Friday, May 25, 2012

I don't just shoot pool...

I shoot other things too.

Photography has been a life-long hobby for me, dating way back to my early years - long before I picked up a pool cue.

Some of my shooting involves lead and ear protection and well, but we'll write about that another day... today is about photography.

My first camera was a Kodak Brownie Holiday. And no, I'm not that old, this particular model was discontinued before I was born. Like many things back then, that camera was a hand-me-down... and it was pretty sturdy so it held up to the abuse that it invariably received from me being a young kid.

I had two jobs growing up - a paper route for the Sacramento Bee, and an after-school job at a local drug store doing odd things like receiving and pricing products, stocking shelves, and so on. I remember saving money for quite awhile for a better camera (along with a flash and additional lens or two) as well as my dad driving me all the way down to San Francisco (about a four or five hour drive) to buy my first 35mm SLR, a Minolta XD-5. Definitely money well spent.

That camera was a huge leap forward for me and really helped kick things off in my hobby. I was on the high school yearbook staff and took (and developed, using the school's darkroom) numerous pictures around campus. I took sports pictures that were published in the local newspaper. My classmates voted me "most likely to become a Playboy photographer" senior year. I didn't become one (yet?), but I have done a good bit of model photography and have always felt some form of photography is something I could "fall back on" someday.

I also dabbled in other interesting areas during high school: holography, and high speed photography. I successfully built apparatuses (apparati?) for physics projects to experiment in both of these areas. To this date, my mom has a picture on her wall that I took of a shattering light bulb, frozen in time after being hit with a hammer. Harold Edgerton was one of my heroes back then, and it felt great to be able to pull off something on par with his work!

WTF does this have to do with pool, you say? Well, I'm still taking pictures these days... and pool happens to be one of the many subjects I enjoy shooting.

I've had people tell me that "all pool shots look pretty much the same" but I wholeheartedly disagree. Besides the variations in stances, bridges, etc. there is a ton of emotion in the game (duh?) and that's always something I try to capture when I can. Darren Appleton is fun to shoot for example because of all the crazy faces he makes while he's deep in thought. They're sometimes a challenge to catch... they're often fleeting glimpses, and you need to be zoomed in well enough to catch the expressions. You obviously can't use flash and the lighting often isn't very good when they're standing up away from the table lights.

I also take the opportunity to study good form. This shot of Hunter Lombardo is an example of good stance and alignment. His left forearm is dead spot-on vertical as it should be (and so is his thumb, actually). It looks like he's gripping fairly tightly which is a little surprising - but it probably isn't as tight as it looks, and I don't know where exactly he is in his shot routine either. He's got a fairly level stick, and is down about as far as he can get (heck, it actually looks like he's worn a groove in his chin).

PBIA Master Instructor Tom Simpson used Hunter as an example of someone with good mechanics, and I can definitely see why! Tom also made a point of saying that you don't necessarily have to be a "chin dragger" like Hunter to get good results. There are pros and cons for being down so low as well as being up a bit higher, and being so low isn't ideal for everyone.

While watching the match between Darren and Hunter (US Open 10-ball), my mind wandered back to my "junior Harold Edgerton" days and I decided to take a stab at shooting some break shots. The lighting was good (they were on the TV table) so I was able to use a reasonable shutter speed to capture the action. Back in the day, Harold (and I) used a triggered strobe light in a dark room for the exposure because, with the right equipment, the flash of light was far quicker than virtually any mechanical shutter could be. The goal with those shots was to completely freeze something that was happening in a split second (like a light bulb exploding). Again, I couldn't use a flash, but in this case I wanted to see some motion!

As luck would have it, my very first attempt turned out to be one of my favorite shots! Check it out - the cue ball hasn't hit the rack yet, but the blurred image of it is actually overlapping the 1-ball. Hunter broke from the right side of what would be "the box" if they had a box (they didn't) so the cue ball was coming from that side of the table. If it's not in contact with the 1-ball, it's damn close.

It didn't take long for the engineer in me to realize that I could theoretically measure the speed of the break shot... based on knowing the diameter of the cue ball, length of blur, and shutter speed. I'm not sure how calibrated the shutter speed is on my camera, but it was supposedly 1/50th of a second for this shot. Using that, I came up with something in the neighborhood of 18 mph, which I think is a reasonable number - not blistering fast, but respectable for a well controlled break like Hunter was doing.

If you try to run the figures yourself, remember you should be measuring the distance from the center of the cue ball at the beginning of the blur to the center of the cue ball at the end of the blur because you're trying to figure out how far it traveled in 1/50th of a second. Or measure the entire blur and subtract out one cue ball diameter. Measuring the entire blur would be incorrect.

The second shot I have here is slightly after impact, showing the relative energy imparted on all the balls. The cue ball and 1-ball are in the air, the 2-ball and 3-ball have the most energy and are quickly speeding away (they were on the corners per a proper 10-ball rack). The 4-ball and 9-balls were between the 2&3 and also have a lot of energy, although not as much as the 2&3. Note that this was not the same break as above, so some of the initial ball positions were different. I believe this one was an Appleton break. If I remember right, Darren usually broke from nearly the same spot that Hunter used.