The beauty of lacrosse makes it a very photogenic sport, but the speed of the game makes it one of the most difficult sports to photograph. We'll go "Behind the Lens" with Pretty Instant photographers this season, who shoot every MLL game, to examine the challenges they face and appreciate the great images that come courtesy of the best lacrosse players on Earth.
We spoke with Dale Zanine, who shoots Atlanta Blaze home games, about working in torrential rain during Atlanta's first game of the season and Zanine's first game shooting MLL.
Q: How did you prepare to shoot the game?
A: Shooting out in the elements is something I’m very used to and mentally and physically ready to go do. There are days when you wish “Why couldn’t the weather just be good? Why does it have to be raining?” But having done it so many times, once you get out there, it’s almost fun. One thing I wish – especially with football – is that if the fields weren’t as good as they are now, there would be those mud bowls. Guys would get up caked with mud stuck in their face masks. Those days are gone. It’ll pour down rain and you don’t get anything like that. The days that are the worst are when it’s threatening rain, and you are not really sure what the conditions will be. Then you sort of have to be prepared for whatever happens. I have one set of rain gear for that because it’s very quick on and off, almost like poncho-type gear. And then the days that it’s a total downpour, then I have gear that’s more on or off. You put it on and you deal with it because it’s there to stay. Taking it on and off is not a quick operation. That particular day, it was raining steadily enough that I put that on because it’s better protection. I always joke that sports photographers typically have rain gear for their cameras and lenses that costs more than a lot of people’s cameras do. There’s a reason for that, because cameras and lenses are so expensive, you want to have good protection. You want to be able to get out there and function and make images because that’s your job.
Q: Some photographers really enjoy shooting in the rain. Do you?
A: Like everything else, there’s a trade-off and there’s always pros and cons. The light doesn’t change very much, so that’s good, because your exposure isn’t changing dramatically from one set play to the next or one rush to the next. That, in some ways, can make it easier, but then you also kind of lose the drama. Shooting in bright sun, if it’s overhead, it’s very contrast-y and you get those deep shadows. And that’s a problem, because especially in a sport like lacrosse, you want to get the faces in there because there’s so much emotion. There’s so much going on throughout the course of a game, which I love. I think it’s a fabulous sport. It’s amazing. The athletes are great in their skill level, but also their determination and their dedication to the sport is great. And that makes for great pictures. So, on those days when it is heavily overcast or raining, it’s just a little bit harder sometimes to pick that up. You don’t have to deal with deep shadows that might obstruct the face, but then you don’t have good dramatic light that might be falling on the face and help you illuminate it and make it a better picture that way. There’s definitely pros and cons to both and I think after a while, you’re so used to dealing with whatever the conditions are, and working to make good images and try to tell the story of the game, that you’re able to deal with that and accomplish that goal regardless, but some conditions give you more advantages than some of the others might.
Q: Do you remember a game you shot that lent itself to great photos?
A: Yeah, and unfortunately, the game didn’t match the conditions. It was a total downpour in Athens three years ago for Georgia and Alabama football. They both came in ranked pretty high and it didn’t work out to well for Georgia that day. There were some phenomenal pictures just because of the weather. It was raining so hard that you could barely see, but it still made extra drama for the photos as a result of the fact that the downpour was there and you’re still shooting at a fast enough shutter speed, and the photos from the lacrosse match, they were like that, where the raindrops are frozen as part of the image. It sort of adds to the drama of what else is going on, because it’s just one more element to the picture that kind of makes somebody take a second look at it and say, "Wow, that’s different" or "That’s unique compared to what I’m used to seeing." You do try to use it as another element in the pictures to make it visually appealing for somebody to look at and draw your eye in to look closer to see what else is going on there.
(Dale Zanine, USA Today Sports)
Q: What type of rain gear do you use for these conditions?
A: The poncho set you can probably get on there in a couple of minutes if it’s a sudden downpour. I’ve shot games in Florida when the sun is out, then all of sudden the sky just opens up on you. So it’s hard to be prepared for that. And sometimes you take a trash bag out there and you can throw that over everything. That will keep things dry for a little bit. The other stuff is a little bit more extensive and a little bit more protection. It’s about a 10-minute process to get it on a couple of camera bodies and lenses. You get it all zipped up in the right spot. There is some maintenance where I will spray it down with some silicone spray so that they are still water resistant. They have windows in them in the back where you can see your camera controls and LED screens. Those sometimes get clouded over and fogged up and you have to clean those up too. The rain gear is one of those things where it’s something that is out of sight out of mind. You might not need it for several months and it’s packed away. Then, all of sudden here’s a day when you need it.