The Dockyard Derby Dames: Photographing Roller Derby

(Note: I decided to forego my scheduled installment of the Nicaragua series in lieu of the latest and greatest opportunity that has come my way.)

Rrrrrrrrroller derby! The words evoke names of stars like Joannnnnnn Weston of the Bay City Bombers when I was a kid. Now the names have morphed into monikers like Farrah Moans, Mia Smackabitch, and Snickerbrutal in the Dockyard Derby Dames league in Tacoma, WA. I scored a press pass to the bouts with a buddy of mine and in exchange for the photos we generate, we can roam the sidelines freely and shoot to our heart’s content.

Unlike roller derby in the ‘60s, these bouts are played in a gym on a flat oval track. The low light and fast action is always a challenge and sometimes a crapshoot. I use my Canon 5D Mark II because its processor does low light images so well. I’ve been using an on-camera 580EX Speedlite (while my buddy just jacks his ISO way up, which his Nikon can handle) and I’ve found that the sweet spot is f/2.8, 1600 ISO, at 1/125 to 1/200 (in aperture priority mode), which has allowed me to get reasonable clarity and minimum noise. At least on the 25% or so of the total shots that I keep.

However, I’ve begun to pan with rear curtain flash at slow speeds from 1/8 to 1/20 and get some great ghosting and implied movement. Very fun. My most versatile lens is my f/2.8, 70-200 with IS, but I love the affect I get with my 15mm fisheye lens for capturing the whole scene at once. The distortion seems to fit the subject. My biggest frustration is that the auto focus, even in the Al Servo mode, is often too slow and that means missed shots. That’s the crapshoot part.

Last Saturday night the Hellbound Home Wreckers edged the Marauding Mollies and the Trampires sucked the blood out of the Femme Fiana team. What a blast and I can’t wait for the next bout.

Steve “The Slasher” Russell


One thought on “The Dockyard Derby Dames: Photographing Roller Derby


Perfectly timed article. My husband and I also find a great deal of amusement at the roller derby. We thought it would be a great photo op for camera practice. Your tips are just the thing we needed to jump start this project. You will see us at Ohio Roller Girls Gang Green vs. Killa Crew of Kalamazoo match at the end of the month! Happy shooting!

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