Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Photographing The Grand Prix of Indianapolis

This past weekend was the running of the Indianapolis 500, but just weeks before was the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis. This race happened on a road inside the famous oval of the Indy 500. I had been to Indianapolis many years ago, but only drove by the famed motor speedway. This time, I was in the city to capture photos of the Lexar race car driven by the Tony Kanaan. Being able to photograph Indy cars in this city reminded me of the London Olympics, when I got a chance to shoot tennis at Wimbledon.

Since I was lucky enough to be there, I am going to share the experience with all of you. Let me take you through day.

I started shooting photos with the Canon 1DX and 24-105mm lens, in the Chip Ganassi race area. It was really amazing. They park 6 semi trucks side by side, only inches apart, and then they connect them together to create a mobile living / working area. I knew that I was going to be meeting up with Tony Kanaan, but on way into the trucks, I ran into Dario Franchitti. I have photographed Dario many times before, since I have photographed the Chip Ganassi team for years, but this was the first time photographing him so relaxed. Due to a major accident last year, he is now retired from the sport, which meant that he could relax and enjoy the day from a different perspective.

I asked Dario to stand next to the truck for an impromptu portrait.

And then Tony joined us, and I put him in the same position to get this photo. As you can tell, the lighting was not ideal, but I didn't have many options in this area.

After meeting with the drivers for a while, I went back to the Chip Ganassi hospitality area. Since Chip was there, I did a quick portrait of him as well. And then it was time to move out to the race track.

Right as I was walking towards the famed Gasoline Alley, I saw the race team pushing the Lexar car towards the lineup area.

Here is the car in the pit row getting last minute preparations.

I climbed up and shot this photo of one of the crew preparing for the next couple hours of racing.

They had a better than expected turn out for the race.

There was no way that I could have this access to the track and not get a photo of myself by the legendary "Yard of Bricks". It is tradition to kiss the bricks. A friend asked me if I kissed them, but my answer was "I don't kiss and tell".

Then it was back to work, getting photos of the car and driver.

One of the crew showed me the steering wheel and explained all the buttons and indicators. This is some sophisticated stuff!

My goal was to get a photo of Tony entering the car, but I had to wait for his interview with ESPN.

One more shot of Tony up close.

Thumbs up!

Just prior to the National Anthem, I backed away from the car so that I could frame this shot. I wanted the entire car, but also wanted the scoring tower and the great clouds in my shot. Right after shooting this photo, I turned and saw a formation of airplanes coming my way.

I quickly framed a shot with the incoming planes, but made sure to show include the people who were on the track watching.

And as the planes flew overheard, I turned my camera straight up and shot this. (Photographer's note: Since the sky was so bright and there were lots of white clouds in this photo, the RAW file was properly exposed for the sky, but the planes were dark. I went into Adobe Photoshop and pulled the "shadows" slider to the right to open the shadows and expose the planes correctly.)

Then it was time for the Tony to put on his helmet and get into the car.

I really wanted a shot of Tony straight on to the car, with nobody else in the shot (I have done this before with other races), but they had already kicked all photographers off the track and I had the president of the race team helping me stay as long as possible. This was the best I could get before I jumped over the wall and they started their engines.

I was walking along pit row as the race started, and within seconds there was a massive pile up. As it turns out, the lead car stalled and other cars from the back of the pack creamed into that car. I looked up and saw debris flying in front of me and saw a father shielding his daughter from the flying pieces. I ran up to a photo position at the start, switched to the Canon 100-400mm lens, and grabbed some shots of the wreckage.

This car wasn't going anywhere on it's own.

And then after a lot of cleanup the race got going again.

I shot these next photos from the same start/finish platform but really didn't like the shadows, the angle and the background, and decided to move to Turn 1.

I liked being down on the track, since it put me at the same level as the cars...

...but I was still not happy with the background. Too many distractions!

I walked a little to the left of Turn 1 and found a better shooting location. Since I have photographed race cars before, I knew that the best photos would be motion pans. So I started to slow the shutter of the camera. This photo was taken at 1/160 sec.

And then I started slowing the shutter even more. This was taken at 1/125 sec.

This photo, and the next three, were shot at 1/100 sec and I purposely turned the camera to add some more drama to the shot.

I love the red car against the green background, not to mention the fact that this is another Ganassi car.

Practicing on the other cars made it easier for me to grab a good shot of the Lexar car in the same location with the same settings.

Then I decided that it was time to challenge myself even more and try panning along with these cars at 1/40 sec. This was the first "keeper" at this shutter speed.

