You have been to a few roller derby games and own a DSLR and want to take pictures of the games like you see other photographers doing. Nifty but if you really do not understand your camera or the environment you are shooting in then your photos quite frankly are going to suck. Allow me to explain.
Roller Derby is fast. This seems like a no brainer concept until you pick up a camera. If you shoot your camera in its default automatic mode then all your photos will be blurry messes of nothing. This means you are going to need a fast shutter speed and probably a good flash as well to freeze the action.
Derby venues are poorly lit. Fast action and bad lighting are a bad combination. This means either shooting a high ISO and dealing with noise or using a flash. A lot of the venues are lit using industrial type halogen and other lights which can introduce strange colour casts and shadows.
If any of the above discussion went above your head then I strongly suggest picking up some photography books and reading up on subjects like exposure, flash photography and sports photography. Most derby venues are not photography friendly so understanding the concepts and how to work around them will allow you to create some great photos.
So why go to all the trouble? If you can overcome the technical obstacles you can create some real stunning photographs. Lots of people are trying to shoot roller derby but very few are doing a decent job of it. Be one of the photographers who does a decent job and shares their work and you will have the respect and admiration of the leagues, teams and players themselves.
So what are you going to need? A digital SLR and a medium telephoto around 200mm would be very good pieces of gear to own. A TTL flash you can mount on your camera (or somewhere close to it) would also be a good item. While many cameras have built in flashes the added power you get from most external flashes will definitely help your photos. If you bring a flash make sure you have lots of batteries as well to power it.
What do you shoot at roller derby? If you said the action you are missing out on so much. You will shoot the game but consider other things: players warming up, refs talking to coaches, players in the penalty box, refs calling plays, players with their families etc. When the jammer calls the jam and the ref blows the whistle avoid the temptation to review all your recent photos. A lot of great candid moments are going to happen between now and the start of the next jam so look around and have your camera ready.
What camera setting should I use? It really depends on your equipment and the venue you are shooting. A camera with a 200mm telephoto, external flash in TTL mode, shutter priority mode at 1/125s and white balance set to flash might be a good place to start. I would also suggest reading your camera manual and find out what they suggest you do with your auto focus to shoot sporting events.
What do you do when the game is over? Review your photos. Hopefully you took lots so you have lots to choose from. If the photo is blurry, improperly exposed, does not tell a story or is unflattering to the subjects then throw it out. Do show the photos that are are properly exposed and capture great moments. Your photos will probably benefit from some post-production assistance like sharpening, noise reduction and maybe even some exposure compensation. How much post-production work you do will depend on you the photographer.
I picked out the keepers and put them through my favourite photo editor. Now what?Share your photos. The only way you will get any credibility as a roller derby photographer is to post your photos and build a portfolio and a reputation. Flickr and Facebook are the two obvious favourites for posting photos. Most derby leagues and players are on Facebook so I publish my photos there. Also when you publish your album post links to it on the league’s Facebook page so players and fans can see what you are doing.
Final Words of Wisdom. Experiment and try new things. As good as you are, always try to be better. While derby photography in the beginning can be frustrating if you are prepared to stick with it and work hard to improve yourself you can take some amazing photos.
As a roller derby photographer I wish you the best of luck in your shooting.