Sports photographer celebrates a season afield

“One must imagine Sisyphus happy”

Posted 11/20/19

With the fall season now over, our high school athletes will take their skills indoors to fight it out on the mats and at the three point line indoors, starting in December.In the meantime, a few …

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Sports photographer celebrates a season afield

“One must imagine Sisyphus happy”

Posted

With the fall season now over, our high school athletes will take their skills indoors to fight it out on the mats and at the three point line indoors, starting in December.
In the meantime, a few highlights from this fall warrant celebration:
The boys at Quilcene truly outdid themselves on the football field, finishing first in the Sea-Tac standings, both within the league and overall. In addition, Quilcene’s girls finished a respectable third in the league and fourth overall on the volleyball court. Both Port Townsend girls and boys cross-country teams placed in the top ten at this year’s Olympic League Cross-Country Championship. Anika Avelino and Rachel Matthes finished sixth and seventh, respectively, while Nathan Cantrell inched-out a first place victory in the final seconds of the race.
Last but not least, honorable mentions are well deserved by all athletes – including Chimacum boys tennis and football teams and girls volleyball team, as well as Port Townsend boys football team and girls swim, soccer and volleyball teams – for their noble display of courage in the face of fierce competition.
For some, it is natural to feel foolish simply for trying, especially after one’s unrequited efforts are answered only by the cold neglect of the limelight. But, through this photographer’s lens, neither extreme - that of foolhardiness or of cowardice - was ever seen. Instead, the golden mean of that Aristotelian virtue was struck, sound and true. Rejoice in the pursuit of your own, personal arete (excellence), a Sisyphean task if ever there was one. As the French existentialist, Albert Camus, writes, “The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill [one’s] heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”
I was invited to share some of my thoughts from a technical perspective as a photographer freelancing for The Leader. Having focused primarily on landscape and nature photography for the better part of ten years, capturing the fast-paced world of sports required a shift in approach. The transition is ongoing and remains fluid.
Nonetheless, I can underscore some of the antinomies that arise when switching between these two very different photographic subjects. The obvious distinction is - action! Many of you with children know well the challenge of capturing a photograph of your wee ones. You click the shutter. The screen goes black. And what appears is a slightly blurred version of a precious and ephemeral moment in your child’s short life, never to be repeated again - all because the little monster wouldn’t sit still.
While your taste for the photographs of Heinrich Kuehn (early 20th century pictorialist known for his intentionally soft, out of focus portraits of his family) may vary, a sharp photograph of your child can become its own stubborn challenge apart from whether or not grandma gets her Christmas card this year. Of course, it’s one thing to turn up the dial on the shutter speed in the light of day. It’s quite another when it is eight o’ clock at night on the soccer pitch. A speedy shutter means less time for the light to properly expose the shot. This is exacerbated once the sun goes down.
For sports, I like to set my shutter at 1/1,000th of a second. I would prefer a slightly faster speed, say 1/1,500th or even 1/2,000th or so. But this means that the final image will be that much darker. The solution? Crank up the ISO baby! (ASA if you were an adult prior to ‘87, or DIN if you immigrated from Europe). As a landscape photographer, this is perhaps the most jarring shift of all.
When standing above the inversion layer atop Gray Wolf Ridge after hiking uphill for more than an hour in the dark, when the sun has yet broken the envelope of the horizon, and all of Sequim and Port Angeles and the entire coastline along the Strait of Juan de Fuca sleeps quiet beneath a blanket of fog - my ISO is set as low as possible. This ensures capturing the highest image quality. As with film where faster film speeds yield larger and larger grain, in the digital era this phenomenon presents itself in the form of digital noise and comes as a direct cost to increasing the ISO.
My solution to preserve as much image quality as possible has been to set the ISO such that the image is slightly underexposed. Afterward, when the game is long over and I upload the images into the computer, I immediately lower the contrast on all the images as low as it can go. This has two effects. First it brings back enough of the detail in the shadows without introducing additional noise. Second, it helps to mitigate the harshness in the quality light emitted by small light sources. Perhaps you are thinking that the bulbs in those towering outdoor stadium lamps are anything but small. But, here, I am referring to their apparent size relative to the distance from the subject and not their absolute size. Even the sun at midday is considered, for the purposes of photography, a ‘small’ light source. This is why landscape and nature photographers, and even portrait photographers who use natural light, prefer the morning and evening hours when the sun’s light is more ‘feathered.’ But, I digress. This is perhaps best saved for another conversation.
See page A7 for a collection of Taylor’s favorite photos from the fall season. Enjoy. (James Taylor graduated from the University of Texas at Austin where he studied sociology and philosophy and where he began taking an interest in photography. He lived in Austin for 22 years before moving to Port Townsend in 2017.)

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