Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Street Racing

I started my love affair with photography by shooting a Rally Sprint event in Canterbury. I had no idea what I was doing, shot far too many rolls of film, and got pretty average results. But I was hooked.

I'm a photographer and not a petrol head (I appreciate that you can be both), but I hold a certain amount of nostalgia for shooting racing events because that is where it all started for me. I don't shoot them often, but when I do I have a lot of fun and, I'm pleased to say, get some OK results.

This Labour Weekend the town I live in (Greymouth) hosted its Annual Motorbike Street Racing event. I had shot the event about six years prior - on film - but thought it was time to 'upgrade' the images and try my luck with digital. I loaded my Canon 5D with a fast 16Gig card, set it to shoot large jpegs (I thought RAW processing might slow me down a little), and moved the autofocus from one-shot to servo mode so that it would follow the action across the frame as it happened.

Shooting in this way is fun, but it requires a total mind shift from how I would normally photograph. For portraits and weddings, even though there is 'some' action involved, I usually have the 5D set on one-shot, single frame mode. This is plenty fast enough, but tends to promote a fairly precise way of composing and shooting.

With sports action photography however, precise composition almost goes out the window. Some of the big 1000cc bikes reached 200km+ going down the straight. That's FAST! When you are shooting things traveling at that speed, you have one chance to nail it and then they're gone. Pretty cool - and a hugh challenge for someone like me who doesn't normally shoot that way.

As you can see, I did manage to nail it some of the time - although it really was only some of the time. I shot about 700 images in the space of 3 hours, and culled it down to about 100 from there, getting rid of the ones that weren't sharp enough or well composed.

The 5D was set on aperture priority, f4 (as wide open as my Canon 70-200 f4'L' goes) which gave me a shutter speed of around 1000sec - plenty fast enough to use the 3 frames per second that the 5D is capable of. I also used the camera with a monopod, and I'm glad that I did because it allowed me to keep the camera at an even level while shooting through the protective wire barrier that is in place around the whole track.

All of my images were taken at the same place on the track - at a hairpin bend where the bikes had to slow down before taking off again down the straight. This allowed me to get great head-on shots of the bikes and riders when they weren't going 'as' fast.

Could I have gotten better results with a 'sports' camera like the 1D, with its 45 segment autofocus and 10 frames per second shutter speed? Yeah, of course I could. But I haven't got one of those have I. The 5D isn't known as a 'sports' camera, but I'm not a sports photographer. It performed well enough for me to get images like the ones above (and several more besides), and boy was it a lot of fun.

Now having said that, if I was to get into sports photography in any serious way, then I probably would be lusting after a 1D Mark 3 (and the Nikon equivalent D3? if you're a Nikon shooter). Faster autofocus and higher frame rate would be helpful if this was my full time gig.

Luckily for me, it's not. My full time gig starts this weekend with my first wedding for the season. It's with a wedding party of 12 (gulp) and surprise surprise - the long range forecast is for rain. Prey it ain't so.

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