Right next door to the Austin Recreation Center (ARC) where Kim plays volleyball, a brand new BMX and Skate park has been opened. The official opening was on June 16, 2011 and it is already a huge attraction for local skaters. The park was funded by the City of Austin and has been over 5 years in the making. The park is the second skate park in Austin, and you could also count as the second bike park to the BMX dirt track over on 9th Street.
Kim had a game at 7:30pm at the ARC next door, so I took advantage of the hour or so to walk across the parking lot and check out the action. I was amazed at the number of skaters and BMXers that were there, around 60 or so people. The park is amazingly well designed and the article I read says that it was done by professionals. It really shows!
On one end there is a huge bowl with a lot of geometry to navigate. There are rails built into almost every edge and drop-ins along the rim for skaters. I started off with the longer zoom lens to survey the whole area (30,000 sq. feet!) and get some shots off from a bit of a distance until I was comfortable and more importantly, the people there were comfortable with me taking pictures.
Everyone was super polite and the unspoken respect for taking turns was strong.
On the other end of the park is a more “urban” type setting with rails, grinds, stairs, a small half-pipe, and a seating area. I switched lenses to the wide angle to get more action in the frame.
On this end of the park is an amazing functional sculpture by a local artist, that resembles a giant wave. The skaters can use it for tricks and it just looks cool.
After a while, I started chatting with a few of the guys and showing them some of the shots on the camera LCD. They got pretty stoked, and some of them started doing better tricks for the camera.
I picked a great time to show up, while the sun was sinking over Austin. The light was just incredible and I barely had to bump the ISO up on the camera until close to 8:30.
As the hour wore on, some new people showed up and turned it on! I think the guy below came to school some of the younger BMXers. I did a single image HDR conversion to the photo, to bring out some of the detail in the building and of course, the rider.
Man this place had such a great old school vibe. I edited the photo below in that spirit, like it could be any of the past four decades.
The temps were up around 97 degrees, even that late in the day, but everyone was going hard and having a great time. This is definitely a gem for the city and I will probably become a regular fixture there. There are so many great photo ops, and the people were just cool, but it has always been that way with the skate and bike crowd.
I can’t wait to go back…
Once we have taken more images, we will place them on our website for viewing and a super discounted price to purchase digital downloads.
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!