And another, this time getting the driver as he entered into the turn.

Once I felt that I had all the shots I wanted from Turn 1, I moved on to Turn 2. I switched the Canon 1DX back to a high speed shutter to get some safe shots. These were taken at 1/1600 sec.

I took this photo strictly for the blog. I wanted to show you what a race car looks like when it is "frozen" on the track. Doesn't this look boring. Heck, you could park the car out there, have the driver hop in and it would look the same. 1/1600 sec is safe but there is no action in the photo!

After shooting at Turn 2 for a little bit, I walked over to Turn 3, just in time to see Scott Dixon spin out. I grabbed this shot as he spun his rear tires to clear out all the gravel, and darned near hit the oncoming car. Other than this, I didn't see much for me to shoot from this location.

I went back over to Turn 1 to get more panning shots.

These last two photos were taken at the same shutter speed (1/40th sec). If you look closely, you will see that the photo above does not have near the same motion blur at the photo below. And there is a good reason for this. The first photo was taken as the driver slowed down to enter the turn, whereas the second photo was taken as the car accelerated out of the turn.

This increased speed of the car in this last photo, and the very low shutter speed is what makes this photo so difficult to capture. I have to say, I think that this is one of the best sports photos I have taken this year.

And next week I am off to Sardinia, Italy to photograph the World Rally Car Race. That should be exciting!


If you are interested in purchasing any camera equipment, please click here to go to B&H Photo, as I get a referral from them if you enter this way. I would really appreciate that.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

How to properly shoot motion panning photos - the challenges, the gear, and the fun!

Since posting some motion panning shots on the Jeff Cable Photography Facebook page, I have had a lot of questions on how I took these photos. So...even though I have yet to blog the photos from the Indy Grand Prix (which is coming soon), I thought I would write a quick blog to answer many questions about this technique.

So...let's start with the basics...

What is motion panning?

Panning is a technique where the photographer purposely slows the shutter speed of their camera to an abnormally low speed in order two pan along with a subject but create motion blur around the subject. The key to this process is the panning speed. It is imperative that the photographer follow the subject at the EXACT same speed at it is traveling. Sound difficult? It is. It is not uncommon to have many more rejects, than you have keepers. But, hey, memory is cheap and it is very rewarding when you capture a clean photo like this. 

Why would we want to purposely blur a photo?

Panning at a slow shutter speed blurs everything in the foreground and background. Having only the subject sharp, with all the blur surrounding it, gives the viewer a implication of the speed. In the case of the photo below, if I had shot this at 1/1250 of a sec, I would have frozen the car on the race track. But this would be boring, with the tires showing no motion and everything in focus. 

This first photo was taken at 1/40th of a second, using the Canon 1DX and Canon 100-400mm lens, with me panning along with the Indy car. I wish I could tell you that every one of the photos was this sharp, but that would be a lie. But, even with the poor percentage of keepers, all I wanted was one of these!

This second photo was taken at 1/1600 sec and lacks the excitement of the first shot. Honestly, you could park a race car on a track and take a photo without it looking much different.

What is the best technique?

Many people have asked me if I use a tripod or monopod when panning. I don't. As much as I love my Gitzo monopod, and use it whenever I am shooting with a large lens, I prefer to pan handheld. I hold the camera firmly and pan with my hips. I find that, like a good golf swing, you should start shooting early and follow through, shooting all the way until the object has past by. If you want to practice this technique, go outside and practice on cars, bikes and people that are going by on your street.

What is the proper shutter speed to use for panning?

It really depends on how fast your subject is moving. If you are photographing a horse and buggy in New York's Central Park, they move very slowly, so you may need to be at 1/2 a second. Trying to pan with a race car at 1/2 second would be darned near impossible. For the Indy Car shot, I started shooting at 1/200 of a second, easily got the shot, and then moved to 1/100 second. After looking at the back of the camera, I saw that I got that one too. Slow I moved to 1/80, then 1/60 and finally to 1/40. Each time challenging myself to get as much blur as possible.

This photo of a speedboat was taken at 1/15 of a second using the Canon 1DX and the Canon 28-300mm lens. This photo was made even more difficult because I was another boat, which was moving all over the place. Notice how the water, the wake, and the background are all blurry, with the boat tack sharp.

What is the best way to know if I have a good panning shot?

I usually zoom into the photo and look at the details of my subject. In the case of the car, I will look to see if the logos and text are perfectly sharp. With the boat photo, I zoomed into the writing on the side of the boat, and the writing on the engine. Of course, you also want to make sure that you have a slow enough shutter speed to show the motion blur. You may have a sharp subject, but since the shutter speed was not slow enough, you don't have enough blur.

