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Wednesday, 26 October 2011


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I was lucky enough to move to Austin just when the roller derby revival ignited. Many games and photos later, I've got friends involved in the two (one banked-track and one flat-track) leagues here. It's an amazing community and the ferocious fun the women have out there is genuine.

Good column!

I love that top shot. She looks like a woman who likes to hit.
You didn't say which Nikon DDB is shooting. It looks too small to be a D3...any idea what it was? He looks more natural in that photo vest than just about anyone I've ever seen.

By the way, anybody who doesn't follow that link out to DDB's page is missing something...

Also, Chris Noris' comment, he says he "sludged through my thousands of photographs..." What a great word: sludged. A combination of trudged, and slugged (maybe) with an underlying sludge, though I wouldn't think he'd refer to his photos are sludge...In any case, it's a word I plan to steal.


Dear Chris,

Oh that's nice. And Photo 14 is friggin' wonderful!

Hey, is there some rule that the refs have to be men? (They all were in my game, and it looks like they all are on your site.) Or is it just that any woman who can skate and knows the game is out there playing?

And, yeah, I will be photographing more of the games when there's one while I'm in the Minnesota area. Lorraine said there's one match a month, roughly, so odds are good I'll hit one game a year.

pax / Ctein

Great on so many levels: action, expressions, portraiture, and my favorite; subcultures!... They have the Boston Derby Dames up here and they have spawned a mini-photo movement. See their website... photos, individual portraits, posters... - I have to recommend a book too - "Five Strides on the Banked Track: The Life and Times of the Roller Derby" by none other than a young, new-journalism embracing, gonzo-precursing Frank DeFord. The old Derby up to 1970....

Come to Madison some time and you'll see 10-20 times that audience at every bout. Good times.

Chris Norris -- cool, thanks for posting the link to your collection. I'm pleased to see a couple of the ideas on my list to try in the future have worked for you; that's encouraging (I suppose I should have experimented a bit more on my first run, but I had a tech problem with my battery pack at the start that caused me to become a bit conservative; and I liked what I was getting).

Interesting to see differences in lighting (not just brightness and color balance) in the arenas. The Eau Claire indoor sports center is lit with what look like batches of fluorescent tubes up way high, so the light is less directional than what you have; easier, but less interesting.

I expect I'll be back a time or two at least; it was fun, the players seem to appreciate the photos, and I need to get out there at least a couple of times to do some photos of Lorraine's Bengals (both the CVRG home arena and Lorraine are vaguely 90 minutes from where I live; since it's largely the same 90 minutes, combining things makes sense).

This was definitely a case where the tech came through for me (despite the battery pack glitch; that cost me a couple of frames per second, which I didn't really need, and made verticals less convenient, which is a pity; next time!). I shot on continuous AF, hand-held, with VR, almost entirely (for the bout itself) with the 70-200/2.8 VRI, on my D700. I used mostly ISO 3200, but it ranged up into the non-certified pseudo-ISOs in some experiments.

I wasn't happy with some trials with a 1.4x TC; I need to examine the tries as a group and decide what was "really" wrong (I played with shutter speeds and ISO and things trying to get it right, but was never satisfied at the chimping level). I'd like to have 300mm or even 400 available (the 400 I've got is f/5.6, though). And I don't need shots of "the important play" for the newspaper; I need really good action shots, and if I only get one or two per game that's fine. I may need to not depend on AF, and trigger on position instead (pre-focused), with the longer lenses.

Of course, renting a 400/2.8 is not beyond the realm of consideration. Oops! Maybe I'm wrong about that; the 400/2.8 rents for $430 for 7 days from lensrentals.com for example (plus shipping).

Your trick with prefocusing on an area of action doesn't only apply to manual focus lenses, it can be very useful even with full-automatic autofocus wonders.

I've used it in the past to get action shots with sports where the location of the action is very unpredictable and can move around quickly, like ball sports. If you always follow the ball, it's hard to get the players at their most interesting, but if you follow a player, it's hard to keep track of where the ball is.

When I shot waterpolo occasionally, I'd sometimes setup my camera on a tripod, frame and focus on one of the goals (usually of the team that was defending the most), prefocus, and set the aperture to a value that gave me the right DOF to get the goal in focus. Then I just held a wired remote in my hand and followed the game.

