Thursday night is baseball night for my youngest so I’ve been having some fun recently playing with my new Fuji X20 at the games. Here are a few of my favourites from the last couple of Thursdays. I shot in black and white then did final processing in Lightroom. I’m absolutely loving this camera so far – it focuses quickly, has controls positioned very nicely indeed and takes very clean pictures even at high ISO settings.
I have to wonder how anyone got permission to film this but the driving by Ken Block in this video I stumbled upon today is unbelievable. If you want more, you can find other videos featuring Ken’s stunt driving here.
I’m recently back from the second annual NXNW photoblogger get-together. The name stems from the Twitter hashtag we started using last August during the first annual NXNW photoblogger get-together in Portland, Oregon and, despite the fact that Moab, Utah is definitely not in the north west, it stuck. The idea of the trip came up when quite a few of us who are active on social media photography circles decided it would be great if we could get a chance to meet in “real life” too. Mixing this meeting with a serious dose of image-making in an famously photographic location seemed a good idea so here we are.
This year’s extravaganza was attended by 7 of us – in no particular order, Bob Lussier, Justin Balog, Rick Louie, Chris Nitz, Mark Garbowski and Mike Criswell (aka Theaterwiz) and myself. We spent 4 days in and around Moab and it’s local national parks, Arches and Canyonlands, as well as the amazing Dead Horse Point State Park, the ghost town of Cisco, Utah and the Colorado National Monument outside Grand Junction. Given the incredible scenery, we used an inordinate amount of time for taking pictures (eating and drinking definitely took second place to photography on this trip) including a Saturday that started at 4:15am and ended at 12:30 am on Sunday. Our Sunday morning alarm was set for 4:20am, by the way – I’m still recovering from the accrued sleep deficit.
I’ve been posting selected images from the trip over on my photoblog but thought it would be nice to show the faces behind the trip so here are a few of the pictures I took that included the rest of the guys. This is as good a group of folks as you will meet anywhere and I’m thoroughly looking forward to our next get-together, tentatively arranged for Acadia National Park some time in the second half of 2014.
Motor racing has been much on my mind recently with the Formula 1 season starting this morning so I wanted to pass on this video that someone pointed me at. I realise it’s more NASCAR related but it’s absolutely priceless….
For a while now, I’ve thought of setting up a new blog which I can use to feature iPhone pictures. Some of these make their way into my main photoblog but most end up in Camera+ or on Facebook where I don’t have any control over they way they are presented.
While fiddling with blogging platforms today in preparation for a PhotoNetCast recording, however, I set up a new site on Tumblr as an exercise and rather liked how easy it was to get things going and to create posts via their iPhone app so, moving forward, I’ll be using this as my iPhone photoblog. I’ll still post to Facebook but you can find the new site at http://davesphonepix.tumblr.com. There are only a couple of posts there so far and I’ve done no customisation of the layout yet but please let me know what you think.
Yes, I’m running a bit late this year but I’ve finally finished the family newsletter for 2012. Whereas in previous years, I’ve written this as a standalone page over on webartz.com, I decided it would be better added to the blog so that I could take advantage of WordPress image galleries. You can find it here.
In the past, I’ve put my year-end photography summary post here but as of last year, I moved it over to my photoblog instead. If you would like to see my favourite images of 2012, you can find them here.
Since attending the US Grand Prix, I’ve seen a huge number of photos that look rather like the following:
The size of the car in the frame and the crud around it isn’t at all unusual for those of us not blessed with access to 600mm lenses and a press pass. What surprises me, though, is that so many people don’t realise that by cropping the image they can end up with something so much better. This particular shot, for example, ended up as the following after I took the knife to it:
By cutting out all the extraneous rubbish from the frame, I concentrate the viewer’s eye on the car and end up with an interesting, graphical composition.
Some people will probably get worried that such an aggressive crop reduces the image resolution dramatically and that is certainly true. Given the choice between a good, low resolution shot, though, and a bad full resolution one, I’ll take the good image any day. Remember, too, that even this kind of crop from today’s DSLRs will still give you an image that is more than high enough resolution for screen display and prints up to 16 inches or so wide (this cropped image is about 3MP compared to the 12MP original).
Another concern here may be that I’ve ended up with an image that doesn’t fall neatly into any of the standard cookie-cutter aspect ratios. How can I print this on 6×4 or 10×8 paper? Obviously I can’t without leaving large white borders or cropping even more but since I’m really mostly interested in web display, I’m not too worried about whether the aspect ratio matches some paper or frame manufacturer’s idea of what shape my pictures should be. If I want a print, plenty of labs will print panoramic images in their original, non-standard aspect ratio or, if not providing truly arbitrary print sizes, will offer enough panoramic options that you can take a print with only minimal reformatting.
