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ALMS Northeast Grand Prix 2011

IMG_1881Just like last year, I went to the American Le Mans Series Northeast Grand Prix at Lime Rock Park, held on July 9, 2011 this year. I arrived early enough to walk around the open paddock to see all the teams’ set ups.  I also got to go out on the track for the open grid before the race, which was the closest I’d ever gotten to these cars that I’ve been watching on TV for a few years now.

While I stuck with my kit 28-135mm lens for the close-up shots of the cars on the grid, in the paddock, and at the Porscheplatz corral (specially reserved parking and tent for Porsche owners); I had a borrowed 70-200mm L to shoot the cars on the track. I got some decent shots but there was no single stand out photograph – I think I was enjoying the event more than focusing on taking pictures.

PCA Club Racing Lime Rock Park 2011

IMG_0160This year I made it up to Lime Rock Park for the Porsche Club of America Club Racing event on April 30, 2011. It’s taken me a while to go through my shots, but I’ve finally posted the best of them in a new Trackside gallery. All of the posted shots are straight from the camera without any post-processing. Thanks to a coworker I was able to borrow two awesome lenses to shoot this event with: the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II (which I used for all the on-track pictures) and a Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L IS II (used to shoot the paddock photos). I’d used the first generation 70-200 a few times in the past and this Mark 2 version was great. The 16-35mm is the widest lens I’ve ever gotten to use, and I really enjoyed being able to get up close to some of the cars in the paddock and still capture all of the scene that I wanted in the frame. With the 28-135mm kit lens that came with my 40D, I’m so often hitting the stop on the wide end and wishing I had further to go, and the 16-35mm definitely delivered on that.

IMG_0233Because I’m a big fan of the Boxster Spec class and have several friends that race them, I focused my shooting on these cars. I got a few decent pictures on the Left Hander (the only real left-hand turn at Lime Rock Park) that were similar to my award-winning shot taken last year in the same spot. It’s a cool place for photographs because you can pan to keep your subject car sharp while getting extra motion blur on others as they’re still coming around the corner. You can check out the albums, which are divided according to the race group:

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My First Photography Award

This month, NNJR PCA held their “Slide Night” themed monthly meeting. Members were invited to submit photos and each contributor was given a chance to present their images. After everyone had shown their work, images were judged by Dom Miliano, a professional photographer and regular contributor to car magazines like Excellence. First, second, and third prizes were awarded in both a Porsche and non-Porsche division. An overall Grand Prize was also given to the overall best picture.

As soon as I heard about this meeting, I wanted to pick some of my pictures to submit. I choose a small group of pictures from the PCA Club Race at Watkins Glen and the ALMS Northeast Grand Prix held at Lime Rock Park. I cropped the shots to zero in on the subject and display a better composition. Since I would have liked to use longer lenses at both of these events, cropping my 10MP images down to around 1280 x 850 really improved a lot of the shots. I knew the pictures would be displayed on a projector screen and laptop at Slide Night, so I figured this relatively low resolution would be good enough if it meant I could create a really good composition. The cropped versions that I submitted are available in this album.

alms_lrp_fl45rsr_landscapeAt the meeting, after a few others photographers had gone, it was my turn to present. I gave only a short explanation of each, but I told a joke for the first image: a panning shot in Turn 2 at Lime Rock Park of the Flying Lizard 911 GT3 RSR ahead of 2 Corvettes and 2 BMWs:

I showed this one to my cousin, a BMW guy, and he said “I see those BMWs, there in the back…” I replied, “Right, that’s where they normally are… in the back!”

After some laughs from the crowd, Dom Miliano said he really liked the shot, because it was very clearly focused on the Lizard Porsche, making it a perfect panning shot. Because of the angle of my shot as related to the corner layout of the track, I was panning left to right to track the Lizard Porsche, while the BMWs were moving right to left. This created additional motion blur on those cars and provided more depth in the image. Overall, there is plenty for the eye to explore and it keeps you busy looking at multiple objects and layers.

