Saturday, April 23, 2011

Athletics vs. Red Sox


I went to see the Boston Red Sox play the Oakland A's at the Oakland Coliseum on April 20. The weather was cloudy with a chance of rain. And you're not supposed to take back-packs to the game either.

So most of my gear stayed home, and I just took my 40D with the 70-210mm f/4 lens - in a shopping bag.

I had really good seats - just behind and to the right of home plate.

There were a few problems for taking photographs. People with hats, and the net between me and the players. But part of being a photographer is anticipating and seeing the issues and then preparing for them.

The heads and hats of the fans just meant that I had to be aware of them and move around to avoid them as needed, and often use the telephoto end of the lens to get them out of the frame. I chose to deal with the netting by keeping a wide aperture (f/4) - shortening the depth of field (DoF) - and keeping the net blurred. A few times the camera wanted to focus on the net, but it wasn't that big an issue.

If I was using a bigger DoF, I would've used manual focus, and then left it alone. Using a small DoF, that would've been a bad idea. With a small DoF, even the natural movement of your head from shot to shot can result in out of focus shots. For each photograph, I focused and then shot.

The next step was choosing good exposure settings. Because of the thick cloud cover, the contrast was pretty low. The histogram from a couple of test shots showed that there were no blown highlights or shadow areas to worry about. Adjusted the exposure till the peak was in a "good" place.

I've been using photoshop (Photoshop Elements 9) more and more, and so the main concern for me while taking the shot is the highlights and shadows. As long as the camera captured the details in all the important areas, I know that later on, I can "clean" it up if needed. In this particular case, it wasn't necessary.

That's about it for the actual shots. As I looked at the photos at home, they looked flat due to the low contrast and even lighting from the cloud cover. To make them more interesting (for example, the photograph on top), I chose to process as follows:

  1. In Camera Raw (PSE9's processor for RAW files), I corrected the white balance, got the "perfect" exposure, saturation, etc.
  2. Cropped it a bit
  3. Using layer masks, de-saturated everything except the players.  I created a "Hue/Saturation" layer, and desaturated to -60.
  4. High-pass filter #1 - low radius and blending mode of "vivid light"
  5. High-pass filter #2 - bigger radius and blending mode of "overlay".  Both these filter layers were also masked to only sharpen the players, and leave the background the natural blur.
  6. The last step is a new technique I tried.  I selected the layer mask of high-pass filter layer.  That gave me all the players selected.  I then created a new layer, and filled the selected shapes with 50% gray, and then blended that layer with the "color burn" mode.  This gave more vivid colors where I wanted.

Here's the photograph as it came out of the camera...

You can see the net (even in the processed photo), and the blurry area to the right of the photo which is probably someone's head.

To wrap up, here's a home run in the 7th inning by Red Sox J.D. Drew.  I was able to capture him hitting the ball, and then the failed attempt by the fielder to catch it.  I wish I had been able to capture the ball in the second image, but such is life.  For this, I decided to put both of them together.

J.D. Drew homerun in the 7th inning (4/20/11) - A's vs. Red Sox

Edit: Other photographs from game in a slideshow.

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