Tag Archives: Noise Ninja

Social 4/4 Time

Billy pre-Photoshop: So yellow!

Billy pre-Photoshop: So yellow!

That little tremor in the world’s equilibrium yesterday was merely me leaving the 10-mile radius of my comfort zone . . . at night. For several hours.

Shocking, right? I cherish all the time I spend comfortably ensconced in my community’s little bubble. Usually everything I could ever need or want . . . including two Chipotles! . . . is right around the corner.

However, last night it was time for the Mister and I to pull on our social pants and mingle with the masses in Houston (where only 18th Street could magically become 20th Street). We met at the Corkscrew wine bar—the Mister zipped over from work, while I actually took on the mean streets and spine-tingling traffic of the big city with a few nerves left still intact.

Wonder where the yellow went?

Wonder where the yellow went?

Luring me to Houston was our disc golf pal Billy. He’s been featured in my blog before, famously wearing a blue dress, as well as wrongly advising me that chickens are harmless. Now that Billy has retired, he’s pursuing his dream of pop stardom. Too bad he’s too old for “American Idol”—this white-haired cat definitely can sing and strum!

Billy took to the Corkscrew’s horribly lit stage with his 12-string guitar and an eclectic song list that included tunes by the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, assorted artists I’ve never heard of, plus several that he wrote (the Mister and I liked those the best). We were joined at our table by the Mister’s brother Mike and his wife Paula. Several other disc golfers also attended.

Naturally, I toted my beloved Nikon D700 for documenting the event. The Nikon 85mm (f/1.4) was the perfect lens for the job: It lets in a lot of light, plus it gets me close to the action without being intrusive. I just wish that there had been a lot of light. Talk about your dim bulbs!

Billy gives it his all.

Billy gives it his all.

As you can see from the top photo, the white balance was totally wonky. I put mine on bulb after taking pics on every setting and seeing that it was the “best” and hoped that I could wash away the yellow in Photoshop. My ISO was 4000; Noise Ninja helped tame the grain, which really wasn’t too bad.

All in all, it was a wonderful evening filled with great singing, wonderful family and friends, and Diet Coke and delicious thin-crust pizza.

I might have to shake up the globe a little more often!

Friday Night Lights for the Bogus Pro Photographer

My view of the field with my sideline pass

My view of the field with my sideline pass

Guess who got to pretend to be a big-time, fancy-schmancy sideline photographer Friday night? Yep, little ol’ me! In fact, the above photo shows what my view looked like at the boys’ high school’s football game at one of our district stadiums.

Friday night's lights

Friday night's lights

My friend Heather had asked if I would shoot photos for the high school’s booster club’s website. As much as I hate the high ISOs that shooting under the lights at 7 p.m. and later necessitate, I could hardly say no. Not when I have a blog that needs fresh photo fodder five days a week!

Sidebar: Look at the different colors in the lights. It’s little wonder that sports photographers have so much trouble dealing with a consistent white balance. And it’s even worse indoors.

Quarterback Matt rolls out and start his pitch.

Quarterback Taylor rolls out and starts his pitch to his imaginary tailback.

For most of the first quarter before Heather caught up with me to give me the necessary sideline pass, I shot from above the action with my Nikon D300 and Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 lens. This gave me a great opportunity to eventually contrast the difference between shooting above and at ground level. I captured a good series of photos (at ISO 1600 and f/2.8) in which our quarterback Taylor (Heather’s son) pitched the ball to our tailback Brelynn. It starts above where you have to imagine where Brelynn is (oops!).

Here's Brelynn!

Here's Brelynn!

Welcome to the photo show, Brelynn! Now get going!!

Anthony (28) and Matt are ready to block for Brelynn.

Anthony (28) and Taylor are ready to block for Brelynn.

I really liked the angle from above on these photos. It allows you to see a lot of the action on every play. Now let’s move to the sideline, shall we?

Brelynn tries to escape the defense.

Brelynn tries to escape the defense.

Here’s our buddy Brelynn at ground level trying desperately to avoid being tackled. This was taken at ISO 2000 and, of course, f/2.8, cleaned up by the ever-lovin’ Noise Ninja. As you can see, I could get photographically closer to the action while on the sideline.

