Wrestling at the Georgia Dome

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     I’ve been very fortunate in my opportunities as a photographer, especially considering how small my business is in comparison to other services. I’d like to think it’s good karma, being a decent person, or just having well-networked friends. Whatever the reason, I always say thanks with the biggest smile on my face because I know these chances are small and far between. Such is the case for my latest shoot at the Georgia Dome.  

     March 1st marked the largest kid-wrestling event ever held in the State of Georgia, and quite possibly the country. The ages ranged from tiny tots all the way up to high school. 54 total mats would be running simultaneously.   It was a tremendous undertaking and from what I saw, they pulled it off without a hitch. I got a call about a week before the event, asking if I could take images for one of the event sponsors, Tiffin. They were providing 28 mats for the event and promoting their newest design, The Octagon. My job was to take pictures of the event without any people there, and again in full action both on the ground and from a high level. I also had to focus some shots on this new Octagon mat. Needless to say, I was incredibly excited to be offered to shoot this event once again.

     Yes, again. Originally, I was asked to run an entire photographic operation to shoot the event as a whole. A friend close to the association asked if I would assemble a team of photographers to shoot all the matches (54 simultaneously for about 13 hours straight). The math I did in my head came out to 14 photographers minimum, and 5 support staff. I really wanted to do it, but I didn’t have the contacts to raise this army. Thus I passed on that offer, and lo and behold was requested again to attend. Whatever I’m doing to get this good karma, it must be working.

     For the empty event space, I got to the Georgia Dome the night before the event at about 10:30PM. I met up with Mr. Lax, one of the event coordinators to help get me in and show me around. Some shenanigans ensued to get into the building, because we were promised they would leave it open, but of course they didn’t. Sadly, I must leave that part of the story out of this post. All I can say is props to Mr. Lax for showing off his athleticism at 50 years old! Now, I had never been to the Georgia Dome before, so when I walked in on the floor level that night I was like a kid in a candy store. As an engineer, I respect and appreciate great things, architecture included. So even though they’re already in the process of replacing the Georgia Dome, I was blown away. All I could think to myself was, “I gotta get in here for a Falcons game or the Chick Fil A Bowl.”

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     While there, I did a lot of HDR shots. This was necessary because of the tremendous lighting difference from the main floor and the seating areas. My go-to lens for these images was my trusty 17-55mm f/2.8 IS. This lens may be the sharpest one in my kit, and it simply kicks butt in all situations. I chose this lens so I could get as wide a field of view as possible. I use a Canon 7D, which has a built in crop factor of 1.6. That means any focal length on the camera gets multiplied by 1.6, thus my 17mm was effectively 27.2mm. The other tool that made these shots possible was my tripod. I use a Gitzo 3 series tripod, which means everything in my gear bag is locked down SOLID when mounted to it. I did a number of these images at shutter speeds of 1 to 3 seconds long, so having a set up that would not move at any point was really important. I also used a very narrow aperture, around f/11. That meant that I would get a very deep depth of field, or in Layman’s terms, lots of stuff in focus.  We wrapped up that evening around 11:45PM, and headed out.

     The following morning started early, around 8AM. I was lucky enough to get VIP parking, which meant a guaranteed parking spot and a 3-minute walk. Awesome. Walking into the Georgia Dome that morning was a polar opposite from the prior evening. Where last night was quiet, calm, and peaceful, that morning was rambunctious, loud, and teeming with energy and excitement. I stepped into a sea of people and was incredibly eager to begin shooting. My previous experience shooting wrestling events paid off because it meant I didn’t have to think about anything other than the next shot. All the settings and focusing modes were just a quick recollection away, and knowing the layout from the previous evening made getting to various spots a breeze. My primary goal of that portion of the shoot was to show the controlled chaos of the event. Once I got my preliminary images of the wrestlers on the mats, specifically the Tiffin Octagon, and the coaches, I started on some fun bits of artistry.

     Wrestling is obviously a very fluid, action-packed sport. Between the two people on the mat, the ref, and the guy who taps the ref on the shoulder with a pool-noodle to say, “time’s up,” there’s a significant amount of motion. Add to that the constant running around of kids to their next matches, and you’ve got a complete zoo.  I wanted to capture that motion to tell the story of what was going on, so that viewers could see the sheer incredulous activity of this event. To do this, I dragged my shutter out AKA made it really long. Long shutter speeds mean blurry motion. Now I’m sure people are asking, “Wait, this is a sporting event. Don’t you want to freeze the action so you can see what’s going on?” Well, yeah sometimes, and I did that for the close up shots. But for the environmental shots, and some moderate close-ups, I wanted to blur that motion. Personally, I love this effect. I think it really tells the story of all the chaos happening. Call it artistic license, or just trying to do something different from every other Joe out there with a camera, but a photographer’s job is to tell the story as they see it. Hopefully, that’s a different perspective than someone else with a camera on their shoulder.

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     I wrapped up shooting at about 10:30AM and then made my way to lunch and a beer festival with friends. It turned out to be a wonderful day. 6 hours later the next day, and the photo editing was complete as well. Some of my panoramic HDR images ended up being a conglomerate of over 40 images, and let me tell you, that took a lot of computer processing power and time. Thank goodness for Starbucks. I know I usually say at the end of my posts, “I’m really pleased with the images I got, etc,” but once again - it’s true. I’ve been fortunate to have developed my skills enough that taking calculated risks have been paying off really well (that or I’m not taking enough chances). Either way, I’m really ecstatic about the blurred motion images and the HDR panoramas I got of the event. I can’t wait for the next big event and hopefully, I can get that army together to really cover the whole event.

Mike Glatzer

Mike Glatzer Photography, Marietta St NW, Atlanta, GA 30318, United States