After I presented my work, pictures from a lot of other contributors were presented. I thought a lot of the shots were great – I personally liked quite a few of them. Once all presentations were completed, it was time for the photos to be judged. We all waited a few minutes as images were reviewed and awards determined. Finally, finalists were announced starting with the non-Porsche pictures. Next was the Porsche division. As third and second place were announced, I thought the images were great choices and assumed I had no chance to receive anything – there were so many awesome shots shown that night. Then, my first photograph was announced as the first place in the Porsche division! I was really excited to have been honored against so many other great pictures, and I’m happy my work has been recognized.

Winning this recognition has certainly encouraged me to keep shooting pictures of Porsches. I’ll be trying for the grand prize next year! It is also another example of how the equipment doesn’t make the picture, at least to a point. My first-place shot was taken with the kit lens that came with my digital SLR. While I think you do need the performance of an SLR (or “real camera” as I call it) to shoot things like sports, having the latest, greatest, super expensive telephoto L lens doesn’t ensure you take great pictures.

ALMS Northeast Grand Prix Shots

IMG_0942I recently posted my best raw shots from the American Le Mans Series Northeast Grand Prix. The race was held on July 24, 2010 on a ridiculously hot day at Lime Rock Park in Lakeville, CT. Despite the weather, I really enjoyed the event because I was able to get really close to the track and really see the cars in action. I wish I had been there earlier to walk the open paddock while cars were still by the team trailers. ALMS also has an open grid so when the race cars first go out on track you can walk around before the race starts. I’ll have to plan my visit to the event better for next year.

Also due to my lack of planning, I was only using my kit 28-135mm lens to shoot. For past events (at least most PCA Club Races), I’ve been able to borrow a 70-200 L lens and I’ve enjoyed using that for the extra range, better image stabilization, and better optical quality. I attempted to rent one for this weekend, but I quickly discovered trying to rent one of Canon’s most popular lenses for the weekend on a Friday afternoon doesn’t work to well. I made due with the equipment I had and was able to get some good shots. Check out the album.

Studio and Lighting Makeup Class

IMG_1272I recently went to a make-up class for the session I missed: using flash with ambient light.  For the rest of the course we had focused solely on shooting with strobes, but for this one session we learned how to capture part of the image with the strobes and the rest with ambient light.

We set up two mannequins, one against a black background with a halogen light shining on it, and the other in the foreground only illuminated with two strobes.  We metered the strobes and then took our first picture at sync speed, but this captured only the foreground.  We then adjusted the shutter so the halogen-lit background would be exposed correctly.

After figuring out how to capture both the background and foreground, we added party wigs to the mannequins in order to try to freeze motion with the flash while having motion blur in the ambient-lit portion of the image.  Check out the album to see the results.

My First Studio Model Shoot

IMG_1255For the last Studio and Lighting class, a model was brought in and each student had the opportunity to shoot her however we liked. Only four (of the 8 in the class) students showed up, so we had plenty of time to get set up and take the shots we wanted. We were a little limited, since we only had 3 lights, one soft box, and various other accessories. Going in, I had a basic idea of what I wanted…

We had never used a snoot in class, so I wanted to use that accessory to put hard light on the model’s face. I wanted a black background, with her body silhouetted against it as much as possible. I choose to shoot at f/8. I used a snoot on my key light, no fill and no background lighting, and two separation lights. I shot the broad side of the model’s face, with the key light at zone five-ish pointed directly at her from above. I think my separation lights were at zone 4. I was able to get set up, meter and adjust everything, and take a bunch of shots. Most of them I’ve posted in the gallery. My favorite is the one shown here, where the model’s eyes are closed and she’s looking slightly up. I was a little worried that my setup would end up looking like a depression commercial, but as the instructor pointed out, the result was more like something from a Reebok ad campaign! Overall, I was happy with it. I don’t see myself shooting a lot of models in studios anytime soon (product photography is more my thing), but it was definitely a good experience and I learned a lot.

Studio and Lighting: Second Half

My Studio and Lighting class is now over, although I did miss the fifth class and will be making that up in late September. I’ll cover classes 3, 4 and 6 in this post and then write another one about our model shoot in the last class.

