Friday, 6 June 2014

Sport photographer for a day

As part of the Melbourne Photographic Society I had a great opportunity to go to Mallory Park and take some photos of the cycle racing. The organisers were very welcoming and for once the weather ensured it was a wonderful evening for photography.

Sports photography is not something I have really tried my hand at. Unfortunately like wildlife photography it is one of these events that lends itself to expensive telephoto lens etc. 

I have a major racing circuit on my doorstep and in the past tried to take photo's there with little success. Motor racing quite rightly takes safety very seriously meaning often your view is obscured by wire fences and  you are kept well back from the track. Consequently unless you have special access and the kind of lens that would allow you to image a pimple on Jupiter you will generally be on a hiding to nothing.

However Mallory being a smaller track and the fact cycle racing is less risky means you can get as close to the action as you want (it is also free to spectators). Therefore it is a great place to hone your skills.

For once I tried to plan what I wanted to do before I went. I looked on the internet on advice and found a number of useful tips. Specifically I wanted to try panning shots of cyclists on a relatively long exposure(1/15 to 1/40) and close ups of cyclist faces against a blurred background. I also wanted to try illuminating the subject with a flash to highlight them against the background.

As it turned out things did not go exactly to plan. Because the races had a number of novices in it the organiser had decided against having the major hill, so removing the possibility of close ups as they crested the brow. My initial attempts with the flash were not successful, probably because the light was too strong at that point. However because of the size of the circuit and the number of laps there was plenty of opportunity to try new things.

These are some of the things I learned...

  • There is an optimum distance when panning. The closer you are the more difficult it gets because of the speed your target moves. It took a few attempts before I got to the right point. 
  • You are better off  concentrating on one rider in a group rather than the whole group. The temptation is to take loads of photos as the group streams past and hope something comes out. Better to take a few well considered shots than fire of 100's in hope.
  • I initially put the camera on a high frame rate, taking as large number of pictures in one go. Unfortunately the camera cannot keep this up for long so you find it stuttering towards the end as it tries to catch up. This is usually the point that something interesting passes the lens and you will therefore miss it. It is better to leave it on a slower rate so that you can take the picture when the opportunity arises.
  • Try for the less obvious shot. Like I said there was plenty of opportunities to take shots (the mens race was 30 laps) and with the sun setting, the light was changing all the time. Unfortunately photographers like twitchers tend to congregate. This is natural since you are always worried you maybe missing out. However the upshot is everyone gets the same photo.  
  • One lens does not fit all. I found myself swapping lens quite a bit(I even tried my 50mm prime, which was a mistake.). I know now why professionals have so many camera bodies.

Anyway I took over 600 photos(yea, digital), so will have a bit of sorting and culling to do. However these a are a few shots I picked out from the initial set.

Sometimes details are better than the whole rider.

There is a temptation to concentration on head-on shots, when the view going away is a different angle and can be just as interesting.

This nicely brings out the movement and speed

A nice panning shot. I've cropped it so it is moving out of the frame, rather than in the center as in the original.

Thanks to Mallory Park and the organisers for being so accommodating and welcoming.

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