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Stunned by the beautiful game

Peter Crouch cuts a striking figure on the football pitch at the best of times and when recently asked to train the UK Sony ‘Twilight Football’ team ahead of their big game on the 22nd September, the outcome was some simply stunning imagery. (Editor’s note – continue reading to see the ‘stunning imagery’… but have somewhere handy to put the hair you tear out)

Peter Crouch training with the Sony Twilight team 3-sml

Peter Crouch training the UK team: photo by Guy Levy, Canon 1D MkIIn, 24-70mm f/2.8 L Canon lens, 1/500th at f/8, ISO 200.

The upcoming sporting event from Sony called “Twilight Football” has been set up to do just that, capture some beautiful imagery of the beautiful game, whilst demonstrating the low-light shooting capabilities of Sony’s new range of cameras and Handycams including the Cyber-shot TX1 and WX1 models, the Handycam TG7 and the DSLR A550.

Twilight will form the magical backdrop for five-a-side football games commencing at one side of the world, and concluding at the other on 22nd September, the time of the autumnal/vernal equinox – when twilight is at its longest at any given point on the planet.

Amateur footballers have competed to take part in matches around the world and the team of successful UK applicants were awarded the extra honour of being trained by England footie legend Peter Crouch.

Peter Crouch training with the Sony Twilight team 2

Peter Crouch kicks a football. Photo by Guy Levy, Canon EOS 1D MkIIn camera, 24-70mm f/2.8 Canon L lens. 1/4000th at f/4, ISO 200. (Click this picture to open a full size file and see just what the original is like)

Eton College football pitch was chosen as the training ground to continue the theme of stunning backdrops chosen for each match.

Peter Crouch commented: “It was a fantastic experience working with the UK winners of the Sony Twilight football competition. They are a dedicated, tight knit team and it was my pleasure to coach them ahead of their upcoming match in Australia. I’m sure with a little more practice at twilight they will sharpen up their reactions and be the champions of their game next week.”

About Twilight Football

“Twilight Football” will create a series of spectacular twilight images captured using the latest photography equipment from Sony. The images will be used in various print and outdoor advertising.

The first game will start as twilight begins in Italy. The instant a light sensor determines that darkness has fallen, the same game is taken up in France. And so it continues, through Spain, the UK, Argentina and Australia until the final whistle blows in South Africa. The entire match will last for around four hours and forty minutes, involve seventy grass-roots players and nine world-class FIFA officials.

To add to the drama the “Twilight Football” matches are scheduled for some of the world’s most photogenic spots. They include a floating platform in Venice, King Arthur’s castle in Cornwall, the Iguazu Falls in Argentina (80,000 gallons a second dropping down a 300 foot chasm), the Pinnacle Desert (a fifty degree sweat in a parched landscape made up of weird limestone pillars), and finally South Africa where the game will be played at a private game reserve called Aquila.

The campaign has been designed to promote Sony’s unique Exmor R™ CMOS sensor technology which has an exceptional capacity to capture detail in low light, and since mixing low light and fast-moving action presents one of the toughest challenges to photographers, “Twilight Football” will truly put the technology to the test.

Twilight has long been an inspiration to artists and photographers, and this whole event will offer a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to capture exotic shots in beautiful locations, at the most beautiful time of day giving new meaning to the idea of the “beautiful game”.


Catty comment from DK:

I disliked the whole concept from the moment I heard about it. Simple errors – such as the statement that the autumn equinox produces the longest periods of twilight anywhere on Earth – are annoying (there’s a reason why Scotland is famous for ‘roaming in the gloaming’ and why Iceland is a fantastic place to visit in early June or mid-July). Seeing a massive budget spent on what appears to a concept derived from someone’s personal fantasy is sad. Then being sent the pictures accompanying this release, with glowing superlatives describing them?

I felt almost sick. I should sell all this Sony gear, forget the whole photoclubalpha thing, and just buy a kit from Olympus – at least they have, in the UK, consistently supported the best in photography for four decades and show no sign of losing their discerning eye despite today’s restricted budgets. I am becoming embarrassed to be seen using a camera system associated with this kind of hype. Not only that, it’s football. Do you see hundreds of DSLR cameras – or indeed any cameras – in the hands of a crowd of football fans? Do you learn of footballers or WAGS taking a great interest in photography?

