Do I stand on the top level and get clean mid-ice and net shots, but nothing too dramatic, or do I stand at ice-level and miss a majority of the game based on focal-length alone, but get some great faces and angles?
I’ve had the pleasure of spending the last couple of weekends taking in the greatest game in Canada, while shooting the MoJacks on their home turf.
If you’re a fan of local hockey, I would hope that many of my readers have seen me at a game. If you haven’t, I encourage you to come out to watch a game for yourself, and support North Durham’s local teams - be they from Uxbridge or Scugog.
Sports photos are a touchy subject for me - it’s exciting, rewarding, and fun - but I’m not exactly up on my hockey stats and lingo. As you will read, this can cause occasional confusion, and a tendency to turn and ask someone next to me “what’s going on?”
My relationship with sports began, like most, with a honeymoon period. When I attended Loyalist College, I was shooting the Belleville Bulls every week at the Yardmen Arena, and having the time of my life.
The weekly ritual and familiar, Olympic-sized, evenly-lit rink provided a chance to experiment and see incremental changes in my work, depending on what technique I used or where I decided to stand. Thanks to the endless scrum of college students who depend on the games for photo assignments, the rink staff even cut lens-sized port holes through the glass.
That’s when, as they say, the itch set in - maybe hockey and I just were never meant to be.
After a pleasantly simple experience at the Yardmen, I had a dose of reality the first time I walked into Scugog Arena to catch my first COJHL game.
With absolutely no disrespect to Scugog, the MoJacks, or any other team that graces the ice - it’s dark in there, and the plexiglass has a lot of puck-marks on it - the bane of any small town photojournalist across Canada. Due to the layout of the benches, a few of my frames will end up with baseball caps and other debris blocking the players - there’s been more than one occasion where an overzealous fan ‘whoo-hooing’ before me has given my nice DSLR a nice coating of snack bar poutine.
If you’ve been keeping up with Shoot First, Ask Later, you probably know that I consider music up there with food and oxygen on my list of dire needs. As such, concert, arts and festival photography is a particular favourite of mine.
Shooting sports is very similar to concert photography in a few ways - your subjects move fast through a dimly-lit room, and the best moments happen without warning.
The best moments happen when a photographer isn’t ‘working’ but ‘shooting’. In this state, you become a part of what’s going on around you, the camera settings are dialed in, and the camera body becomes an extension of one hand, while the zoom ring becomes part of the other. For a photographer, this is as close to nirvana as we get.
The reason that sports photography tends to come with a few hurdles stems from the fact that I’m not very athletically inclined to begin with. Combine that with a lack of working knowledge of the game - and I don’t have that sixth-sense to know what the next play will be, the way that a veteran hockey fan or player might.
Shooting hockey is a game of taking chances, as you never know who’s going to intercept a pass or when the player will shoot take a shot. It’s almost like they’re trying to fool us photographers as much as the other team’s defencemen.
On Sunday evening, Clarington Eagles forward Brodie Myers got chance at a penalty shot on the MoJacks’ net. While most of the arena started either cheering or booing, I just became bewildered when, halfway through the period, both teams cleared off the ice. Was there a fire alarm I didn’t hear?
After quickly turning towards Darryl Knight, and apparently shooting him a look of confusion, I was assured that this was supposed to happen. You’re allowed to chuckle now.
While my relationship with hockey is stressed, I’m willing to put in the effort. As much as our therapist says it’s time we took a break, I think there’s some work to be done on both parts.
Dear Hockey, I’ll learn the proper positions and terms, if you take off those shiny cages and visors, and start using some pyrotechnics and strobes. Sincerely, Benjamin.
My best advice for photos - wait for a body check. When two skating objects collide, it usually makes them quite stationary.