Posted on August 12, 2013
When I think about sports photography, and motor sports in particular, I think of photographers in hi-visibility vests carrying huge lenses over their shoulder, or crouched down behind a hoarding at Wimbledon, or a Premier League match, or the Olympics.
The vest is very important of course. It assures everyone who sees it that the photographer wearing it is accredited to take photos at any given event. It also indicates that the photographer is most probably working for a well-known media company, whether it be a newspaper, magazine, website or photo agency.
OK, I’ll admit it, I am quite jealous of the guys (and girls) in the dayglow vests. Why am I jealous? Three reasons; first because they are working professional photographers with all that involves whereas I am not, secondly because they have the super-fast super-expensive long lenses (not to mention expensive cameras) that I can only dream of, and finally because they get to stand in the very best places, in front of the chicken wire fencing, when mere mortals such as myself have to try to find a spot where we can actually see over it!
Now I’ve got that off my chest, let me tell you about my recent visit to Silverstone for the annual Silverstone Classic event. The Silverstone Classic is a two-day event (three including qualifying) featuring some of the finest classic racing cars in the world competing in 12 different classes over 24 races. I was there for the Saturday , intrigued by the prospect of two races to be held in the evening towards dusk, the first a race for pre-66 GT cars and the second for the Group-C Le-mans type cars.
I must thank Trevor Rudkin, chairman of the Desborough and Rothwell Photographic Society, for the ticket to this event. Trevor was a marshall at the event and donated his complementary ticket to me, very much appreciated.
I love the warmth of evening light and I set out early on the Saturday morning knowing that I had 12 races to cover in 12 hours, starting at 9am for the first race – the Formula Juniors, and ending at 9pm with the Group C cars.
I’m not a sports photographer, as you have probably gathered. No super-fast long lenses for me, just my trusty Canon EF 80-200mm F/2.8 and a Kenko 1.4x DG300 extender, giving me 280mm @ F4 at full zoom. However, I did go armed with some advice from Trevor following my first attempt at Silverstone photography which resulted in me getting lots of photos of racing cars and wire fencing, not necessarily in that order. He directed me to an area of slightly elevated concrete terracing at Luffield corner with a promise that I should be able to see the track over the wire fencing at that point.
Yes! I could see both the track and the cars on it, this was definitely the spot for me! I was so pleased with this location, I stayed in the exact same spot all morning without moving. Whilst this seemed like a very good idea at the time, hindsight is a wonderful thing. Not only did I end up with 400 photos which looked almost exactly the same (different cars and drivers) but I also managed to get sun-burned on the backs of my legs after deciding to wear shorts for the day.
After my picnic lunch, at which time I discovered my pink calves, I decided to move to the covered grandstand at Woodcote corner, opposite the old start/finish line. I didn’t like this location nearly as much as I was looking down on the cars rather than across. On the plus side, I was no longer in full sun and I did get the chance to practice some panning, at which I am not very good. I also got some different shots although my keeper rate from this location was not as good.
Three races later, and with clear blue skies now replaced by darkening cloud, I moved back to Luffield for the pre-66 Formula 1 cars, a race I was looking forward to very much. Even as the race started, the dark clouds were becoming more ominous and a chill wind started blowing across the track. A few laps in, with light levels falling rapidly and my ISO up to 1600, the heavens suddenly opened and the track, the cars, drivers and spectators alike were well and truly soaked.
I heard the public address system notify everyone that the race had been abandoned as I ran towards the cover of the stand at Woodcote. Unfortunately, I was fairly well soaked by the time I got there but at least I was under cover. The rain did ease off eventually and about an hour later after much track-clearing by the marshalls, aided by a number of mechanical sweepers, the GT cars came out for their race. Unfortunately for them the rain started falling again just as they came out so the race was started behind the safety car.
With the light fading once again and the rain still falling, the GT cars battled their way through the surface water and put on quite a show for the hardy race fans and photographers who had stayed late to watch them. I did what I could in the conditions, I abandoned the 1.4x extender to get me an extra stop of light and continued to get as many shots as I could. On the plus side, the headlights of the cars, the fading light, and the water-logged track led to some quite dramatic lighting and I was very pleased that I had stayed on to see this race.
In the event, this was the last race of the day, the Group C race having been abandoned due to the wet weather, the darkness and the time which by that time was almost 9pm. I had a brilliant day, notwithstanding the sun-burn and the soaking, with thanks again to Trevor for the ticket. I know my photos are not the best sports action photos, far from it, but they were the best that I could achieve on the day and I am particularly pleased with some of my rain-soaked almost dark GT race shots.
I also finished the day with a good deal more respect for the orange vest brigade. Even given the advantages they may or may not have, there is still a job to do capturing the action, come rain or shine. I’m sure it is a lot less fun when your livelihood and your reputation depends on you coming home with the goods day after day. Perhaps I’m not so badly off after all… I would still love that 5D Mark III or 1DX and a long white lens though, maybe one day…. ;o)
As always, this is just a small selection of my photos from the day, the remainder can be found on my website here.
Whatever your subject, enjoy your photography!
