"Sharks Attack!" - first steps with the Lumix 100-300mm lens

The bad news: spoken in basketball terms it is off season! No action around the basketball ring to catch ... But nevertheless we have some good news, too! The first one is: summer arrived! ("YES!") And the second one is: this years football season already started! ("YES! YES! YES!") And to make things clear: when I am talking about football right here I mean American Football. Nothing else.

"High Voltage!" - just a second before the action is coming.

A year ago I had visited the Erlangen Sharks for the first time - and enjoyed it very much! Talking about the friendly atmosphere around the field would obviously need an own post but here I will focus my thoughts on the task how to get pictures from this kind of sport. Last year I tried to catch some pictures with an old but still good performing Canon FD 200mm/2.8 (if you like: just visit my post "Give me Five!" - New Shots from the Football Field (Vol. 3) which contains some samples with this beer can).

Where is the ball? Well, I don't know but just doing a fake run in order to catch out the other team is a common practice :-)
Of course, shooting with my G2 and this old FD lens made fun - but there have been some drawbacks. First of all: manual focus! Yes, of course, it is possible, and the photographers in the former age of the analoguos photography did a very good job without AF. Nevertheless, it is not easy to catch the right action as you know: the football field is large but the action is usually only running in a small piece of it! As a lot of players are clustered in such a hot spot it is not always easy to manually set the focus to the player you like.
One solution might be to set the aperture to a value of 11 or higher - to tell the truth: it is a "must do" because otherwise you have no chance to get the actors as sharp as you want to have them. And in this case: don't care about the sharpness of the background because of the large dept of field, just be happy when you spotted the right players! Another drawback besides the manual focussing is the size and weight of the FD lens, which makes it hard to get your device balanced.

There is no way out!
Nevertheless, I decided to change something before this years football season: I wanted a lens with automatic focussing! Nowadays, you can select between a lot of different tele zoom models in the Microfourthirds universe: Olympus and Panasonic offer 9 models (did I count right?) for a lot of different purposes: beginning with small and compact lenses like 45-150mm, universal ones like the 14-140mm or long reach ones like 75-300mm or 100-300mm. Well, it was not hard to make my decision based on the following requirements: long focal length and a Panasonic device because my G6 has no builtin image stabilization (normally I wouldn't give to much on this, but here it might give some help). The choice has been the Panasonic Lumix G Vario 100-300mm f/4-5.6. It has a good reputation and as Tyson Robichaud wrote in his blog last year in December
"...Where else, in any other system, can you find a 600mm equivalent f/5.6 lens for anywhere near this price that isn’t a cheap mirror lens? (Price just dropped by over a hundred dollars too!)  Nowhere that I know of, that’s where.  A very good lens regardless of price, a great value when looking at what you get for the price...." 
He even wrote a long review about this lens about a year ago and it was the first time the Pana 100-300m caught my attention. To make a long story short: I sold my old Canon 200mm "beer can" lens, my old Finepix S100fs bridge and some smaller pieces I didn't use for long time and put this together with some extra money for the new lens. This was amazing!

"No escape!" ;-)

I got the lens short before this years first home game of the Erlangen Sharks and was so excited to use it with my G6 (which arrived early this year in my house) in the real world of action for the first time .... and got back home so much disappointed! Such poor results: to much of non-interest, so often without the ball and to often without action.What did I do wrong?
Nice but not perfect. Here I have been a moment to slow as the ball is already on the edge. Next time I shouldn't try with continous AF - better use static AF with focus set to the kicking player and therefore higher continous drive rate.

First of all: I admit that my expectations have been much to high! Just to recall the moment: new lens, not familiar with its behaviour, fast moving subjects, short time of action before the next break and first time visiting the field this year. Put this all together, think a second and then you see: this mix couldn't work perfectly from scratch! Besides all this, the Sharks lost their game, so I had nothing to be happy about with this afternoon.

When I first saw this picture I had only one thought in my mind: "Speed!"
I tried again one week later with some adjustments of my way of work. Trying to wait a moment after the beginning of an offense action, looking for the guy running with the ball or for the nearest defender and then: shoot! I recalled the lessons I learned last year at the field and it may sound contradictionary on subjects like football but from the photographers point of view there is one rule: patience is your friend!

Whatever they do: my ball is safe!

I have shot all the pictures in this post with the Pana 100-300mm. As my experience with this grows from game to game I get more and more  pictures I like. As usual it is just a matter of trying, analyzing and learning. Here are some rules which I try to keep in mind when I am shooting (maybe it is a good advice for you to build a list for yourself, too?):
  • For myself I like to see the ball! (Well, if there is no ball part of the game: get the important players gear!) 
  • Get close! Ok, you can't walk straight into a running game ... Try to catch emotions on the field (which is not really easy with the helmet of the football players, but also not an impossible mission!). Look at the players which are currently outside, look into the faces of the coaches, supportes, referees and/or visitors.
  • Look around the field and find something interesting! What does the team do during a timeout? What are the visitors doing?
  • Change the angle of view! Change your position, sit down and take a childs perspective.
  • Walk with the teams! Try to stand near their lineups and be close to the action.
  • Try to follow one player instead of a whole cluster! Maybe you are missing the master piece of action but you can get close to one and track him.
Player #22 gets help from his teammates: they block the opponents and help him getting the touchdown!
No chance for the opponents to catch Player #37 and the ball!
Player #37 looking for next steps to go. You see how he observes the opponents and their movements? Additionally the blurred referee in front gives the picture some depth.
Sharks player #6 passing the ball to ...
... #22 but he didn't receive it. His face might give you clue what he is thinking about this miss?
After the game: both teams standing along the line and  one guy of the winning team runs along them together with the flag. "Congrats to the winners!"
After an 28:0 victory over the opponents the Sharks keep smiling! ;-)
I know, I have just arrived at the beginning of capturing football games. There are still a lot of things to explore and to catch on and around the field, much to learn and to see. Fortunately the Sharks' next home game is coming soon ;-) 

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