Another year is nearly over and, with it, Austin’s second Formula 1 United States Grand Prix. From my perspective, this year’s event was every bit as much fun as the 2012 race. With a year of race weekends under their belt, the folks at Circuit of the Americas had ironed out the few kinks that marred last year’s event (and there really were very few considering that the newly built venue was only just usable by the time of the race) and put on a spectacular show – the beer selection was better, the number of food vendors and the variety of food on offer was very much improved and there was even decent cellular data coverage around the track. I was rather amazed to note that there was an AT&T WiFi hotspot up at Turn 11.
The crowds felt larger than last year but perhaps my memory was dulled by the very much smaller crowds for every other race I’ve been to at the track this year. The official gate count put Sunday’s attendance at about 4000 less than last year but, given the huge number of people involved, it certainly didn’t feel significantly less busy this year.
As before, the racing was great but the most spectacular thing about attending a Grand Prix is the amazing atmosphere. 120,000 friendly people gathering from all corners of the globe makes for quite a party.
I’ll be back again next year and will likely book another seat in the Turn 3 bleachers which gave such an excellent view of the S-curve section of the track with its great red, white and blue stripes. If you’re a racing fan and can make it down here, there’s no better place to be than Austin in mid-November!
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’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!
Here’s another sport to add to the collection. Via our local “Photographers Adventure Group“, I was fortunate enough to get hold of a media pass to a recent Texas Roller Derby match at the Palmer Event Center and had a blast shooting during the Rhinestone Cowgirls/Cherry Bombs match. Roller Derby is an interesting sport involving two teams racing around an oval track with points scored based on the number of opposing team players that a team’s “Jammer” passes during each “jam” (or individual race). It’s all action and rather good entertainment.
Photographically, it was also quite a challenge since the lighting inside the hall is pretty awful – a mix of fluorescent and tungsten with an overall light level that was rather too low to get the shutter speed where you would want it to really freeze the action. I was shooting with f/2.8 lenses pretty much wide open all evening and was dealing with shutter speeds in the 1/180 to 1/250 range even with the ISO bumped up to 3200. Nevertheless, I’m happy with quite a few of the images I captured so here are a few of my favourites. You can find all the picks I sent to the TXRD folks in this gallery on SmugMug.
A fisheye shot of the arena taken with the camera on top of a fully extended monopod and held overhead. A 5 second self timer setting game me enough time to get the camera as high as possible before the shutter released.
Each team member has a roller derby name. This is Sacrilicious of the Cherry Bombs bombing around the track.
Rocky Casbah of the Cherry Bombs.
Eric seems to be a mascot or somesuch. Think if him as a guy dressed as Elvis dressed as an angel.
A couple of players await news of their fate after a penalty was granted. They ended up having to pillow fight in the middle of the track.
The matches can get pretty heated at times.
How often are you told,on showing someone a particularly good picture you’ve taken, that you must have a great camera? I always think that this is somewhat similar to telling a great author that they must have a very high-end word processor! I’m a great believer in the adage that your actual photography equipment is nothing like as important as what you do with it. A consumer grade DSLR and kit lens can be used to take superb images (as can an iPhone, a Holga, a cheap point-and-shoot or whatever “low-end” camera you care to substitute). The issue is not how much the equipment cost but your artistic vision and your ability to use the equipment, limitations and all, to achieve the result you are aiming for.
For 95% of my photography, the camera is essentially irrelevant. I’m either shooting outdoors in good light or have the camera on a tripod where shutter speed is unimportant. I’m also normally shooting for online use and, even when I do print images, I seldom do sizes above 20″x16″ and normally stick around 12″x18″ unless I have pictures to produce for a show. As a result, the lens quality is typically not an issue. You don’t need a $2000 lens if your main aim is to produce 8″x12″ prints or low resolution images for the web.
Given this, the question that comes to many people’s mind is why bother upgrading to an expensive camera system if a cheap one will do a great job? The answer to this question, for me, is that an expensive camera and lens combination opens up new vistas of photography that would otherwise be completely closed to me. It allows me to stretch my photography into new and interesting areas, notably sport and low light photography.
A great example of this was my recent experience of shooting at the Austin Rodeo. I was fortunate enough to gain press access to the event one evening to shoot inside the arena during the show. The lighting was absolutely awful (if you think a floodlit football stadium at night is problematic, imagine yourself with 2 stops less light than that) but I had to use as high a shutter speed as possible to try to freeze the action. Typically, this will mean using a shutter speed of 1/1000 of a second or thereabouts but there was no way this could happen. In the end, I shot most of the evening at 1/500th, f/2.8 and ISO 4000. The last two numbers are the critical ones. To get something close to a decent shutter speed, I had to use a very fast (and, hence, expensive) lens with a wide aperture and also crank my sensitivity up to a ridiculously high value.
Had I not had the D700, I would have been stuck. My D90 will shoot acceptable images up to about 2500ISO but 4000ISO wouldn’t be usable. At 2500ISO, my shutter speed with the expensive glass would have been about 1/250th or so leading to a significantly blurrier image for most of the action shots. Had I been using a kit lens at f/5.6 (at the long end, the D90 kit lens is a 105mm f/5.6) I would have been looking at 1/60th, definitely not something that would have yielded anything other than “creative blur” for most of the evening.
As with many cases, the expensive equipment comes into its own in the “corner cases”, situations that most people never encounter and that cheaper equipment is just not designed to handle. You are paying for a reduced set of limitations rather than better pictures in normal use unless your definition of “normal use” involves a lot of low light sport shooting. The more expensive camera can handle a wider range of lighting situations and still expose a shot properly but, regardless, it’s still up to you to know the capabilities and limitations of the equipment and work within those limits to compose and shoot that great picture.