The Last Jam…

Anybody that has ever visited my website, this blog, or even my facebook page has known that for the last 8 years I have been one of the team photographers for the Indianapolis based Naptown Roller Girls.  At the beginning of this last season I made it clear to my art director with the league that this was my final season, so this wasn’t much of a surprise.  Thing is that this wasn’t a money decision, this wasn’t a being tired of the league decision, nor was it a lack of enjoyment decision.  This decision was merely a decision based around the fact that shooting Roller Derby is something that I’ve enjoyed doing all the way across the country at this point, and it was time to make way for someone who needed it the way that I did when I started 8 years ago.  Simple fact is that in 2006 when I started doing this, I had just moved to Indianapolis and didn’t know a soul.  8 years ago is different from today though.  Today I am a happily married full time freelance photographer instead of single photographer working full time for a newspaper.  I now have friends in town, some very good ones in fact and am not looking to meet 10,000 people at every chance that I get on the basis of possibly finding friends.  Those were things I needed back then, and not things that I need right now.  That lead me to the decision to step away form what I have thoroughly enjoyed for 8 years to make way for someone else who needs all those things that I needed when I started doing it.  Someone who needs all of those things like I did 8 years ago.


(Nikon D4s, 320 ISO, Nikon 70-200F2.8VR2@200mm.  1/250th@F5.  Paul C Buff Einstein heads with 11″ Sport reflectors at the corners of the track in turns 1 and 2.  The light in turn 1 was set to 1/4th, the light in turn 2 was set to 1/8th.  Both lights triggered by Pocket Wizard Plus X Transceivers from the same units on the camera hot Shoes.)

That’s from the last bout I shot in April of this year.  I’m pretty pleased with the action inside the photo as well as the sharpness.  It wasn’t always that way though.  When I started shooting Roller Derby I used a Nikon D2x camera, without lights.  If you don’t know much about cameras, then let me present you this file of my lamp shot with my trust Nikon D2x at 3200ISO.  Back then it was a different world.  Those were processed with Current Photoshop Technology too you can imagine that with Photoshop 7 it was a bit worse yea?  Anyway,  the point is that it took a long time to get to where I am today and while technology helped, there is a lot more to the story of some of my favorite images in Roller Derby from the last 8 years.  This blog is testament to just some of those stories.


(Nikon D3, 200ISO, Nikon 28-70F2.8D@28mm.  1/160th@F9.  Single Dynalite Uni400JR set to 1/4th shot through a 60″ Wescott translucent disk to light the entire shot.  The floor was composited off of a few tiles that actually existed around the tub.)

This is by far one of my favorite images made from the Roller Derby.  With NRG we used to do a calendar every year, showcasing different Sirens (the A team) over a 15 month period.  The calendars would sell at the bouts, and come as a gift to Season Ticket holders.  Some very cool projects came about shooting the calendar, but this one was by far my favorite.  Every year we would sit down and talk about ideas to showcase the skaters, or even play off of their names.  In this case the girl’s name is Cereal Killer.  The rest should be history.  In all honesty I need to admit that this wasn’t my idea.  A guy in Indianapolis named Greg  The Mayor” Andrews came up with the idea, and I just happened to be there working with him when this photo was taken.  As I recall we were just about done when I decided to stand on a chair and hold my camera above the bathtub with our stylist (Nikki Sutton) pouring the bootleg fruit loops onto Cereal Killer.  Most of the shots around this one are her with her eyes closed, or her mouth in a funny position since the fruity O’s were hitting her in her face, and her teeth.  This was the shot that was finally selected into the calendar for that year.  It’s not without a significant amount of photoshop as the entire floor needed to be created out of one or two tiles that existed in the original photo.  Once said and done though, it’s by far my favorite shot.


(Nikon D3, 3200ISO, Nikon 70-200F2.8VR1@135mm.  1/125th@F2.8).

