can make a request to have some of my photos and I will definitely be following up on that.  I took over 2,000 shots after all!

Things I learned from shooting my first triathlon: 

  • I did not know how to spell triathlon before
  • having both parents as triathletes tends to produce a winning triathlete son/daughter
  • standing in the middle of the road with kids whizzing by on road bikes on both sides does not phase me
  • your monopod is really your best photography friend 

I get my next triathlon photography chance on November 13th in Clearwater for the Foster Grant Ironman World Championship 70.3.

High School Championship Soccer Photography at University of Tampa

Pre-game introductions for a high school championship soccer match at the University of Tampa field.

Networking works.  I attended a Chamber of Commerce networking event on a Wednesday, then received a phone call the following Thursday from someone I met at that event asking if I could photograph his son's high school championship soccer match because I made a connection with him via a real conversation.

My assignment was to photograph #6 as he made defensive moves that helped his team beat and shutout their opponent.

The night soccer match under the uneven lights at the University of Tampa field were the most challenging photography conditions I have shot in to date.  Of course I was shooting at f/2.8 and had to set my Nikon D300's ISO to 1600 just to get shutter speeds in the 1/300th to 1/400th of a second range.  This was the first time on any photography job that I did not feel absolutely confident from the start.  However, since I arrived early enough to the location, I was able to determine the more well lit spots along the edge of the field.  I noticed that the far side had three large light clusters, while the stadium side only had two.  Most other working photographers were on the stadium side shooting, so I am glad I did not automatically assume it was the best position to shoot from.  Only one other photographer came over to the far side where I shot the whole game from.  

 Soccer players are always looking into the field of play, making photographing their faces a challenge.

After delivering the photographs to the client, I was thrilled (and I must confess relieved) to read his e-mail stating his love for the photographs and thanking me for a job well done.  I pushed my photography gear to the limit and pooled all my post-editing skills to make this happen, and now I will go into any future night sports photography jobs with the same confidence I do all other daylight jobs.