And to me twilight does not mean sunset (as seen in the snaps provided with this press release). It is the period after sunset when the sun is only just below the horizon, and (typically) the atmosphere with clouds or stratified layers reflects a diffused light. The bipolar colour of this ‘glow’ – red and blue from different directions, often augmented by more red reflected from clouds – can be outstandingly beautiful. Someone may have called football the ‘beautiful game’ but that, I am sure, was never a reference to its aesthetic. Football is visually chaotic, marred by essential sponsor advertising, hardly improved by team strip and branding. Some stadiums are works of art but you’ll be hard pressed to see any of the architecture in football photography. The chances of getting real ‘beauty’ from this extravagant advertising venture are slim, and the chances of getting nothing worthwhile at all (see above) are considerable.

There is so much worthwhile that Sony could do. If this is an attempt to court what Americans call ‘soccer mums’ (we don’t have that in Britain, we have soccer dads!) then the five-a-side teams of adults won’t hit the mark; this is an entirely different game.

Now if Sony had come in to support international and British Rugby Sevens that would have been a different game – in every sense. In need of funding, played in beautiful locations like the Welsh and Scottish Borders, New Zealand, Pacific Islands… highly photogenic and highly accessible for amateur and professional photographers alike (unlike football which actively bans entry with cameras, and seeks to control the access and usage rights granted even to national press staff).

But whoever dreamed this one up or approved an agency pitch at Sony clearly has one big interest – football. Pity that interest is not photography instead.

– David Kilpatrick

Added after comments:

Please don’t think I’m anti-football! I have sought out and photographed football – the type I like to see, on the beaches and in the streets – many times when travelling, and all too often at twilight. Kids playing outside the medina walls of Moroccan towns – in the yards below Silves castle – on Butterfly Beach in Barbados (tourists versus locals, the locals themselves prefer to play cricket). But I will post here a real example of twilight football, without apology for using one of our daughter’s shots. In a summer vacation felucca journey up the Nile with a friend, she took the brand new Minolta Dimage X to write a report for Minolta Image magazine – which she did with enthusiasm.

ailsaegypt

1/850th of a second, 7.5mm, ISO 100 at f/2.9 (maximum aperture) on programmed auto (probably Sports setting). The foreground is cropped off (scruffy shore), she was on board the felucca tied up at the bank and some of the lads off the trip had gone ashore to play football with the crew and locals.  I guess the donkey was just great luck and perfect timing – pity that the camera only produced 2 megapixel JPEGs!

For me, this is what football is REALLY about internationally. It is a language which people who don’t even share a few words in common can understand. Just the names of star players or favourite teams, and a few gestures or expression, can be a conversation between strangers. A game like this – a real twilight game (actually exactly 30 minutes before sunset, according to the Nile sunset which follows it in Ailsa’s image folder) can be a great impromptu bonding, battle, celebration and memory for everyone.

My grumpy ramble is not directed against football, and I would not have reacted as strongly had Sony sent anything which really qualified as ‘stunning’ imagery. I sincerely hope they do better when we see the final results in a day or two. And I hope they do better than a 20-year-old student (psychology not photography) roughing it on a Nile adventure.

cameraman

Here’s another of Ailsa’s shots taken the next morning – I do not know the full story but they had all piled their cameras on to one guy. Now this is what the photographic market is really about. All these kids had cameras and several had SLRs (it was 2002, pre-DSLR era). Travel, friends, places, people, stories, activities, things – recording their own lives. A few years on, new waves of college kids are still at it – see Facebook and Flickr for evidence. Will Sony really reach today’s market with Twilight Football?

They could have involved the entire world. There are real twilight football games like the one Ailsa photographed, happening right now without the aid of corporate invention. Sony could have created an open competition for images of real football and had entries from thousands of photographers round the globe. A book, an exhibition, a website?


15 comments to Stunned by the beautiful game

  • Photorer

    Thanks for the tips there David!

    There was a “coaching session” provided for the photographers on the morning of the event (but for 15 odd prizewinners who had never used a DSLR before 1 hour is not enough) and the poor fellow only spoke Spanish and a smattering of English. He did try, but the language barriers were too big!

    The A850 menu system is very similar to the A700’s but I have set up my A700 so long ago, that I had forgotten some of the settings I use – and I did not have it with me for reference! I never did think about changing the size output to 13 megapixel to save file size! It sounds so logical now! I wish you could have been along to show us all how to get the best out of the cameras!

    Thanks also for the tips on the ISO settings. I had no idea that dropping the ISO like that would reduce the noise levels. I did find that ISO1600 with DRO Advanced gave horrible noise even on well exposed shots. So for the most part, I turned DRO off for the match.

