About

This is my blog.  There are many like it but this blog is mine.

What gets posted here?

Links to photos from Arch Rival Roller Girls (WFTDA) and St. Louis GateKeepers (MRDA) roller derby leagues in St. Louis, along with a few other teams here and there, random weirdness, et cetera.  Advice from me to you on how to make your photos look more like mine, which will thrill some of you and make others of you laugh at how much that would degrade your work.

Not much anymore.  I am too lazy to shut the site down. :)

Why should I listen to you? You’re not a professional photographer.

Like I said, it’s just my philosophy on things.  Enough people ask me about stuff that I started writing it down, then putting it here.    I am not a professional.  But I must be doing something right because they keep letting me back into games and tournaments.

Top frequently answered answers (updated 5/2019):

MOST FREQUENTLY ANSWERED ANSWER:  I really don’t know what kind of camera you should buy for (you/your kid/your wife/your dog/etc).  I know what I use, as you can see below.  I don’t really know anything about cheap DSLRs or small cameras of any sort.  My walking around pocket camera is my iPhone (whatever the latest top end one is, I generally just get it yearly) and to be honest I think most people would be just as happy with their smartphones these days.I barely know how to use low cost Nikon DSLR cameras because they take a ton of the useful features out and replace them with stupid gimmick modes – let alone point and shoot or other brands.  Hand me a Canon and I literally may not know how to turn it on.

If you are a student, buy whatever your class tells you to get or get a used mid-grade DSLR which has a manual mode so that you are not stuck in all the gimmick modes and can actually learn to use a camera.  Photo/media students especially – don’t get the entry level DSLRs  because they are often missing key features that you need to learn how to use OR those features are buried so deep in menus that you will hate having to use them.  A couple years old DSLR from the middle of the line or maybe even a slightly older (but not too much older – maybe one or two generations back for flagship/pro line) pro body will last you longer at a similar price.

Cameras

Nikon D5 and D850 full-frame DSLRs and Nikon Z 7 mirrorless. I use the D5 for 90% of my derby photo work.  Flagship bodies are the easiest to work with in my experience.  They have a lot of workflow features that are completely unrelated to photo quality (IPTC tagging, wired/wireless network sending to editors, huge buffers, good controls).  They do exactly what you tell them which means that if you tell them to do something stupid, they do that too.

The Z 7 has replaced a couple other cameras as the generic walking around and candids camera.  This is a great camera body and as the line improves I will be really interested to see how it matures into something that can handle action well – although to be honest I would say that right now, it is at least the equivalent of a D800 with respect to focusing and handling.  Just not quite to the D5 level yet.  I replaced the D850 with it as the wider angle companion to the D5; now the D850 usually lives on a long lens so I don’t have to swap bodies out.

I have a bunch of Nikon film bodies as well (F5, F100, F4, F), but the inconvenience of having film processed limits my enthusiasm to use it – I know how to develop my own film but maintaining a darkroom is not practical for me right now.

Lenses

The most commonly used lens is a Zoom-Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8E VR.  I do recommend this model over the older VR models, but it has a significant very significant price premium – although Nikon regularly has huge instant rebates which will knock a chunk off the price.  It is super sharp and super fast and super great.  I hesitate to say “perfect” but I don’t hesitate very much.

The Nikon 70-200 lens variants all have their own quirks and qualities that the others don’t have.  I liked the VR1 so much that I bought another one factory refurbished, but it definitely affords a more “analog” feel to images and compared to the latest model it’s like driving an old sports car – slower and harder to control compared to the new standard.  The VR2 was also very nice and an improvement over the VR1 image wise but with much less character.  If it’s what you can get you won’t be suffering but I liked it the least of the 3 versions that I have owned.

My second most used lens these days is a 300mm f/2.8 VRII.  I love this lens for portraits and for action.  It is expensive but it is amazing and learning to tame it has been almost a religious experience.  I also love the F/2G VR but don’t use it as much.