How do I slow the shutter speed on my camera?

There are numerous ways to slow the shutter speed on your camera. If you are shooting in Aperture Priority mode, you can roll your aperture to the highest number possible. Because aperture and shutter speed are inverse to each other, this will give you a slow shutter speed. You can shoot in Shutter Priority (which is probably your best bet), since this will let you determine the exact shutter speed that you desire. Keep in mind that if you are trying to shoot at 1/2 second in the middle of a bright day, there will likely be too much light for this to happen. The only way to achieve very slow shutter speeds in a brightly lit environment is to use a neutral density filter, like the Tiffen Varible ND filter. These filters are dark and basically block the light coming into your lens. I really like the variable ND filter since it lets me dial in how much light I am blocking.

What equipment should I use?

The first photo was taken with my Canon 1DX, which is the top of line camera from Canon. But, it is not necessary to have a super fast camera for panning. I have taken many panning photos with my Canon 5D Mark III and older models. As for lenses, it really depends on how close you are to the subject and how much foreground and background you want to include in your frame. Since you are rarely ever shooting a panning shot at a high aperture (like f/2.8), even a consumer grade lens will work. I often use my Canon 24-105mm lens for walking around a new city, and will pan with this f/4 lens. And, of course, I am always using Lexar memory cards in my cameras. time you are out with your camera and you see an opportunity to try panning, give it a try. With a little bit of practice, you will come up with some really nice photos!


If you are interested in purchasing any camera equipment, please click here to go to B&H Photo, as I get a referral from them if you enter this way. I would really appreciate that.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Photographing Superbikes at Sonoma Raceway - Cross one off my photographic bucket list!

Sometimes people will ask me "What would you like to photograph that you have not done yet?" One of the things that comes to mind every time is motorcycle racing. No, I do not ride motorcycles myself, and I am big follower of the sport. So you might be wondering why this would be on my photographic bucket list.

I have seen this sport on television and in photos and always loved the action, the colors, and the way that the riders take control of the bikes. For many years now, I have wanted to shoot this sport to get that shot that was in my mind. You know? The one with the rider, wearing really colorful leathers, leaning deep into the turn with his knee scraping the ground. That is the shot that I wanted for my portfolio.

I have seen numerous races come to the Bay Area, but, with my crazy schedule, have never had a chance to fulfill this vision. As luck would have it, a couple of weeks ago, there was a Superbike race on a weekend when I was in town and not shooting. Since I know the people at the Sonoma Raceway (in the wine country of California), I requested credentials to get on the track. Finally, after years of visualizing this photo, I would have the chance to capture it.

And the best part is, I was not on assignment, I was doing this strictly for the fun of it. This way I could shoot whatever I wanted and not have to worry about delivering certain images to a client. Time for some fun!

(Canon 1DX70-200mm f/2.8 IS II, 200mm, ISO 200, f/5, 1/2000 sec)

I started shooting at Turn 9 for two reasons. Since the first pro race started at 1pm, the sunlight was in the right direction to light the riders from my side. And secondly, this turn provided high action with the quick right / left maneuver. This photo was from the first lap of the race, with the riders still in a tight pack. I started with my Canon 1DX and the 70-200mm 2.8 lens, but quickly switched to the 100-400mm lens to get in tighter. (Photographer's note: In hind sight, if I could shoot this over, I would have taken this at f/11 to get all the riders in focus.)

(Canon 1DX100-400mm, 370mm, ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/1250 sec)

As the riders came around for the second lap, I was able to start isolating them individually.

(Canon 1DX100-400mm, 330mm, ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/1600 sec)

This shot was my "money shot" of the race, and it happened within the first 10 minutes of me shooting. It was really fortunate for me and not as much for the two riders. First of all, I should say that neither one of the riders was seriously hurt in this wipeout. I just happened to be at the right turn, at the right time, with the right camera settings, right choice of lens, and ready to shoot, to capture this accident. Since I was using the Canon 1DX in burst mode, I have numerous photos of this, in quick succession. But this shot was the winner, with the rider completely off the ground and the back tire of the second motorcycle off the ground.

(Canon 1DX100-400mm, 180mm, ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/1600 sec)

A split second later, the first rider had already slid off the track, as the second rider went down. This guy got back on his bike to try and finish the race while the other rider was done for the day.