    Some of the shots of the match used DRO +LVL3 and I must say these were pretty impressive! The DRO is one feature that Sony has that the other makes lack, and it makes a phenomenal difference.

    Thanks for the tips – I will give them a try with my A700 – the A850 has to go back to Sony tomorrow unfortunately!

  • admin

    That is all pretty sad to hear. They coached the football teams, but they didn’t bother to coach the photographers?

    The A850 should have been set to ISO 1250 for low light, 320 when the light was good. Settings 1/3rd stop below each ‘full’ interval produce significantly less noise than 400, 800, 1600 etc (1250 is almost like 800, 320 is like 200, 640 is like 400 etc). DRO+ Advanced should have been set to +3 Manual level, which provides almost the same effect as using fill light or a flash in adverse conditions. Brightness set to +1 and sharpness to -1 would also have improved noise levels and tonal quality, using sRGB Standard colour space.

    Finally, the camera would have been best set to Extra Fine JPEG and Medium size output – 13 megapixel, a really good working size for sports shots. That combination gives optimum noise versus detail. Alternatively, you could have enabled APS-C capture – 11 megapixel cropped capture for all shots, turning your 24-70mm f/2.8 into a 36-105mm for practical purposes, with a more manageable file size.

    I’m surprised you found the A850 all that different from the A700, I think they are remarkably similar (and all the settings I have listed above will also work on the A700 and produce better images in low light). But it’s a very odd choice of camera for the event, even the A900 would have been better. The focusing issue surprises me too.

    David

  • Photorer

    Hi David

    Thanks for your response, and the quick look over some of my images. I agree – the images are not what I would classify as great, either! The conditions were far from ideal for good sports photography, with the cluttered backgrounds, and the fact that I had been loaned the A850 only 2 days before the event – it is quite different from the A700 that I am used to!

    Many of these images were taken up at ISO 1600 with no noise reduction in camera. (All those after half time were in fact at ISO 1600). To make things worse, they were all taken in jpeg Fine only (not Extra fine) as I did not have a large card to capture the images. I also had to process these on the netbook that I had along with me – it is difficult to see what is happening on a 10″ screen whilst on the plane with other people sleeping next to you! (this could explain some of the poorer results in post processing – ??! )

    The only PP that was done on these images was to crop gently where needed, resize them and generate the frame for uploading using Faststone. No noise reduction was applied! There were a couple of images where the exposure and brightness was bumped up by 2 stops in Lightroom 1.4 to show the players’ faces at the end of the game, but those were the only images that had exposure compensation applied.

    My impressions of the camera were that it would have enjoyed the use of a good flash such as the HVL-F58M to boost the light. There were times when focusing was extremely difficult, especially towards the end of the game, and the medals ceremony, where a fill flash would have sorted all the problems out! I had a flash with me, but the rules were that absolutely NO FLASH was permitted in the bull ring..

    From my perspective, the biggest drawback of the whole event was that I had received the loan camera only on Friday afternoon before leaving for Spain on Saturday. Needless to say, I did not have time to try different settings or experiment with the camera’s built in functions, in order to be able to get the optimum settings. I am sure that someone with the A900 would have felt very much at home, and obtained much better results.

    I am not a professional, and having been handed a new A850 to use was probably not the best move – I am sure I would have achieved better results with my A700, since I know the camera much better. The plexiglass side panels prevented taking shots from lower to the ground, as there was way too much reflections off that! Going further away into the stands was a no-no because of the lack of focal length – 24-70 does not provide much in the line of a tele lens on a full frame!)

    My feelings for the camera were:
    – a really nice camera for images where there is not too much movement – I missed many shots because of focus being off, or originally focus lock being turned on before the shutter would fire.
    – good potential for a photographer who wants to print very large high detailed images of landscapes etc. A tripod would be great!
    – built like the proverbial Sherman tank — solid and with a good reliable feel.

    My feelings against the camera were:
    – a really heavy piece of machinery – It weighs a ton, and with the CZ24-70 even more! I needed headache tablets afterwards!
    – drive speed in continuous of 3 fps is really not on for a camera like this!
    – noise at ISO 1600 reminds me of the A100 at ISO 800!
    – exposure was not always accurate
    – auto white balance could have done much better – there were some very odd looking images!
    – the grip – there is a joint on the front of the camera between the grip and the lens mount. For my fingers, this ended up right in the middle where my fingers pressed up against the body and it became an irritation after just a short while! The A700 does not have that joint…!
    – file sizes! Whilst storage is generally cheap enough, the time it takes to download or process files of the size that this camera produces remind me of 10 years ago! I guess that comes with the full frame sensor, but when an Extra Fine jpeg checks in at close to 20Mb and a Fine jpeg at 10Mb, processing requires a pretty powerful machine!

