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The June 'Spring Sports' contest winners

Posted by Teresa Hanafin  July 21, 2009 05:40 PM

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When the Globe’s prize-winning sports photographer Jim Davis evaluated the 25 finalists in June’s Spring Sports contest to choose the Top 10, he hoped to find – or, in some cases, not find – several elements.

First, he didn’t want to see distracting backgrounds that drew attention away from the main subject of the photo. Sometimes that meant the photographer moving to a position that eliminated those distractions; other times it meant a nice tight crop.

“Sometimes it’s a matter of luck where you’re sitting or standing,” Jim said. “But if you can, always try to position yourself to get a clean background.”

Good cropping, he said, can take a distracting background and eliminate or at least minimize it. “By using a tighter crop, you can focus the eye on the most interesting element of the photo,” he said.

Sometimes the crops are minor in execution, but yield a major result – something as simple as cropping down or in from the side slightly to eliminate a vertical or horizontal pole on a chain link fence, for example.

Another technique is to use a long lens with a shallow depth of field, say f/2.8 or f/4, to blur a busy backdrop.

He also wanted to see dead space eliminated, although he also pointed out that in some photos, such as the shot of Mike Lowell throwing a ball, showing a good chunk of the field to the right of Lowell was very effective.

Jim also looked for a strong composition, where heads or feet weren’t cut off unnecessarily or balls weren’t out of the frame. In action shots, he looked for that peak moment of action; in the quieter photos, he sought out those that captured a special sports moment, even if there wasn’t much movement in the picture.

Finally, he looked for creativity, particularly shots taken from a low angle. “In my opinion, most sports shots are better taken from a low angle,” he said. “It’s more dramatic. It makes you feel part of the action. Say a running back is hurtling over a defender. If you get that shot at eye level, it will be good, but if you are even lower, you will accentuate the leap and get a great shot.”

Jim, who loves shooting football, is so determined to get low for the best shot that he sometimes wears kneepads (“Depends on the field and the time of year,” he says. “Sometimes by the fourth quarter my knees are killing me”). The only exception to his low-is-better rule is hockey, since it is virtually impossible to get down low without actually being on the ice.

And now, the winners:

First Place – $100

Milk Sand
10 April 2009, Orange Coast College. Long jumper lands in a spray of sand
at the Coast Track and Field Classic in Costa Mesa, CA
Nikon D300, 1/8000 sec. at f/4.5, focal length 70mm, ISO 1600

This First Place winner had it all, according to Jim: It captured a good peak action moment, there was a fairly clean background, and it was taken at a low angle that accentuated the action.

“I really like the swirl of the sand and the way the photographer captured the jumper’s tongue hanging out as he reached for every last inch in his jump,” he said. “It had a good combination of all the important elements.”

Second Place – $50

Late Throw to Second
Nikon D300, 1/5000 sec. at f/2.8, focal length 270mm, ISO 250

“Another peak moment with crisp action and a clean background,” Jim said. “Imagine if an outfielder could be seen, or there was a big white house just beyond the field – it would have really distracted from this photo. Plus it was taken at a little bit of a low angle. It’s a nice crop with no dead space, it’s clean, nice and sharp, the ball is right where you want it – it’s a professional-looking picture.”

Third Place - $25

Reach for the Sky
Nikon D300, 1/500 sec. at f/9.0, focal length 18mm, ISO 200

“Same cleanness as the other winners,” Jim said. “There’s a nice graphic quality to this photo – you can instantly tell it’s basketball. Very eye-pleasing, with nothing distracting. Another low-angle shot. I like that this photographer and some others tried different points of view. Here, it worked well. The photographer was trying to do something different, and I like that.”

Here's a gallery of all of the Top 10 finishers -- congratulations to all.

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