Blog

First, let me say "Thanks for looking". Building a blog is something I have wanted to do for a long time and finally I have the chance. I will be writing here from time to time and I hope you enjoy following along.

Fuji XT-2 Camera

I recently (September 2016) purchased a Fuji XT-2 camera. It now use this 24-megapixel camera for landscapes and some studio work. It is much faster than either the Fuji XT-1 or the Fuji X-Pro1. The XT-2 focuses faster and seems to me an overall faster camera to use.

My first major text of the camera was in mid-September at the Austin, TX round of the World Endurance Championship for sports cars. I was not shooting on assignment, so I decided to take a lightweight camera setup. (When shooting on assignment I use my Nikon D5 and Nikon D4s.) The Fuji XT-2 performed just fine. I had no issues and enjoyed carrying a lighter camera. The extra megapixels were nice too.

The only think missing from the Fuji system -- a decent flash. In Austin, I was in a VIP compound and I needed a strobe from time to time. I don't think I will feel the Fuji is a complete system until there is an adequate flash available.

I have a show coming up this November (2016) that will feature landscape shots taken with the Fuji XT-1 and XT-2 cameras. I guess you can say that I am happy with the quality cameras that Fuji is producing.

Nikon D5 Camera

When the Nikon D5 camera was announced, I knew that I would buy one. The specifications were impressive and I know I could do great things with it in my motorsports photography. When it arrived, it did not disappoint. It is a fast camera and the focusing ability is uncanny. My "keeper" rate has skyrocketed! It also has those great Nikon ergonomics. Love the camera!

Red Rocks, Canyons, and Vistas

I am back from a swing through the southwest. We arrived in Las Vegas on a Friday morning and spent the day there. The next morning we drove to Hoover Dam and on to Sedona, AZ. Sedona proved to be an excellent place to prep for the rest of the trip – which was largely for photography. I wanted to give my Fuji XT-1 camera a real test. This was the first time that I would go on a landscape photography trip and leave the Nikon cameras (D4 and D4S) at home. I took the Fuji XT-1 and a Fuji X-Pro1 body and several lenses (a 12mm Zeiss lens and Fuji 16, 35, and 56 mm primes and a Fuji 50-120/f2.8 zoom). I carried several spare batteries, but no flash system.

After a few days of R&R in Sedona, we drove to Page, AZ for the first real photo location. I chose Page for two places I wanted to photograph. I always wanted to photograph Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon, but on every prior trip they seemed too far out of the way. I arrived around mid-day at Horseshoe Bend and it was perfect. I usually plan to shoot such place in the early morning or evening, but the combination of fluffy clouds and sun allowed me to get a good capture of the Colorado River at mid-day as it went both east and west around Horseshoe Bend. I noted that there were no railings of any kind despite having to stand on a 1,000 foot drop to take my shot. I learned later that NOT having railings is seen as a safety factor – when there are no railings, people tend not to go so close to the edge for fear they might fall! As you can see from my photo (in the landscape section of this site), this was not a deterrent for me. Then, it was on to Antelope Canyon.

I made an Antelope Canyon photographer tour reservation the night before arriving. I signed up for a two canyons tour with Adventurous Antelope Canyon Tours (a Navajo-owned business). I am glad I made the reservation before I arrived, because there was rain the area the day before and all tours were cancelled in the afternoon. (Flash floods are always a fear in slot canyons and deaths have occurred.) My day would prove to be crowded as a result. When our driver, MacArthur, arrived we piled into his 4 x 4. It was a short drive to the Canyon. There were several trucks leaving when we arrived and, of the 2:30 pm crowd, we were the first in. Mac did a great job of making people wait behind us or yelling at people coming towards us to get out of the way so that I could get shots free of people. The leaders of the photo tours all seemed to work together to ensure good photos for their groups. In the trip up the canyon, we photographed largely ground level scenes, including the traditional sand flowing off a rock (usually done with the help of one of the photo guides). All the time there was a constant “rain” of sand from above and I was glad that I had wrapped my cameras in plastic rain sleeves and wore a hat. There was no sense of rush and Mac was very patient. Often he would tell the group where to set up our tripods and where the best shots were.  He had a photographer’s eye (or he had taken so many photographers into the canyon that he developed one). After resting a moment when we got to the end of the canyon, we started back. This time, the emphasis was on shooting up toward the ceiling. Again, Mac handled the crowds. (I am told that the crowds can be quite large and if not on a photographer’s tour it is almost impossible to get a shot without people in it. Also the photographer’s tours last a full 2 hours, the others only 1-1/2 hour.) After shaking the sand off our bodies and cameras, it was off to the second canyon – Rattlesnake Canyon (part two of my two canyon tour).

