April 6, 2011

Confessions of a Roller Derby Photographer

Hi, everyone. My name’s Joe, and I’m a roller derby addict.

I got hooked on the sport in 2005, when a friend convinced me to see Seattle’s Rat City Rollergirls play a bout during their first season. Until that moment, I’d never been a sports fan. But wow, here was something amazing. Something exciting. Something beautiful. How could I resist? I watched every remaining bout that season, and for the championship bout I decided to try photographing the action. So I brought my trusty Canon 10D digital SLR and a Tamron 24-135mm F/3.5-5.6 lens, and I gave it a shot. And I found out that shooting derby was hard. Really hard.

One of my first derby photos, from 2005 (1/180 sec, f/4, ISO 3200, no flash)

Keep in mind, I hadn’t been a sports fan. And I sure wasn’t a sports photographer. Most of my experience in photography had been shooting roller coasters, which is really easy in comparison. Roller coasters are usually outdoors, where there happens to be lots and lots of bright light. And roller coaster trains follow a fixed track, so their motion is totally predictable. Roller derby, on the other hand, is usually played indoors where the lighting is dim, and although the skaters also follow a track, their movement is harder to predict. As a result, it’s difficult to freeze the action and get the skaters in sharp focus. But as I discovered at that bout, photographing derby was even more fun than watching it. I gave in to my new addiction and became Joe Rollerfan.

One of my more recent photos, from 2011 (1/250 sec, f/2.8, ISO 3200, two remote flashes)

Since then, I’ve shot more than 200 bouts and over 50 different leagues, and I’ve learned a ton of stuff in the process. My goal in writing this is to share that knowledge and help you become a better derby photographer. At first it’ll be aimed more toward beginners than experts, but eventually I’ll cover some advanced topics. And of course, I'm still learning too, so hopefully this will help me improve as well. Let's have some fun!


Anonymous said...

Awesome. The first bout I shot for the Foxz was in a horribly lit roller rink. I learned a lot that night. And every bout since. Now I skate, and I like to give newer derby photogs little tips I learned, but I have followed your photos online and always was amazed at how nice they are. Now, I shot with some pretty amateur gear but I had to make it work for me, it was all I had and I loved trying new things. I would have drooled for some more advance options, and there are tons far better than myself, but it was fun to be there to capture the action. I learned a lot about the game shooting and I think it helped when I started skating.
Keep up the fantastic work. I plan on sharing your blog :)

Mz Shuggah (photo aka sfunk)
(Fox Cityz Foxz, Appleton, wi)

Christopher W. Weeks said...

Good luck! I look forward to hearing what you have to say. I have been photographing derby since 2007 (although only really seriously since Feb 2010). I agree with your statement that photographing derby is hard. Really hard. Prior to photographing derby, I was a studio photographer, where I could control and choreograph everything that was going on. Derby is the complete opposite! I'm never satisfied with my results. Hopefully, you'll be able to teach me something!

D said...

Am really happy for you Joe. It was a real pleasure to meet you at the Wild West Showdown and have always been a fan of your photography. I look forward to reading your BLOG. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with the rest of us. This year seems to be the year of derby photographers.

Durakill Bunny said...

This is really cool! I think Derby people all over the world is looking at your pics Joe. They way you catch the expressions in their faces is awesome!

Paul said...

Great idea Joe. As a relatively new Derby photographer I look forward to reading your comments and using your suggestions to improve my shots. But before that;

Hi, my name is Paul and Roller Derby truly saved my soul.

Jackie Daniels said...

Hi Joe! Nice blog :)

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