Elegant but Edgy

Archive for June, 2011

USAV Nationals Tournament 2011

Today we are bringing you some images from the 2011 USA Volleyball Open National Championship Tournament in Dallas, TX.  The tournament is held every year around Memorial Day and the host cities change each year.  Kim has been playing volleyball competitively since middle school and has a team that she captains here in Austin, TX.  Throughout the season, teams play in local and regional tourneys to get seeded for the National competition, and her team usually makes it to this event.  We were lucky this year that it was hosted in our home state, and her club had several teams represented there.  Go ATX Volleyball!

If you haven’t been to a volleyball match, it is exciting and fast-paced!  It is also an extremely difficult sport to photograph.  Most locations (gymnasiums) have poor quality lighting and limited space to move around.  The speed at which the ball can come off of the player’s hands is incredible.  In order to effectively capture the action, a fast camera, “fast lens”, and a high ISO value is needed.  Even at the Nationals location, the light was relatively dim, so I was shooting at high ISO values of 1600 – 3200 in order to get a shutter speed of 1/250 of a second or better.  Ideally, a shutter speed of 1/500 or faster is required to “stop” the ball.  On the plus side, the layout was great and I had unrestricted views of many of the courts.

There is so much going on at the Nationals event.  The teams are divided into men’s, women’s, co-ed, reverse co-ed, height restricted (men’s teams 6’1″ and shorter and women’s teams 5’9″ and shorter), special olympics, and sitting volleyball with different skill levels for each of those categories.  Each year, there are close to 1000 teams participating in this tournament spread out into two sessions over a week and a half and over 70 volleyball courts.

I was only able to attend a half day, but the actual tournament runs for a week and a half.  The teams typically play two days of “pool” play to get ranked for the playoff round brackets.  The third and fourth days are for playoffs, where the teams battle it out match by match.  The action is intense and everywhere you look, there is top level volleyball going on.

All of the players are athletic, but some of these guys can jump insanely high!

For people wanting to shoot indoor volleyball, the first rule is NO FLASHES!  Most sanctioned tournaments will not allow you to use flashes, since it is a major distraction.  This leaves little options except to get a professional dSLR camera with very high ISO capability.  As I mentioned, I was using ISO 1600 – 3200.  On some high-end camera models, this can be pushed even higher to ISO 6400 or even 12,800.  The higher the ISO value, the more light is allowed to enter the camera sensor.  With this comes the risk of introducing “noise” or artifacts in the image.  With software, you can effectively clean up the images using noise reduction and  I had to do this with some of the images at ISO 3200.

Another consideration is the quality of lenses used to capture the motion.  Better lenses with low aperture values (f/2.8 or less) are essential to allow the maximum amount of light into the camera, while also giving sharpness.  Focus speed is a major consideration when selecting a lens for this type of shooting.  I used two lenses during the tournament, the Canon 85mm f/1.8 and the 70 -200mm f/2.8 L .  Both have excellent image quality and focusing speed, and are probably some of the best lenses from Canon for indoor sports.

One factor you will notice in many of the images is the out of focus areas, or “bokeh”.  While this is desirable in many situations, it is also virtually unavoidable since the lenses were shot “wide-open” at the maximum apertures.  There are times when I would prefer to have sharpness throughout the image, and this can be done to a degree by moving further away from the subjects.  I was able to position myself in the stands for an adjacent court and shoot from a distance to create “clearer” images, even at f/2.8, however this may not be possible in all situations.  Think small high school gymnasiums!

I also brought a Yashica Electro 35 film camera with me, and took a few shots (non-action) with a roll of Kodak 400TX B&W film.  I wonder if 800 speed film (or higher) might be able to capture some action shots? Hmmm….

Although Kim’s team did not advance to the final day of bracket play, this experience itself is so enjoyable. It is also a good opportunity to see friends from all over the country, sometimes only once a year.  It is also a great networking opportunity for many of the players, as officials and board members of USAV are in attendance.

You can view these, and more photos on our website.  If you were there at the first session of Nationals, you may be in some of the photos!



500px introduces Image Protection

In a quiet move indicated on the main blog page for 500px, they have announced that they will institute some form of download protection. Good move 500px, and whether it was from negative pressure or just a willingness to listen to the voice of the users, the results are positive.

I do not believe it is in effect yet, but the blog entry is here:


Light Painting!

We are sure you have seen photos of amazing creations done with light, otherwise known as lightpainting.  While this art has been around for a long time, it has gained immense popularity over the past several years.  There are many forms and styles of lightpainting and the possibilities are endless.

The basic way to create a lightpainting is to set your camera to a long exposure, either with the timer function or in Bulb mode.  A tripod (or other fixed surface) is mandatory to prevent the image from being blurry during the exposure.  There are many “tools” that can be used to create the patterns with light, but LEDs (light emitting diodes) are by far the most popular.  LEDs give a nice bright light and come in a variety of colors.  The can also be programmed to turn on and off and certain intervals.

