Sport Portraits

Admittedly, sports photographers are not in the studio that often. Hence, compared to professional portrait photographers, I have a disadvantage. Don’t get me wrong, I know how to set up the lighting and how to let people pose. But just as any photographer will get some little details wrong in the arena, I lack about 10’000 portrait shots to get really everything perfect.

So how do you cope with the situation? You work with your strengths. I guess one of my strengths is that I can talk to athletes, because I was one. I know how they feel during training and competition.

So instead of directing them like models (‘look happy’, or ‘look serious’), I ask them to ‘look like you just climb the podium at the medal ceremony’, or ‘look like you are a few seconds before the start of the final’.

Also, I use poses that relate to the sport. This gives them confidence. I try to let them look strong, I let them play with their equipment, or I take pictures of the action.

 

 

 

Gear

OK, this blog entry is nerdy. It’s about gear in sports photography. It was triggered by the presentation of a new mirrorless camera that allegedly marks the end of the Canon and Nikon DSLRs. Just let me make clear: I’m talking about professional sports photography here. Nothing else.

Arjen Robben (FC Bayern Muenchen) Bundesliga 29. Spieltag: Bayer 04 Leverkusen vs FC Bayern Muenchen am 15.04.2017 in Leverkusen, BayArena, Deutschland. Canon 1DXii, 400mm F2.8

I’m talking about the new Sony alpha 9.The Canon DX 1 killer”. Folks, let’s face it!! Did I invest into the wrong gear?

So what’s my gear? Canon. Why Canon? Because several years ago I trusted an experienced photographer and artist who told me “Canon has the better colors”. So I bought Canon.

Meanwhile I have my fourth camera and many lenses. From 14mm to 400mm – the total cost I better do not mention. Does my gear do its job? Absolutely.  Do I think I need other gear or more? Maybe a second 1DXii. But it’s a minor wish that is kept under control by the cost.

Tamara Ignjic (TS Volley Duedingen). Canon 5Dii with 24mm F4: Duedingen, Schweiz

What’s the gear of my colleagues at football Bundesliga matches? Nobody (I repeat: nobody) has Sony. Rather, 50 percent have Nikon and 50 percent have Canon. Each of these photographers carries gear that costs at least as much as my gear.

Leichtathletik - Hypomeeting Goetzis - day2, 28.05.2017

Agnou Caroline (SUI); Leichtathletik – Hypomeeting Goetzis – day2 am 28.05.2017 in Goetzis, Moeslestadion, Austria

Given these sunk investments, will these people ever switch? Oh yes! They definitely will if there is progress. Cameras get replaced anyway if a new top model arrives. Given the limited life of cameras, buying a new one every four years makes absolute sense. You can’t wait until it breaks down. We’re talking about professionals here.

Sam Kendricks: Bronze medalist of the 2016 Olympics: Canon 1DXii with 400mm F2.8; Zurich Letzigrund.

What would be the arguments of replacing a DSLR by a mirrorless camera?

Weight, some people say. My answer is no. Why not? Think about the lenses. A 400mm F2.8 weights 3.5 or even 5kg. Can you make it lighter? That’s hard to imagine. Lenses are made out of glass. For 400mm/f2.8 we need a diameter of 14cm. Nothing will ever change this. You can’t change physics. Glass weighs. Period. The lens is the problem, not the camera.

Shooting with high frequency. DSLRs flicker when you track a subject while firing because the mirror moves up and down. Five or even ten frames are easy. But shooting for 3-4 seconds with 14 frames per second starts making you dizzy. I tried this out. It’s inconvenient. The new Sony shoots up to 20 frames per second without mirror and without flickering. This sounds like an improvement over the DSLRs. Moreover, the mirrorless cameras will have a longer lifetime. Wear of the mirror is no issue.

Jens Voigt – on his hour record ride in the Velodrome Suisse. Shot with Canon 7D at about 35mm.

Autofocus. The Canon and Nikon pro cameras have a tremendous autofocus. The Sonys never were equivalent. I didn’t try out the Sony a9, but reports claim that there is a massive improvement over the a7II. I trust the sources that report this. So maybe the new Sony has closed the gap here.

Bundesliga 29. Spieltag: Bayer 04 Leverkusen vs FC Bayern Muenchen, 15.04.2017

Phillip Lahm (FC Bayern Muenchen) verpasst das Siegtor. Bundesliga 29. Spieltag: Bayer 04 Leverkusen vs FC Bayern Muenchen, 15.04.2017

Haptic properties. Don’t claim that the world is different from what it is. 90 percent of the sports photographers are men. The Canons and Nikons are perfect for mens’ hands. The Sony body is much smaller. The same body as the alpha 7. Too small for mens’ hands.