Brandon takes a dive, helped by the defense.

Brandon dives forward.

It was easier to isolate on players while shooting along the sideline, but I did have to make sure to stay out of everyone’s way, especially the coaches. Didn’t want to get yelled at by one of them! Oh, and I didn’t want to get run over by any of the players. I only had one close encounter, but it did have me backpedaling the rest of the game!

Tyler tackles the runner.

Tyler tackles the runner.

See number 5? That’s Tyler, a defensive back. The #1 son played Little League baseball with him way back when. He was a good baseball player, too.

Tyler knocks away the pass.

Tyler knocks away the pass.

This was my favorite photo of the evening. Our opponents were getting close to scoring, but Tyler jumped up and knocked the pass away from the receiver. He really played well all night!

Cale smiles.

Cale smiles.

The best part of shooting on the sideline? Getting photos up close and personal of the players, like Cale. As long as they’re not knocking you over when they barrel into where you’re standing!

High School Football: A Touchdown and Lightning

Brelynn protects the football, as he runs for a short gain.

Brelynn protects the football, as he runs for a short gain.

Looks like it’s high school sports week at the old blog corral! So far I’ve posted photos of high school cross-country and volleyball; today it’s football’s turn.

Here in Texas, football reigns supreme. Especially the high school variety. It’s a Friday night under the lights (Saturday, too!) kind of religion that’s played out in stadiums all across this huge state I live in.

Harold (number 14) and Tyler (5) are ready to defend.

Harold (14) and Tyler (5) are ready to defend.

Last Saturday night the Mister, the #2 son, and I joined #2’s friend Cody and his dad and went to the boys’ high school’s football game. We weren’t expecting our team to do well, because it had been picked to finish dead last in the district. But we go to watch the marching band (especially our “third son” Chase) and dance team as much as we do the football action, so we were psyched about this opening-season contest.

Quarterback Taylor rolls out, looking for a receiver.

Quarterback Taylor rolls out, looking for a receiver.

I brought my Nikon D300 and Nikon 70-200mm lens to document the action. With the game starting at 7 p.m., I hoped it would be light enough to use my Nikon 1.4x teleconverter to give me extra reach from the stands. Sadly, it wasn’t to be, because it was overcast. I needed every bit of the 70-200’s f/2.8 aperture to get my shutter speed up high enough at ISO 1600 to stop the action. (Noise Ninja did a great job cleaning up the high-ISO noise, as usual.)

I was lucky enough that I was sitting on the right side in the bleachers when our team scored a touchdown near the end of the first quarter.

Anthony skies to corral the ball.

Anthony skies to corral the ball.

Our quarterback, Taylor, rifled the ball to Anthony, who leaped to corral it in the end zone.

Anthony secures his treasured touchdown.

Anthony secures his treasured touchdown.

Anthony then secured the ball for the first touchdown of the game.

Our team is winning so far!

Our team is winning so far!

What a great start to our high school football season! We’re actually winning!!

Oh, oh! Here comes the blurry lightning. (f/2.8, 1/60th, ISO 1600)

Oh, oh! Here comes the blurry lightning. (f/2.8, 1/60th, ISO 1600)

But then moments later that overcast sky was filled with lightning, as thunder boomed around us. I thought I might be able to snag a great lightning shot, but not having a tripod doomed me to mere blurs. A shutter speed of 1/60th of a second would not get me decent results. Very disappointing!

Plus the game was cancelled, because the storm continued, complete with rain. We didn’t even get to see a rousing halftime show. After the boys got ice cream at a nearby favorite place (Maggie Moo’s—great name!), we went home to our mundane lives.

How friendly!

How friendly!

When I looked through my photos that night, I was struck by something unusual: Our opponents (Katy Taylor High School) were wearing our quarterback Taylor’s name on their jerseys! Now we’re friendly folks here in south Texas, but to see that kind of support on the opposition’s shirts? Priceless! But I think that welcome for Taylor was just a one-time thing this season.

I doubt that lightning will strike twice!

