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.
Update 7/6/15: Reading this, I realised that a few things have changed since 2012 and this changes my impression of this area. The grandstands which were placed in this area on the first year have been absent for the last couple and this leaves what is now my absolute favourite location for panned shots unobstructed. Around turn 5 or 6, there’s a hill which you can now stand on top of and get a pretty good view of the track. If you’re walking from the turn 2 area, pass the pedestrian bridge and go another 100 yards or so and set yourself up somewhere just before the large TV crane that is usually at the corner. The elevation there gives you a great view of the stripes and I have yet to find a better location anywhere at the track for panning shots of both cars and motorcycles (and I include trackside positions here too).
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 adding this section almost a year after F1 having attended every race that the track has hosted since then. During Friday practice and possibly on Saturday, you may find that you are able to sneak into the main grandstand even though you don’t have a ticket. This has been possible at all other events I’ve attended at CoTA this year so it’s worth a try. Go up to the second level of the grandstand and head to the north end (the left end as you look across toward the pits). From there, with a long lens, you can get a great view of the cars coming round turn 20. This is the only position on the track that I’ve found where you can get a good head-on shot in the afternoon when the light at turn 11 is in the wrong direction.
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.
I’m just back from a spectacular weekend attending the inaugural United States Grand Prix at the brand new Circuit of the Americas here in Austin. With about 2500 photos to edit, I’m not ready to publish a lot of images from the event but wanted to get a few pictures posted quickly to set the scene. In short, though, the US Grand Prix weekend was an amazing event!
Event organization was superb and, from my perspective at least, everything ran extremely smoothly. My main worry had been that the shuttle bus system would lead to enormous lines at the pick-up and drop-off locations but this didn’t appear to be the case. I parked at the airport and took the shuttle from there to the track, and found the whole system ran beautifully smoothly. My only wait was about 15 minutes after leaving the track this evening following the race. Friends who took the downtown and Travis County Expo Center shuttles reported smooth operation too with waits no longer than 30 minutes at any time during the weekend.
While the focus of the weekend was obviously on motor racing, the aspect that really impressed me was the overall atmosphere and the amazing camaraderie between fans from all over the globe. People were shouting for their favourite team or driver but, in the end, everyone was having a good time, happy to interact with other fans, and extremely friendly. Any rivalries were most definitely of the good-natured variety.
Showing this in pictures is rather tricky but here are a selection that show some of the folks I met. Most of these people, I talked to for several minutes after taking their picture though some were seen and photographed at “long range” during the weekend. Click on any picture for a larger, uncropped version.
Overall, given the predictions of doom and gloom in the local press and remembering that COTA was an undeveloped field a couple of years ago, I’m delighted to report that the first Formula 1 weekend in Austin was a huge success!
As many of you know, my wife, when she’s not writing children’s books, leads a double life as a Zumba fitness instructor at the Town Lake YMCA in Austin. One of her class members works at the world headquarters of Whole Foods Market (which, as an aside, is probably the most amazing supermarket you will ever find anywhere) and she was recently asked to put together a flash mob in the store to celebrate the Austin City Limits music festival that was going on last weekend. All the store staff were taught the dance and many of Nikki’s Zumba class members came along to beef up the numbers. At 4:30 on Saturday, this is what you would have seen had you been doing your weekly shopping at the Lamar Whole Foods store.
Update 10/15/12: The flash mob made it into an article on Huffington Post today. Fame or what?
You’ve no doubt heard me going on about what a wonderful community Dripping Springs, Texas is but, in case you somehow managed to miss it, here are a few snaps from the Pioneer Day Festival which took place a week ago at the Dr. Pound House in Founders’ Park. This is another great example of a fun community event which involved a whole bunch of local groups and organisations.
This week saw an object lesson in the merits taking your own advice. On Thursday morning, we had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity here in Austin as the Space Shuttle Endeavour made a low level flypast of the city on the back of the Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. I found out about it at 10pm the night before as I was waiting for a flight home in Chicago but realised that I had to get downtown and see the shuttle at 7:30 the next morning (after 4 hours of sleep). To cut a very long story short, I ended up completely messing up the photographs – I got 12 well-framed, perfectly focused shots of the aircraft during the 5 or 6 seconds that it was visible from my vantage point and every one of them was 2 stops overexposed.
The main reason for this mess was the fact that I completely failed to take the advice that I so freely give to others for situations exactly like this.
I shoot in manual mode about 90% of the time. I like the control I get in manual and, when lighting conditions are constant and I have time to shoot, chimp, tweak and reshoot, it works well. Even shooting sports, if the stadium light conditions are stable, I will generally stick in manual after taking a few test shots to judge the correct exposure. In situations where the light is changing or, more importantly, where there is a lot of uncertainty or a lack of time to get the shot, I will add more of the camera automation. Shooting people at parties, for example, I’ll normally start in Aperture Priority and use TTL flash (I would use manual flash for any setup or studio portraits). I dare say that if I ever ended up in a war zone, I would likely leave the camera in Program mode since I would have a lot of other thing to worry about than the exposure.