Available lenses. Did you ever hear of a long Sony lens? When I say long, I mean really long. 400mm. And it should be fast: f2.8! I’ve never heard of such lenses. Unless they are around and their autofocus is working, there is no way, that Sony will enter the segment of professional sports photography.

Swiss Athletics Portrait Shooting 2017, 24.02.2017

Fanette Humair. Studio shoot. Canon 1DXii. 70-200mm.

Writing speed. The Sony a9 now has two cards. This is an improvement over one card. Sony closed a gap here. But wait… these are SD cards! How poor is that? The tests on the internet reported looooong delays when writing the picture information from the buffer on the card. I wouldn’t expect anything else. An absolute no go.

Conclusion: will I see Sonys replacing the dinosaur models by Nikon and Canon? Not within the next years. Things maybe different at the hobby level or in other areas of photography, of course. I wish Sony the latter success, so they keep motivated to work on the remaining deficits of their concept.

Football

As you might have noticed on my Facebook page, I added shooting football to my activities. In this blog entry, I’d like to explain how “it is like” to shoot Bundesliga matches.

The process starts one week before the match when you send the accreditation request to the club. One day before the match, I edit a preset (for my software “Photo Mechanics”) that defines the meta data (event, date, copyrights, etc.). Importantly, you also prepare a txt file with the shirt numbers, names, and clubs of the players.

I usually arrive 90-120 minutes before the match. First, I pick up the accreditation which will be handed out against valid press credentials (in my case, Swiss, the international AIPS press card will be required) and gather a vest that allows me to enter the infield. Importantly, this is the last time to eat and drink, because you are not allowed to carry food or drinks into the arena. Same safety rules for the press as for anybody else.

The first thing in the arena is to secure a spot where to take pictures. I usually choose a position in the guests’ half, because there is less competition with other photographers. Shooting is only allowed from behind the advertising barriers. Next I connect my computer to the internet using the provided LAN hubs. All cables are secured by gaffer tape so nobody will stumble and fall. After connecting card readers and external drives I make sure that everything is working as it should.

When the match starts, I try to get good shots as quickly as possible. I constantly exchange my cards, let the computer read the files and continue shooting with a second card. As soon as the match moves away from my camera, I select good pics on my computer for further processing.

Latest(!) 30 minutes after the beginning, I start editing and uploading. I select the best pictures, crop them and edit the metadata. Each photo needs a full caption, in particular, the names of the players, event, date, location. This is where Photo Mechanics plays out its strength. Most of the headline (event, date, etc) has been written into the Metadata already when ingesting. So the only thing left is a comment on who is doing what. Here my txt file (the one with the shirt numbers) is useful. Photo Mechanics provides “code replacements”. This works as follows:

/7F/ scores the 1-0 for /F/ and gets hugged by /CF/ and /32F/; …

Photo Mechanics uses my previously edited text file and replaces this by:

Florian Niederlechner (SC Freiburg #7)  scores the 1-0 for SC Freiburg and gets hugged by Christian Streich (Cheftrainer SC Freiburg) and Vincenzo Grifo (SC Freiburg #32); …

The dots indicate that information about the event etc follow. Immediately afterwards, I upload the picture on the server of the agency. It becomes directly visible for the customers.

The key principle is: be fast, very fast! If the exposure isn’t entirely correct, I don’t waste time, except if the picture is really important. What has been uploaded early, has the highest chances of being published. For instance, I almost never get pictures into the media that have been taken during the second half of the match, because most writers select the pictures at the halftime break (because they want to be out with their own report immediately after the match). What is not available at halftime, has virtually no chance of getting sold.

FAQs:

Do I shoot JPG or RAW? Both. But I read in the JPGs first and work with those pictures that don’t need editing other than cropping. The only reason to work with RAW is that the exposure is not correct (which may happen of course, because we have sunny areas and shady areas and – lets tell the truth – neither the auto exposure nor I are perfect).

Do I exchange lenses? Of course not. I have 2 cameras. One with the 400mm lens and one with the 70-200. I switch cameras, not lenses. And I wish I had three arms.

Do I check my pictures on the control screen? Yes I do, but very quickly. The only reason is to check whether the exposure is still correct or whether I moved one of the adjustment wheels without noticing. Some photographers rate pictures in the camera, but I don’t. If the picture wasn’t good, there is nothing I can do. So why bother? I postpone the evaluation until I see the pictures on the computer screen.

