Pushing the limits

We had a mildly disappointing, but otherwise successful weekend in Loudon at the LRRS meet there on July 18-19.  Due to a number of scheduling conflicts over the coming months this might be my last trip there until next year.   It has been a very interesting learning experience and, above all, a good time with great folks (Chris Dinoia & Larry Graffam, Slowpoke Racing, were our hosts).

The disappointing aspect was that we, once again, failed to get inside the fence.  Despite all indications that we would get “press” access, when we actually tried to do it we were rebuffed.   I’m always a bit confused when folks do this for no apparent reason.  Here I am trying to help promote the races (and therefore the track) and they take a pass. Whatever.

If you want to see additional pictures from the weekend, head over to http://events.dmg-photography.com

So in my last blog article on the Loudon Road Racing meets I mentioned that I had hoped to find a way to get the viewer closer to the experience the riders (drivers?) were having. Helmet visors make this difficult a fair part of the time, but enough riders have clear visors to allow us to create a more personal connection with the experience.  Now, whether or not the riders want to see this type of photograph (and therefore make or destroy any chance of sales) remains to be seen.

Despite having very limited access to the track, I did find a few spots where, after taking some “safety shots”, I could push the limits of the camera (and me).  The lighting wasn’t close to ideal, but overall I was pretty happy with the results.  As a matter of fact, my success rate was so high that I clearly didn’t push hard enough.  Brooks Jensen (publisher of Lenswork) says the best way to approach your craft is to go too far and then come back a bit.  At the time I didn’t think I was playing it safe, but if and when I go back to Loudon I’ll likely give it a try.  I have to note that the challenge here is not “linear” – as the subject distance gets shorter the ability to frame and focus becomes extremely difficult very quickly (just look at the distance markers on your lens: small change from infinity to 50 meters, big change from 3 meters to 1).  So getting much tighter in on the bikes, which are moving along somewhere between 50 and 150 MPH, is going to take some practice.

With something other than harsh summer light, I think these would be pretty decent images.  The 500mm lens compresses the scene in a way that accentuates the adrenaline-pumping situation that is playing out before us.  While I certainly took my share of isolated bike shots, I went out of my way to try to find situations where the bikes were bunching up close or someone was trying to pass someone.  You can take exciting pictures of a running lion and another of a jumping gazelle — but put the two in the same image and a wholly different story unfolds.

With a couple of exceptions, the photos in this article were taken at “the bowl”, which is part of a series of sharp turns and elevation changes.  While some of the images in the larger gallery were shot through the chain-link fence and therefore firmly anchored on a tripod, these were taken handheld from a not terribly comfortable position (standing on a couple of barrels, hunched over, lens between the fence and the barbed wire).  To be fair, there’s no other way to get that particular angle at the bowl press-pass or no.  Whether or not better spots (with better light) await those who get the nod to travel inside the safety zone, that’s to be seen.

My exposure settings were all over the map depending on the light and circumstances.  Because the clouds were in and out all weekend and because I was primarily shooting handheld, I set the camera for shutter priority. For the fast closing shots 1/1600 to 1/2500 was typical with the aperture varying between f/6.3 and f/10 (this is when I wasn’t shooting through the fence…  otherwise I’m stuck at f/4-f/6.3).  As I said earlier, my keeper rate was surprisingly high with both the 1D Mark II and the 5D Mark II.  But I think I’ll try to remember to bring a little ladder along when I travel to Loudon.

So next time (perhaps next year) I’ll dust off these images and think about what I can do with the camera and my position to create more compelling images (more as in better, as opposed to additional quantity).  Thanks to all of the LRRS riders and the safety crews at New Hampshire Motor Speedway for an interesting new photographic challenge.  (And thanks to Jay and Betsy who took photos at the starting line on Saturday and Sunday, respectively).

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