In January 2011, my girlfriend Kim Ma took me to my first paintball event. I had never seen tournament paintball before, which is known as “speedball”. It was at the Agricultural building on the Stampede grounds and after parking, we headed towards to entrance. Just before opening the door Kim stopped, turned to me, and said three words that changed my life forever: “Welcome to paintball.”
What I saw that day was a sport that instantly excited me. It was loud, fast paced, and crammed full of action. I knew right away that I wanted to photograph it. But, I could instantly see many of the challenges that lay ahead. It was very dark, paint was traveling through the air at almost 300 ft. per second, and the unpredictability of player’s actions on the field were all challenges that I knew I would have to overcome in order to document such an intense sport.
One year later, I was right there on the field, exactly where I had dreamed of being just one year prior. And I was ready for it.
Having photographed paintball all summer long (including the PPL Event #3 and Canadian Triple Crown), I can now tell where to position myself, where to point my lens and also where not to point my lens. I know the names of bunkers and have learned the playing style of many local ballers, which means I have an idea of where a player is headed on the field strictly based on their pre-break stance. I’ve also learned how to switch the focus point on my camera faster than most photographers I know. I’ve even had to learn how to operate my camera without ever getting a full view through the viewfinder, because wearing goggles means I can’t put my eye right against the camera like other sports photographers can. If you want to see what I see, hold your camera about 3-4 inches from your eye and then look through the viewfinder.
When it came time to step onto the indoor field at the CPPL Canadian Nationals, I was ready for the challenge. Being as dark as it was and wanting to freeze the action while maintaining a decent exposure, I was forced to shoot at very high ISO. Unfortunately my Canon 7D doesn’t have the greatest low-light capabilities, which meant shooting anything over 4000 would turn my images into a sloppy soup of grain and colour. In the end I was forced to sacrifice some focus in order to gain the exposure I wanted, which meant that my results were less than satisfactory. I dreamt the entire time of a day when I can shoot sports with a Canon 1DX or a Nikon D3X.
If you like paintball photography and want to see more, check out ianharding.com/paintball.