(Canon 1DX100-400mm, 330mm, ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/1250 sec)

Knowing that I had already captured a cool wipeout at the very beginning of my day, I was even more relaxed in the rest of my shooting. Now I could work even harder to get that shot that I wanted. And this is the one. Let me tell you why I like this photo so much:

* The colors that the riders are wearing stand out against the background.
* Not only do I have one rider coming through the tun, but I have a second rider hot on his tail.
* They are both leaning deep into the turn, just inches from the ground.
* I had a good clean background without any major distractions.
* You can see where they came from and where they are going.
* I used the "rule of thirds" to have the subjects off to the left with the turn in the frame.

(Canon 1DX100-400mm, 400mm, ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/1600 sec)

I continued to shoot at Turn 9, until I felt that I had enough of these photos. Then it was time to start moving, to get a variety of photos.

(Canon 1DX100-400mm, 250mm, ISO 200, f/5, 1/1600 sec)

You can tell from this photo, that I had moved about 40 feet down the track to capture the riders as they accelerated out of the turn.

(Canon 1DX100-400mm, 160mm, ISO 200, f/14, 1/200 sec)

I made my way towards Turn 10, and decided that it was time to try some motion blur. Panning along with the motorcycle riders, I photographed them as they sped past me at high speed.

(Canon 1DX100-400mm, 400mm, ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/1250 sec)

Once the pro race was over, some of the club racers came out. I went back to the press center with some of the other photographers, but since I was not under any deadlines to get images to anyone, I decided to go out and practice shooting photos of this amateur race. I figured that this would be good practice for the upcoming 3:45pm pro race. So I headed off towards Turn 2 to see what I could get from this vantage point. I like this photo, since the pack leader had a clear visor and you can see the intensity in his eyes.

(Canon 1DX100-400mm, 190mm, ISO 400, f/16, 1/200 sec)

Since I have photographed NASCAR and Indy cars on this track before, I knew the layout pretty well and headed to a high point between Turn 2 and Turn 3. I knew that I could get a nice shot of the riders with the rolling hills of the wine country in the background. Once again, I slowed the shutter of the camera to 1/100 sec and panned with the riders to get these photos.

(Canon 1DX100-400mm, 170mm, ISO 400, f/16, 1/1200 sec)

Notice how the motion blur gives a visual clue as to the speed in which these guys are moving.

(Canon 1DX100-400mm, 365mm, ISO 800, f/8, 1/2000 sec, +1.0 exposure comp)

Turn 2 of Sonoma Raceway provides something different from almost any other race track in the U.S. When shooting photos below the turn, it provides a shot with clear sky in the background. For the start of the second pro race, I positioned myself to take advantage of this.

(Canon 1DX100-400mm, 285mm, ISO 500, f/9, 1/1000 sec, +0.7 exposure comp)

I went back to a fast shutter speed to grab these photos.

(Canon 1DX100-400mm, 285mm, ISO 500, f/9, 1/1250 sec, +0.7 exposure comp)

Some of the riders caught air as they cleared the top of Turn 2. Very cool!

(Canon 1DX100-400mm, 400mm, ISO 400, f/5.6, 1/640 sec, +0.3 exposure comp)

After shooting many photos from the outside perimeter of the race track, I wanted to give myself enough time to walk into the inside of the track to shoot photos of the racers leaning in my direction. With 17 laps remaining, I made my way over a bridge and past a couple of locked gates (areas designated only for photographers). As I was walking up a large hill to the inside of Turn 2, I saw this rider coming into the turn. I moved quickly to get this shot. I liked the action, and the overall composition, but wanted to get some more photos with the grass lower in the frame.

(Canon 1DX100-400mm, 285mm, ISO 100, f/14, 1/80 sec,)

Here is another photo that I had dreamed of capturing. A motion blur photo with the rider leaning into a wide turn, perfectly sharp with the background blurred. Like my other "pre-visualized" photo, this one was really fulfilling.

(Canon 1DX100-400mm, 320mm, ISO 100, f/9, 1/125 sec)

I stood inside of Turn 2 for the remainder of the race, and continued to shoot photos of the riders zipping past me. 

After numerous hours of photographing, the races were over and I was back in my car, heading home (with a big smile on my face) to see what I captured. I could not wait to get home, to download all the photos and see what I got. 

For all of you who love photography, you know what I am talking about. There is a certain thrill when you go through your photos and find those "winners". 

All in all, it was a really fun day, and I accomplished a photographic goal of mine!


If you are interested in purchasing any camera equipment, please click here to go to B&H Photo, as I get a referral from them if you enter this way. I would really appreciate that.