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Ought to Focus
December 10, 2013 11:25 AM   Subscribe

On Sunday I covered what was easily the hardest football game I've ever been asked to shoot. In turn it was the most fun I've ever had on an assignment.
The blizzard-like conditions this past Sunday rendered his auto-focus useless, but for photojournalist Kyle Grantham, the challenge didn't stop him from capturing incredible photographs.
posted by spiderskull (27 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Site won't load for me.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:31 AM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think we killed it.
posted by postel's law at 11:31 AM on December 10, 2013


These might be some of the photos we're supposed to be seeing.
posted by postel's law at 11:34 AM on December 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


Those are some cool pics.
That really was quite a game.
posted by sio42 at 11:42 AM on December 10, 2013


Dang, looks like it's down. Postel's law's link has most of the photos. On the blog, he outlined which lens he used and a few of the challenges involved in photographing in snow, so that's a bit unfortunate.
posted by spiderskull at 11:45 AM on December 10, 2013


Here's another link (via reddit) from an AP photographer's perspective. It's actually more detailed than the original post.
posted by spiderskull at 11:47 AM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I got the cache to load. Great photos.
posted by IvoShandor at 12:03 PM on December 10, 2013


Those are amazing photos. Thank you for posting this.
posted by gauche at 12:04 PM on December 10, 2013


It's like it's the CFL!
posted by Kabanos at 12:04 PM on December 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


This game was one of the best things on TV that I've ever just "stumbled on." Don't care about the Lions or the Eagles, but I would have watched some far-west NAIA Division III football game in that weather.
posted by stltony at 12:24 PM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Stunning pictures.

Also proof that ti's not just the tech that enables the capturing of the images, it's the skill set of the photographer.
posted by Faintdreams at 12:28 PM on December 10, 2013


I can't read the article, but is this really surprising? If you want your photos to be distinctive why would you use the same auto-focus/color-balance/aperture setting as everyone else? Are sports photographers really under that much pressure to make their photos [the same], will they not be published? Or is this just photo-pool gearhead groupthink?
posted by Locobot at 12:36 PM on December 10, 2013


I love the pictures, especially the one of McCoy hurdling. It was definitely a fun game to watch, too.
posted by jaguar at 12:43 PM on December 10, 2013


As someone who uses a modest manual focus telephoto lens on my DSLR to shoot my kid's soccer games until I can afford an autofocus lens I'm quite impressed. I do get some shots I'm proud of but there is a high percentage of "great shot - if it wasn't so blurry" shots. And that's not even factoring in the snow.
posted by mikepop at 12:47 PM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


The blizzard-like conditions this past Sunday rendered his auto-focus useless

Gosh, it is unfortunate that football isn't played on a field with fixed dimensions and positions determined by arbitrary measurements like yards, and that the plays aren't started at distances that are announced by referees at some arbitrary location like a yard line. It is equally unfortunate that lenses do not have some way to set an arbitrary focal distance using something like a focal index ring, and that they do not have manual indicators of depth of field.

Jesus F Christ I used to shoot night football games with a 400mm f/5.6 lens on 35mm Tri-X pushed to 9600ASA with Rodinal, and I never had trouble focusing.

Also proof that ti's not just the tech that enables the capturing of the images, it's the skill set of the photographer.

The primary skill of a photographer is seeing. A good photographer can see a scene and accurately estimate the distances and light intensities with sufficiently useful precision. A bad photographer whines that his equipment is inadequate, rather than his skills being inadequate.

Related: Automation and the decay of talent.
posted by charlie don't surf at 1:13 PM on December 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


The first photo, "Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, center, spots wide receiver Riley Cooper, right, in the end zone as he’s covered by Lions corner Rashean Mathis" is terrific.

So with AF off, would you not pre focus on an area you thought the subject would be and wait, hitting multiple exposures and keeping the one where the subject traverses the area, discarding the rest? At 8 or 10 frames a second you are going to get some good shots.
posted by Keith Talent at 1:22 PM on December 10, 2013


As a former Delawarian who has looked at the Delaware Online site many times, I am pleased at this convergence of Metafilter and Delaware Online if only to finally have a valid reason to point out that the D.O. favicon looks really similar to the M.F. one.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 1:25 PM on December 10, 2013


I was impressed by the depth of field in those pictures. It must've been bright enough that he could have tightened down the aperture and more or less guaranteed sharp images, but he'd lose the drama and framing. Nice work.
posted by nev at 1:43 PM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


So with AF off, would you not pre focus on an area you thought the subject would be and wait

Well that's one strategy, but there's no way to guarantee the action will take place at the spot you preselected.

Here's another strategy. You're on the edge of the field at the 30 yard line. The QB is at the 10 yard line, right in the center of the field. How far away is he? 100 feet. How do I know that? The field is 160' wide, he's 80' from the sidelines, I'm 60' away from the line: Pythagorean Triplet 3:4:5.

Back when I used to shoot football games, I once sat down and calculated all the distances from my usual shooting positions to the most common playing positions, so I could prefocus. Once I knew the distances to major locations on the field, I could see the yard lines and fudge it. Apparently this routine sports photography skill is now a lost art.

