Top of the South Gymnastics

Top of the South Gymnastics

I spent the weekend covering a gymnastics event here in Nelson, the annual ‘Top of the South’ competition.  Bit of a misnomer, really, because we had competitors from all over:  Wellington, Timaru, Invercargill, even as far away as Perth.  It was a great learning experience for me.  Here are some examples, followed by some comments on the event and its challenges for a photographer.

I must say I felt a bit like a dolphin or shark approaching a school of small fish.  They avoid capture by massing in great numbers, then swimming around in all directions so the predator doesn’t quite know where to look and gets confused.  I initiially felt rather overwhelmed by several hundred athletes all doing their thing.  So for the first evening I tended to focus on the easiest targets.


The pommel horse is another apparatus which provides a lot of good shots.  Here’s a couple.  Sam, a local Nelson gymnast, won his grade.

So did Dan, our representative in the highest grade:

The floor exercise was a different matter altogether.  Even when I knew the routine (standard for the lower grades), the competitiors would start from different corners.  I found it very difficult to anticipate what was coming next and always seemed to be standing in the wrong place.  Not only that, but the still camera is great for isolating momentary lapses in form which might be missed in a video.  So many of my shots made these graceful performers look awkward.  Here’s an exception:

I’ll post some more shots later.  But here are some observations on the photographic challenges.

Even though it was considerably better than the local gym, lighting at Nelson’s Trafalgar Centre was marginal for sports photography.  I was forced to use an ISO setting of 6400 for most shots, something which my Nikon D200 would not have managed.  My new (pre-loved) D700 managed it very well, however, with acceptable noise levels.

There was certainly some cycling of the lights (see my previous post), but this was much less than I had feared.  On the other hand, there were huge colour casts depending on the background.  One end of the hall was painted a bilious green/yellow, which did nothing for complexions.

Because I was worried about card capacity and upload times, I decided to shoot in jpeg format rather than RAW.  While this certainly speeded up post-processing a lot, I found that I was really missing the extra latitude that RAW files give.  Especially as I still have quite a bit to learn about adjusting white balance, compensating for colour casts, etc, ‘on the fly’.  Some of the colour problems were also due to the light cycling mentioned earlier, which no pre-sets can avoid.

During and after the event I have been getting a lot of feedback and advice about how to improve.  Really helpful stuff.  People were tolerant and supportive.  The competition seemed to be well run, by a surprisingly small team of  dedicated, very hard-working  volunteers.  I was very impressed.

You can check out the full series of images from the event in my gallerys, at “New Zealand Photos Online“.


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