Rattlesnake Canyon was much smaller and shallower. But there were no other people there. Here one can appreciate the rock striations better. It was calm and peaceful, and again Mac did not rush us. The Fuji cameras performed without problem. I was a little worried about the X-Pro1 because it is not weather sealed, but I had no problems. One caution – DO NOT attempt to change any lenses in the canyons or your camera will end up full of fine, red dust.

Back into the car for a long drive to the next destination – Bryce Canyon and its Hoodoos.

We arrived in Bryce late in the evenings after a fairly challenging ride. I was tired and the roads were twisty (but with high speed limits). After a decent night’s sleep in a motel near the canyon entrance, early the next morning we were in the canyon ready to take photos. There were very few people there when we arrived and initially I saw only one other photographer trying to get a sunrise capture like I was. Here the colors were a bit more muted than Sedona, but beautiful nonetheless. The experience will stay with me for a long time. Everywhere I looked there was beautiful sky and striking, multicolored hoodoos. I shot from the rim of the Amphitheater and then we started down for a short hike. There were beautiful views everywhere, and somewhere along the way a 0.5 mile hike turned into a multi-mile one. But when we emerged at the rim again we were treated with a beautifully lit “Thor’s Hammer.” This made the trip all worth it. I kept my 16 mm lens on the X-T1 camera practically the entire time. I was struck by the multitude of shot that were at Bryce – they were everywhere. Nothing was boring – shots were everywhere and I wanted to stay longer. I will return to Bryce one day.

But now it was time to go to Zion National Park. Because of the driving experience getting to Bryce, I was anxious to get to Zion before dark. The drive into Zion was spectacular. There were switchbacks and startling views everywhere. But because I was driving – no shots.  In the end, I wanted to retrace my entry route to take photos, but ran out of time. In Zion we hiked to “The Narrows.” We were not prepared to hike up to The Narrows so we had to stop when the hike became one up the watery riverbed. Many people came prepared for the water, but we were not. I took some shots but the best shots in Zion were taken at sunrise the next day. Zion is not like Bryce though; Zion is a place for contemplation. The views are beautiful but on a more grand scale. Nonetheless, it made for a place to take great photos. The next time I return, I’ll come prepared to walk to The Narrows and perhaps “The Subway” (look that one up).

Then it was a return to Las Vegas with a short stop at the Valley of Fire for more red rocks, and the return home.

How did the Fuji’s perform? In a word – “flawlessly”. There was the usual problem of short battery life but I came prepared for that and missed no shots because my battery went dead. The X-Pro1 was harder to use because so many adjustments are in the menu and not on the top of the camera like the X-T1 – but that was no surprise. Both cameras made great captures. I enjoyed the 16 mm lens the most and never used the zoom. I plan on keeping my Nikons for other work that I do, but from now on will not hesitate to take the Fuji X-T1 and X-Pro1 for landscape work when traveling light is a priority.