Posted on July 23, 2013
So, a change of name for this showpiece event in the English Heritage calendar, no longer the “Festival of History”, now “History Live!”. On the face of it, that was just about the only change of note to this excellent event. It was, to this paying customer at least, the same Festival of History as in previous years, just with a different name. One other change I did notice, there was no First World War trench display this year although I am told this will return in 2014 as one of many events planned to mark the centenary of the start of the Great War.
What a difference a year makes. This time last year I remember blogging about how this event, along with many others, had been cancelled due to the wettest summer for a hundred years. Fast forward twelve months and the UK is enjoying (if that’s the right expression…) a heat wave such as we haven’t seen for many years. Here in Northamptonshire we have hardly seen a drop of rain for almost four weeks and with clear blue skies and temperatures in the mid to high 20s Celsius every day for the past three weeks the ground is starting to look quite parched and brown in many places.
In the event, the weekend weather turned out to be not the clear blue skies and souring temperatures of the previous few days but much cooler, cloudier and quite overcast at times. I can imagine this would a great relief to the re-enactors in their uniforms, many of which include both chain mail and/or heavy armour, not to mention helmets, weapons and various other pieces of kit which required to represent the chosen period with authenticity.
Regular readers of this blog will know that “cloudy bright” is my very favourite lighting for outdoor people photography, the clouds forming a massive diffuser to spread the light evenly over the subject without creating harsh shadows or highlights. In particular, photographing people wearing hats can be especially problematic in strong sunlight due to the harsh shadows created under the brim. In these conditions I usually resort to fill-flash (which is so easy with modern cameras) to avoid hard shadows obscurring the eyes.
On the Saturday, the light was actually rather poor for much of the day. I shoot Aperture Priority (Av on Canon DSLRs) almost all of the time so I have full control over depth of field. However, I had to constantly keep an eye on my shutter speed and subsequently adjust the ISO upwards if it started to fall below 1/320 second (I was using my trusty EF 80-200mm MDP lens for the event and 1/250 is absolutely the slowest shutter speed I want to go with this lens unless deliberately panning). I also took the Canon 40mm “pancake” lens for the wider shots. It’s a great little lens with surprising performance for something so tiny.
Below is a small selection of the photos I took on the day, including the Hawker Hurricane flypast. I have just started uploading some of my other photos from this event to my website here.
Posted on July 11, 2013
Those people who know me well would tell you that I am not a big fan of aeroplanes. In fact, the opposite is true. I have never been in an aeroplane myself and I have no plans to ever change that. Not only that, I don’t even like driving near airports in case a plane should suddenly fly low over the road and frighten the life out of me.
How is it then, that I recently decided to book a ticket to see my very first airshow? Well, one reason is that this particular air display promised to feature some of the oldest planes still flying in the world. The main reason, however, was because this event was to take place on a summer’s evening in July, and it was the prospect of photographing beautiful historic planes combined with the (hopefully) warm evening light that got my attention.
So it was that I set out on the relatively short journey from my house to the Shuttleworth Collection at Old Warden, near Biggleswade. This was another first for me as I had not been there before, although I did once go to the neighbouring Birds of Prey Centre with my good friend Barry.
Although it was my first air display, I have photographed propeller driven aircraft in the past at various historic re-enactments, usually associated with WWII. Consequently, I was aware of the decision that all photographers taking this sort of subject have to take, namely how fast to set the shutter speed.
On the one hand, a fast-moving plane demands a fast shutter speed in order to obtain a sharp image, especially when using a longer lens. On the other hand, a fast shutter will “freeze” the propeller and make the plane resemble a model aircraft, hanging by a thread from the bedroom ceiling. A slower speed is therefore needed in order to show the rotation of the propeller and give the picture a feeling of movement.
On the night, I tried a number of different shutter speeds including 1/200 second which gave good rotation of the prop but reduced my “keeper” rate somewhat due to camera shake (I was using an 80-200mm lens, mostly at the long end). I also tried 1/320 second which showed less propeller movement but gave me many more keepers in terms of sharpness. I also tried 1/250 second which was probably the best compromise, at least with this lens. I dare say that a lens with built-in image stabilizer (IS) would have given me more sharp images at the slower speeds but I don’t have one of those as yet.
So how did it go? Well, despite being a long way out of my comfort zone regarding my fear of planes, it was a brilliant event that I thoroughly enjoyed. The perfect weather conditions certainly helped, it was a clear blue sky for most of the day and very warm indeed, even for July. Add to that the beautiful planes, the great location and a well organised programme run by people who clearly have a love of all things flying and know how to run an event.
I must mention the arrival of the Hawker Sea Fury and Hawker Sea Hurricane. They arrived side-by-side from the right-hand side of the airfield and flew across the viewing area literally wing tip to wing tip. Luckily for me, my face was buried in the back of my camera with my finger welded to the shutter button as they flew by. If I hadn’t been taking photos I’m sure I would have run for cover as they were frighteningly close, as you can see from the sequence of photos below. I guess credit must go to the pilots for the outstanding skill they have in being able to fly so closely without colliding.