You know, it used to be common to shoot with a lensless Sports Finder, without looking through the viewfinder at all. You had to be able to estimate distances, because you were not focusing through a lens.
posted by charlie don't surf at 1:56 PM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Jeez, everyone's a critic these days. Who cares how hard or easy the shots were to get? They are distinctive and abstractly as well as topically compelling as visual compositions. Regardless of whether they were shot on a Leica or an iPhone, that's the measure of photographic artistry.
posted by spitbull at 1:57 PM on December 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Jeez, everyone's a critic these days.

I am a professional critic, I have a BFA in photography, people pay me to write photography critiques and publish them. References and clippings available on request, to qualified clients only.

I decided to revisit the issue. In the blog, I was appalled to read this:

I’ve never shot football on full manual..

Never? Seriously? Then he discusses shooting manual focus, much in the way I described, but apparently he feels this is a relic of past ages, like shooting on film.

I reviewed the photographs in the blog article, I noticed they conspicuously lack action and drama. They are all moody and snowy but nothing is really happening, nobody is scoring or anything else important. On the main website, there are photos of touchdown runs but they look boring as all crap. There is nothing to distinguish them from any other routine play. The photos lack drama. It appears the photographer's attention was focused (no pun intended) on the equipment, rather than on what was happening on the field. His photos do not capture "The Decisive Moment."

For comparison: a photo of the Eagles' winning touchdown in the 1948 title game. Look at pic #2, that is drama (even if you don't consider the murdering bastard in the pic). Look at the rest of the pics. None of those were shot with autofocus, and only the last two were digital. Unsurprisingly, the two digital photos have no drama, and no action whatsoever.
posted by charlie don't surf at 2:42 PM on December 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Look at pic #2, that is drama

You just think that because it's in black and white.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 3:13 PM on December 10, 2013


charlie don't surf -- there's some solid action photography in the article about the AP photog I linked above (see the second & fourth pages)
posted by spiderskull at 4:37 PM on December 10, 2013


You just think that because it's in black and white.

Not at all. The more I look at that photo, the better it gets. The composition is perfect, OJ is framed against the sky and is powering straight into the camera. The opponents are lying on their faces in the dirt and snow. And one guy is charging so hard at OJ that there is a cloud of dirt under his feet. The action is explosive. B&W film generally has a higher speed than color so it helps capture fast action like the dust cloud, but I don't think that B&W really makes much difference to the impact of this shot.

there's some solid action photography in the article about the AP photog I linked above (see the second & fourth pages)

Yeah, but he has the same problem:

I was just looking for contrast on jerseys so I could get focus. I would just put the AF point on their numbers. Sometimes you just can’t keep up and the picture is gone.

I did a fairly intensive critique of Perez and contrasted him to the other guy, but I deleted it because I figured I'm beating a dead horse. These guys are like "OMG I actually got pictures." I am not sympathetic.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:15 PM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


charlie don't surf - shooting manual focus is a relic of past ages for the vast majority of photographers. Have you tried a modern digital SLR with manual focus lenses? It's horrible, even the top of the range pro-level bodies have MF as an afterthought: The viewfinders are tiny, the focus screens are limited (no split prism, no accuracy below f2.8), the focus rings are loose narrow bits of cheap plastic.
posted by lawrencium at 2:34 AM on December 11, 2013


The pictures are striking and beautiful. The whining of annointed photography experts less so. Yes, you could have done it better with your Brownie that you whittled from granny's spine or whatever. No one gives a shit.

Nice pictures, though.
posted by umberto at 4:16 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


i'm quite suprised anyone could say they lacked action or drama, especially if you watched the game.

the old Eagles game you linked to means nothing to me without context. i didn't even know that was OJ until you said it.

there are several pics of LeSean McCoy in the air vaulting over a defending player. plus the one of him with his arm out as someone tries to tackle him. those pics are amazing and considering McCoy pretty muched saved the Eagles and got them to the win with his actions, those pics are pretty important and dramatic. i don't know the exact moments of those pics, but i know he was an important player in that game doing some incredible stuff in crazy weather. dude broke an Eagles record set in 1949 for rushing yards in a single game plus had two touch downs of over 40 yards just in the 4th when it was all but blizzarding.

so given that kind of context, these photos have a lot of drama and action to me. tell me a story about that pic you linked to and maybe i would see more drama.

i love the one of matt stafford trying to deliver a pass because you can barely the two Lions in the foreground because there is so much snow and they are wearing white uniforms and are white guys! they are blending right in. can you imagine trying to find another snowball to throw your snowball at in the middle of that? that gave me some perspective on hard that game must have been on the ground.

i love old pictures as much as anyone, but very often without any kind of context, i'm left wondering what was going. i remember seeing some photos in art history in college that once i knew about their history, it made so much more sense. seeing a photo of Archduke Ferdinand in the moments before he was assassanated means nothing if you don't know who you're looking at. it's just another pic of a royalty in b&w.
posted by sio42 at 4:42 AM on December 11, 2013


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