I have been shooting Roller Derby for almost a year now. The first game I shot was from the audience with a series of film cameras. There was a lot that I struggled with that day; being in a fixed position, trying to manually focus on a fast paced game I didn’t really know much about, dealing with a very low light situation and my camera mirror locking up.
In 2019 I shot a good number of games and I now have a better idea of where the best angles are from different areas around the track and I know the game a bit better (as well as some of the players) so I can predict where the action will be on track and set up the shot in advance. That being said, the game is still very unpredictable and if I catch an apex jump it is a VERY good day.
Shooting with Digital
My digital camera is nothing close to the pro DSLRs that some people use to capture this sport and in a way that has made learning to shoot in low light with film easier.
A typical action photography DSLR will have a max ISO of 12,800 and then some, this enables the photographer to set their shutter speed above 1/500 and freeze the action in a beautiful clear and crisp image. My DSLR can shoot at around 5,000 ISO (higher than that and it gets dirty digital green grain all over it) which means in most sports halls I have to stick with around 1/80 – 1/125. I very rarely get up to 1/125 and my aperture has a max of f/4 so not much room to let light in.
Shooting with Film
In early 2019 I was only shooting digital as I was finding it a bit hard to try and focus manually on the sport and my Pentax ME Super could only shoot film up to 1600 ISO.
I was in the market for a new film camera that could maybe make this action photography game a bit easier. I love Pentax film cameras so I had a look into AutoFocus cameras that could shoot at least 3200 ISO. I ended up finding a Pentax Z-1p for about £50, this camera has a max ISO of 6400 and uses AutoFocus lenses. It is awesome. I feel like I am cheating a bit using it because it has made shooting with film so much easier.
Now when I shoot Roller Derby I take my Nikon D3200 and my Pentax Z-1p. I will always take my digital camera because although it is not as good as a Nikon D500 it still enables me to shoot at 4fps and I have lots of images to show the teams at the end and that is the reason I am there.
Filling The Time With Roller Derby
In August I was chosen to be one of four official photographers for a Roller Derby Tournament called The Chartist Cup. There were ten games over two days with eight teams battling it out for the cup. I shot over 3,000 photos. Most of this was of course digital. Can you even image having to deal with that many film negatives.
I shot three rolls of 35mm film; Rollei 400s, Yodica Atlas 400, FujiFilm 1600. Asides from the FujiFilm 1600, none of these films are particularly fast for the level of low light I was shooting in. I really just wanted to take some film with me to shoot during the event and I didn’t really mind if the images didn’t come out, it was really just a test to see what I could get out of my AutoFocus lens with medium speed film.
Above are some of the images from The Chartist Cup on film. I printed more in my Zine which, if you are interested in can be bought for as little as £2 (plus postage). My zine is available to buy via Big Cartel.
Roller Derby in 2020
2020 is going to be an exciting year for Roller Derby photography. I am the official photographer for Bristol Roller Derby and two of their teams are going to be in playoffs for The British Champs 2020. I’ll be shooting five games for Bristol Co-Ed All Stars and five games for Bristol Roller Derby Women’s B Team between February and July.
Thanks for reading and for updates you can follow my blog via WordPress or sign up via email.
You can also find me in the following places:
Film IG: @sisboombah
Roller Derby IG: @fillingthetime
I buy all my film from Analogue Wonderland. They are awesome, stock over 200 types of film, ship worldwide and give you points for every £1 you spend.
If you use my referral link here to make a purchase you will receive a free roll of 35mm film!