So what do INDYCARS and Planes have in common…. to roughly quote Ricky Bobby from Talladega Nights…. ‘they go fast!’.
… Same deal as usual… if reading doesn’t float your boat, you can jump straight to the photos. READ NOT… LOOK AT PHOTOS NOW.
Details and specs on how the photos were taken and with what gear is included along the way. Some with the relevant photos, and some at the end. Please send me a note if you would like more detailed info or explanation.
So how fast?… well an IndyCar will get to around 220-240 mph, while a WWII North American P-51 Mustang will cruise at 362mph/580kmh (top speed of 437mph/703kmh). Now while the Mustang may seem to have the advantage, I would expect the sensation of speed when you are only a few inches from the ground at 200+mpg in an IndyCar compared to flying at 40,000 feet (usually much lower) must feel like you are literally ‘flying’.
To get a better appreciation for the speed and power I took the opportunity for the sake of interest to get to a photographer ‘hole’ a little beyond turn 2 in St. Petersburg recently. From here the cars are coming out of slight turn, then putting their boot into it… and they go past this hole literally inches from your (my) face. Yes it was freak’n loud, with rubber and other crap hitting you in the face… and unless you were dead or just plain stupid… it was a tad on the scary side. If something happened with a car, or it tossed a bit of road shrapnel, there was absolutely no way in hell to do anything about it. You would be toast. I took some cool photos from here, then got the hell out of there and headed for safer locales around the track.
So getting back to the story of IndyCars and Planes. I was heading down to Tampa for a large air show called Sun’n'Fun, which is held annually in Lakeland (just outside Tampa) at the Lakeland Linder Regional Airport. As chance would have it, the opening round of the 2012 INDYCAR season was being held on the Streets of St. Petersburg (right next to Tampa) the weekend before. I had not been to this race before, and as I prefer open wheel road course racing (compared to ovals) I headed off a few days early. I had also met Dan Wheldon a few times before, so it would also be nice to be there for his memorial race (many of the photos in the slide show were taken from Dan Wheldon Way… a street named after him).
For those familiar with the much larger EAA Air Venture OshKosh Air Show, the Sun’n'Fun show is a similar concept. Many people fly their own planes in and camp out. During the days there are vendor displays, training workshops, and a structured air show each afternoon. As you would expect, a lot of the people attending are avid aviation enthusiasts, with many building their own aircraft. I include a couple of happy snaps below of some planes at the air show, but will follow up with a future blog.
So back to the Streets of St. Petersburg.
I spent a lot of race day with my head out the photographers’ hole on turn 10, which as it turned out was Dan Wheldon Way. Nice spot. Marina in the background with some expensive looking boats doing little else but looking back at me.
Taking photos of race cars for me is both interesting and exciting. A lot of noise, color, and the always in the back of your mind ‘little you’ saying… if something goes wrong where you are standing it is not going to be a good day. Still, if it was boring who would want to do it. I am not very good looking anyway, so a lug nut scar on my forehead is not going to do much damage.
Below is a quick video snapshot of where I was for reference purposes. It was taken the day before the race during the practice session, hence you will see the cars running in single file, and being nice.
Once you have taken a few bajillion photos of the same thing… they all look the same (funny about that). What is the definition of stupid? Doing the same thing over and over again… and expecting a different result. Yep that sounds like me if you look at how many photos I have of the same thing. So this time I set out to just mess around. My objective was to get full frame photos (i.e. not crop afterwards), and to get shots where I could see the drivers face while running at speed. Either that, or close ups of the car… meaning that you couldn’t see the entire car.
Aussie Ryan Briscoe in St. Petersburg
Now while this sounds simple enough, because the subject is moving pretty fast, it becomes a test of what you want in focus… and managing to hold the camera focus point on it while it barrels passed you. I use ‘servo’ mode in these situations, which is pretty much the center focus point. I will also fire in bursts of around 3 photos at a time while tracking the car.
Ed Carpenter… followed by race winner Helio Castroneves
CAMERA SPECS FOR ON THE TRACK
Shutter Speed: 1/250th to 1/4,000th / Aperture: f/2.8 to f/5.6 / ISO: 200 to 500
I have my cameras setup with a custom function that changes what the buttons/dials do from standard…. if I am taking photos on the track (i.e. cars moving) I am always in Manual exposure mode. I set the shutter speed and aperture… then I modify exposure on the fly by only changing the ISO. You can set this to be an automatic function in the Canon EOS-1D_MkIV but the reaction time is too slow when the cars are running at speed and you are using servo focus and burst shooting mode. So… set what you want to freeze (shutter). Set how much depth of field you want (aperture).. then just change the sensor sensitivity (ISO) as needed… if you make this the rear dial it is pretty simple.
When the car is traveling laterally in front of you (i.e. from left to right across your field of view), you can use a much slower shutter speed, either to blur the actual car (or wheels), or pan with the car to blur the background. Both give the impression of speed to varying degrees. If you use a wide angle lens for this your latitude for keeping focus is far greater than a longer lens.
However when the car is moving towards or away from you your depth of field gets a little more challenging. For one thing the car is physically changing where it is in relation to the camera focus point, and quickly, but also because you are likely using a longer lens (200mm +), and generally a large’ish aperture (remember: large aperture = small f/stop number).