Can you get into the arena as a hobby photographer? Not in the Bundesliga. You must provide evidence that you have a professional task. However, why don’t you talk to volleyball, basketball, gymnastics, swimming, and other event organizers whether you may shoot for them? Usually, the organizers will be happy and grant you access. Make sure, that you know the sport, though. Also make sure that you know the safety rules that are extremely different from sport to sport. Maybe I write another blog about to do-s and don’t-s for photographers.

What do I do in the media center? Hmm. Pick up a drink and some food, and …? I can’t say. Thanks to the LAN access in the arena, I do my work there, not in the media center.

Volleyball

My comeback to sports photography happened gradually. I re-discovered my old love to sports photography some 7 years ago. I started my comeback in cycling, first mostly shooting my friends on the bike, then shooting professional races. Two years ago, I moved back to my old sport, athletics (I was a 400m runner before that thing called age stopped me). After two years in athletics, I decided that I should develop further and add something new.

My choice was Volleyball. Why Volleyball? I wanted to shoot an indoor sport. Switzerland’s national women league is very good, even compared to international standards. The best Swiss team, Volero Zurich, plays very well in the Champions’ League, and there are about 5 other really good teams. One of them, Sm’Aesch Pfeffingen, is close to my workplace and another one, the Dudingen Powercats, close to my house. Finally, there are options. One of my best friends, Volleyball fan too, lives in Friedrichshafen, GER, that hosts the best German team. I might combine visiting him with shooting.

These were the dreams. Here is reality! From my first match (Sm’Aesch vs Lugano) I returned with about 15 pictures that were ok. Only three were really good. The rest was crap! Let me explain. There are two rules of thumb (means, there are exceptions):

  1. No ball, no picture. It’s easy to shoot the players standing, jumping, diving, etc. A picture without ball leaves the viewer alone, guessing why the player is standing, jumping, diving, etc. Better you include the ball into the picture. The problem: The sport is extremely fast. If you react to some action, you’re almost sure to miss it. You’ve got to anticipate the moves.
  2. No face, no picture. Viewers are intested in the personalities that exercise the sport. Shooting players from their back is not the way we want to look at people. The problem is the net. If you want to shoot some thrilling action from the front, the net will be between your camera and the face. If you walk to the other side, you’ll likely to shoot the players from behind.

So in Volleyball, anticipating the moves is everything. Of course, I knew how the sport works in theory, but then, many little subtleties let me fail. I started working, preparing myself. Several hours of theory, and watching, without shooting, how “my home team”, the Powercats, was playing. This paid off. My output per match quickly increased to about 100 pics, more than you need.

The next stage will be to shoot pictures that you don’t see every day. I’m hoping for cool ideas what to do… A few hours before the next match, my head is still empty, though…

The Swiss in the World

An exciting Olympic Season 2016 has ended – well, almost. It has been particularly successful for Swiss Athletics. Five medals at the European Championships in Amsterdam. Time to look back. Who is “the best” Swiss athlete? Which discipline is the strongest? Who is the most under-rated athlete?

In this blog, I’ll take a look at the IAAF 2016 World Ranking. By using this ranking, I am not saying rank X in discipline A is worth more than rank Y in discipline B. Rather, I use the world ranking to define an order that deviates from the usual “first the Men’s sprint / last the Women’s heptathlon” lists.

Rank 8: Nicole Büchler.

weltklasse-zurich-pole-vault_-98

The first Swiss athlete on my list is Nicole Büchler with a season best of 4.78m in the pole vault. She could overcome her former inconsistencies after she built a very successful team around her coach and husband Mitch Greeley. Sadly, a hamstring injury stopped her shortly before the Europeans. She did the right thing: she disappeared immediately and went to her favorite place in Ticino. With a lack of training, but with a fresh mind, she re-appeared at the Olympics and took a very remarkable 6th place!

Rank 13: Lea Sprunger.

weltklasse-zurich-38

Number two on my list is Lea Sprunger. Two years ago, Lea switched from the 200m distance to 400m Hurdles, but her 13th rank in the world was over 200m! In the final of the Swiss championships at Geneva, she clocked 22.38 secs. A true world class performance in a fun competition only one week after her bronze medal at the Europeans over 400mH. The medal already indicates that Lea’s 400m hurdles rank is only marginally lower. With 54.92 secs she is number 19 in the world. Will 2017 bring a further improvement?

Rank 14: Selina Büchel.

