[This story needs a good edit and conclusion, but we thought we would provide this rambling on the go. This is not too technical, just a point of view.]
And now for something completely different.
Sharing some of the thought processess of bout day here. Niagara Roller Girls is a league that is in the growth stage based out of Saint Catharines, Ontario. Travelling through the area was part of the route going down to Queen City Roller Girls across the border a short skip away in Buffalo, New York. Members of QCRG would go up to Niagara to help them out, and there would be fans from Niagara showing up at Rainbow Rink where the Queen City Roller Girls would bout on a Saturday night.
This past Saturday would be the first time to see Niagara in their home venue. At the behest of their own Coach Wrecker actually rooted in Hammer City Roller Girls, the afternoon GO bus trip was made from Toronto to Hamilton. Packing was to be kept relatively light, the key being the huge amount of tournament shooting ahead at the Beast of the East 2015, the tournament in Montréal, Quebec coming forth on April 24th and continuing through the Sunday. With that in mind, the Einstein flashes were kept behind in Toronto and in their stead were four Nikon of the 900 and 910 variety. So instead of bringing long extension cords and battery packs, a sac carrying about 40 freshly recharged Eneloop AA took their place. The light stands were short six foot stands instead of Manfrotto ten footers. However, camera, motordrive and lenses in the Lowe Pro was still bulky. The 10.5 f/2.8 is always a handy lens to shoot the venue, and by shooting the venue we mean taking a photo of the venue itself. The 70-200 f/2.8 would always be the key action lens. All was packed in a long forty dollar duffel bag on wheels [very key thing, wheels] bought at one of the luggage stores inside Eglinton station.
Arriving in Hamilton on the bus after about an hour, then grabbing a coffee and Nutella donut just up the alleyway across the street from the GO terminal on Main Street. As coach K tried to fit the duffel into the trunk, she could only remark: “do you have a body in this bag?” Figuratively no, literally camera body, yes. Getting to Niagara was about an hour on the highway with the driver trying to keep speed and get around the creepy crawlers. The venue itself was Haig Arena at 17 Beech Street in a nice part of Saint Catharines. The doorpeople stamped us through after brief introductions. If the fans were going to be sitting at the base of corners one and two then we hightailed it up by the scoreboard area that dominated corners three and four. The huge scoreboard was already up and running, set up by surprise! a Toronto based zebra Lazer Fry.
The place was a hockey style arena with glass around the boards and bench seating for spectators. Mostly though, spectators would bring their own seating around the suicide line or behind. The usual gameday ritual of volunteers taping down the boundaries of the track was ongoing.
It is always a nice thing to get to know referees and volunteers and NSO, and some of them were already familiar if not friends. My own key spot is usually near the apex of the corners with placement of lights surrounding me directed a spot on the track. Testing would be to see the spread and intensity of light that the Nikon flashes would output in comparison to the Einstein. PocketWizard TT5 were the transceivers of choice. They can be flaky and not always fire on command, especially if the sound system with microphones and music was nearby, competing for viable frequencies.
The warm-up time for the player is the warm-up for the photographer as well, to hone focusing and see what the contrast or brightness of the overhead lighting does to aid or hinder autofocus [live and die by autofocus, the better the lens the more light that comes in to help the focus or to actually see the players].
Compact flash in camera, batteries loaded into the flashes and motordrive, PocketWizard turned on, set to channels A, B and C. As you test to see the flashes firing, and gauging exposure by eyeing the back of the camera. It is true that what is seen on the viewfinder of the camera is not what would appear on the monitor at home where the editing would take place. However, this is where history kicks in and you remember what should look right. Histograms of the RGB channels or red highlights showing areas being blown out, overexposed can be good to have, but do not tell much in the heat of action.
Shooting from corner three and four means shooting jammers from behind at the jammer line and this is where the experience of shooting at Queen City Roller Girls from under their scoreboard table comes into play. Going for the same look and feel, and finding the correct placement of light and its intensity. Experience leads to knowing, and helps instincts kick in, to get into the flow and be ready. There is no substitute for experience, for what or how to shoot. I have received words from amongst the best, and I can only but slowly climb up to their sphere. Just keep on trying and if you are like derby players, perfect practice makes for better players, perfect practices make for improving yourself as a photographer and self.
With this being the first time at Niagara or seeing a league for the first or few times, try to capture the ambience and the spirit of the day. Experience the experience. Grey Bruce Highland Dames was the more experienced team for the night going up against Niagara. The month before at Wellington Roller Derby’s Winter Wipeout tournament, Grey Bruce had done well for themselves in their first competition for 2015.
However on this particular weekend,
tragedy had struck the world and the demise of the young derby star whose life was taken too soon was commemorated around derby leagues and fans and participants in the sport. #doitfor57
The moment was heeded by the players of the day, many sporting #57 somewhere or wearing something teal.
Niagara in black were trying their best, but everyone in blue were fending off scoring opportunities and opening up offense for their own jammers. [Obvious, duh!]
What was happening behind the camera was its own story. Maybe we had taken a few too many photos of the teams warm-ups because already the 900 was already showing the temperature gauge on the back screen, so the flash was switched out with the spare, and already the other flashes were showing low battery. Much sooner than was expected or wanted the what was deemed copious amount of charged batteries was being relegated to the oh my god I am running out of batteries and I left the recharger in Toronto. Lesson: you can never have enough batteries.
To conserve what was left of the batteries, an executive decision was made to switch to Manual at 1/8 power setting +/- 0.3 or 0.7 at halftime after Niagara left the track down by a considerable margin.
Niagara pushed back in the second half, presenting a more solid defence and did their best to win the next thirty minutes. Keeping up with the flow of the action was exciting and raised the level of decisive moments. In derby as in life, timing is everything and some key moments were being captured on the fly.
The early pictures of the second half were proving much darker. Although not underexposed, there was no kick to the highlights in the pictures, so the settings were raised a notch to 1/4. For the rest of the bout, we held our breath as one by one the flashes would kick out and die or go through the wait period to cool down. Relying on experience from previous nights nudged a feeling that maybe one flash, maybe two could be enough to capturing the action if done right. Adjusting flash power, the flash placements on the fly, trying to achieve what looked best in relation to what you achieved before.
The 10.5 would normally be ideal for the end of bout player and crowd interaction or the London Bridge, but when it generates into team photo time, what is close in reality is a world away in a fisheye, but it is dead sharp. However, by MVP and end of night the 50 f/1.4 was in play, and it is such a bright lens with absolute sharpness and yet a nice bokeh [that is blurry background in the parlance]. For every setup, there is a teardown process, and teardown always takes longer than the setup, trying to put everything away in a safe and proper spot. Something is always where you remember putting it last and where it fits. Not! It is always the little things, the lenses, the cards, the Pocketwizards, the batteries, wrapping power cords [except in this case no power cords or external power packs, just the batteries].
Back to Hamlton and listening to coaches talk. Derby players talk derby in a different world. Then bus back to Toronto while listening to Frank Sinatra and U2 on the iPod and checking messages if any on the pay as you go phone. Trying to get home on the TTC from Union to Eglinton then hello Don Mills. Unpack, and then start loading the contents of the cards in the camera into the drives of the computer. Wishing and hoping, and hoping and wishing that there might photos for the world to see. A new Georgy Girl.
A thousand or so more photos later to go through and trying to tell your story of the night. Eventually, your photos are the tale in the telling for derby players to remember in their days of future past.
Niagara Roller Girls deserve a great big thank you for being gracious hosts and showing lots of moxy. And I still feel like I got hit by a Truck.
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