Photo Friday: I(n) S(earch) O(f) Sharper Photos

The batter in still life pose

The batter in still life pose (ISO 250)

If only every sports photo could be as easy as this one! The only movement might be from the wind; otherwise, the batter is so easy to keep in focus. Sharp pictures would be, dare I say it, a breeze!

Michael moves toward second base for the force out.

Michael moves toward second base for the force out. (ISO 250)

But that’s not reality. Sports photography means action, usually, and plenty of it. The trick is to capture that action in focus, which is hard when the light is fleeting and the players are on the move. A point and shoot camera can’t handle the challenge, but a digital SLR definitely can if the photographer remembers one simple rule: Your shutter speed should at least equal the focal length of your lens.

So if you’re shooting with a 70-300mm lens zoomed out to 300mm, your shutter speed needs to be at least 1/300 to stop the action. This isn’t set in stone, but it’s a good rule to follow.

Seamus is ready for the pitch. (iSO 320)

Seamus is ready for the pitch. (ISO 320)

The tricky part occurs when you’re shooting around sundown and later. As the sunlight lessens, so does the amount of light allowed in by the camera’s aperture (the f-stop). You can widen your aperture (go to a smaller number, like f/3.5 or f/2.8), but your shutter speed inevitably also will drop. And that means you’ll unintentionally blur your photos.

Cole throws towards first base in time to get the runner. (ISO 400)

Cole throws towards first base in time to get the runner. (ISO 400)

I thought about this problem while I was shooting Little League baseball a couple days ago. A parent came up to me and said he couldn’t get sharp action photos of his grandson. I asked him what his ISO was set on, and he replied 400. Easy solution! I told him to increase his ISO all the way up to 1600 if he had to. If he had enough light, he then probably would have a fast-enough shutter speed to stop the action.

Nick gets a warm welcome after a home run. (ISO 400)

Nick gets a warm welcome after a home run. (ISO 400)

So what is ISO? Back in the day, we would buy film by its ASA number—the lower that number (e.g., ASA 100), the less grainy (better image quality). ISO works the same way, except you can change it in the camera (a big plus!). Depending on your camera, photos taken at ISO 200-400 should look sharp. But once you get to the upper numbers, say, ISO 800-1600, pictures can be noisy. That’s where noise reduction software, like Noise Ninja, which is what I use, comes in handy.

Andre catches the ball in centerfield. (ISO 800)

Andre catches the ball in centerfield. (ISO 800)

So the basic ISO tradeoff is a faster shutter speed to stop action in exchange for noisier (grainy) photos. But with the newer digital cameras, the noise may be hardly noticeable. If you’re going to shoot sports photos and can’t use a flash, as the sunlight dims, you need to open up your aperture (low f-stop number) and increase your ISO. Otherwise, you’ll have a lot of blurry photos to delete.

Griff lays down a bunt. (ISO 800)

Griff lays down a bunt. (ISO 800)

Is this football or baseball? Griff is out at first base. (ISO 800)

Is this football or baseball? Griff is out at first base. (ISO 800)

I took these photos of our local Little League’s 11-year-old all-star team from 7-8:15 p.m. When I hit ISO 1600 and felt I probably had enough quality photos, I put away my camera and enjoyed watching the action from the bleachers.

Cole and Harry watch the action from the dugout. (ISO 800)

Cole and Harry look out of the dugout. (ISO 800)

And as much as I really enjoy trying to capture memories with my Nikon D300 and my beloved Nikon 70-200mm lens, I still like rooting for our boys among their parents.

Andrew readies to throw a strike. (ISO 1000)

Andrew readies to throw a strike. (ISO 1000)

The best part of taking photos of our 11s all-stars? I got to record how much sweat, effort, and heart they put into beating a long-time rival twice out of three games to advance to the next level of play. Looking back on these pix always will remind me of this young team that thought it could win and did. Glad I raised my ISO so I could document that sharp effort!

A Devil of a Time Shooting Angels

 

Shadow dancer

Shadow dancer

The more you think you know, the less you really know. I proved that once again last Friday night.

