LIGHT WORK

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These pic­to­rial fea­tures are de­signed to help you bet­ter ap­pre­ci­ate how work­ing pho­tog­ra­phers deal with sub­jects and sit­u­a­tions, in­clud­ing some help­ful tricks of the trade. In this is­sue, Cam­era edi­tor Paul Bur­rows is at the re­cent Bathurst 12 Hour mo­tor race, shoot­ing fast-mov­ing sub­jects in a low-light sit­u­a­tion.

The Pic­ture

The fa­mous Mount Panorama mo­tor rac­ing cir­cuit at Bathurst in cen­tral New South Wales. The event is the 2018 Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour race for GT class sport­cars and pro­duc­tion cars, which this year at­tracted over 50 en­tries from Aus­tralia and in­ter­na­tion­ally from the USA, UK, Ger­many, Bel­gium, China and New Zealand.

The Pho­tog­ra­pher

Cam­era edi­tor Paul Bur­rows be­gan pho­tograph­ing mo­tor­sport back in 1983 and his first event was that year’s Rally New Zealand, right at the start of the in­fa­mous Group B era. While ral­ly­ing re­mains a first love, Paul has since shot F1, Supercars, Indy­cars, mo­tor­cy­cle rac­ing and his­torics. “Ba­si­cally, if it has a num­ber stuck on the door,” he says, “I’m in­ter­ested.”

The Equip­ment

Nikon D4 and 100-400mm f4.5- 6.3 im­age-sta­bilised tele­zoom hand-held. Shut­ter-pri­or­ity auto ex­po­sure con­trol at ISO 1600 with +0.7 stops of ex­po­sure com­pen­sa­tion.

The Tech­nique

The Bathurst 12 Hour race is unique in track-based mo­tor­sport in that it starts in the dark, which ob­vi­ously cre­ates a num­ber

of pho­to­graphic chal­lenges, es­pe­cially when us­ing longer lenses and with the need for faster shut­ter speeds to freeze move­ment. It’s a bal­anc­ing act be­tween ISO set­tings, shut­ter speed and aper­ture… all in the quest of op­ti­mum sharp­ness. Us­ing the panning tech­nique en­ables a slower shut­ter speed to be used so the ISO can be re­duced. Panning in­volves track­ing a mov­ing sub­ject us­ing a shut­ter speed that will en­sure it re­mains sharp while the back­ground be­comes blurred which then gives a vis­ual im­pres­sion of move­ment. The trick with panning is to get the speed right, oth­er­wise the sub­ject will be blurred, but care also needs to be taken to en­sure the sub­ject dis­tance isn’t chang­ing too much ei­ther, oth­er­wise, again, sharp­ness will be com­pro­mised.

How It Was Done

Low light sit­u­a­tions can be tricky for aut­o­fo­cus­ing sys­tems so pre­fo­cus­ing is of­ten the best op­tion. With the sun com­ing up, there was a lit­tle more light to play with so it was pos­si­ble to se­lect a shut­ter speed that was fast enough to freeze the sub­ject while panning, but also al­low a smaller aper­ture for greater depth-of-field. Even at 120mm – which was the fo­cal length for this im­age – there’s min­i­mal depth-of-field so ev­ery lit­tle bit ex­tra will help. Pick­ing the right point on which to pre­fo­cus isn’t al­ways easy as not ev­ery car will fol­low the same line out of a cor­ner (as is the case here) so hav­ing more depth-offield is again use­ful. Panning is these sit­u­a­tions is of­ten a case of ‘point­ing and squirt­ing’ and hop­ing for the best. A faster con­tin­u­ous shoot­ing speed will ob­vi­ously help in­crease the suc­cess rate and, of course, with dig­i­tal cap­ture the missed shots don’t cost any­thing.

Tricks Of The Trade

If there’s time, study the ac­tion to get a bet­ter idea of the best point on which to pre­fo­cus. Pick up the sub­ject the mo­ment that it’s in sight and start­ing shoot­ing well be­fore it gets to the pre­fo­cused point… and then keep go­ing for a brief time after­wards. Of­ten it’s a frame just ahead or af­ter the pre­s­e­lected point that ac­tu­ally looks bet­ter. In this in­stance, the first frame was the best one (out of a se­quence of eight) and the flare cre­ated by the sun sud­denly ap­pear­ing from be­hind the low cloud adds at­mos­phere and an ex­tra touch of dy­namism. While lens mak­ers work hard to min­imise ghost­ing and flare, it can be quite ef­fec­tive in some sit­u­a­tions.

De­gree Of Dif­fi­culty (Out of 10)

Low light. Fast sub­ject. Long lens. Ev­ery­thing is work­ing against achiev­ing sharp­ness here, in­clud­ing the noise re­duc­tion pro­cess­ing which op­er­ates at the higher ISO set­tings needed to main­tain a faster shut­ter speed. We haven’t even con­sid­ered any of the creative as­pects such as com­po­si­tion, but in tech­ni­cal terms alone this is def­i­nitely a dif­fi­cult ‘10’.

Can You Try This At Home?

You don’t nec­es­sar­ily need a pho­tog­ra­pher’s ac­cred­i­ta­tion to get great shots at a ma­jor mo­tor­sport event. Mount Panorama, for ex­am­ple, of­fers plenty of ex­cel­lent van­tage points even on a gen­eral ad­mis­sion ticket (al­though these will def­i­nitely be at a premium at the big Bathurst 1000 Supercars race). Pick some lower-key events – or at­tend on the prac­tice days rather than on race day – to prac­tice and re­fine your skills. The more mo­tor­sport you shoot, the bet­ter you’ll get.

Pho­to­graph by Paul Bur­rows, copy­right 2018.

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