For the Z 7 I have a 24-70mm f/4 and a 14-30mm f/4.  These are both great!  I do not find that I miss the extra stop going down to f/2.8 and they are both tiny compared to their larger F mount and f/2.8 brethren.  It lowered the load in my backpack by a couple pounds which means a lot since it has so much other stuff in it.

Stuff that is more or less moving to the closet these days due to lack of use in the field: 24-70mm f/2.8E VR, 50mm f/1.8D, 105mm f/2E and 14-24mm f/2.8G.  I just don’t use these a lot anymore in derby.  It’s handy to have them on the off chance I want to use them but also I feel bad having such a load of glass warming the shelves.

All Nikon glass, I have tried the new Sigma stuff, not for me but some of my friends like it a lot.

Lighting

The old answer about lights is below.  I had switched back to various Nikon speed lights on Pocket Wizard ControlTL triggers for portability, but have since switched to Elinchrom ELB-500 battery pack/head systems with Skyport and Pocket Wizard triggers.  They are still compact and fit on clamps (no light stands to haul around) but have a lot more power and utility than the speed lights.

I had a note here about how Pocket Wizard had fallen behind other trigger brands.  I still feel this way on the TTL side of things, especially since you see companies like Elinchrom integrating with Phottix instead of PW.  But they are still the most rock solid triggers I’ve had and I use them now with the Elinchrom lights.  Skyport is great in the studio but in the field it bogs down quickly.  I haven’t figured out why but I suspect it has to do with the two-way communications over longer distances and under rapid triggering conditions.  I use the Skyport remote to set power levels and the Pocket Wizards to trigger and now everything is more or less reliable like I want it.  I’ve got a Plus III on each light and a Plus IV on the camera (doesn’t stick up as tall).

I do not care for the other trigger brands out there, although they have improved significantly over the years and many people use them and love them.

Old lighting answer:  Nikon speedlights sometimes, Einsteins if I feel like dragging them out.  I use PocketWizard MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 wireless flash controllers.  If you can afford it, it is very nice.  ControlTL more or less works like the on-camera TTL that your camera already supports, and it works very well in most cases if you really understand how TTL works.  If you don’t, you might have expectations that are not in line with what it can deliver.  I used to use Paul Buff Cybersync triggers.  They are adequate as basic flash triggers and work much better than the ebay cheapies.  Their Cybersync Commander controller did not work that great for me at venues but is pretty reliable in a studio.  With the advent of cheap Pocket Wizard remotes I can’t see buying CyberSync unless you use the Paul Buff lights, in which case they are pretty rad.  I do have the full CyberSync setup for the Einsteins but rarely use it.

Other

I have switched to Hold Fast webbed straps.  I also have the Hold Fast leather straps but they are way too formal (and hot) for roller derby.  On the 200/2 and 300/2.8 I just use the really super nice strap Nikon included with it.  Seriously.. that is a nice strap.  Your mileage may vary, I am really hard on my gear.  The Z 7 has some fancy cloth and leather thing that I found because it was classy.

The huge monopod head is from Really Right Stuff, it has an Arca/Swiss groove and then the feet on my big glass have Arca/Swiss rails on them.  This makes changing things out faster although I keep the hoods on the lenses because I am notorious for dropping them while doing so (go on, ask me how much money I have spent replacing  broken carbon fiber lens hoods).  The RRS head is super massive yet super light and super sturdy.  It sits on a Manfrotto carbon fiber monopod.  Unless you are buying RRS, just don’t even bother with anything but Manfrotto.  You’ll regret it later.

Yes, you should just buy the Think Tank bag.  Yes, it is expensive.  But it will last forever and if it breaks they will probably fix it, unless you do something dumb like throw it under a dump truck.  Even then, they might fix it if you can tell an entertaining enough story.  Plus, one time they called me stylish on Twitter.