Going Belle For Leather at the Dublin Roller Derby

December 23, 2013  •  4 Comments

On 14th December, the Arena in Tallaght was the venue for a Roller Derby between the Dublin Roller Derby – formerly Dublin Roller Girls - and Hot Wheels from Leeds. A group of Offshoot members including myself got “access all areas” to capture the bruising action.

Roller Derby is a, largely, women's contact sport that looks like a combination of roller skate racing and American football. On each two minute play, or “jam”, five players from a match squad of 14 compete on an narrow oval track to get their lead skater or “jammer” – she’s the one with the star on her helmet - to lap the other skaters. The jammer’s team members work to block or push the opposition jammer out of bounds, and to clear a path through the pack for their own jammer. Points are scored each time a jammer laps the rest of the skaters and a derby lasts for an hour in two halves. Keeping track of the players and the scores requires a team of referees – in black and white – and scoring officials – in pink. Check out the sport’s Wikipedia page for more on how it’s played.

The Dubliners, including Bloody Harry, Ellatrix Deranged, Smack, Dirty Knees, Malibruise, Ellie Beating, Phantom Jemerald and Belle for Leather gave their all against Hotties such as Peggy Lethal, Red Mist, Danger Duck, Isla Hurtya and Malice in Wonderwheels – all their real names of course! Sadly, after Dublin clawed their way back into contention, Ruthless Philly of the Hotties’ made a big play on the last jam to take match – check out the match report on the Hot Wheels site here.

Shooting fast action under artificial lighting is quite a challenge for my Canon 7D – while it’s still a great camera over four years after it was introduced, it’s 1-2 stops short on high ISO performance compared with the latest full frame cameras such as Canon’s 5D and 6D and Nikon’s D600 & D800. Clearly, it was time to root out my Canon 85mm f1.8 lens – the only prime lens that I own. Although a budget option compared to the Canon 85mm f1.2, it gets excellent reviews. As I didn’t want to be fiddling with lens changes while trying to pick up the rules of an unfamiliar sport, I decided to stick with this lens for the derby – a choice made easier because we were able to zoom with our feet – provided we stayed out of the “skate out” sectors between the competition track, the team zones and the “penalty box” – equivalent to a sin bin.

I shot in aperture priority at f1.8 to maximise shutter speeds and varied the ISO from 800 to 2500. A second trick was to under expose by one stop, which doubles the available shutter speed. While this introduces more digital noise in the images, particularly in the darker areas, a “dark but sharp(ish)” image is usable - but a bright blurred one isn’t! Additionally, the effects of noise can be mitigated by shooting in raw format and using the excellent noise reduction, as reviewed by Photography Life, in Lightroom. The downside of shooting in raw is the need for bigger cards – I nearly filled a 16 and an 8 GB card with about 800 shots, shorter burst sizes and some processing lags in camera. On the day, I didn’t find these issues to be a problem because I waited for the moment of peak action and then just fired a short burst.

To get a consistent look to the results, I did a test shot with a grey card at the beginning. Then I used Lightroom’s “sync settings” to copy the develop settings from the first image I chose to edit to the remaining 74 in the slide show. These settings were white balance (from the grey card), exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, vibrance, noise reductions and sharpness. Check out video’s on syncing settings from SLR Lounge and Adam Lerner, and written step by step instructions from Victoria Brampton aka the Lightroom Queen.

So how do I felt I did? Well I’m fairly pleased with images I took at ISO 800 & 1600 of static subjects at speeds of 1/80th to 1/250th of a second – several of these pass my “sharp eyelashes” test. For these shots, I also tried to take advantage of the shallow depth of field by e.g. composing a sharp image of the coach with a blurred image of a player. However, the action shots are not so good – typically I got speeds in the 1/500th to 1/1000th of second range. While many of them are fine for non-photographers or viewing on the web they would be too soft for competition purposes – either because of motion blur or getting the focal point at the wrong spot. The latter was due to moving subjects and the shallow depth of field at f1.8. In retrospect, I’m sorry I didn’t make more use of ISO 3200 to get higher speeds, although the results then would then have been a bit soft because of noise and/or noise reduction. Before blaming the performance of the camera, though, a better knowledge of the sport and, perhaps, a more concentrated emphasis on shooting individual players or roles, might get me more keepers.  Having said that, a Canon 5D MkIII with its combination of fast handling and high ISO performance would give opportunities to get shutter speeds of up 1/2000th of a second, or greater depth of field  - although of course the full frame sensor of the 5D gives a shallower depth of field than the 7D. Another approach in the tough lighting conditions would be to use the  panning technique – something I would definitely try on another visit.

Thanks to everyone at Dublin Roller Derby for allowing us to get some great action shots and my fellow Offshooters for crack – the humour kind :-),  and tips.


John Coveney Photography - People Places & Wildlife
Ellie, you're welcome.
Ellie Beating(non-registered)

Just thanking you and the Offshoot guys for coming along.

Lovely shots!

Ellie x
John Coveney Photography - People Places & Wildlife
Stephen, thanks for your comment - I don't think we were allowed use flash - certainly nobody else was using it so I assumed we couldn't.
Stephen O'Connell(non-registered)
Hi John,

These are great photos. I have shot a lot of roller derby matches and I find the best way to get the great light is using off camera flash.

Here is a set of mine which I took at an east coast cyclones game.
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