    I hope that Sony did not count on there being fantastically artistic images taken – perhaps they will be able to find 5 or 10 images from the 1000’s that were shot to make it worthwhile!

    Thanks for taking the time to look over my images…..

  • vidgamer

    I kind of like the 2nd photo with the sun over the leg, but yeah, this is not photography at its best. It seems counterintuitive to seek out the worst conditions (action in low-light) to try to make good photos. I guess they want to say that they can take on the worst conditions, but still, doesn’t seem like the best marketing move. And why are those shots with a Canon? It doesn’t exactly make the Canon look good either.

    If you want to do difficult situations, you could, similar to what David suggested, is just open it up to a larger group of people and a “low-light” contest, of whatever subject. I think the A500, for example, is definitely capable of making use of high-ISO while maintaining decent quality, from the samples I’ve seen, but I agree with David that the subject matter here is rather limited.

    I looked at only a few photos in that link, and I dunno. Would be good to know what camera(s) that was, as it didn’t seem an improvement over what I have (P&S or SLR). Maybe the photographer forgot about the new twilight mode? 😉

  • admin

    Not sour grapes – real frustration and anger that Sony has gone down this route. I really don’t care anything about marketing and support for football – it hardly needs it, and they have only done it because Canon spent many years dominating that sponsorship. I am interested in marketing and support for photography, for their users and owners, future users and owners.

    There are two or three passable pix from warm-up (African player heading ball) and a couple of nice shots which have nothing to do with the game (bullring rim and sunset, flag and sky). Sorry, but the pix are not wonderful either in terms of football photography, or twilight photography. The technical quality shows the Sony equipment up badly and that is the most worrying thing. Users of two other systems (Nikon and Canon) are going to look at the results and laugh – not your material, Sony’s picked selection, I am not singling you out and thanks for posting your link.

    I’m sorry – I do not want to be negative, but the gap is so great between this and really successful photographic outcomes that I can’t even begin to describe the difference. Nor do I think I would have done much better. The setting is awful, there are people with cameras littering the background, glass panels in the way, there is nothing beautiful or surprising or wonderful – nothing to make any viewer look twice and think they must have a Sony camera. If I did not know where any of these pix were from and they were submitted to a contest, or as a batch for magazine consideration, they wouldn’t get past first look. Take a look at Flickr or iStockphoto and see the standards of real photography, from amateurs, and you’ll understand why.

    Sony appears to have made a statement that Sony products can take really pretty poor shots in what is actually not very low light.

    It would be difficult for me to feel ‘sour grapes’ about Sony – my feelings are much stronger than that!

    David

  • Photorer

    Well, well – is this sour grapes, David? Were you not invited to the game? Why oh why are you condemning Sony for their marketing and support for what is definitely the BIGGEST sport on the planet?

    Perhaps they got carried away with the hype of Twilight, and they are not totally accurate as to the scientific definitions – it does not matter. They have engaged with their future market, and have made a statement – Sony products can take great low-light shots! They have the technology to be able to deliver, and they seem to have got it right.

    Have a quick look at the gallery here, and let me know if there are no good images that come from Sony….
    //www.afripixel.com/image/tid/36

    These are some that I took, in Antequerra, Spain, in the bull ring at the Sony Twilight Football event. Please do criticise – I am by no means a pro like yourself, but I think there might be some passable images there……

  • admin

    Of course, receiving more (generally very poor) pix from the events I started checking the EXIF data. This is when I found that the lousy snaps of Peter Crouch training the Sony teams in the UK were in fact taken with a Canon EOS 1D MkII and the unsharpness and flare patches are down to the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L lens. Photographer Guy Levy. I will add the data to the pix.