 

2015 Daytona Rolex 24

 

Shhh! I am about to tell you a secret…  But, first some background.  In 1979, I my honeymoon started with a visit to the Daytona 24. This was my first time back since then, and it was a return in style. That brings me to the secret – I attended as a guest of Porsche Motorsports and spent my time in the VIP compound. What a way to watch a race! On arrival in the designated parking area, we were greeted by several waiting golf carts. The golf carts were there to drive us from the parking area to the compound. And what a luxurious compound it was – a blazing white tent with “Porsche” in red letters across the top, white tables and chairs, sofas, and plenty of room to spread out. After being greeted we started to look things over. There was clearly going to be ample food and drink. There were many TVs, a countdown clock waiting for the race to start, spotlights highlighting sayings by Ferdinand Porsche for inspiration, and more. Multiple meals were going to be provided during the day and the bars (two, one indoors and one inside) were there for drinks and beverages. Out back was a silver Porsche 918 Hybrid to look over. There was also a pit roof seating area for our use.

Porsche Motorsports VIP Compound

Porsche Motorsports VIP Compound

The staff was made up mostly of Porsche North America staff but there was also a full catering and bar staff. Everyone, and everything, was ready for 24 hours of racing.  Three of Porsche North America’s drivers (Nick Tandy, Patrick Pilet, and Marc Lieb) came to speak with us. I learned that while Le Mans has roughly 7 hours of darkness, Daytona would have about 13 hours of darkness. Daytona is clearly a challenge. Members of PCA came by to visit, but they mainly stayed in the PCA Porsche corral on the far side of the track. (The new PCA 911 GTS Club car was on display there.)

Since this was only Friday afternoon, we started to settle in. We checked radios and walked around. Our passes gave us almost complete access to everything but the hot pits. We walked through the garage area and watched the teams making last minute adjustments. I saw a few friends and everyone was in a great mood and ready for a great race.

We marveled at the many Porsches on display as past winners of the race in the “Spectator Fan Zone”. I did not see the Hurly Haywood/Danny Ongias/Ted Field Porsche 935 car that I watched win in 1979, but there were many great Porsches there -- 962s, 914’s, 935s, 911s and more. The display showcased Porsche’s past dominance of this event.

As we walked around, I made a mental note of good photography locations for the race. I noticed almost immediately that on turn 2, I would need a step stool to photograph over the fence.

The first race up was the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge series race – the BMW Performance 200 – on Friday afternoon. Both classes were won by Porsches. Fifty-one cars raced for two and a half hours over the 3.56 mile Daytona circuit. Winners of the Grand Sport class and the overall winners of the race  were brothers Matt and Hugh Plumb in the No. 13 Rum Bum Racing Porsche 911, followed by Andrew Davis and Robin Liddell in the No. 6 Stevenson Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R.  Stevenson teammates Lawson Ashenbach and Matt Bell were third in their No. 9 Camaro Z/28.R.

Spencer Pumpelly (not a stranger to readers of these pages) and Luis Rodriguez, Jr. took the victory the Street Tuner Class in their No. 17 RS1 Porsche Cayman. In second was Eric Foss and pole sitter Justin Piscitell in the No. 56 Murillo Racing Porsche Cayman, followed by David Murry and Ted Giovanis in the No. 64 Team TGM BMW 328i.

We went to dinner at Winghouse down the street from the track with friends. After a good meal, we retreated to our hotel to get some sleep (in Palm City, FL, 40 minutes away). We were back at the track by 8 in the morning. Just in time for a great breakfast in the Porsche compound. After the heavy rain stopped, we walked through the garages and during the pre-race activities we walked out on the banking. There were many people there; all were amazed at how steep the banking was at the start/finish line. I am sure we all thought – if the banking is this steep here, how steep it is in the turns!

It was 2:30pm, and time for race start, before we knew it. The countdown clock started in the compound. And the race was on. The Daytona prototypes thundered into Turn 1. But I was really here to watch the Porsche Motorsport team cars. And they did not disappoint in the early goings of the race. They challenged the Corvettes and Ferraris for the lead and stayed in contention. This was supposed to be an endurance race, but the Corvettes, Ferraris, Porsches and BMWs in particular ran it as a sprint. No quarter was given and none expected. Every car took advantage wherever it could. I took pictures over the fence as we walked around the track (by one count we walked 8.5 miles).

