First things first, Memorial Stadium staff have no idea what’s going on. Regarding how to get down to the field, I was told 5 different things by 5 different people, and I circled around for 15-30 minutes trying to figure stuff out. The 5th time, I decided to not follow the advice… guess which time the advice was right finally?
On the Football Side
No other way to say it except that Cal laid an egg today.
-Cal is heavily dependent on its rushing attack. Without a run game (3 net yards rushing… really?) our offense simply collapsed. In comparison, we racked up over 300 yards rushing in last week’s win against Washington State. In a game against ranked #12 Ohio State (in which we were one play away from winning the game) we racked up over 200 yards of rushing. No QB can carry an offense by himself, but this is especially true for someone who is prone to erroneous throws like Maynard.
-Stanford clearly won the game based on possession time alone. (37 minutes to our 23.) They had a relentless and consistent rushing attack, especially later on in the game when they were essentially running out the clock.
-I didn’t think our O-Line played that badly today, but that was an intuitive feel from watching the game and not from seeing the stats sheet. 4 sacks in 23 minutes, and 3 yards of rushing = I am clearly wrong. We were just outmanned and out-physicalled today in almost every aspect.
On the Photography Side
I laid an egg almost as big as Cal’s. But, 3rd and 4th quarter successes precluded total disaster. I realized there’s two methodologies to photographing *the action* in football games.
Methodology (1) Focus on the receivers. This works really well when you can anticipate a pass play (e.g. on 3rd and long, when the defense has a crappy secondary, hurry-up offense at the end of a half) or when you have a generally pass-happy offense.
-Advantages: The ceiling for shots is much higher. Catch-and-run shots are generally more spectacular than tackling shots.
-Disadvantages: You have to pay attention to the relative positions of the ball and the players, which means it’s difficult to simultaneously take shots of the snap, formation, or any of the QB play. You have to somewhat anticipate which receiver the QB will pass it to — if there’s a star wideout on the team this is usually a little easier as he will be the target of most the passes (in Cal’s case, Bigelow and Allen are popular targets for Maynard). The game is very fast paced, and the ball will be moving fast… you have to switch from watching the ball to photographing the action VERY fast. It requires quite a lot of skill, and takes time to master. Finally, by focusing on receivers, you miss out on a lot of other possible shots, and should you misjudge the play or receiver (which happens a lot), you end up empty on that play. Rack of a string of bad judgments, and before you know it half a quarter has passed without any presentable shots.
-I focused on this type of shot for the first half. Unfortunately, I simply did not get anything. Cal only had a couple of good pass plays, which I messed up on.
-Because you have to switch from watching to ball to photographing the receiver, you HAVE to have a lens which autofocuses REALLY FAST. This was my downfall… my new 70-300 is wonderful, but it has a somewhat slow autofocus. I started out using a teleconverter as well… that slowed my autofocus even more. I removed it after the 1st quarter.
-Lens zoom does not matter as much. Receivers often run routes pretty close to the sidelines, which are a manageable distance for a normal telephoto (~150-200mm). If the offense is in hurry-up mode, even better as receivers will run routes that allow them to run out of bounds faster. However, if the offensive scheme favors slant routes or screen passes in the middle of the field, or big play “go” routes tens of yards downfield it might be more difficult to get a good shot.
Methodology (2) Focus on the running game/tackling. This works better when you can anticipate a running play (e.g. short yardage situations, crappy d-line, running out clock situations) or when the offensive team is a “ground-and-pound” type team.
-Advantages: You can get some pretty good shots without really knowing what you’re doing. Just zoom in on the running back and watch the running and tackling commence. Put the camera on continuous shooting mode and at least one of the shots should be presentable.
-Disadvantages: Pictures can be messy/full of distracting compositional elements with players everywhere. Usually less spectacular. Also, it can be hard keeping track of where the ball is in the mix of all the offensive and defensive linemen. Continuous shooting mode means lots and lots of memory/battery is used.
-I focused on combining this methodology (which is usually everyone’s first instinct, and is easier) with Methodology (1) in the 2nd half. Worked much better, not necessarily because of my photographing skills per say, but because I started being more accurate about anticipating plays. Up 21-3, Stanford was trying to run out of the clock, so I used Methodology 2 whenever their offense was on the field. Meanwhile Cal had to use a hurry-up/pass-heavy offense since they needed to come back fast; I used Methodology 1 more when Cal was on the field.
-Zoom is much more important here to get more isolated shots of the runner.
Regardless of the methodology you use though… the most important thing is: have a FAST lens (one that can go to apertures larger than f/4), or at least have a lens with above-average bokeh. f/5.6 isn’t going to cut if for the bokeh in a crowd-filled, staff-filled, a lot of crap-filled stadium. I can only imagine my results if I had an f/2.8 instead. My best photos are marginally good. If they were taken with a more blurred background, it would bump them to more than just marginal.