The light got better as the evening progressed, with the best light being saved for the WWI and Edwardian planes at the end. If this Bristol Boxkite below looks familiar, you may have seen it staring in the hit movie “Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines”.
Until next time, whatever your chosen subject, enjoy your photography!
Posted on June 12, 2013
Here’s just a few of my favourite photos from the 1940s event last weekend at the Great Central Railway in Leicestershire. As usual, I went with my good friend Barry on the Saturday, to be honest I was feeling a little tired after a long day at my sister-in-law’s wedding the day before.
As soon as we arrived we were immediately aware that it was going to be a busy day with lots of people having turned out to see the event. I had decided the night before to take just my longer lens, a Canon 80-200mm F/2.8 L (a.k.a. The Magic Drainpipe), and leave my standard zoom (28-70mm) at home. The longer zoom is perfect for head & shoulders portraits and I also had in mind the possibility of a fly-past at some point in the day but this turned out to be only on the Sunday.
The problem with taking only the longer lens, is that it requires a certain distance between the photographer and subject in order to get good framing and a little bit of variation in composition.
Now this is fine as long as there are not too many people and other photographers about but can be a bit tricky when there are lots of people around and lots of photographers with shorter lenses trying to get the same shot as me but from a closer range. On the positive side, the longer lens can be used to “isolate” the subject from the surroundings and can also provide a more diffused background than with a standard zoom.
Posted on June 6, 2013
One of my favourite events of the year is happening this weekend – 7th, 8th and 9th June 2013. The 1940s event at the Great Central Railway in 2007 was one of the very first re-enactment events that I ever went to and this event is still one of the highlights of my photography calendar.
I shall hopefully be posting photos from this year’s event in due course but before I do that I just wanted to show you the 2013 Great Central Railway Timetable and also the Wartime Weekend Flyer, both of which feature one of my photos on the front cover, the young soldier and the land army girl looking out of the railway carriage window.
I’m really pleased to see this photo taking pride of place on the front of these two brochures, I just hope I can take some photos of a similar quality over the coming weekend. This shot was the best of a series of similar shots that I took just as the train was arriving at Rothley Station.
Here’s the original in case you missed it before:
***Update***Photos from the 2013 1940s event have been posted here
Photos from the first event I covered, back in 2007, can still be found here
Have a great weekend!
Posted on May 25, 2013
Here’s a tiny selection from the 1200 plus photos that I took at the London North Tough Mudder event at Boughton House near Kettering in the UK on 4th May 2013.
Unlike last year, this time my good friend Janet and I were attempting to follow two particular groups of runners, one from the 8:40am start group, and one from the 9:00am start. I must confess, I totally missed Joe and his team at our first obstacle, the aptly titled “Kiss of Mud” despite being in position on time. We both managed to catch Matt and most of his team twenty minutes later though.
Then, a mad dash to the “Island Hopping” before a short trip to the “Underwater Tunnels” at which point we lost contact with our teams as they ventured away from the spectator areas.
We then waited to “ambush” them at “Mud Mile” #2, where I finally caught site of Joe and the team, and then rushed back to catch them as they approached the final few obstacles, including the “Hero Walls”, “Everest” and finally “Electroshock Therapy”.
It was an excellent event to photograph, as it was last year. I could easily have stayed at Mud Mile all day it was so entertaining. The occasional heavy shower with hail stones thrown in just added to the fun.
The remainder of my photos from the day can be found here:
For anyone still looking for photos from Boughton House in 2012:
Posted on July 17, 2012
Yet another event is cancelled due to the terrible wet summer we are having here in the UK. The Festival of History at Kelmarsh Hall in Northamptonshire, the flagship event in the English Heritage calendar, has suffered the same fate as so many other outdoor events this year.
It all started in March with the announcement that there were to be hosepipe bans in many parts of the country due to water shortages and the reservoirs being at record lows. I know myself from visits to Rutland Water reservoir that water levels were indeed very low at that time. Little did anyone realise that almost from the moment the hosepipe ban was announced, it would rain almost daily for the next three months. June 2012 was the wettest June since records began in 1908 and July has carried on in much the same way.
It was ironic that last Sunday, the day I was planning to go to the Festival of History, turned out to be one of the best days so far in July with plenty of sunshine. Sadly the field where the festival was to take place was already under water by then and the event had reluctantly been cancelled after the downpours of Thursday and Friday nights added to the already wet conditions under foot.
It’s a real shame, not just for me, but especially for the organisers and the re-enactment groups and living history groups who have no doubt been planning this event for many weeks and months in advance. I know of at least two other events that were cancelled on the same weekend. Only the Burton Latimer Annual Duck Race survived, it would appear that the current weather is absolutely perfect for ducks, even the yellow plastic variety!
Oh well, I hope to have some new photos to share very soon, August is looking very busy with the Battle of Bosworth anniversary re-enactment and the Crich 1940s weekend already in my calendar. In the mean time, here is a link to my photos from some of the recent Festivals of History:
It has to stop raining eventually, doesn’t it? I hope you enjoy your summer holidays, whatever the weather!