Got me some great action shots of the goalies and close attackers.

I've always wanted to try this trick with two people: One holding the camera and following a player, the other following the game and triggering the camera when that player receives the ball (or does something else interesting).

No, Ctein, no. Don't you know that action can be shot only with uber-fast autofocus?

BTW, are you certain you don't remember the tracks from this film? :)

The Minneapolis science fiction/writing/folkie/whatever scene is the most insanely interconnected social nexus I have ever seen. It's pretty wonderful.

Hi Ctein,

Hope you are well. Regarding DDB, well at least I know. Lunch for both of you is on me next time. Or breakfast.



When my daughter became fascinated by roller derby, I took my camera to a few matches — what a humbling photographic experience. Really crappy, dim lighting, bad angles all over, fast fast action. Ouch. At least I didn't get slammed by flying jammer.

By the way, what do you wanna bet New York City's Queens of Pain would whip your Chippawa Valley Roller Girls ass?

Derby seems to be taking off well in the UK too - saw and shot my first bout this month and it's a most excellent experience, so much fun watching everyone, players & fans alike, get really stuck in!: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150410426251972.411004.508076971&type=1&l=bfea5331c9

I've seen female refs on rosters (I believe; names are not definitive) and a couple in photos, so they're only a small minority, not absent completely. I suspect Ctein is right that the real issue is that people who care enough to be refs and are female mostly end up playing, right now. As this generation ages out, probably a number will move on to being refs at that point.

Andrew Molitor, yes, yes it is :-). There's a strong software element, too, of course (that's where we overlapped, and I suspect where you know a bunch of the other SF people from). Fandom started as a social nexus from day 1 (when Hugo Gernsback published addresses with letters in Amazing Stories, and the fans started writing to each other directly).

John Camp, you probably saw in my previous message (looks like our previous messages were in the mod queue together), but it's a D700. Making the low-light not a problem, but I'd really like my 1.5x back.

Rich Spencer, looks like you had fun! There are some very nice shots there.

Joe, not betting on sports, especially this one. And CVRG lost this bout against Duluth already. But it was a good contest.

Thanks David, it was brilliant (even though my friends' team lost)! I'm very much looking forward to the next home bout mid-November!

Roller derby can be hard to capture: high speed, the lighting in the arenas is dim, and often different types of lights are used together. It's great fun though. Here's a dSLR time lapse I worked on of Cleveland's Burning River Roller Girls to give you a compressed time view of the sport:


Ctein - The refs tend to be men, but there are some women. Photo 12 shows one in the foreground (although in a place like Roller Derby, fishnets don't necessarily mean the wearer is a woman) and one falling out of the left part of the frame. I've also seen women that stopped competing due to injuries don the striped jersey.

David - The lighting differences were... substantial. The skating rink these were shot at (they play at a much larger, more uniformly lit arena now) had fluorescent lights, tungsten house lights, and sometimes colored lights. Since I shot over such a long period of time I did a lot of experimentation. On camera flash, remote flashes on stands, umbrellas... really just all over the place. I have a lot of shots that show some of the more interesting effects I got doing that, but they didn't thematically fit in with the series on strange.rs.

I don't think I ever shot with anything tighter than a 55mm on a crop body. At first, it was because I needed my faster lenses, but I eventually kept with it because of stylistic considerations. My shots looked different than most derby photography, which looked more like sports photography than what I was doing. Tightly cropped action shots just didn't appeal to me and there were already tons of derby photographers out there doing that better than I could.

Some of the crowd must have been thinking... Since when did ZZ Top take photographs?

I think that you'll find that photographers who regularly shoot roller derby have found it to be a complete addiction that most can't break free from. I, myself, got addicted in early 2006 and have blown through near half a million photos of it since.

Chris, I have to say your gallery was excellent work and I felt compelled to share it myself, hopefully my Derby friends will spot it too!

That last picture, the girl with the blue hair, she is kinda cute ;)

And yes, my first time trying to get pictures at a derby while keeping one eye on my active young daughter was definitely an experience - bad lighting, not a good angle to be had, fast action, terrible backgrounds. Yikes!

Those pics are good Ctein.

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