On Thursday morning, I was firmly in Aperture Priority territory at least as far as my advice went. The Shuttle would be coming in at an unknown height and speed, from an unknown position (yes, it was entering Austin from the east but we had no idea how far north of the river it would fly over) at an unknown time (we had a 30 minute window). I should have stuck the camera in Aperture Priority, selected f/5.6 or so for a nice fast shutter speed, and left the computer to get the exposure right for me. For some reason, though (lack of sleep?), I decide manual would be better so I took some test shots of the Capitol Dome, set the exposure and waited.
At this point, I was standing on the south lawn of the Capitol complex. I was aiming for a “Hail Mary” shot containing the top of the Capitol dome and the SCA/Shuttle combination large in the frame. This involved betting that the pair would fly slightly north of the Capitol. I had the D700 with the 28-300 pre-zoomed to give me the kind of framing I wanted assuming I could get the dome in the shot and the D90 with the 70-200 and a doubler waiting to grab some close-ups as the aircraft flew in. I assumed that they would be visible for a reasonable time and that I could change cameras and possibly even do a bit of exposure tweaking during the flyby.
All of these assumptions turned out to be wrong – the flypast was visible for about 6 seconds or so, it was lower and faster than I had expected and it was further south. On top of this and, as it turns out, the crucial difference, the light got significantly brighter between 7:20 when I set my exposure and 7:45 when the flypast took place. As a result, I had no chance to get the dome in the picture (the shuttle was behind me, the dome in front) and only got to shoot with the D90 and long lens which, given my mistake of staying in manual and not resetting the exposure, resulted in wildly overexposed images.
This seemed like a total disaster but, thankfully, Adobe Lightroom can do amazing things so here’s the image once I spent some time fixing it up. The quality is acceptable but it still leaves me embarrassed to think of what a mess I made of the encounter!
No – I didn’t suffer a terrible accident that kept me away from the blog for a couple of months! Things in the Wilson/Loftin household have been phenomenally busy over the summer and this blog suffered as a result. Hopefully, you’ll forgive me when I show you what we’ve been up to.
As you will probably know, Nikki is a writer and her first children’s novel was published last Tuesday. As a debut author, there’s a ton of work you need to do to publicise your book and we’ve been doing it. Aside from design of a bunch of handouts (business cards, postcards and bookmarks), we also had to put together a book trailer. Since neither of us is a video expert, we decided on a still-based format which involved lots of portraits of kids eating various forms of evil candies, cakes and goodies. Two weeks of shooting, during which our front room was transformed into a photographic studio, followed by two weeks of editing and we ended up with the following little video.
Due to time constraints, we couldn’t include all the best pictures we shot in the final video so, to ensure that all the kids who came along and sat in front of my camera could see themselves at the official launch party (last Saturday at Book People in downtown Austin), I put together a simple slideshow which cycled through all the picks from the 500 or so individual portraits that we shot for the trailer.
Let us know what you think and, if you have an 8 – 12 year old child who likes scary stories, pass on the word about “The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy!”
Is it just me, or is timelapse the big thing these days? I’ve seen an increasing number of rather good timelapse videos but a lot of them are beginning to look rather similar. These two, however, blew me away so I thought I would share them. I strongly encourage you to click the “Vimeo” link on the small videos below to watch them in their high resolution glory.
The first video “Within Two Worlds” was produced by Brad Goldpaint. Whereas it contains (albeit lovely examples of) some fairly standard “Milky Way rotating above mountains” clips, it also contains something I’ve not seen before – timelapse sequences including star trails. I’m having fun trying to figure out how he produced those sections.
The second video is built from a large collection of images shot from the International Space Station and is credited to Knate Myers, a photographer from Albuquerque. I don’t need to say any more – just watch it and be amazed.
That’s a picture of my elder son’s first birthday party back in 2000. This blog isn’t quite as old as Cameron but today is its 9th birthday! The first post appeared on June 10th, 2003. Over the years, the focus has shifted somewhat with this blog now essentially acting as a repository for long-form posts and tutorials that wouldn’t fit into the format of my daily photoblog. It’s also a place that I enjoy sharing videos I’ve found (see yesterday’s post for an example) and quick links to other helpful or amusing sites.
Over the 9 years, I’ve written 596 posts and received 487 non-spam comments. On days when I don’t post, the blog doesn’t get a lot of traffic but occasionally a post gets linked from a popular site and I see a huge spike in views. The highest spike to date occurred on January 14th, 2010 when my “Best of 2009” post was linked from DPS and just under 1500 people clicked through the link.
Here are the top 10 posts in terms of views since I moved the blog to the WordPress platform in February 2009:
- Best of 2009
- Best of 2010
- HDR Tip #7 – Magic Blue Sky Halo Removal
- Real Photographers Shoot In Manual Mode (or not)
- HDR For Real Estate Photography
- Shooting Skylines at Night
- Cracking the HDR Noise Problem
- HDR Tip #1 – HDR From A Single RAW
- Hamilton Pool
- HDR Notes for PhotoNetCast Listeners
All being well, I have every intention of keeping the blog running for the foreseeable future. Thanks to all of you who take a little time out of your day to read my scribblings!