There is a strong community of lightpainters around the world, and the most fun is having meet-ups with other people to collabaorate on creations.  The shot above was done with several lightpainters from Austin, TX in July 2010.  Many of these artists have created custom tools and styles that have helped push the art beyond what was possible even a few years ago.

Anything can be used, as long as it creates light, even fire.  The following shot was done simultaneously with blue LEDs and a flaming tennis ball.

As an art form, we can create wild photos using various tools and our imagination.  These images are all created in a single camera exposure, with no editing after the fact.  Basically what you see in the image all happened in one shot.  This image of the Mustang was done during a meetup with our good friend Mike.  He is a master at lightpainting and is known worldwide for his skill and development of custom tools to achieve the various effects you see here.

During the same session, we created the most ambitious light painting I have been involved with.  I made a video during the 17 minutes it took to create the Solar System, which I compressed into 90 seconds.  There were four of us working together to create the final product which you can see at the end of this post.


The final product!

You can find more light painting images on our Flickr site, with links to some of our friends that are also involved in this awesome art form. Many have posted how-to photos and videos, and they are some of the nicest people you could ever meet.

A day at the Zoo!

We went to the Fort Worth Zoo over the weekend.  The Zoo is reportedly ranked number 5 in the country and it is easy to see why, the exhibits are really well thought out and you will feel immersed in the habitats.  Many of the exhibits feature interactive activities for kids and adults alike.  One of the best features for a photographer is the unobstructed view in many of the areas, which makes taking photos so much easier than shooting through glass or fences.  If you plan on bringing your camera, make sure you have a long zoom lens, and for shots through glass enclosures, try a circular polarizing filter to eliminate some of the glare.

There is a little train that runs through the zoo which beats walking if you want to get to the other end.  The ride is $2 each way, and of course the kids will love it!

There are wide range of animals from all over the world, and the zoo has done a great job of grouping them in a way that flows well.  As we were walking, you should have heard the squeals of delight from all of the kids when they discovered the Penguin habitat!  Definitely one of the more popular attractions.

I would recommend planning to spend the entire day, since there is so much to see and do.  If you bring a backpack, bring your own water.  Fort Worth tends to get hot and the water in the fountains is not so tasty.  There is a good selection of food and various shops in the park if you want to eat or buy gifts.  The MOLA (see zoo website) is just amazing and a must see, plus it’s air conditioned if you want a break from the heat.  After a long day, you will be ready for a nap!

To view these photos larger and purchase prints, please follow the link to our website.

Interview with Ainsley Joseph – Photographer in Austin, TX

Today we are starting a new series on our Blog, featuring photographer friends of ours. One of the biggest rewards has been meeting and becoming friends with other people that share our passion for photography and life in general. Today we are talking with Ainsley Joseph, who calls Austin, TX home. Ainsley is an extremely talented photographer and a master at lighting techniques. He is also one of the coolest people we know.

Ainsley, we’d like to hear some of your thoughts on things, especially photography, but anything is game!  When and how did you get started with photography, and how did you get so good at strobist (lighting) techniques?

AJ: I got into photography early 2009. My fiance, Meredith, and I were doing some shopping at Costco when I saw the Nikon D90. After reading the specs, I figured why not? I then promised myself to make full use of it. What has really helped me with off camera flash lighting was reading the the strobist blog, reverse engineering images I saw, but most of all doing the 365 project.

What’s your favorite subject matter to photograph? What do you attempt to capture when you set out to shoot?

AJ: This might be a surprise to some people, but I love dark, twisted, surreal subject matter. I love the idea of doing a dark image, but without blood and gore.

Of course, everyone wants to hear about gear.  What is your favorite stuff and what would your dream setup look like?

AJ: I am not much of a gear head. I love my Nikon D700, and since I picked up the 24-70mm it has been my go to lens 99% of the time.

Lighting equipment…I love Alien Bees, modifiers, the beauty dish all the way. Not sure I have a dream setup, more of a dream studio. It’s tough getting full body shots in a garage/studio..hahaha

You live in Austin, what about the music scene?  Do you get to shoot musicians often?

I love live music, so every chance I get to check out live music, and I am allowed to bring my camera at the venue, I try and get as many cool looking shots as possible. In all honesty, I love photographing live music more than anything else.

Tell us a secret!

AJ:  I am not sure it would be a secret if I tell you! hahahahaha..I want to get the Nikon 70-200 VR11, but my fiance doesn’t know it… YET !! (Until she proofreads this!)

Words of advice for budding photographers, especially strobists?

AJ:  I think the most important thing is having patience, and understanding how light and shadows work. Sometimes it helps to place an object next to a lamp to understand how moving the subject closer or further away from the lamp affects light and shadows. Finally, never hesitate to ask questions. I am a firm believer that there is never a stupid question.

Ainsley, thanks for sharing some of your insight with us and the readers.  We see that you are now doing a 52 week project and it is great to follow your work on Flickr.  We wish you and Mer all of the best with tying the knot this summer.

If you would like to see more of Ainsley’s work, check out his Flickr account here:


All images are copyright of Ainsley Joseph, except Behind the Scenes by Ashton Sterling Photography.