Before we knew it, it was night. I don’t remember so many lights in 1979. I guess the lighting is an improvement. The track is now lit most of the way around. There were pit stops and crashes in the early evening. We had steaks for dinner. We drank wine (compliments of the open bar).  We had a snack a few hours later. Around 10 pm we started to leave the compound to walk more. Then we learned that the compound would close at 10. We panicked. Boy, was I glad I had insisted on our having rooms for Saturday night; we had planned on staying in the compound overnight. We started the trek to our hotel (40 minutes away) at 11 pm.

Night Pitstops

Night Pitstops

We were back at the track at 4 am. This time we went high up in the immense grandstands for a night view of the goings on. (There were people sleeping on the seats despite the 40 degree temperatures.) We then made our way back around the circuit in anticipation of photographing the sunrise behind the cars. Sunrise did not disappoint either. At 8 am we went to the Porsche compound for breakfast.  Then, we walked some more. We were tired by this point and spent much of the time after lunch in the compound watching on TV. The cars and drivers were tired as well. With the coming of light, many cars had mechanical problems. This seemed a time for failure. In the compound, we learned the Porsche Motorsport cars had a shunt overnight (with each other). We learned that the lead Ferrari was out of the race. It became a race in the GT Le Mans class between the two Corvettes and a BMW. The prototypes were charging around in their own race of drama. And one of the GT America Porsches had hit an opossum. (The pit crew found it in the trunk hours later, named it “Ballast”, and gave it a twitter handle.) The end was near.

In the prototype class, after 24 hours, 740 laps and 2,634.4 miles, the 2015 Rolex 24 at Daytona came down to a seven minute, 30-second sprint that saw the No. 02 Chip Ganassi with Felix Sabates Ford EcoBoost-powered Riley DP squeeze out a 1.333-second victory over the defending Rolex 24 champion No. 5 Action Express Chevrolet Corvette DP. The Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP had to settle for third.

In the GT Le Mans class it was close as well. The No. 3 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R  (driven by Antonio Garcia, Jan Magnussen and Ryan Briscoe) took the class win and a surprising fifth overall, just 0.478 seconds ahead of the No. 25 BMW Team RLL BMW Z4 GTE. This was Corvette's first Rolex 24 win since 2001. The Porsche Motorsport team cars 911 (driven by Tandy/Pilet/Lieb/Christensen) finished 5th in class, and car 912 (driven by Bergmeister/Bamber/Makowiecki/Christensen) finished 7th in class. While it had not been a good day for the Porsche factory team, it showed the car has the speed. Wins will come; the season is just beginning.

In GT Daytona, the No. 93 Dodge SRT Viper finished first in class, 7.6 seconds ahead of the No. 22 Alex Job Racing/WeatherTech Porsche 911 GT America. Oh, and Ballast finished 11th in class.

I am already making plans to go back next year. You’ll see me in the Porsche Motorsports VIP area.

All images are taken with a Fuji XT-1 Camera and Fuji lenses (mainly a 50-140 f2.8)

How to Photograph Cars

For a while now, I have been asked to write an article about “Photographing Cars”. Well, here it is.

Visualization

The first thing to keep on mind when photographing cars is to “Take it Easy – The car won’t move (or if on a racetrack, it’ll come around again)”. Many photographers rush their shots and a rushed shot is often not a good shot. A great shot begins with some “pre-visualization”. Think about what you want to shoot and then think “How can I make it better”. Only after pre-visualization do you pick up your camera.

When pre-visualizing, remember that the rules of composition have to be considered. The first rule to consider is the “Rule of Thirds” – put the subject on an intersection of the third lines. Be sure to leave some empty space in the shot. Space around the main subject (which should be on one of the third lines) conveys the ambiance of the scene and, if working for a magazine, provides space for the editor to put in some words or at least gives them some framing space.  Empty space is especially valuable in the foreground or above the car. The car itself should be aligned on the top or bottom third line, or better yet on one of the intersection points of these third lines.