For the third straight year I took photos of a dance show at the #1 son’s high school. The dancers are called the Angels, and these talented girls can fly through the air with the best of them. Because in the past I had done a decent job under difficult, demanding conditions—different, changing lights that are never strong enough for better-quality lower ISOs—I figured that this year’s show would be a slam dunk to shoot. Of course, I was wrong. Taking quality action photos in a dimly lit auditorium is never easy, no matter how well prepared you are. Especially when you forget one important thing: Last year’s camera settings!

Poor, pitiful, washed-out Nick

Poor, pitiful, washed-out Nick

See poor Nick above? He was one of the announcers who does skits in between dances, so the girls can change into their costumes. See his handsome face? Right, you can’t! That’s because on stage key lights are used in certain spots. If one of the students happens to be under that key light, their face is horribly overexposed. Parents don’t want to buy photos where only their kids’ knees are properly lit. Key lights are bad for business.

So, naturally, I’m clicking away with my Nikon D300 and Nikon 85mm f/1.4 lens, noticing how overexposed my photos look on my LCD review screen. And then it finally dawns on me: In the past I had set the exposure compensation to -.7 to try to balance the key lights; I had forgotten to do that, and it was ruining my pix. Headslap . . . I could’ve had a V8!

Sidebar: Exposure compensation (increasing or decreasing the amount of light allowed in by the camera) comes in very handy with backlit subjects. In this case, you focus on the person’s face, increase the exposure compensation (usually done with a dial on the camera), and shoot. Just be sure to always reset back to zero when you’re done.

High-flying Angels

High-flying Angels

Once I fixed the setting, my photos looked a lot better. It still was difficult to properly balance the lighting and keep the shutter speed high enough to stop the action (my ISO was set at 1600; I used Noise Ninja in Photoshop to help decrease the graininess). I opted for the 85mm f/1.4, because it gave me the reach (I was sitting pretty far back) and lens speed (it lets in more light at high ISOs) I needed. Anyone using a digital SLR to take indoor dance or sports photos should invest in an 85mm lens (the less-expensive f/1.8 usually does the trick); the 18-55mm kit lens that comes with dSLRs is too slow to stop the action (the aperture is f/3.5-5.6, which won’t allow for a fast-enough shutter speed).

Sophomore dance

Sophomore dance

Me and my shadow

While I was taking photos of the first solo (the first photo above), I became intrigued by the shadow the dancer was making on the curtain. Sometimes I would focus on the shadow; other times, I would key on the dancer herself. There were only two solos, but I was able to capture a few of these shadowy pix.

#8511-(flores)

#8616-(mackay)

Good for a laugh

The Angels’ parents always have their own show-stopping number. My friend Janet did her best to try to hide in the background, but I was glad when she stepped forward, and I was able to snap her photo and embarrass her in front of the entire internet. You can thank me later, Janet!

The moms strut their stuff!

The moms strut their stuff!

The dads also were good sports and seemed to enjoy hamming it up for the audience and their daughters.

Hard to properly expose for those white shirts!

Hard to properly expose for those white shirts!

At the end of the show’s finale, streamers are shot across the stage. Did I remember this was going to happen for the third straight year? Of course not! Fortunately, my camera still was at the ready to document the moment.

#9055-(streamers)

outlook-not-goodIf I take photos of the Angels show next year, will I actually remember the proper settings for my camera? Hmmm, let me turn to my handy-dandy Magic 8-Ball for an answer: Outlook not so good!

Waitin’ and Hopin’

clock

Right now as I type I’m waiting and hoping that the gal from the Freecycle community is going to call soon, as she said she would, and come take the little beast finally out of our lives. Please call! Please call!

Not that I’m anxious or anything.

Indoor Action Photography 101

952-cj-ft2734-cj-first-jumper

Over the years, I’ve taken hundreds upon hundreds of sports photos in gyms, both with film and digital SLR cameras (single-lens reflex; the kind where you can change lenses). Indoor action photography brings out the Jekyll and Hyde in me—the cycling vapor lights and/or mix of tungsten and fluorescent lights make getting the proper white balance tricky (photos can look yellow, magenta, and all shades in between), and yet it’s so satisfying when I’m able to get good action photos that the other parents can’t (point and shoot cameras are virtually useless for action photography due to their slow shutter speeds and lag time). On the one hand, your keeper rate (percentage of good shots) can be abysmally low, because even at 1600 ISO (ISO is the light sensitivity of the image sensor) it can be hard to use a fast-enough shutter speed to stop the action, but on the other hand it does tend to separate the men from the boys, the women from the girls, the contenders from the pretenders.

