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Bodybuilding, Florida, life, and beyond


Category: Individuals

2015 Ocala Cup female bodybuilding competitor Shots from the 2015 Ocala Cup Classic are up on the site.

Ocala was the site of the last show I competed in, so I was very pleased that Sandy Rivera chose to bring bodybuilding back to this under-represented area of the state.

Despite being an inaugural show, things ran very smoothly, everyone seemed to enjoy the presentation, and as a bonus a nice gift was made to the Special Olympics.

The venue did present some challenges, however. When I first saw the backdrop I was intrigued to see how the background color would work (as a nice change from the customary neutron-star black).

By the end of the evening, though, I had sworn off all things orange, including cheddar cheese, pumpkin pie, sunsets, and Tang.

The venue lighting also needs some attention before next year. Lighting is probably the single most overlooked aspect of any show. For most dramatic productions, having bright oases on the stage is an acceptable, even desirable, condition; but for a competition prejudging it’s vital to have consistent, bright light across the width of the stage. You can see what I’m talking about in some of the prejudging shots.

I also had an issue with a slightly blurry portion of the visual field that I haven’t been able to track down yet. That area of Ocala is supposed to be haunted, so that’s one possibility, but it’s more likely that my UV filter had some fog on it, though I wasn’t able to locate it then and I can’t replicate it now. I’ve tossed that filter in any case, just to be sure.

Normally the shots don’t take nearly this long to bring up on the site, of course; the delay was partly due to not wanting to conflict with sales of the full-size shots (being handled by Sandy), partly because I normally only shoot the prejudging (between the morning and evening shows I took over 3,400 shots (!)), partly because the shots needed more post-processing than usual, and partly because it’s a very busy time right now– the new job’s a hassle and the kids have the flu, you get the idea.

jenniferStilson2015After the morning show I also did a quick shoot with Jennifer Stilson. She was a real trooper despite being almost ready to pass out from the hunger and stress of competition (I wasn’t in much better shape by then, but that’s beside the point). Her husband was a godsend, handling the reflectors when the off-camera flash started going balky, she looked great, and the location is a hidden gem (Adrienne Smith showed it to me when we shot there), so we were able to turn out a nice batch of attractive and interesting photos.

All in all, Ocala was a lot of work, but it’s what I enjoy. I hope you do as well.

Sandy has added the order link to her site at

2014 Gainesville women's competitor Shots from the night show at the 2014 Gainesville are up on the site.

As usual promoter Tony Curtis put on a first-class event. I did have a slightly rough time with the morning show shots; even though I had a great seat and an occasionally unblocked view of the stage, I was sitting too close to the stage and I found myself “sweeping” the view across it, meaning I was constantly tweaking the exposure triangle instead of composing shots.

On the way out I realized that I could use the venue’s smaller scale to my advantage; checking from the back of the room that my longest lens had all the range I needed plus some, I asked promoter Tony if I could shoot the night show from the sound booth. He thought I was nuts, but he needed someone to handle a few lighting chores anyway so he agreed.

I deployed on a tripod and, well, the results speak for themselves– some of the best show shots I’ve ever taken. The deep range meant that the “sweep” angle was just a few degrees; parallax was negligible, the lighting consistency across the view was outstanding, and I was shooting over the heads I usually have to shoot through.

On the down side, I did lose quite a few shots to motion blur, mostly in the fingertips– I really didn’t want to push the ISO past 1600, but looking more closely I think I left some light on the table; I probably could have shortened the exposure time enough to compensate had I known that blur was going to be an issue. (I really need to spend the time to figure out how to shoot tethered to a laptop, or get a monitor– there are details the camera screen just can’t show.) And shooting from the tripod meant I spent 95% of the show on my feet, which got a bit painful near the end.

But overall, a resounding success. I used the same concept at the Daytona show the next weekend and from first glance the results are also very good. It will be a little before that show is up– since I was experimenting, I took almost 4000 shots (!) — and it will be even longer before I get a chance to move Susan’s page from “mini-shoot” to full page status and then get the Gainesville prejudging shots up (if they’re even worth salvaging).

Due to unavoidable schedule conflicts, though, Daytona was likely my last show for this year, so there shouldn’t be any other distractions. Enjoy these shots; I certainly enjoyed the results.

Shots from the 2014 Lakeland Classic are up on the site.

I have a bit of a hot/cold thing going with this little theater. On one hand, the architecture and grounds are spectacular and I keep hoping for the opportunity to do some shots with someone outside. On the other hand, inside the venue it’s cramped and the stage is under-lit.

I shot the show full-manual again, and while the results are not spectacular, they’re as good as I expected to get and again they’re far more consistent than auto-exposure is likely to deliver. I shot at 6400, my camera’s max (though I understand there might exist a hack that allaws a faster ISO), so a little noise can be seen if you look; but the right answer might be to try a faster, fixed-length lens and handle rescaling in post-processing.