Another rule of composition -- use “Leading Lines”. Use the lines of the car as leading lines to take the viewer’s eye on a journey through the photograph.

Lime Rock Park

Lime Rock Park

Use the “Photographers Circle” – take a look around. Look for the shot. Explore the possibilities. Many photographers are happy to shoot from the same spot as others. No, make your photograph unique. Look for the shot that others don’t have. This may mean don’t stay with the crowd. Will a different angle help? Always think -- How can my shot be something different? You don’t want a snapshot. It is art.

Some photographers “mine” photographers work that they like for ideas. A lot of car shots look similar the best ones are the ones out of the ordinary. Is there a photographer you like that can give you ideas?

But even in this pre-visualization step -- Don’t miss the decisive moment. Even with stationary cars these moments occur. Watch for the owner - Anything unusual about his clothes or face? If you are in a public place are other people looking at the car while you are trying to shoot it? Is there anything interesting about them? Do you want to incorporate people in the shot? Learn to anticipate and make it part of your pre-visualization.

Once these rules are considered, decide how you want the car portrayed. Figure out what angles work best for the particular car you are shooting. Take a head on shot, a ¾ shot from the front and rear, and then take a side and rear shot.  As you start to hone in on the car, decide what is the most interesting aspect of the car you are shooting, the most interesting detail, etc. Shoot these details. Every car has something that makes it unique. If you can find and photograph a signature element of the car -- great.  Perhaps, the flying lady on a Rolls-Royce, the side pipes on a Cobra, or the “hips” of a Porsche GT3 RS.

Porsche GT3 RS

Porsche GT3 RS

Shutter Speed and Aperture

Now that your pre-visualization step is over, let’s get ready to take a photograph. Never forget that it is still photography and the basics still matter. Keep your camera’s ISO (once called film speed; now it is a measure of sensitivity to light) at the lowest. Unless you are photographing a moving car you are not dealing with motion and there is no need for a high shutter speed. Better yet, shoot from a tripod if you have the time and space. If the car is moving, use the lowest ISO you can use to get the f-stop/aperture combination you want

Speaking of shutter speed and f-stop/aperture, shoot in Manual or Aperture-priority mode whenever you can. This gives you better control over the depth of field and allows you to shoot for maximum sharpness. The old press photographer’s slogan is “f8 and Be There”. It still holds true today and f8 is usually a good place to set your f-stop/aperture to start the shoot. (Unless, your pre-visualization dictates that you use "bokeh" to get the shot you want.)

Consider shutter speed, if you want to capture:

  • Motion – shoot a little slower shutter speed and use a fill flash to exaggerate motion (no fill flash for auto races!)
  • Depth of Field – Maybe a higher shutter speed and a more open shutter will de-emphasize distractions in the background.
  • The general rule of 1 over the focal length of your lens still works. Example , when using a 200 mm lens try not to shoot slower than 1/200. But, if you have vibration stabilization you can shoot 1 – 2 stops lower. In other words, maybe at 1/80 sec (But if using a tripod, turn vibration stabilization “off”.)·  

Light

Consider the light. Light is an essential element of photography.  As a general rule natural lighting is best. Most photographers want to shoot on a bright day, but consider these types of lighting as well:

  • Overcast day --The soft-and-even light of an overcast day is ideal for recording bright colors and fine details – just be sure to minimize the amount of overpowering white sky in your picture.
  • In midday sunlight, shooting success hinges on flexibility.  For instance, in the morning, a subject may be engulfed in shadows, but in the afternoon, the same vehicle may be shining in sunlight.
  • Scrims (large diffusion panels)  can be useful to cut down on overpowering overhead light, but watch their reflection on the car. A large white area can be distracting. Also, the scrim has to be large enough to make a difference (a scrim with dimensions something like a 6 ft. x 6 ft. should work).

