Friday, May 3, 2013

I'm Shooting In The Rain (And Definitely NOT Singing)...

Image courtesy of Filmoria
Gene Kelly has nothing on me. In the 1952 film "Singin' In The Rain", he may have had a huge smile on his face as he did his song and dance in the rain but dealing with rain is a common occupational hazard for sports photographers. The only difference is that we don't flit around singing as we try  to get the job done. But as long as you  remember to pack the trusty rain gear for yourself and your equipment, rain is nothing more than a nuisance. You resign yourself to the fact that it is what it is and you go about taking care of business.

Jean-Ives Aubone
Such was the case last night as I set out to shoot some of the quarterfinal action at Forestmeadows Racket Club in the 2013 USTA Pro Circuit Challenger event in Tallahassee, Florida. Play continued under a constant drizzle that would intermittently increase and decrease in severity during the evening's featured matches which caused a 45 minute rain delay in the first match, a doubles contest. At the conclusion of the first set in the ensuing singles match, the skies opened up again but instead of a rain delay, one of the players defaulted due to a nagging shoulder injury which brought the evening to a merciful end.

Vahid Mirzadeh
I was looking forward to the doubles match since it featured two former Florida State players who are honing their games in the Challenger Circuit with the hopes of making it on the ATP tour someday. 2009 ACC Player of the Year and NCAA All American Jean-Ives Aubone teamed up with former FSU teammate Vahid Mirzadeh which seemed like old times as I spent many hours photographing them for FSU Sports Information during their careers at FSU. Unfortunately, this was not my boys' night as they went down to the big hitting team of Aussie Greg Jones and Canadian Peter Polansky 6-4, 6-3.

Greg Jones
Peter Polansky
Aside from the obvious nuisance of standing in rain and trying to keep thousands of dollars in camera gear dry, rain makes for crappy images. When you're shooting at a shutter speed calculated to freeze a tennis ball traveling at 100 mph+, not to mention a racket head that is whipped over the top of the ball, rain drops are also frozen in place and images look like they were shot with a lens and/or a sensor that hasn't been cleaned of dust and schmutz (my term) for years. Unless you know that it's raindrops that have been frozen in place and not gobs of dust and dirt that yields those telltale light gray/white specks, anyone seeing images shot in a drizzle look terrible.

Because of the limited available light due to overcast skies and the drizzle which was coming down at 6:00 pm, I started out with an ISO of 800, f2.8, and a shutter speed of 1/1000. As the match and the evening progressed, I pushed the ISO to 1600 as I shot the match with two D3S's, one with a 400mm f2.8 lens and the other with an 80-200mm f2.8 lens.

Alex Kuznetsov - ISO 6400
By the time the singles match began, I was at ISO 3200 and even pushed it to 6400 before the match was over in order to keep the shutter speed at 1/1000 second. I tried staying at ISO 3200 but at 1/1000 the images were noticeably underexposed. I knew that if I dropped the shutter speed  the racket heads would be seriously blurred so I upped the ISO. One thing I've learned the hard way - if you shoot at high ISO's and underexpose images, the noise level is much worse than if you push the ISO envelope and start out with a good exposure.  With high ISO, underexposed images, as you try to correct the exposure in post processing, the noise levels in the shadows is exacerbated. Even though you may shudder at the thought of going to a ridiculous ISO like 6400, trust me - the noise level in images is much less noticeable if the image is properly exposed. The images above and below were shot at ISO 6400 and after running them through PhotoNinja for noise reduction in post processing, they may not be as sporty as images shot at ISO 200 but they are more than acceptable given the challenges of marginal photo lighting and rain.

Tim Smyczek, ISO 6400
As I mentioned earlier, the singles match between Alex Kuznetsov and 5th seed Tim Smyczek ended after Kuznetsov defaulted following the conclusion of the first set (won by Smyczek 6-4). Smyczek is the defending champ at this event having won the title last year (ironically after his opponent defaulted due to injury at the end of the first set). Kuznetsov has been laboring with a gimpy shoulder during this year's tournament but played through the injury in the earlier rounds of singles and doubles. His goal was to clinch a Wild Card singles berth for the upcoming French Open and in order to do so he needed to reach the quarterfinals in Tallahassee.

With his quarterfinal appearance last night, Kuznetsov secured the Wild Card entry into the French's main draw. Having punched his ticket to Paris, I understood Kuznetsov's decicion to call it a night after dropping the first set.  The French begins on May 26, less than 4 weeks from now and Kuznetsov was wise in avoiding any possible long term damage to a shoulder that would keep him from playing for the first time at Roland Garros.

Stitched panorama of Stadium Court
The rain delay during the doubles match did result in one positive - it gave me time to switch lenses on one of my camera bodies, change shooting locations and try an experiment - a multiple image panorama of the stadium court. Just before the match resumed, I grabbed my 17-35mm f2.8 lens and attached it to a camera body. I moved to the spectator tent area,  positioned myself directly behind the umpire's chair, and fired off 9 vertical images which I intentionally overlapped as I swung the camera from one side to the other. Using Photoshop, i stitched the images together for what turned out to be a pretty cool 180 degree panorama of the court as the players warmed up to resume the doubles match.

As I sit here this morning and put the finishing touches on this post it's raining outside. The weather forecast is not promising for today and semifinal action is slated to begin at 2:00 pm and then 6:00 pm. I fear that I'm in for more of the same tonight but one can hope. If it's more of the same, I guess I'll just have to be content with more  schmutzy images.

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