Photographing Ice Hockey

I got my first chance to shoot ice hockey a few days ago. A friend of mine has a son who plays and I finally pestered him enough that he told me that I could come and shoot at a regional tournament being held at the rink where his son plays. Before going, I knew 3 things:

  1. Rinks are dark. Yes, it’s light enough to see, but our eyes are much better than camera sensors, so relatively speaking rinks are dark.
  2. Hockey moves fast. It’s not Nascar, and I wasn’t shooting pros, but even at this level kids skate faster than they run, and good players will pass the puck quickly, often as soon as it touches their stick. Catching the action would be a challenge.
  3. I would be shooting through dirty glass. For the protection of spectators and to keep the action moving, hockey rinks are surrounded by large sheets of plexiglass.

All of that meant that I would be pushing the limits of both my skill and my equipment. Photographers in the audience will recognize that a fast sport in a dark rink means fast shutter speeds and high ISO to compensate. (Hang on, non-photographers. I’ll be with you in just a minute.) That means noisy pictures. I shoot with a Nikon D7100, which I love, but it has its limitations when it comes to noise in low light. Most of my shots were taken with a Nikon 70-200 f/2.8, so that helped, but the limitations are still a part of the challenge.

Here’s what I learned a few minutes after I arrived. 1, 2, and 3 of the points above were all true, to one degree or another. The rinks were not as dark as I expected them to be, and one was actually brighter than the other. I wound up shooting between ISO 1000-1250, which is not as high as I thought I might be. Higher than I would have preferred, but not that bad, all things considered.

Having played some hockey as a child, and still a fan of the sport, I was able to keep up with the action relatively well. I found that shooting with both eyes open helped. With my right eye to the viewfinder, my left eye helped me follow the flow of the game, allowing me to capture more of the action at and around the puck.

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Don’t get me wrong. There was still plenty that I missed. I have dozens of shots that were taken just a split second after the critical moment. But happily, I have some others that froze the action in time:

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The best shots, in my opinion, are the ones that tell a story. Even though hockey moves fast and a single image rarely is able to capture a particular play, or move, on the ice, a photo can communicate the emotion of the moment. Notice the eyes of the three players below. They tell you everything you need to know.

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As for the third point, the glass was dirtier than I expected. Sometimes the greatest challenge was just finding a spot clean enough to shoot through. In the NHL there are actually small holes cut into the glass in the corners of the rink, just large enough for a photographer to place his lens. Amateur rinks, of course, don’t offer us that kind of luxury, so you make do.

The glass not only creates visibility issues, it actually creates a loss of light of about a half to a full stop. Not enough that anyone in the crowd would notice, but enough to demand an adjustment for photographers. In one of the rinks, I was able to get above the glass and place the front of my lens right on the protective netting. As long the net was literally touching the lens, it created no focus issues and was essentially invisible in the shot. However, I found that being behind the glass offered a better perspective, putting the viewer right on the ice with the players.

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That shot, like most of them, was made with my 70-200. With my cropped-sensor camera, that lens effectively reaches 300mm, allowing me to nearly reach from one end of the rink to the other. Occasionally, I reached for the 24-70, to allow me to catch some of the action around the near goal.

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You can see the effects of the dirty glass here, creating reflections and smudges. Somehow, it adds to the grit of the game, I suppose.

I began the day at ISO 1600, but soon found that I could shoot between 1000 and 1250, which made a significant difference in the quality of the images. Shutter speed was between 1/400 and 1/500 for most shots. I was always at f2.8.

You can see a small gallery of my favorite images of the tournament here, at my site. I hope to have more opportunities soon to begin to develop my hockey portfolio. If you are looking for someone to shoot for your team, or even capture images of your child on the ice, contact me.

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Family Picture Time

I remember as a kid, dressing up for family pictures, going to a studio (or Sears) and being told to lower my chin, tilt my head and place my hand somewhere. Then, once I had assumed this unnatural posture, I was to remain perfectly still. And smile. And relax. And wait until my brothers and parents all cooperated in the same way. Getting 5 chins in just the right place can be a challenge.

Family pictures, I think, should represent the family. As they are. I know that most Moms don’t want to hear that. Most Moms want family pictures that represent the family as we would like for it to be: cooperative, orderly, happy.

Life is usually a little messier than that. I give you exhibit A. Here’s a great family. And in this moment, we were all on the same page.

