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Best Seat in the House

Photography, sports and life as seen through the lens of Seattle Times photographer Rod Mar.

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November 24, 2008 11:54 PM

Girls Soccer: Capturing the Thrill and the Agony.

Posted by Rod Mar

One thing you know when you are shooting the championship game of any sport, at any level, is that you will have to opportunity to make great reaction photos.

Note that I did not say "you will make great reaction photos" -- it's an opportunity, not a guarantee -- and I mess up those chances often.

Let me explain.

It's really easy to make an average photo at a title game. It's like shooting a protest or a rally. There is a prescribed set of events, and just pointing an autofocus camera at them should yield decent results.

I don't know how many local photographers have images in their "best of" collections from the W.T.O protests, or more recently, the post-election celebrations after Barack Obama was elected. But I do know it's a large number. I really don't mean to rain on anyone's parade, but many of those images are pretty easy to make.

The images that really, truly stand out have that something extra to them that give them a visual energy and depth that others don't have.

That is what I try to keep in mind when I shoot jubilation (aka "jube", in shooter parlance) and dejection.

If the outcome is decided near the end of the game, there's a mental checklist that I run through. Do I have a wide-angle with me? Are all settings correct? Where are the winners? The losers? Will I shoot with a long lens as the contest ends and then wade in with a wide-angle? Does it appear that there will be an angle in which to combine winners and losers in the same frame? Who is important -- why shoot the girl who didn't play if you can shoot the one who scored three goals? Etc.

As you can see, it's not an exact list or set of rules. As both Peter Venkman and Captain Barbossa have famously said, "it's more of a guideline, than a rule".

During the semifinal between Shorecrest and Seattle Prep, I was just coming down from the press box where I was transmitting when the game ended (and yes, the following is a rule and not just a guideline: DEADLINES WILL OFTEN PREVENT YOU FROM SHOOTING THE END OF A CHAMPIONSHIP GAME.

Shorecrest's Jessica Rankin, fell to her knees at the end of the game and I made a pretty mediocre frame.



(Nikon D3, VR 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 160mm, ISO 5000, 1/500th sec.,f2.8)

Didn't have time to mess around, and had to get back upstairs to move this frame quickly as I had another game to shoot right afterwards. Shoot action, transmit, shoot end game, transmit, lather, rinse repeat.

By halftime of the second semifinal it was pouring rain with a wind blowing the rain sideways. Good times.

Shooting in the rain is a pain -- you have to limit what you try to do. I try to get very simple in my equipment and technique so that I can really concentrate on making one or two strong images.

The other important aspect of shooting in bad weather is the mental aspect. Know that if you can shut out the bother of the wind, rain and cold, you have chances to make different, dramatic pictures.

As the clock ran out on Jackson's hope of a state title when they fell to Woodinville, I noticed a player sitting on the ground in the rain, unable to move. I ignored the rest of celebration and just concentrated on Jackson's Ellen Favale as she sat dejectedly on the turf. There's a security guard in a yellow jacket who is not helping this frame, but I'm pretty sure he was just headed somewhere warm and dry.



(Nikon D3, VR 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 6400, 1/320th sec.,f2.8)

Teammates approached Favale on their way to the bench. One eventually stopped and tried to help her up.



(Nikon D3, VR 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 6400, 1/320th sec.,f2.8)

In the end, she walked by herself, wiping rain and maybe tears off her face. Notice that I say "maybe" on the tears. Yes, it is easily assumable that she was crying. But I can't assume that from all the way across the field. If I can't verify it, I can't publish it. So being careful about cutline information is a must. I was taught very early in my career to avoid words like "ponder" ("Seattle quaterback Matt Hasselbeck ponders what might have happened if he had not thrown that last interception" -- unless I ask Matt what he was thinking about, I don't really know, right?).

The falling rain, the composition of her body in the frame, her slumped posture and the wiping of her face all suggest the disappointment of losing only one game away from the championship.



(Nikon D3, VR 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 6400, 1/320th sec.,f2.8)

Fortunately, the weather was better the next night when the finals were played. Everett easily won the Class 3A contest. As they had led comfortably all game, the jubilation at the instant of game's end wasn't great. Because I don't follow these teams throughout the season, I couldn't instantly recognize key players, or seniors to whom the victory might be extra special. In lieu of that, I looked for the best picture. Wading in with a wide-angled lens, I found Everett's Gabrielle Wagonblast with a precious reaction.



(Nikon D3, 24-70mm/f2.8 lens @ 50mm, ISO 5000, 1/500th sec.,f2.8)



(Nikon D3, 24-70mm/f2.8 lens @ 50mm, ISO 5000, 1/500th sec.,f2.8)



(Nikon D3, 24-70mm/f2.8 lens @ 26mm, ISO 5000, 1/500th sec.,f2.8)

Because I had an extra minute or two, I followed the team over to their fans where they sang the school song.



(Nikon D3, 24-70mm/f2.8 lens @ 24mm, ISO 5000, 1/250th sec.,f2.8)

The Saturday games were running late, so my schedule of shooting action then jube was all messed up. But I got lucky in the final game of the night which pitted Woodinville against Skyline. Skyline scored first and I managed to get Woodinville goalkeeper Leslie Greer (on ground, left) seeing the ball in the net as Skyline's Kiara Williams celebrated with teammate Alisha Connors after Connors' goal put the Spartans up 1-0. Thus, we have a celebration shot that has elements of action, and is early enough that I can send it for deadline before game's end.



(Nikon D3, VR 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 5000, 1/500th sec.,f2.8)

After that, it was a matter of finding a good photo at the end. I struggled -- everyone I aimed at was just kind of skipping along (and I'm not complaining -- they won, they get to celebrate however they want -- my job is to get a good photo.

Finally, Skyline's Christina Enyeart (23) hugged teammate Kiara Williams (facing camera) and it was decent.



(Nikon D3, VR 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 5000, 1/500th sec.,f2.8)

But I could see Woodinville players walking off and when one of them, Taylor Bolibol, paused for a second appearing to take it all in, I made a better frame.



(Nikon D3, VR 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 5000, 1/500th sec.,f2.8)

I think the most telling frame of the last game is the one with the celebration after the game. Not just because they're hugging after the goal -- it's the reaction of the goalkeeper on the ground and the Woodinville defender reacting that add the extra depth to the image.

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