Here are a few more example of car shots taken at Circuit of the Americas, all of which have been pretty drastically cropped to achieve a more pleasing, panoramic composition. If you have a bunch of pictures like the top one on this post, take the knife to them and see if you like the results too.
After a week of frantic photo editing, I’m about half way through the images I shot out at Circuit of the Americas during US Grand Prix weekend last weekend so reckoned I should put together a post offering some hints and tips to anyone looking to do some motor racing photography at COTA on a general admission ticket.
A general admission ticket gives you access to the track grounds but does not provide you with a seat in any of the grandstands. This does give you the freedom to wander as you see fit but leaves you suffering from one major problem. The entire CoTA circuit is surrounded by two, 8 to 10 foot high safety fences. Whereas the grandstands are all elevated at least 8 or 10 feet above ground level, as a GA ticket holder, you are left without elevation and, as a result, must be prepared to either shoot through the fences or find ground-level vantage points allowing you to shoot over them.
Shooting through the fences doesn’t end up being a particularly easy thing to do. The fence uprights are, as you would expect, large, sturdy poles which generate nasty smears on your pictures if you are trying to pan to catch cars as they pass. If attempting to shoot head-on through the fences, the fact that the second fence is a 20 feet or so from the one you can stand next to tends to mess up any attempts to blur the mesh through shooting at wide apertures. You may have some success with this if you have a very long lens, a very wide aperture and are very close to the first fence but, from my experience, this never really worked as well as I would have liked. Given these problems, my solution was to try to find vantage points allowing me to look over the fence and shoot images of the cars as they passed. Walking the track on Friday, it was pretty apparent that these locations are few and far between but here’s my assessment of the best locations offering enough of an unobstructed view to get some sweet shots.
Before delving into the locations, though, let’s consider equipment. I shot with the D700 (full frame) body on Friday using my 70-200mm f/2.8 and a 2x teleconverter. This was pegged at the 400mm end all day and I still wasn’t close enough to fill the frame with a car from any of the locations below. On Saturday and Sunday, I switched to the D90 (crop sensor) making my 400mm effectively a 600mm and got some closer shots at the expense of slower auto-focus and slower frame rates. Even with this setup, I still find that the cars occupy no more than about 25% of the frame in the closest shots and I needed to crop the images to get good composition, either to make the car bigger in the frame or to loose the fence which appears in the bottom of many images.
The lesson here, therefore, is take the longest glass you can lay your hands on! Given the weight of this kind of lens, a monopod (which I didn’t take) would also be a good idea. Note that there is some debate over whether monopods are allowed – the public rules state that tripods are not allowed but make no mention of monopods, whereas the handbooks given to the staff on the gates explicitly disallow both items. Those same handbooks also prohibit lenses over 10 inches so I assume they were printed before CoTA revised their photography policy to allow any lens. Hopefully that revision also opened things up to allow monopods since I saw a large number of people carrying or using them at the track.
Now on to the locations. As you will see from the map below (which you can click to get a larger version), all the locations I recommend are on the south side of the track. This is partly because locations on the north would involve shooting into the sun but mostly because I couldn’t find a single place over on that side of the track where the cars were visible without a fence in the way. If you want to shoot from over there, your best option would likely be on a practice day when the grandstand gatekeepers are somewhat more forgiving and likely to let you take a wander around while the place isn’t too busy. If you are lucky enough to sweet-talk one of the ticket checkers on the Turn 15 grandstand into letting you onto the stand, there are some fabulous views from there but, to get these on a busy day, you’ll have to shell out some serious money.
A. Turn 1
If you could find a fence-free view towards the grandstand, this would be the perfect place to shoot the start from. Unfortunately, you can’t so either live with the fence or don’t shoot the start. I watched the race from a position just at the bottom end of the block of hospitality suites (just above the main turn 1 grandstand) and from there you can get a reasonably clear shot of the cars exiting the turn. If you have a long lens, there’s an interesting shot showing the track between turn 1 and turn 2 and also turns 16/17/18 in the background.
Overall, turn 1 is a far better location to shoot fans watching the race than the race itself. I found Saturday the best day for this since it was busy without being completely mobbed. On Sunday, I couldn’t move at all so getting around and finding good fan shot positions was essentially hopeless. Shoot on Friday and Saturday then enjoy the race on Sunday.
B & C. Turns 4 & 5
I list these two areas together since there are a few places you can squeeze between the grandstands and get a bit closer to the fence between turns 3 and 6. Really, though, there’s only one good place to shoot from in this area and that’s in a large gap between the grandstands at turn 5. Here you can see over the fence pretty well and you also get the benefit of the wide red, white and blue stripes painted alongside this section of the track.
