Water Polo--Motion, Focus, and Intensity.
By Kel Casey
20 Apr 2009
Water Polo is almost a religion, at least here in So Cal. The world stops when we play our arch-rivals. And, I fully admit, I'm an addict, at least in terms of photographing the game. It's how I define myself. I'm a water polo photographer.
I have two players. 18, 11. A boy and a girl.
I started taking pictures of the games a couple years back, at my older son's games, but they didn't turn out so well, and it's not like you can get in the water with them. When my daughter started playing for real, I started taking pix for real.
It's hard. The sun glares off the water. There's backlight. There's constant motion. It's all blue. The kids have their eyes shut...You get a shot lined up and a kid gets pulled under water. They tread water all the time. Nobody "stands still" in water polo. Somebody's arm is always covering somebody's face.
I learned about fast shutter speeds and aperture priority. I learned I need to get down to the edge of the pool (sometimes I get wet). I learned about glare, and I learned to work with the light, and that a polarizing filter is a good investment. I learned to move around the pool. I recently learned that a 500mm lens is a wonderful thing for water polo. I learned that sometimes the best action is not where the ball is. I learned about my focus options. I also learned that I really don't like the "burst" mode. I like to anticipate the shot and click the shutter once.
The game seems chaotic, and is indeed a total frenzy of intense activity. Most of the action is under water. Having an idea of how it's played helps with the timing. I can watch a goalie's eyes and see when an opponent is about to fire the ball. I know when a player or coach yells "WEAK!" that a player will pass to a teammate on the far side of the pool, so I can direct the camera there.
As a parent, I also gained a knack for being able to cheer (and maybe armchair coach a little) while taking pix. I could watch the game through the lens and yell "SWIM DOWN", or "ARMS UP", and still get the shot.
I also learned to stand or sit at the edge of the pool and away from the refs and coaches. This means no one will run between me and the pool. It also means I could fall in, but what the hell. If I'm lucky the light is right and I can sit for a while behind a shot clock or the pool ladder.
I learned that sunscreen is critical but greasy fingers don't take good photos. I learned that I have 20 minutes in a kid's game and 28 minutes in a high school game to get good shots. Any more than that and the kids are wiped out and the parents' hearts and blood pressure might be compromised...
I learned, like everyone else, than one good shot means I made a lot of really bad ones, but I'm getting better, any way. And along with better photos I get a better understanding of the game, the rules, and what really goes on in the water.
I also learned that sometimes I need to put down the camera and just be a parent and cheer for the team. That is probably the most difficult thing of all.