Most photographers do not consider reflectors. But they are an essential tool for photographing static cars. They can enhance the natural light shot by highlighting elements of the car.  But careful positioning is essential because you will want to hide the reflection of the reflector! Try hiding the reflection in a wheel well or on a tire (something non-reflective).

Car Show

Car Show

Another often overlooked tool is off camera lighting (flashes and strobes). They allow the photographer to use the exposure you desired. Proper use of fill flash can makes a car stand out from the background.

Interior shot at car show

Interior shot at car show

Here’s “quick and dirty method” way to deploy your fill flash. First, select an exposure for the sky that is not above your cameras sync speed (i.e., not above 1/125 or 1/250 sec.; but read your camera manual to know for sure). Second, set the flash or strobe on full power if there is strong sunlight. (Don’t forget to use a diffuser if using a wide angle lens to spread the light from the flash or strobe.)  Finally, hold the flash or strobe to one side of the camera and use a sync cord to give you more distance from the camera.  If the flash or strobe is too strong – change the aperture, dial down the flash, or take a step backwards (use and apply the inverse square law). If the car has reflective license plates take one step to one side or the other to avoid the glare.

Lens Choice

Another part of shooting is to choose the lens needed to get the photography you visualized and prepared for.   Here are some quick rules:

Wide Angle lens

Wide Angle lens

Wide angle lens exaggerate a car’s features. What kind of look at you trying to achieve? Wide angle lens often can yield a “tough look”. Use this lens type to get close to the vehicle and exaggerate the perspective.  How wide does the lens need to be? A 28-mm lens on a full frame camera is often enough unless there is a desire for extreme exaggeration.  A normal to longer focal length will do the opposite (yield a flatter, more elegant look to the vehicle).

"Normal" lens

"Normal" lens

400 mm f2.8 lens

400 mm f2.8 lens

Other Elements of the Scene

At most car shows there are people everywhere. Here is where patience comes in -- Wait for them to move. In most cases people distract from the main subject of the photograph. If they don’t move, look for another scene.  Most showgoers gather near the "main stage" area. But great picture subjects exist on the fringes. Be sure to clear away litter in the scene or put elements into the scene that will enhance the photograph (but if it is not your car, don’t touch the car without the owner’s permission). Watch out for poles, particularly telephone poles, fire hydrants, and electrical lines, and shoot around them. Even the sky can be a distraction and it can cause color shifts if the sun is too bright.

Try to find an attractive place to photograph the car. With an expensive car, try shooting at a country estate. With a race car, a pit shot may work nicely. At a car show, you may not have many options, but if the adjacent car takes away from the shot be creative.

Try not to take eye-level shots. Shots taken from eye level are often boring. Car shots look their best when the view is from the same height as the driver or lower. To get the shot you may have to kneel, lay down, or stand on something. When laying down and using a telephoto lens, the car will look more aggressive and purposeful.

Details

Don’t forget the details. Details often make for creative shots that catch the eye of the viewer. Some ideas:

  • Get closer (exclude other details)
  • Crop the shot really tightly (either in camera or in post processing
  • Try shooting a tail light, an emblem, a curve of the bodywork, a quarter of the front grill with a headlight, etc.
  • Learn to tell a story with one shot
  • Having worked with the car, you should know its main design features. Have a good look around, working handheld, to try and exploit any details such as bodywork shapes and lines, manufacturers badges, wheel structures and grills.
  • It’s also important to remember that there are many interesting interior details worth shooting. The manufacturer’s logo will appear many times within the car’s interior, and there will hopefully be a few nice design features that may be worth considering. Make sure there is enough light available for the shoot, especially if you’ve been shooting on location in the evening light. You may want to wait until you can effectively light the interior, as it would be a shame to miss out on the details especially if you have a chance to enhance them with studio lights.

 
 

Wheel closeup - Porsche Carrera GT

Wheel closeup - Porsche Carrera GT



Good Shooting!