Shooting hockey tournaments on a regular basis, I consider myself a seasoned veteran on the ins and outs of shooting hockey, such as keeping the equipment up and running in cold rinks and how to adjust for the challenging lighting situations. As experienced as I am with these, I still feel I was caught a little off guard when I agreed to shoot the Great Lakes Girls Hockey League Playoff Tournament at an outdoor twin rink complex in Buffalo in late February.
The tournament was held at Buffalo Riverworks, a brand new facility erected from the rubble of one of the abandoned factories that line the Lake Erie shore. Although it’s still partially under construction, it has the makings of a great multi-use facility with two outdoor ice rinks covered by a massive roof and an indoor warehouse type venue that can host concerts and other events including roller derby. While we were there shooting the tournament, a roller derby match was going on which led to some spontaneous photographic opportunities I don’t usually get to do.
Shooting at an outdoor rink in February in Buffalo will certainly test ones sanity and ability to function properly. We started the tournament on Friday evening with temperatures bottoming out at game time at a balmy -3 below zero. I followed my normal routine of keeping a spare camera battery in a warm location and periodically alternated them to keep the cameras power level operational. I usually wear a pair of thin gloves in a rink to keep my hands warm and still feel the camera controls, but at -3 degrees thin gloves were not an option. I had to fight through the frustrations of working with ski gloves and even that didn’t stop my thumbs from stinging are the first period.
This battle went on all evening as I would repeat the process of shooting a period and a half and then warming up inside briefly before switching rinks for the next game. This went on for five hours on the first evening, 12 hours the next day and another seven hours on Sunday. Fortunately, Saturday briefly went up to 13 degrees and Sunday almost hit 20. My trusted combo of my Nikon D300 with the Sigma 120-300mm f2.8 performed flawlessly despite the frigid temperatures. The wide zoom ring on the lens played a critical role in being able to track the play properly with ski gloves on.
To spice things up a little, I took the opportunity to play with Sigma’s 10mm f2.8 Fisheye lens to get some unique angles of the games, players and the Riverworks complex.
The biggest challenge throughout the weekend other than the monumental task of keeping warm was the dramatic lighting changes. At night the rinks were lit by bright, evenly lit overhead lights hanging from the ceiling. During the day however, especially on Saturday, the bright sunlight streaming in to the rink at odd angles and only in certain sections of the ice made shooting difficult at best. Add in the huge snow piles outside the rink being hit by the sun and you had the recipe for a backlit nightmare. To combat this, I had to shoot from a flight of stairs that elevated my vantage point so I was not shooting directly toward the sunlit snow banks but down in to the rink. I had the camera set to over expose by a full stop to brighten the players which worked well except when they would skate through a sunny patch.
With a return to typical Buffalo weather on Sunday with overcast and snow falling, the lighting, although still bright in the background, was much more even. The final championship game on Sunday could not have come soon enough. I was past the breaking point with trying to stay warm with the wind picking up throughout the morning. It took me a week to overcome the fatigue of trying to stay warm. My Sigma gear however, didn’t miss a beat.