As you can see my D3’s 3200ISO is marginally Significantly cleaner than that out of the D2x

Over the years I’ve had this affinity for getting into places that either require special permission, or a few guts in order to get to them.  This shot was created while visiting North Star in Minnesota.  The catwalk this shot was taken from is 90 feet above the track, and I had to get special permission from security AND building services to go up there.  I’m not Andy Hancock or Bill Frakes so I don’t have 20 cameras at my disposal to set up as a remote and at the time I was not yet a NPS member so I couldn’t ask for a loaner either.  (Remote cameras are both Andy and Bill’s specialties).  No this shot required me to leave the bout during halftime and climb to the top of the arena.  When the bout started I shot for approximately two jams on the 90 foot catwalk knowing it would take me 15 minutes to get back down to the track level.  There were actually two levels in the arena catwalks.  A 90 foot and a 60 foot catwalk in order to get to all the different points for lighting under the dome.  The 90 foot walk was so high that not even the security guy followed me up there, electing to stay at the base of the ladder on the 60 foot catwalk, out of fear. (Not just saying that for story purposes, he actually flat out said “This terrifies me, you can go up there but I’m staying right here.)

3461019286_845f9268e1_o(Nikon D300, 1400A-ISO, 1/60th@F2.8. Nikon 10.5mm DX Fisheye)

Again with the angles you say!  This shot was from Huntsville Alabama.  Again the catwalks.  This time however I ended up not securing special permission to go up, as the staircase was unlocked.  A lot of times, the best course of action as a photographer is to ask forgiveness as opposed to permission.  This case was neither, as the staircase to get into the catwalks at this particular arena was blatantly open and I walked right up.  I’m sure someone forgot to put something in front of it, but it doesn’t matter now being years later.  This particular venue had a catwalk running right over the center of the track allowing a slightly different view using a fisheye lens.  At the time, I was using a D300 and the Venorable Nikon 10.5mm Fisheye.  I also have a shot of this arena with the Sigma 12-24mm lens, but The distortion of the fisheye as well as the fact that the pack was largely undistorted vs the edges makes it one of my favorites.


(Nikon D300, 1600ISO, Nikon 70-200F2.8VR1@102mm.  1/25oth@F2.8)

This shot is wonderful yet also tragic.  In this frame, my friend Toni (Joan of Dark) was stepping over the other team’s Jammer after she had fallen.  It’s a great action frame and probably one of my first very memorable action frames from shooting Roller Derby.  As you can tell this was before I started using lights of any kind so getting sharp crisp action in ambient light was practically a miracle (in fact this one could probably even us a bit more focus, but oh well).  Why is this shot a tragedy?  Somewhere along the lines the RAW files of this bout got lost and this is the only size of this frame that exists today.  I have no idea what happened, or where they went, but they aren’t in my archive (27tb as of currently) of images from the last 10 years of shooting.  There are lots of even older photos in there, but for some reason these didn’t make it.  I love this frame, and wish that I was able to reproduce it at a larger size, but oh well.  It’ll still remain just a wonderful yet tragic shot in my mind.



(Nikon D3s, 100ISO, Nikon 18-35F3.5-4.5@18mm.  1/400th@F16.  Nikon SB800 Speedlight held by Mike Guio to camera left, zoomed to 105mm set to full power triggered by Nikon SU-800 on the camera Hot Shoe). 

The State Fair.  It’s the only time I’ve shot Roller Derby outside, and wow what a neat experience that was.  As I tell my photo students, I tend to light things even if most people think they don’t need to be lit.  This was no exception, as I put speedlights around the track to help bring in the sky over the course of the evening.  This shot was taken during warmups with my Nikon SB800 set to EPIC held by good friend Mike Guio in the center of the track.  I figured that if the sun was shining like that, and the girls were going to play outside, why not show it outside right?  I have yet to see another bout outside, and I’ll always remember this because not only was this bout outside; but it was also over 100 Degrees that afternoon.



(Nikon D800, 100ISO, Nikon 14-24mmF2.8N@14mm.  1/15th@F5.6.  Nikon SB900 Speedlight zoomed to 200mm set to 1/16th power ained at the skaters with my left hand, while aiming and shooting with the right hand.  Flash triggered by SC28 Sync Cable.  Camera white balancd set to 2500K, and a FulL CTO was added to the SB900 to create the special blue effect.)