I like freezing these types of images (when the car is moving towards or away from you), as you can’t really see the tire walls (to show motion blur) so I will err on the side of a fast shutter speed if I have enough light (ISO) to make the math work. Generally around 1/1000th to 1/2,000th if I am getting the whole car (see Ed Carpenter photo above)… but if I am in tight (see Ryan Briscoe photo above) I may even go up to 1/4,000th depending on my distance relative to the car and its speed (tight corners are different than fast straight aways). The above images of Ed and Ryan are not cropped…. so they are in your view finder for a fraction of a second. To get them sharp (if that is your objective) you need to freeze them in an instant, and because I was after their actual faces, it was even more important to freeze them.
With Legend Mario Andretti on Pit Lane just before the race
One of the cool things about being in the center of the bee hive at these events is that you get to meet some really cool (and famous people). My wife laughs at me, but I always try and get a happy snap for my personal album. I think Roger Penske and Mario Andretti think I am a stalker by now… to their credit though, they also smile and let me do it.
On Pit Lane with Ryan Hunter-Reay’s car
As you can see in the above photo of me with the DHL car on pit lane (Ryan Hunter-Reay), I use a California Sunbounce ‘Press Harness’ when I am on the track. This is a great piece of gear. I hang the MkIV and the 70-200 on my right side, as this is my primary setup, and the 5DMkII and one of the wide angle lenses on my left. I will sometimes have a Speedlite on each camera, but this gets cumbersome and you knock them around, so I will generally leave the flash on the 5D, and swap it if I need it on the longer lens. Why use it with the long lens I hear some of you ask?… puts a great catch light in a person’s eyes, and/or will brighten up some of the shadows on their face (particularly if they are wearing a hat).
Helio Castroneves loading up on Pit Lane
CAMERA SPECS FOR ON PIT LANE
Shutter Speed: 1/60th to 1/800th / Aperture: f/4 to f/11.0 / ISO: 200 to 400
On pit lane it is a different story than when the cars are moving at speed. Ideally you want a little more depth of field, and at times to include a bit more of the surrounding environment. Meaning that if you just show a driver sitting in their car (which you will need to do and should do)… they could be anywhere. But if you add some context to the scene you can tell a story in a picture (see Helio image above of him getting in his car with his pit crew). You will generally be using a wide angle lens due to how close you are, and how much you need to get in the frame. So your aperture will be smaller (small aperture = large f/stop number), and you will also gain a lot of depth of field due to the nature of how a wide angle lens work (a story for a different day). Also depending our where you position the lens, you can also get some very cool looking perspective distortion effects.
As noted earlier on in the story… toss a flash on your camera. You will thank yourself later. Try the experiment. Shoot some in aperture priority… no flash. Chances are you will have a lot of shadows… or a very blown out sky. Light up the subject with a Speedlite (if appropriate) and fool the camera with respect to what the overall exposure is… it will look cool. You should have a dial on your camera that allows you to alter the exposure compensation (of the camera)… under expose what the camera wants to do by a stop or so. There should also be a button/dial on the camera (or on your flash) that does the same thing… but for the flash (only). Over expose this… as the camera will fire it in TTL mode using the original exposure settings… so the overall photo will be underexposed. So again you need to fool the camera. Crank the flash up (most Speedlites will go up around +2 f/stops). You will be surprised at how much you can crank this dial without over exposing your subject, especially when you are out in the blazing sun.
Sun…. so invariably this will mean that your camera will be firing at a higher shutter speed than the sync speed of the flash (unless you really stop the lens down, and even this may not be enough). So don’t forget to set your flash to Hypersync mode… meaning that it will work with high shutter speeds. Most DSLRs sync around 1/200th (some slower… some faster). Out in the sun your shutter could be 1/800th or more? In hypersync the flash doesn’t fire just once, but a gazillion times while the shutter is open. Therein lies a small issue that you may need to deal with in your settings. In hypersync the Speedlite is unable to give you its full output (remember how many times and how fast it is firing), so to compromise you may need to trade something (usually shutter speed).
On Pit Lane I will nearly always fire the flash, as it allows you to underexpose the background a little to get some more saturated colors (great for making the sky go really blue)… then you light up the actual subject with the flash. An OK example of this is the above image with Helio getting in his car. With no flash the sky and clouds would have been really blown out to get him and the car reasonably exposed. You can see the flash highlight on the closest wheel to the camera. I actually had it pointed slightly to the right so that it wouldn’t overexpose him, while picking up some of the number 9 (Scott Dixon) car… you can see how it has lit up the back wheel. I had the camera compensation dialed down about a stop and a half, and had the flash compensation cracked up a full 2 stops.
Helio Castroneves just after winning the race
Well that’s it.
I leave you with a photo of Helio Castroneves celebrating his win with Dan Wheldon’s road sign on turn 10. This photo was actually used as the lead for the official race website (see it here).
See the photos from INDYCAR St. Petersburg here. INDYCAR on the Streets of St. Petersburg – 100 Photos / 4 Minutes.
CAMERA GEAR THAT I HAD ON ME
Canon EOS-1D MkIV
Canon EOD-5D MkII
Canon EF70-200 f/2.8L II
Canon EF24-70 f/.8L
Canon EF16-35 f/2.8L II
Canon Speedlite 580EX II