    David

  • admin

    Well, I have downloaded all the pix issued by Sony so far. There are maybe two or three passable – interesting – shots. Technically, most are pretty dire and the ‘beauty’ failed to materialise despite the settings they chose. I’m very tired and don’t fancy trying to post two dozen examples, I am sure they will be seen around. Sony have done some good things with this, supporting the social/enlightening aspects of football used as youth outreach in deprived communities. But the outcome is ordinary and it looks as if their idea of sourcing invited photographers via Flickr and Facebook (etc) has simply resulted in an average standard of competence faced with extremely difficult conditions…

    David

  • zoomdaddy

    @Admin, Dave, Mr.K,

    I agree with that assessment Dave, I think the company that does the best at highlighting their product is Pentax, I shoot Sony but when I look at their site I start to think man maybe I should get a Pentax and that is what Sony needs to do is make you want their camera for what you can do with it not what someone else can.

    See Ya
    Zoom

  • “The reason Sony pick football (apart from someone in there obviously having a compelling personal interest) is their sponsorship of football at the international professional level. ”
    The reason they sponsor football is because the high point in the cycle for TV sets sales is every 4 years and, oh surprise, it coincides with the Football world cup. (so, the best moment for buying a TV for cheap is right AFTER the world cup…)

    David: check @techmama and @sonymom: those are soccer moms and Sony are targeting A330/A380 to them. This event is for the A550, that represent the new approach for low light and noise treatment we will see in the next Alpha generation.

  • zoomdaddy

    Wow Dave!! “I felt almost sick. I should sell all this Sony gear” I would say that is an extreme move for a marketing decision that you don’t agree with..
    Can you image if Canon shooters here in the USA felt like that concerning the marketing with the NFL.
    I see some dumb commercials here for that, and have never seen anyone post such harsh criticism towards them. (canon)

    I say take a deep breath and realize it’s only marketing, it does not represent the quality of the product.

    My 2 cents
    Zoom

    • admin

      I am exaggerating a bit, but to date Sony’s use of pictures – of real photography – has been very disappointing at European/international level. Paul Genge has been able to make a difference in the UK by spotlighting genuinely inspiring photographers across a wide range of skills and subjects – as with Duncan McEwan and Gustav Kiburg. The Sony World Photography Awards are actually an independently created event, successfully sold to Sony, more kudos to the creators but they would have been under another name had Sony not gone for it. At two photokinas, I have underwhelmed by the photographic content on display.

      The problem with photography is that much of the best results can’t be produced ‘to order’, outside heavily managed studio and set-piece situations. Also, good photographs count more than good photographers; you must find the images, not the shooters. Having found exceptional images you then discover that a large number, or some of the best, come from certain individuals over a period of time. Sony seems to think you can just hire in some photographers and assign them to an event you stage, then use the results as if they were good pictures. Instead, they should forget about the hype and start looking for good pictures taken with their gear.

  • admin

    I don’t see football fans as hooligans – one of my best friends is a dedicated five-a-sider and the best real estate agent in the region. He turns up late to some of our folk nights because of footie, he’s a good guitarist and singer but football comes first! He is also an excellent photographer (Nikon D200 with 12-24mm mainly, lent him a 10-20mm and he thought it exaggerated room sizes too much). But the camera never goes to the football, or to the music nights – work, out and about in the countryside, or holidays only.

    The reason Sony pick football (apart from someone in there obviously having a compelling personal interest) is their sponsorship of football at the international professional level. I’m going to add a REAL twilight football picture to my comment, and another para.

    David

  • David, the 5star rating was for your comment, not the event or the press release. The big winner won’t be the photographers nor Sony nor football, but probably the marketing company’s shareholders. But I consent you regarding the target group of soccer moms, maybe supplemented by party hipsters that don’t even have to photograph themselves any more. And yes, I do understand your jealous glance at the Olympus side.

    Pako is right that it is just a marketing thing, but it’s disappointing to see this opportunity and funds lost.

    Markus

  • DK: Football, Futbol or even soccer is slightly more popular than Rugby, don’t you think? Sony have been promoting this event in sport papers in the countries where the event will happen and it was adressed in an intelligent way IMHO -I read the thing @ //www.as.com and other than Australia, Sony picked up countries (world cup and euro winners and South Africa is the organizinf the world cup next year) where futbol is a mayor thing.

    In other hand, “twilight” in the tropic (Iguazu, in the border of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay) last like… nothing -half hour to one hour if you lucky. It is totally different to what people out of the topic can experience. Even in Spain, that is the south of the north, twilight can last twice than in Iguazu.

    One more thing: “Do you see hundreds of DSLR cameras – or indeed any cameras – in the hands of a crowd of football fans?” Football fans are not always hooligans…

    Relax, it’s just a marketing thing.

    Pako