I got the majority of my best panned shots from here but beware that you are still rather far from the action. The first shot below is uncropped to give you an idea of the problem. This was shot on a full frame body with a 400mm lens. Using a crop sensor body, you would get a fair bit closer, obviously, but you’re still going to have to crop down pretty hard to get tight images of the cars.
As a place to watch the race while also offering good photography opportunities, however, I would suggest trying the next 3 stops instead.
D, E & F. Turn 7
There are 3 reasonably good shooting locations in the large open section between turns 7 and 10, one on either end and another in the middle. The west end (nearest the turn 6 grandstand) offers a good view as the cars head up the hill to turn 7. You’ll be shooting the backs of the cars from here but you have an unobstructed view thanks to the walkway being pretty high at this point.
Slightly further along the path, you’ll find a great place to shoot cars from the side as they head up the hill. There’s enough of the track visible without a fence here to give you pretty good panning scope and I spent quite a bit of time here.
Closer to the turn 10 grandstand end, if you walk off the path and across the highest point, you’ll find you can stand on the crest of the hill with your back to the fence at turn 7 and shoot back towards turns 5 and 6. I spent most time here because if offered a collection of interesting shots including shooting through the fence towards the backs of the cars as they crest the hill at turn 7. You can also see cars rounding turns 5 and 6. There are two large runoff areas here so it may also be a good place to see some off-track action. I gather a couple of cars spun out there during the weekend but I didn’t see this.
Another feature of this location that I enjoyed was the collection of keen photographers who spent a lot of time hanging around up there. The camaraderie and conversation during quiet periods was great though I did find myself suffering pretty serious lens envy!
G. Turn 10
The only place I found which would allow me close enough to the cars to completely fill the frame with the 400mm/crop sensor combination was in the open area between Turn 10 and Turn 11. Here, the track is pretty close to the path and the elevation is such that you have an unobstructed view as the cars accelerate downhill from Turn 10. The window of opportunity is fairly narrow but I managed to get a few good shots here. I liked the angle of the cars since you are seeing a partial front view rather than the direct side-on or partial rear views the other locations offered. The fact that the cars are so much closer to you, however, does make the panning a lot trickier so I found my hit rate here was pretty low with many of the images blurred.
H. Turn 11
I spent a lot of time on Friday and Saturday morning at Turn 11. The general admission area here is a high berm right at the apex of the hairpin bend and you have a great view of the cars coming down from turn 10, rounding turn 11 and shooting off down the long straight to turn 12. It’s the only place I found that I could get decent head-on shots of the cars without having to shoot through the fence though, even here, my 400mm didn’t pull them in as close as I would have liked, even on the D90.
If you are worried about blurring your panned shots, the cars go round turn 11 extremely slowly (by Formula 1 standards) so you are pretty likely to get sharp shots here even at lower shutter speeds. The downside to this, of course, is that the wheels are not moving as fast so you may find that the cars look rather static. If you can read “Pirelli” on the tyre walls, the car may as well be parked.
Although turn 11 was definitely a great place to spend some time, it’s pretty much hopeless during the actual race. By the time 1pm comes around, if you are standing at turn 11, looking back towards turn 10, you at staring practically directly into the sun. For a morning location and during practice sessions, though, it’s a good place to park yourself.
I’m reasonably happy with the photography I did during Grand Prix weekend though I was rather disappointed at the small number of fence-free locations and the fact that shooting through the fence wasn’t really feasible. As a result, I’ve come away with some good shots of single cars but nothing really creative or different (if you want to see what I mean by creative and different, check out Ralph Barrera’s amazing collection of images on the Austin American-Statesman web site or Liz Kreutz’ gorgeous monochrome set on Corbis). Next year, I’ll likely splurge to rent some really long glass and perhaps try to spend a bit more time shooting fans and facilities and less on cars. I will also likely treat myself to a ticket that comes with an actual seat since lugging all that gear around all day wasn’t to be recommended!
That said, don’t get the impression that you need to spend a fortune on really long lenses or grandstand seats. The whole experience of Formula 1 weekend is fabulous regardless of what kind of ticket you buy and whether or not you come away with publication-quality images. The atmosphere at the event is outstanding and I would strongly encourage you to give it a shot next year if you can. There will be about 120,000 others joining you for the party.
I’m delighted and honoured to have been invited to join a 3-person exhibition at the “Gallery at the J” on in The Dell Jewish Community Center on Hart Lane in Austin. The show, “Contemporary Photography: The Independent Lens” will feature the work of Rae Dollard, Johnny Stevens and myself and runs from December 11th, 2012 through January 18th, 2013. The opening reception is at 7:30pm on December 18th and anyone interested is invited to come along.
I’ll be showing a selection of recent favourite works. The majority are printed 36″x24″ or larger on canvas although I am also including a few large, framed panoramic prints too. Here are a few of the images you will see from me.