Adventures in Sports Photography: Wrestling, Part 2

December 9, 2013 at 5:47 pm 3 comments


Somehow, I managed to let almost three years go by between the first time I photographed a Penn State wrestling dual and the second one. In January 2011, I shot the Penn State-Iowa dual in Rec Hall, and yesterday I spent the afternoon at the Bryce Jordan Center photographing the historic meet against Pitt.

Part of what was cool about yesterday’s meet was that the mat was on an elevated platform. Usually the wrestling takes place at floor level, and photographers have to either sit or kneel mat-side for the whole meet. (The really dedicated ones lie on their stomach to shoot.) I had brought one of those Crazy Creek folding portable camp chairs for back support, but when I walked in and saw the chest-high platform, I knew we were in for a different experience. The photographers spent the afternoon bellied up to the edge of the platform; some shot with their elbows on the platform, while others put their camera bag in the platform and rested their camera on the camera bag for support. You also could use a monopod if you put it on the floor below the platform and extended it to its full height. But the point is that it made for some great low-angle shots.

DSC_3261_med_Zain_RetherfordAs is always the case with sports photography, I shot an enormous number of photos yesterday in hopes of ending up with a handful that worked. There’s a lot of action—just constant motion—and when something significant starts to happen, the trick is to hold the shutter down and let the camera keep clicking. You’ll get a whole lot of shots, and, sure, most of them will be unusable: Wrestler A’s arm is blocking Wrestler B’s face; Wrestler A had an unflattering expression at that precise moment; they’re both out of focus; the referee walked across the shot. But maybe there will be one in the series that’s a keeper, and that’s all you need.

(This reminds me of a photography/birding trip I did off Hilton Head island a year or so ago. I was down there to speak to our Lowcountry Chapter, and afterward, an alumni couple and I went out on a boat with a guy who is both a birder and photographer. I learned a lot from him, but the thing I remember most was his exhorting me to not stop shooting just because the bird that had been posing so nicely has now decided to take off and fly away. Maybe the bird will do something visually interesting in flight, he said. Or maybe it will land just a few feet away from where it took off. So don’t give up—keep shooting. I can still hear his voice: “Shoot shoot shoot shoot shoot shoot shoot shoot keep shooting keep shooting keep shooting!” It’s good advice in a lot of photography situations.)

Anyway, after weeding through 915 images from yesterday’s wrestling meet, and tossing out dozens and dozens that were just downright bad, I found maybe 25 or so images that are worth sharing with you. They’re in the slide show below. 

Here are some technical specs for those who are interested. The rest of you should feel free to skip straight to the slide show.

1. I shot mostly with a Nikon D7000 and a Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 lens. I also brought along an ultra-wide angle (a Sigma 10-20mm) because I had read somewhere that it’s useful when the action comes over to your side of the mat, but I didn’t find it useful at all.

2. I fiddled with the ISO all afternoon, shooting variously at ISO 2500, 3200, 4000, 5000, and even 6400. I’m not comfortable pushing the D7000 to much more than 3200, but I remember a photographer recently saying that you’d rather have a photo that’s noisy than one that’s out of focus. I’m curious what you other D7000 photographers feel is the upper limit of ISO for that camera.

3. The majority of the keepers were shot at ISO 5000, as it turns out. They’re fine for the blog or perhaps the magazine, but you wouldn’t exactly want to blow them up poster-size. Just too noisy.

4. I’ve been thinking about moving up to the D600, but am not sure whether it would give better high-ISO performance than the D7000. If you have any experience or insight about that, please let me know in the comments.

5. I shot at aperture priority and set it to f2.8 or f3.2 for virtually every photo; I wanted the shallow depth of field so that it would knock the background out of focus, and yet even at f2.8 I was usually able to get both wrestlers in focus.

6. I wanted a shutter speed no slower than 1/250 of a second. Looking at the keepers, I see that the shutter speed varied from 1/125 all the way up to 1/2500, with the majority in the 1/500-to-1/800 range. In retrospect, maybe I could have gotten away with a lower ISO and still had reasonably fast shutter speeds.

7. I set the white balance to “Auto” and seemed to do fine. Unlike photographs taken in Rec Hall, the ones from the BJC didn’t seem to have wonky color casts. I didn’t need to do much tweaking at all to the colors in Photoshop.

8. I tried to remember to go for a mix of horizontal shots and verticals, and ones where I zoomed in tightly and others when I zoomed out more. Even so, I always manage to see a photo another photographer took that didn’t occur to me; the Centre Daily Times‘ Abby Drey, for example, got a cool shot of James Vollrath and his opponent against the backdrop of the crowd (go to the CDT‘s gallery of images here and look at Photo No. 6).

9. I brought my Speedlight flash, but didn’t use it. I know that some of the best wrestling photographers in the country use a flash, and I know that it typically doesn’t bother the wrestlers, but mostly I can’t picture how it would recycle fast enough to keep up with the 5-frames-per-second shutter (or whatever the burst rate is on the D7000). I have lots to learn there.

10. I skipped shooting one bout mat-side to take the elevator up to the concourse and, from there, up to the highest seats in the nosebleed section so I could get a shot of the crowd. It turns out that’s not a bad place to shoot the action, either, as you’ll see in the two images below from Wes Phipps’ bout. Next time I’ll take an even longer lens, like a 70-300mm, with me.

OK, enough. Here are the photos.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Tina Hay, editor

Entry filed under: Athletics. Tags: , .

He’s Watching the Students Like a … The Penn Stater Daily — Dec. 10, 2013

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Bottle Blog  |  December 10, 2013 at 3:33 am

    A Sports Bag Both

    […] n 1/250 of a second. Looking at the keepers, I see that the shutter speed varied […]

  • 2. Anonymous  |  December 10, 2013 at 9:54 am

    Jimmy Lawson won!

  • 3. Tina Hay  |  December 10, 2013 at 9:58 am

    You are correct! My apologies. I’ve fixed that photo caption.

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