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Then, somebody said, or did, something silly. And it all began to break down. Continue reading “Family Picture Time”

Expectations in Photography

A good friend, with a rather negative outlook on life, once said to me, “The problem that you optimists have is that you are often disappointed. You’re always expecting the best, and when it doesn’t pan out, you are let down. I, on the other hand, never expect the best, so I am often pleasantly surprised!”

There is, I suppose, some truth is what he said; though he still didn’t convince me to move over to the dark side. I continue to expect the best and, truth be told, things usually do work out pretty well. There are exceptions, of course. Continue reading “Expectations in Photography”

The Battle of Huck’s Defeat – 2018

I’ve begun volunteering with our local museums. The Cultural & Heritage Museums of York County, South Carolina is a family of four separate museums, including Historic Brattonsville, a 775-acre Revolutionary War site. One of the highlights of the year at Brattonsville is the reenactment of the Battle of Huck’s Defeat. I’ll leave the facts and significance of the battle to the experts and focus our attention here on the reenactment and the photographic opportunities it presents.

Kevin Lynch, the site manager at Brattonsville, describes the home site as a “target rich environment” for photographers. Candid portraits of historic interpreters, landscape photographs, architecture, wildlife, macro and still life images are everywhere, even when there isn’t a special event.

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Continue reading “The Battle of Huck’s Defeat – 2018”

Hemlock Falls – It’s a matter of perspective

When I first began to try to take pictures of landscapes, I would inevitably try to capture an image of wide, sweeping vistas. You know, those epic mountain ranges, or cloudscapes or tree lines.  Somehow, what I saw with my eye never quite appeared on the back of my camera after I took the shot. Since then I have learned a bit more about cameras and specific lenses and how they “see”. In a nutshell, I can tell you that they don’t see like our eyes do.  More importantly, I have learned that I rarely want a picture of that wide scene anyway. I try (and often fail) to ask myself “What, exactly, am I taking a picture of, anyway?”

I mentioned in a previous post that a group of photographers can stand in front of the same scene and come away with completely different images. Each will represent that photographer’s point of view, or tell the story that he wants to communicate. I was reminded of this when I read reports on the photographs that came out the recent G7 meetings in Canada. Same event. Different photographic perspectives.

Last week I had a chance to wander down into Cloudland Canyon in north Georgia.  There are two waterfalls in the canyon, and I was hoping to be able to capture at least one of them. As it turned out, I was able to spend a fair amount of time at Hemlock Falls. The other, Cherokee Falls, was just too popular on the day that I was there. Swimmers, hikers and families enjoying an early summer day made pictures there an impossibility. Hemlock Falls is farther down the canyon – which means a longer climb coming back out – so I had more options down there. Continue reading “Hemlock Falls – It’s a matter of perspective”

Milky Way – Take 2. Hunting Island State Park

One of my goals this year has been to learn astrophotography. Well, at least to begin to learn. I suspect I will spend the rest of my life on the process. I had my first opportunity to photograph the Milky Way last month, and I was relatively pleased with the process. By that I mean you could actually see the Milky Way and it was reasonably in focus! Those are low expectations, I know, but they were realistic.

I wanted to get back out as quickly as I could to try to build on that first experience. My wife and I headed to Hunting Beach State Park in South Carolina for some dark skies on a moonless night last week. The forecast called for clear skies on Friday with clouds moving in Saturday morning. I hoped they would hold off until just before dawn so that I could capture the Milky Way followed up by a nice sunrise. Continue reading “Milky Way – Take 2. Hunting Island State Park”

Why Go to a Photography Workshop?

Let’s face it. There are a hundred ways to learn new things. Well, maybe there are really only three or four, but one of those ways is “online”, and there are hundreds of places online to learn just about anything. Want to learn math, or cooking, or French or how to change your oil? No problem. A quick Google search and a few YouTube videos later you are on your way.

Of course you can still learn by taking a class, or reading a book, or watching someone else in real life. You can even pick up the old “trial and error” method if you would like. You’ll learn something.

But, for me at least, there is very little that replaces the accelerated learning process that happens at a workshop. My biggest strides in photography – or at least what I have learned about photography – have always happened in a group educational session. Especially when that session involves “hands-on” opportunities. I’ve taken a few classes that are set up that way, attended an outstanding lighting class with Tony Corbell at the South Carolina Lamarr School, and have even done a couple of group activities around Charlotte. Continue reading “Why Go to a Photography Workshop?”