I’m often asked for photo advice when I’m sitting on those hard bleachers, Nikon D300 in hand. The question I’m asked most often is: How can I get indoor action shots that aren’t blurry? My first question back is: What kind of camera are you using? If you have a standard point and shoot, you’ll usually have to be satisfied with getting photos where the players and/or coach are standing still—inbounds pass before the throw in, the huddle, standing at the free throw line before the shot, player with the volleyball in hand before the serve. Point and shoot cameras are great for most kinds of photography, just not for action pix.

d300

Any action photography, indoors or outdoors, requires a digital SLR (dSLR). Even on program mode, a dSLR can take the best sports shots. I recommend trying different dSLRs at a camera store (especially one with knowledgeable employees); one might fit your hand better than another. The two most-popular dSLR companies are Nikon and Canon, and both make wonderful cameras. I chose Nikon, because my friend Deanna let me use her then-new Nikon D70 during the summer of 2004, and I fell in love with it. I shot thousands of photos with it for a year and a half before moving up to the D200 in January of 2006 and then the D300 in January of 2008.

What I especially like about the D300 is that it handles the higher-ISO noise (digital grain) better than my previous dSLRs; 1600 is like 800 was in the D200. You still need to use noise-reduction software (I use the Noise Ninja plug-in in Photoshop) to make your photos look even cleaner, but they still look pretty good at 1600 (the two basketball photos of the #2 son above were taken with the D300 at 1600 ISO and cleaned up with Noise Ninja). And that’s a big plus with indoor sports.

Sometimes the parent questioning me has a dSLR in hand and is still getting blurry photos. My advice, first, is to be sure they understand they need to increase ISO indoors. In our middle school gym, which is fairly new, I can use anywhere from 800-1600 ISO in order to keep my shutter speed at 1/400-1/500. You need to use a fast shutter speed to stop the action. I never use flash while shooting action indoors—some referees don’t allow it, you can’t use it for burst mode because the flash won’t recycle fast enough, and you can get those monster red eyes that are almost impossible to fix in Photoshop.

nikon_85mm_f18_af-d_lens

After we chat about ISO, I then look at their camera lens. Invariably, they’re using the kit lens (usually an 18-55mm zoom) that came with the camera. Those are good outdoor or indoor with a flash lenses, but they won’t do the job for indoor action photos. Why? Because they’re too slow! They don’t allow in enough light (aperture) for a fast-enough shutter speed to be used, even at 1600 ISO. I always recommend buying two prime (non-zoom) lenses: A 50mm (for a small gym) and an 85mm, both f/1.8 (very fast lenses). I almost always use my Nikon 85mm lens for indoor sports, and I usually get good results (mixed in, of course, with the ballheads and mystery defenders).

Oh, and practice, practice, practice! As the players improve during the season, so should the photographer!

Get ’er dones

I’m still working on the digital frame. I need to get either another SD card or another USB flash drive for it that I can load with photos. I did print out the extra photos for the border, but one needs to be reprinted after I fix the white balance. I’m also, of course, still working in the master bedroom that, hopefully, soon will be devoid of one large piece of furniture. While I go through the boxes, it always seems that there’s a selection of two movies to watch on the HD commercial-free channels: either one of the “Planet of the Apes” series or the original “Poseidon Adventure.” I’m going to know the dialogue to all of them by heart by the time I’m finished with the excavation!

As for other get ’ers, I need to stop at the post office to buy a postcard for #1 son to use to enter a contest; I’m hoping I can get that from the vending machine and won’t have to wait in line. I’ll help sell candy at the middle school (always a nerve-wracking, intense 15 minutes). There’s that darned photo archiving, which seems never-ending. And, finally, I can look forward to tofu and veggies at Pei-Wei tonight for dinner!