Lights, Camera, Wrestle

December 15, 2009 

With our six-week rotations, assignment types tend to come in shifts. Last season, it felt like non-stop basketball, and while I've covered a few hoops games this year already, my impending rotation to the day shift means I'll miss out on most of the season.

This earlier stint on the night shift has given me a chance to shoot some wrestling — a sport I had only shot a couple of times prior to covering Hanford's win over West Valley and Chiawana's win over Kamiakin last week.

To most observers the main disparity between the meets would probably be quality of competition — Hanford eked out a close one against the underdog Rams, while Chiawana dominated Kamiakin — but to me, lighting was the real story.

Hanford killed the main lights in favor of a single overhead source at each mat, creating dramatic lighting and very clean backgrounds. Right after I showed up, I managed to snag this shot of Hanford's Joe Traverso taking down West Valley’s Darion Taylor:

The spotlight effect gives the fairly common occurrence a heightened drama and the visual isolation it provides highlights the one-on-one purity of the sport.

There are some other issues, though, and the lit exit sign caused a green distraction until I moved to the other side of the mat:

Where I not only captured the flash of somebody else's camera:

but also photographed the decisive final match between Hanford's Matt Owens, top, against West Valley's Ethan Smith, which was the shot that ran in the paper:

I had previously cropped the shot tighter for print, in fear that its position inside meant it would run small, but like it a bit wider for the symmetry between the two competitors’ outstretched legs.

The dramatic lighting did make things tough when people weren't positioned ideally, however, and a potentially strong juxtaposition between Owens' elation and Smith’s defeat is largely lost to the shadows:

Sometimes things worked out even though they crawled out of the spotlight, and Hayden Gaylord's white Hanford singlet helped me out by reflecting some light onto D.J. Stai's face:

And the relative inaction of the post-meet discussion let me photograph the team at 1/10th sec. as I kept hoping head coach Dominic Duncan would turn toward the light.

Two days later, it was a much different scene at Kamiakin High School, which held its dual meet in the main gym. The even lighting reflected off the red and yellow mats, creating ugly color casts on the wrestlers:

This makes black and white a better choice:

Although I prefer the dramatic lighting, Kamiakin's setup was easier to work with. There were far fewer times in which the action was nearly impossible to photograph and incorporating the coaches mid-action was possible, as when Chiawana head coach Jack Anderson encouraged Pedro Murillo as he wrestled with Cesar Castillo of Kamiakin.

My schedule was a lot tighter that night, so I didn't stay until the end. As I was preparing to leave, however, somebody thanked the Herald over the P.A. system for coming out to cover the dual meet, eliciting an applause that fell firmly between smattering and raucous. It was enough to make me stay for a couple more matches because as weird as it felt to receive that attention, it would have felt weirder to leave immediately after it.

I grabbed this shot of Kamiakin's Sedale Garcia pinning Chiawana's Mark McKeown, which ended up being my favorite of the night.

Not being from the area, I don't root for any teams except when the possibility of running one of my photos is riding on a particular outcome. In this case, Chiawana’s 51-24 decimation of the Braves meant this photo would have to settle for its spot in the photo gallery.

The color photo ended being used for publication, and thankfully it ran on a black and white page, masking the inhuman skin tones. I didn't regret the extra time I spent and its causal effect on my disappointment. Receiving that applause was a nice reminder that people do care about what we do, and having swam and played water polo during high school in Oregon, I can empathize with athletes who participate in oft-overlooked sports.

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