I probably won’t be a roller derby photographer


Sometimes you study a thing for a while, and instead of finding out more about the thing, you find out more about yourself—and sometimes both.

I have been looking at lenses and digital photo cameras over the weekend. Have been reading up on reviews, have been comparing prices. The thing is, I wasn’t too happy with the photos I took during the Amsterdam Derby Dames roller derby scrimmage and bout in respectively Rotterdam and Essen, and wanted to see what gear I need for derby photography.

The Flickr group Roller Derby is a treasure trove of experience which allowed to me collect some data on the sort of equipment derby photographers use:

  • prosumer cameras
  • 70-200 mm, F 2.8 lenses
  • often a second camera fitted with a wide anglish fast (1.8 max) lens for portraits and group photos

This would have meant an approximate 2000 euro investment in gear. Back when I was poor, I saw every purchase through the pinhole of what I could afford. And though I am not exactly rich, I can afford to spend a little now and again on nice things. For 2000 euro I am going to shop around though, find the lowest price, consider mail order purchases, perhaps look at second hand gear.

And it was while looking for second hand lenses that I had my epiphany. There is this Amsterdam and Eindhoven based company called Pixto-F that provides “services for photographers”, i.e. lets equipment. For a full-frame camera and their nicest 70-200mm lens, they charge 75 euro per day. A quick back-of-the-brain calculation taught me that I probably would not have a real need for this set up on more than four occasions per year anyway.

So why should I spend more on purchasing camera gear than I would in all probability ever spend on renting it? What if I lost interest in either derby or photography in a couple of years? And would I really pay 75 euro in rental fees per bout visited? That suddenly seemed excessive even if it was cheaper than outright purchasing. I just do not have that much passion for either photography or roller derby. Or, to put it in another way, I suddenly found out how much passion I have for either.


Whither photography and derby photography? I’ll probably try and become a better photographer through osmosis than through a burning desire to improve myself, and I’ll have to improve my roller derby photos through other means than better gear. (Position is everything, and the 70-200mm lens is particularly important when shooting down the long side of the track. The cheap 50mm/1.8 lens I have is perfectly serviceable for action shots in the corners, or for photography from the centre of the track, assuming you have the head referee’s permission to be there.)

Looking at all that camera porn has really wet my appetite for a new body though, especially considering that the Canon EOS 600D has more than adequate video features that my ‘old‘ Canon EOS 1000D lacks entirely.

Afterword: left out of this somewhat money centred monologue is an epiphany that came only minutes earlier, namely that my current gear is largely sufficient, and that improving my derby photos is mostly a function of ‘simply’ becoming a better photographer. And the price of improving myself is free, gratis, zilch, nada.

Things I need to work on:

  • Learning to work with the continuous auto-focus feature. (Go outside and photograph passing cars.)
  • Get a steadier hand.
  • Learn to focus on the centre (lots of failed derby photos because the subject is not in the middle).
  • Become confident, visit lots of bouts and scrimmages, so that the technical side becomes natural, and I start focussing (pardon the pun) on the action and the characters and all the interesting little details.

The world’s best derby photographer is currently Axle Adams (derby name, his real name is Jules Doyle), and what springs out from his photos is not technical perfection (though the man knows is his trade), but the fact that they are interesting.

If I do get better, then will be the time to consider investing in material things.

5 responses to “I probably won’t be a roller derby photographer”

  1. Michiel says:

    Sounds like the same kind of process I normally go trough before I can decide. “Is it me or is it the equipment?” Beginners normally compensate for their lack of skill by buying lots of equipment.
    On the positive side, if you look at the amount of equipment the pro’s have but seldom use, it is likely they went through a similar process. There is hope: they did it too!

    It is a dilemma, really. I’d go for second hand. Lots of it. The pro’s have shown you need a cupboard of unused equipment to be someone.
    And if everything else fails, at least it is stimulating the economy.

    It is almost Januari. Sale!

  2. brankl says:

    A craftsman never blames his tools. So it’s always me. And I know this. But like so many people I still hope and hope that there is some kind of short cut that nobody else knows about.

  3. Minnie Mischief says:

    I’m not a photographer, but I thought the pictures you took of our bout in Essen were excellent! I was really impressed by them, so please don’t give up! Yours are the best pictures anyone has taken of us so far :)

  4. brankl says:

    Thanks Minnie, that’s very kind.

  5. […] been a while since I’ve posted photos. I’ve made a 180 since I wrote in 2011 that I probably won’t be a roller derby photographer. In fact, on Facebook my occupation is now listed as “roller derby […]

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