Sunday, 7 August 2011

Pushing the limits - mine

Was that exciting or what?  I got the blower out and cleaned up the shooting gear last week for the Loop Canberra Tour and, like nearly every other event I've ever done, felt that initial dread that the shots won't cut it, or I won't get the white balance right, or there'll be a blob of gunge on the sensor where it'll do the most damage, or I'll mess up the focus or whatever - the usual self doubt.

But it all turned out okay in the end. And what was really fun was pushing the shooting to the limit - my limit.

Sometimes when it starts to feel all a bit too mechanical one needs to take a mo, think about what's going on, and get back to 'art' mode - to get back to thinking creatively.  But it's not always that easy when riders are flying past every few seconds - it takes a bit of a kicker to relax and have a re-think.

What luck! - the last of the Women's TT competitors were just heading home as the sun was setting right behind them --- it didn't take much thinking to realize what was about to transpire.

So I quickly reset a few things - white balance to 'flash' mode, dead slow ISO, shutter speed to 1/60s  or thereabouts - all set for some light balancing work. (I deplore having to edit shots when I get home - getting them right first-time makes for a much more relaxing edit session).

Of course it's easy in the heat of the moment to just set the flash to TTL, lock aperture, aim, focus and fire - but what's the fun in that?  Much better to introduce the zoom, set rear-curtain flash sync, get everything into manual mode (except for focus of course - I'm not that good), slow everything down and get some focus-pan-zoom-fire-flash happening?

The trick of course is to time the manual zoom, panning with the rider and the shutter opening to get as much ambient blur as possible before the flash fires. But that's usually no problem with a 1/60 sec shutter, the flash and aperture matched to ambient light (I prefer ambient to be a bit darker) and a few practices shots (it's been a few months since I did a bike race --- can't expect to get it right first time).

Zoe Watters

And here's the result - Zoe Watters on her way to a time of 31:10.08.

The panned background has dissolved yet still conveys speed and motion, lens zoom adds a really stark separation of rider from surroundings, the flash white balance ensures a rich ambient colour saturation, the sun has just enough 'oomph' left to define the rider's profile (studio guys call it 'rim lighting' - nice!), the auto-focus keeps  a track on the rider's face, and the flash freezes the subject for exquisite detail. Looks alright to me.

Some time ago one of the local cycling clubs asked when they should run their weekend races; I suggested early morning or late afternoon 'cause that's - and this was - the 'golden hour'.