Thursday, June 14, 2012

Simple Photos

I like taking pictures because they capture things that are dramatic and meaningful in life. I've read a lot about photography -- I had my first darkroom when I was 10 in DC, about 42 years ago; a geeky high-school photo-clubber stinky with Dektol; went to the Nikon school with my father George when I was 12; and spent a lot of time thinking about F-stop, lens depth of field, bokeh, shutter speed, film granularity, camera/lens image quality, composition, background, and lighting. Sometimes this works nicely, as planned, other times it's just dumb luck. The shot above I saw and composed, kneeling in the mud in Addis Ababa. I got about 20 very good shots that day. The shot below I mostly hit it, applied a formula, and a guy rode into it.

Shooting bicycle criteriums for me is pretty formulaic. I don't use the pro-standard 70-200 F2.8L zoom sports lens, instead I use a high-end portrait lens, my 135 F2L (fixed focal length). It doesn't have the reach of the zoom, but it does a great job capturing faces and people's emotions. And it's a lot lighter. In a crit, you basically know the pattern and flow of the race, where the riders will be. I get as close as possible to the riders and then let them ride into the frame. (I sometimes get grazed by racers, but I haven't been hit or in a crash -- yet.)

I shoot at 1/1250 shutter speed for pros (and 1/800 or 1/1000 for slower categories and uphills), about F8 if the light will have it, and ISO 400 (sometimes 800 if it's darker). I use manual focus. Typically, I'll pick a mark on the pavement like a traffic stripe or a tar blob and focus on it very carefully. Then as a rider is about to ride through the mark, I'll hit the shutter and hopefully I'll capture a sharp image. While I have a good camera with lots of automated composition and focusing gizmos (e.g., sports mode), I generally don't use that.

That's the capture phase. Most of the work comes afterwards, post-processing on the computer. I spend a lot of time examining picture detail, sharpness, contrast and the like. I'll think about the shape of the picture (i.e., what rectangle) and work to crop the picture. For cycling, I like to have a sense of movement, so I often crop to 16x9 HDTV long-horizontal format, with action flowing one side to the other. Something along the lines of the rule of thirds for the center of attention.

There you have it.