Selina Büchel

Selina Büchel

Number three among the Swiss athletes is 800m runner Selina Büchel. She ran her season best late in the season: 1:58:77 at the Athletissima. This is rank 14 in the world. Selina might be viewed as the tragic figure of the season. 4th place at the Europeans, and a closely missed final qualification at the Olympics.

Rank 19: Kariem Hussein.

Kariem Hussein

Kariem Hussein

Kariem Hussein had two goals for 2016. Defending his Euro title, and reaching the final at the Olympics. By the end of the season it was bronze in Amsterdam and a missed final. An injury made it impossible to achieve more. Nevertheless, he reached 48.87secs in Amsterdam. Given the difficulties, he didn’t lose Gold, he won bronze.

Rank 27: Angelica Moser.

weltklasse-zurich-pole-vault_-94

18 years old and a PB of 4.57m in the pole vault! Angelica is currently the most visible of the many youngsters that make Swiss Athletics’ officials smile about the future. Angelica seems to be there when it matters most. She started into the season with a long streak of jumps between 4.40 and 4.45m, but at her self-declared season highlight, the Junior World Championships, she delivered a new PB (4.55m) and took the Gold medal.

Rank 32: Fabienne Schlumpf.

Spitzenleichtathletik Luzern 2016

Most of the attention during the season was on others, but Fabienne was there when it mattered most. 9:30.54 at Rio meant not only a new Swiss record, but also the qualification for the Olympic final. Unfortunately she fell in the final and finished on rank 18. Apart from the Olympics, Fabienne finished 5th at the Europeans and celebrated a victory at Lucerne. Regarding media attention, she might have been the most under-rated world class athlete of Switzerland.

Rank 33: Benjamin Gföhler

gfoehler-1

UPDATE: Of course, I knew that Benjamin was missing on my list. In 2016 he eventually broke the 8m barrier. However, his 8.13m jump became victim of a bug on the IAAF site. Now that it has been fixed, it’s visible to the world that he’s number 33! After this terrific performance, Benjamin’s obvious aim for the next season will be consistency. Just suppose he’d be able to repeat this jump on the day of an international championship… Hell, what a hype would this trigger…

Rank 40: Mujinga Kambundji.

Spitzenleichtathletik Luzern 2016

Mujinga’s season began with a bang. On a Facebook post she declared that she would not run in the 4×100 this year. So all eyes were on her individual performance. The season did not start as desired. During this period, her season best of 11.14 secs appeared like an outlier. Only late in the season Mujinga stabilized her form. Then she proved all sceptics wrong. Again, she was in her best shape, when it matters most. Bronze at the Europeans and a strong semifinal performance at the Olympics. Moreover, she ran a season best 200m in Rio (22.78secs; rank 52 in the world).

Rank 40 Clélia Rard-Reuse.

athletissima-2016-129.jpg

2016 would be Clélia Rard-Reuse’s last season. Eventually fully recovered from a broken leg (2014), the 100m hurdler started strong into the season and qualified for the Europeans. She took the opportunity to qualify for the Olympics at one of the few rain-free races in Thun where she ran 12.87 secs. She took a strong fourth place at the Europeans and showed a very strong performance at Rio where she finished 16th in the semifinal. A touching farewell at her home meeting, the Athletissima, closed her season and her career.

Rank 42: Ellen Sprunger.

2016-05-28-goetzis-day2-18

Ellen Sprunger

After two major surgeries in 2015, Ellen’s aim for 2016 was clear. A new PB and the Olympic Standard in the heptathlon. At Götzis she started strongly into the competition. Brilliant over the hurdles and the 200m, solid in the high jump and the shot put. However, on day two her operated elbow was not ready for the javelin. 6’024 points weren’t enough. Another attempt in Ratingen failed too. After long discussions, Coach Meuwly accepted his strongest remaining sprinter for the 4x100m relay and she could participate at her second Olympics. Moreover, she ran a strong 200m race at the Swiss Nationals. Her 22.89 meant another rank 76 in the world. Finally some good news. Ellen will continue her career in 2017. “Ratingen shouldn’t be the end of my heptathlon career”, she told me.

Rank 47: Michelle Zeltner

2016-02-27-sm-day1-114

After an accident the doctors told Michelle that she would be unable to ever do sports again. In 2016 she not only qualified for the Europeans, but also set up a new PB, the first time over the “magic” 6000 pts barrier.

Rank 50: Jonas Fringeli.

