… and it sure looked it! :(

(Above: That’s the game winning goal in Overtime above. Not a pretty shot, but then, none of them really were).

I absolutely love shooting ice hockey!
I’m just no good at it yet. Not only was it my first time shooting ice hockey, it was my first time at an ice hockey game. It was (as expected) a rough night. How rough was it? Well, I actually registered the domain you see below last night after I uploaded my photos to the wire service I was shooting for.

But I Still Had to Submit Photos
I was able to upload 25 shots to Southcreek Global that were, well….let’s say they were in focus. I think the puck might have actually even appeared briefly in one or two of those shots, but that’s purely by coincidence.

Here’s a capture from my Lightroom grid below of the uploads. They’d look better bigger (photos usually do), but not good enough that I want to put 25 of them nice and big here (though I’ll probably post a gallery later today over at my Google+ page, at ScottGplus.com)

I learned a BUNCH!!!!
The only reason I was able to send in anything at all, was that I did do a decent amount of research first, starting with the magical unicorn of sports photography, Dave Black, who gave me some great pointers and tips (but after seeing these would probably disavow knowing me). I also learned a ton from Bob DeChiara (a sports shooter from the Boston area, whom I met during my seminar tour up there, who shoots for US Presswire). He was a huge help, and had lots of very specific tips that helped me limp through the night. Without those two guys, I would have been totally sunk.

(Above: this was my home for the night. I sat right there the whole time, praying a puck didn’t come flying through that little hole in the glass I was supposed to shoot through. The opening is just big enough for a 70-200mm lens).

I did have a support team
Unlike when you shoot football, the other photographers shooting the game were really nice, friendly, and helpful (though they did sit me down and fill me with horror stories of things to look out for safety wise, complete with stories of busted lips, broken noses, two 70-200mm lenses smashed to bits in just 8 months, having to get stitches, and they put enough fear in me that I wouldn’t even put my lens through the tiny hole in the glass until at least the 2nd period. I was a tad freaked out (and after shooting the game, I think it was with good reason).

Scott Audette, the Lightning’s Team Photographer (and a kick-butt photographer) and his crew were great. They knew it was my first game, and they were really helpful, fun guys, who kind of showed me the ropes and kept me from being maimed for at least my first game.

My Gear and Camera Settings
One lens. One body. A Nikon D3s with a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens (that’s what they were all shooting). Here’s the thing: the lighting in the arena was fantastic!!! (I’m not sure that sentence has ever been written before in sports photography history). They had just installed tons of new lights since every game is now broadcast in HD and I was able to shoot as 400 ISO, which is insanely low. Although I mostly shot at ISO 640, I would occasionally look and see my shutter speed at like 1/2000 of a second. This my friends, was a gift. I shot at f/2.8 the whole time (as usual).

I will say this: being limited to 200mm on a full frame camera using the 70-200mm lens was tough. I could cover the goal in front of me, but the far goal was just about off limits with that short a lens (however, my 300mm f/2.8 wouldn’t fit through the opening in the glass—not a chance). Since the lighting is so good, I think I’d probably try adding a 1.4 tele-converter at the next game, or I’ll take a D300s, so I get the advantage of the crop factor, and my 200mm will become a 300mm.

Even a thousand mile journey, must begin with but one step [gong]
OK, I know I kinda sucked my first time out, but I know this—I’m a fast learner (if “learner” is even a word). I picked up so much from that one shoot, and I am confident that I’ll do 100% better next game, and the next and the next. You can read about this stuff until the cows come one, but nothing beats actually doing it to spike your learning curve in a very dramatic way. In fact, I’m so confident I’m going to do dramatically better, that I seriously registered another domain with GoDaddy.com last night:

The bottom-line
The bottom line is—I had a ball. I liked shooting hockey much more than I thought I would. The action is incredibly fast, and having to shoot through a tiny hole, with both eyes open to avoid getting clobbered when they hit the wall, and never moving from that one position all night, didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for it one bit. In fact, it just made me want to get to my next shoot faster, so I can get better at it quicker (cause there’s only one way to get good at something—practice it a bunch).

It was just like what everybody had told me—the single hardest sport to shoot. I was skeptical when I first heard that. Now I know they’re absolutely right on the money. Nevertheless, it was a great night of learning, frustration and fun, and I just can’t wait to do it all again!!!