Thursday, January 27, 2005

More gymnastics; evolving results

I think my sports photography plateaued at the Nebraska-UCLA meet last Monday. I was once again relegated to shooting from the stands.

However I learned that my UCLA Bruin Card (issued to me almost four years ago when I took a single undergrad summer course) gets me into the closer reserved section for free. But I got in there too late and still couldn't sit close enough. It's hard enough to catch facial expressions (or faces at all for that matter) with gymnastics and rather unsatisfying to do so at distance. I was mostly indifferent or displeased with my results. Frankly the photos kind of bore me.

On the upside I ran into two friends from the gymnastics park at the meet. Robert, a big UCLA-phile, and Laurie, who competed for Nebraska in college. She had the day off from teaching since it was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and was treated to a woeful performance by her Nebraska Huskers. They lost by almost five points - an enormous margin by gymnastics standards (a competitive meet will be decided by less than five-tenths of a point).

On Sunday I somewhat grudgingly went to the quadrangular meet at UCLA. Three teams were visiting from out of town. But none of my attempts to land a press pass succeeded (of the three school papers I contacted - Cal State Fullerton, Sacramento State, and UC Berkeley - I received a whopping zero responses). I did talk to the Bruin fan club/fundraiser organizer and gave him my card and photo gallery URL. Told him I'd love to shoot at-cost for the team/families/supporters in exchange for a press pass. Casting more lines out but so far no one's biting.

But at least I got to this meet early enough to land some great seats in the reserved section. Saw Robert again and he kept me company, providing conversation that was at times interesting and at times incessant. But the improved seats made a huge difference.

I was close enough to the floor and balance beam that I could actually get good tight shots when the gymnasts were at the near side. I also tweaked my camera setup from the last meet to try to experiment with better settings.

I felt much better about my results but as I've been going through them I've started to apply a stricter standard to which photos I consider "keepers" and which get immediately discarded.

I've reached a level where it's no longer enough to have caught a cool trick with good focus. That was a fine enough standard in the beginning. But now I have endless amounts of technically-sound shots taken with good timing. My next standard was that I had to be able to see the athlete's face in the shots (generally). But even that is too vague a standard now.

Now a shot must pass all previous standards (technical execution, timing, face) but must also have some actual impact. It can be a moment of incredible perfection (ala every move Kate Richardson executes) or - preferably - a moment with some emotional impact. A sparkling smile for the crowd; the worried, pressured, furrowed brow; the intense mental focus mid-trick; the elation and celebration with teammates. Or, in rare cases, true artistic merit.

This of course leads me away from the action shots and more towards the particular poses and team/personal shots. Besides pure action shots can be terribly boring and routine (no pun intended). I think it's a steady evolution and I think this latest gallery is an improvement but not a quantum leap forward.

One final note - the Sacramento State girls had some interesting choreography on floor ex. The shot of the girl in green further up and this one to the right show their oddly martial arts-like floor ex poses. It seems immensely silly out of context, but I find these shots all the more entertaining for their character.

If and when I do land another shooting gig, I'll have to adapt my style again (shooting on assignment carries different responsibilities for what you must cover). But at least I can now distinguish for myself the difference between assignment and enthusiast shooting.


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