Over the years I’ve tried lots of different things.  Different angles, different cameras and different lenses.  The shot above was from this season, and it was no different.  The goal here was to create something different.  Shot with a Nikon D800 and all the resolution in the world with my white balance super low to create a deep blue while adding a bunch of orange to a Nikon SB900 with a camera flash which I held while shooting.  The combo created shots like this for the introduction and I can easily say that I did in fact create something different.  Is it a good different? or is it a bad different?  Honestly only you can decide.  I like it because it’s not something you see anywhere else.  Does the mainstream like it?  Well?? Do you?



(Nikon D3s, 3200ISO, Nikon AFSII 300mmF2.8D with Nikon TC20eIII teleconverter to make 600mm.  1/500th@F8.  Elinchrom Style 600RX heads hung in the rafters of the Indiana Convention Center thanks to Roberts Camera, lights triggered by Pocket Wizard TT5’s from Pocket Wizard TT1’s on the camera hot shoe.  1/500th of a second was achieved via the Pocket Wizard Flex system’s ability to sync faster than 1/250th to large light sources.)

This shot was one I worked at for a while.  In 2011 I finally had my shot in what you see above.  In 2011 Indianapolis was selected to host the WFTDA Regional Championships and I was offered the opportunity to shoot for WFTDA.  It was a paid gig too, which in Roller derby is a rare thing.  In doing so I worked with my friends at Roberts Camera to hang lights in the rafters of the Indiana Convention center which could be rented for a nominal fee.  The only catch was that photographers who didn’t want to rent the lights had to hang their lights in a certain spot, not willie nillie all over like was common practice at the time.  Now, you may think that this was kind of a bummer, but that wasn’t just the league talking with that one.  That was the Convention Center worrying about spectator Saftey.  On the same side, if photographers wanted to come in and hang their own large arena lights (which one actually did), they could as long as they provided a proof of commercial insurance.  I shot 17 bouts in 3 days as I recall and wowza what an event.  I laid on the ground for 4 jams a period for 6 bouts to get this shot.  For years tried to top it, but never could in terms of jammers coming off the line.  Never quite got out there with even longer glass, but oh well.  I’m still incredibly pleased with what you see up in that shot above.

Speaking of long, this list is getting longer that I had intended, so instead of continuing on calling out more of our calendar related endeavors I’m going to save that for another post.  The video above was an entire day in the making.  3,691 frames taken with a Nikon D2Xs camera at the Indiana State Fairgrounds Coliseum.  There’s no music with it because I was concerned about copyright, at the time, but that’s ok.  It just shoes what goes into a day of Roller Derby in the OLD Indiana State Fairgrounds Coliseum.  It’s not an easy task, which is also a contributor to how this final decision was made for me.

I’d like to give a special thanks to the Naptown Roller Girls for all the memories, opportunities, and friendships that I have been given over the last 8 seasons.  It’s been a blast.  The Season 9 bout dates have been set, and I encourage you to check them out here along with Season Ticket information.  While I am not going away as a fan, as a volunteer I must step back for my family, my business, and my personal life.  I look forward to watching you play for years into the future and smiling knowing the part that I played in your beginnings.  As always, and as long as I can keep it that way, any photo I’ve taken for the Naptown Roller Girls can be found HERE.  They are all in sets.  At some point I would like to offer some of my favorites for sale as prints, but I haven’t gotten all that figured out quite yet.  There have been a lot of requests for prints over the years, and I just need to make sure some of the “Ducks are in a row” so to speak with being able to make it easy, affordable and awesome.

Best of luck to the Naptown Roller Girls this season, and to all of the great friends I made across the world shooting Roller Derby.  Hopefully these stories made roller derby fans, skaters, photographers or anyone else smile a bit as I did from time to time in writing this while remembering them.  May the Jam timer, refs and lighting be with you all.  Until then though.  More soon.