Jonas Fringeli

Jonas Fringeli

Jonas Fringeli established himself as the best decathlete in Switzerland. 7862 point in Götzis mean exactly rank 50 in the world. The competition in Götzis was very solid, without any weaknesses. Jonas is definitely on the watch list for 2017.

Other Swiss athletes in the World Ranking

#58: Maja Neuenschwander (Marathon) 2:27:36
#65: Dominik Alberto (Pole Vault) 5.55
#73: Salome Lang (High Jump) 1.86
#80: Petra Fontanive (400mH) 56.48
#80: Loïc Gasch (High Jump) 2.23
#111: Valérie Reggel (Heptathlon) 5667 pts
#113: Nicole Zihlmann (Hammer Throw) 64.83
#123 Irene Pusterla (Long Jump) 6.42
#145 Alain-Hervé Mfomkpa (400mH) 50.42
#146 Tobias Furer (110mH) 13.76
#147 Alex Wilson (200m) 20.57
#157: Martina Strähl (1/2 Marathon) 1:11.50
#157 Nadja-Marie Pasternack (Javelin) 53.52
#162 Géraldine Ruckstuhl (Javelin) 53.38
#164 Jan Hochstrasser (1500m) 3:39.71
#167 Robine Schürmann (400mH) 57.94
#201 Sara Atcho (200m) 23.30

 

Landscape

As a coincidence, I was test reading Stephan Wiesner’s forthcoming book on landscape photography while on vacation in the Canadian Rocky Mountains.

The key message of the book is “get off the couch”! So what should I do? Just the theory? No way! We invested in bear bells & bear spray and went out. The earlier in the morning, the better.

By the way: the investment paid off as we almost stumbled across a bear family during one of our hikes. However, one cub ran up a tree, curious because of our bells. So we saw it early, and had time to retreat before mom got nervous. Better no picture.

Back to the book. No kidding, this is the best photography book that I ever read. Beginners will profit as much as more advanced photographers, because the book not only explains the roles of shutter speed and aperture, but also tells tons of little tricks – a few of which were new to me.

The book will be soon available on Amazon. Just visit Stephan’s Amazon Profile from time to time. Meanwhile, you may want to enjoy my pictures.

Who will start on the last day in Amsterdam

So the European Championships are on the finish straight. Day 5. Let us quickly look back on the Swiss performers in today’s finals. Again 4.45, PB, and a very good 7th rank for Angelica Moser in the pole vault final. Heptathlete Michelle Zeltner delivered another PB in the long jump (6.10), but lost many points in the javelin throw. Nevertheless, 6010 point are a new PB and first time above the magic 6000 barrier. Rank 11 at the Europeans. Finally, Selina Büchel ran a very good race. A very good fourth rank, but as always, rank four is bitter-sweet.

And now to the preview. What will happen tomorrow?

Half Marathon Women. Four Swiss will be at the start. Martina Strähl the mountain running world champion, Martina Tresch, Maja Neuenschwander, and Laura Hrebec will be the Swiss starters.

Half Marathon Men. A group of 6 runners will represent Switzerland. Marcel Berni, Adrian Lehmann, Julien Lyon, Abraham Tadesse, Christian Kreienbühl, and Andreas Kempf. (I apologise: I don’t shoot street races that often, some runners are missing in my personal photo “collection”.

 

400m Hurdles Women. Lea Sprunger won her semifinal today. She ran 15 strides until the 8th hurdle and then switched to 16 strides. All under control. Her potential makes her a natural podium candidate. Same situation as for Kariem Hussein: Everything between gold and wood is possible. Her main opponents are: Sara Slott Petersen (DEN) and Joanna Linkiewicz (POL).

Lea Sprunger

Lea Sprunger

3000m Steeplechase Women. Fabienne Schlumpf made it to the final and now it counts. She won in Luzern, but the European Championships will be a more difficult task. On paper, the field is quite homogenous, except for Germany’s Gesa Felicitas Krause who is the gold candidate number one.

4x100m Women. New Swiss record (42.87secs) for Ajla Del Ponte, Sarah Atcho, Ellen Sprunger, and Salome Kora in the semifinal. As second they qualified directly for the final. This is a big success for the three U23 runners and Ellen. More tomorrow.

4x100m Men. The Swiss men’s relay made it to the final. 38.88secs are really good. This is a big success after a lot of trouble in the last year. Pascal Mancini, Amaru Schenkel, Sugi Somasundaram, and Alex Wilson will have more than a super fast honorary lap because they want to improve their time.

Well, and when everything is over, we might want to have a look at the other Euro in France.