IMG_0867Class 3 covered the zone system, tone control and background lighting. We set up a portrait of the dummy and took multiple shots, varying the background lighting to make it come out as zone 5, zone 7, white, zone 3, and black. As homework for this class we had taken pictures of a monotone surface exposed at a number of different zones – this helped us determine which zone we needed to use for white and black for our individual cameras. For my 40D, pure white is about 4 stops up and black is 3 stops down from middle gray. More light than +4 stops would also create white, but this could screw some things up by bouncing back (flare, effects on primary object, etc.). Finally, we reviewed the different types of meters: reflective and incident.  The former measures the light bouncing off the subject – this means you have to have a vision of the zones you want each part of the shot to be. Incident metering measures the light coming into the scene, so it will always be exposed correctly, but you will not have creative control over the exposure. Incident metering is like holding up a gray card and taking a reflective reading of it.

IMG_0872The fourth class was about “making the light pretty” or hard versus soft light.  Light quality is not contrast, which is controlled by the intensity of the fill light. With natural light, you can have low contrast light that is soft (shade) and high contrast light that is hard (noon time sun with no clouds). The quality is determined by the size of the light source – the bigger the source, the softer the light. Hard light creates sharp shadows, while softer light creates more of a gradient between light and dark. As a photographer, you can make light softer by using accessories like umbrellas, bounce cards, and soft boxes. A snoot or honeycomb grille make the light harder.  The latter are available in various percentages and create a spotlight effect.  Grilles are useful on separation lights to limit the light pointed at the camera (where it could cause flare). We also covered some basic formulas for portrait lighting. Turning a subject’s head, instead of taking a straight-on mug shot, typically creates a more pleasing shot. A butterfly setup places a light high above, straight ahead of a model’s face, creating a butterfly-shaped shadow under the nose. Rembrant is shooting the short side of a subject (seeing less of the face when a model’s head is turned) with a triangle of light created by the key light shining over the bridge of the nose.

IMG_0884Class 6 covered product photography. You don’t have to direct the pose of objects the way you would people, since you can set them up as you wish, but every object is different and has its own challenges. Professional photographers often specialize in a particular class of object because it is difficult to shoot everything well. The class was mostly hands on, shooting a wine glass. The glass is an extremely difficult object to shoot because it is round, reflective, and transparent – three major challenges objects can present. Objects have 4 different areas of light falling on them: the shadow, the diffused highlight, the diffused highlight shadow transfer area, and the specular highlight. The latter is a reflection of the light source, so in setting up a shot you have to adjust the distance and position of your lights in order to get the specular highlights to look the way you want.  Since the object is transparent, you can only meter the background (since light passes right through the object). Once we had some decent shots set up and taken, we filled the glass with water had some fun dropping in a quarter and catching a shot of the splash.  The flash and quick shutter speed allows us to stop the action and get some cool looking pictures.  Finally, we shot a liquor bottle by lighting it from underneath, creating a cool effect.

Laguna Seca from January 2010

IMG_9645I finally got around to picking out the best of a few shots I took of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca near Monterey while I was out in California last January.  I had gone to the front gate and said I was on vacation and had always watched the track on TV.  The guy there let me drive around the compound but told me not to try to get out on the track.  There was a Porsche 997 Turbo running the track for some kind of video, so I took a bunch of shots.  I didn’t have a lot of time to set up for these, but I got a few good, clear panning shots.

Trackside Pictures

While I’ve been away from photography classes over the last couple years, I certainly haven’t been away from photography.

Over 2009, I took a bunch of pictures at Porsche Club of America track events. I’ve been lucky enough to borrow a Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS lens from a friend to shoot all of these pictures.  I’ve posted the best of my shots in the gallery:

front_quarter_5454 Drivers Ed Pocono Raceway

IMG_6288 Club Racing Lime Rock

IMG_6699 Club Racing Watkins Glen

Most recently, I was again up at Watkins Glen for the 2010 PCA Club Race. Because a lot of drivers had built new cars, I had a lot of new material to shoot. I focused on the green and blue run groups during the sprint races, and the first two enduro races (orange and purple).

IMG_9829 Sprint Race 1 Green

IMG_9916 Sprint Race 1 Blue

IMG_0156 Sprint Race 2 Green

IMG_0435 Sprint Race 2 Blue

IMG_0610 Enduro Race Orange

IMG_0771 Enduro Race Purple