As an aside, Lakeland traffic control on a Saturday morning actually made me appreciate Gainesville at rush hour. Whatever the purpose of the DOT is down there, it can’t be getting you from point A to point B safely and efficiently.

Shots from the 2013 Lakeland show are up on the site.

“Wait,” you cry, “what about the Floridas? And the Ancient City Classic?”

I’ve always heard “it’s a poor workman who blames his tools”, so this is on me, but since having such nice success with the well-lit shots at the Galaxy, I’ve had hard luck trying to get the new camera to behave in the trickier lights. I went back to full manual for the Lakeland, and though the consistency looks bad, it’s actually a pretty good representation– I love that little theater, but the lights were really uneven. I think some of the automatic settings on the old EOS would have compensated for that a bit… Anyway.

The Floridas I pretty much wrote off as an experimentation exercise– it was going by SO flamin’ fast I couldn’t keep up anyway. If I’d have known, I would have just done full-class shots and been quite happy. But I didn’t, and there were at least a couple of other photographers there in any case, so I’m not going to worry about it. If I promised you photos from that show, drop me a note; I’m pretty sure I can post-process some decent shots out of what I did get.

The Ancient City shots just came out a bit over-exposed; I’ll need to set aside some time for post-processing that out and I just don’t have it right now because…

I’ve also had an external drive, less than four months old, crap out on me; and while I have all the originals, it’s going to take considerable time to re-aggregate them (unless against all hope I can repair the drive and pull the data back off). I’ve been trying to avoid investing in a RAID enclosure but the prices keep dropping and it certainly would have avoided this debacle.

So that’s where I’m at right now– still paddling upstream and wishing I’d checked the paddle for termites. Enjoy the shots and stand by for updates.

Shots from the 2013 Mid-Florida Muscle Classic, held June 15 in Orlando, are up on the site.

This was another big show and though it had a couple of minor hiccups with the lighting early on it ran very smoothly overall.

The early start unfortunately for me meant an even earlier day, and I was having some issues cutting through the fog. Mid-Florida 2013 Women's Physique Competitor

I had to do a lot more straightening and tweaking on the early shots than I normally do, which is one reason it took so long to put them up.

The competitors also seemed to have some issue hearing the judges’ instructions.

The more often this happened the more I began thinking about all the myriad of little things that can slow a prejudging down.

Sure, they are things that only cost two seconds here, four seconds there. There are also times where a delay is absolutely required, for example to give crossover or fitness competitors time to change their suits.

But in general, “dead spots”, times when no judging can occur, really could be minimized– add them all up and they can add significant time to the morning show.

Obviously a big one is the competitors’ ability to hear instructions. Four quarter-turns, seven mandatory poses, swapping competitor order, split-ups, call-outs all add up to a lot of instructions.

Losing 2-5 or more seconds per instruction because the competitors can’t hear them can easily add 5-10 minutes per class.

Easy fix: bring a bullhorn. Not kidding. If the venue PA doesn’t work well enough, use what does.

(In that same vein, could we lose the music during the prejudging?)

Having an experienced stage facilitator is critical. (This is not a knock on any individual.)

He should be in constant standby for judges’ instructions and not afraid to appear on stage to help herd competitors.

A great deal of time is lost in mandatories when competitors insist on performing un-judgeable contortions in preparation to taking the shot.

Well before the show the facilitator should work with the judges to find and mark the best-lit part of the stage and the center of that area.

For shows with large classes, the facilitator should also pre-define the overflow areas so the competitors do not interfere with the judges’ line of sight.

Correcting these issues during the show costs more valuable time.

For classes where individual competitors appear on the stage (e.g. figure), ideally each competitor should be almost on stage when the previous one begins to exit.

This can be accomplished with an assistant, in radio contact with the facilitator, in the audience with a visual signal such as a flashlight to cue the competitor to exit.

A great deal of time is lost in mandatories when competitors insist on performing un-judgeable contortions in preparation to taking the shot.

To resolve this, judges would need to communicate clearly the expectation that when a shot is called, the shot– and not the preliminaries to the shot– should be taken at once.

The absence of that communication over the years has allowed rumors to flourish, including the bizarre concept that “you should always be the last one in your class to take each pose”.

Again, with seven or more poses called in repeated sets per class, losing three, four, five or more seconds per pose can add up quickly.

In summary, I should not be given too much time to think about things like this before I’m fully awake. Enjoy the shots.

Well I found and fixed a bug in the page counter system, where for reasons unclear the count would go as high as 9 then restart from 1. I was starting to worry that no one was looking at the shots since the upgrade!

A little-known “feature” in PHP’s mysql_result() function was the culprit… I reverted to a more “traditional” way of doing it and it’s working. That also allowed (or forced) me to refactor my infrastructure again, so when I next have to make such sitewide changes it can be done much more efficiently.

I also hacked the front page slideshow to force the random photo load.

Even better news is just around the corner, I’m just waiting on final approval, but there’s a very nice update on the way, hopefully by tomorrow… stay tuned.