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CAMERA TESTING WITH THE SONY A77 (3 OF 4)

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Part three of my four part write-up on testing the Sony a77 DSLR in various sports setting that I typically shoot  with my job. Please check out the previous post for details on the first test and a bit of an intro to this multi-part project: here

Taking the Sony a77 to the track

This is where I was most curious about the a77 and lenses… the racetrack.

The first chance I had at the track with the Sony system was with the Formula Drift race series. I was in Seattle for one of my larger clients, Falken Tire, who I handle a portion of their motorsports photography for. The first day I arrived earlier than I normally would for a race, which gave me a couple practice sessions to get out and test shoot a bit with the a77. I would be using the 300/2.8 that I brought out with me.

While I was, again, happy with how the lenses performed I was a little bummed with the speed of the focus tracking. I was getting a bit of motion blur even when using faster shutter speeds. But again, this could also have been human error, I won’t deny that either. The 300 & a77 combo gives and effective 450mm/2.8 reach – this is VERY far for Drift and Seattle was a smaller track (proximity of photogs to cars) compared to Atlanta or Jersey.
But more frustrating for me as a sport shooter were the delays of the camera itself. When bursting at 10fps (or just shooting anything in general) the Sony system puts a brief preview of the image you just shot up on the screen or viewfinder – whichever one you’re using at the time. There is no way to turn this off. In the menu you can turn off previews (or set them for 2, 4, etc, seconds). But even after turning my previews to Off, there is still a brief moment the image is on your display. I think this is the camera’s way of telling you “Hey man, I took a shot!” compared with a Canon or Nikon you’ll have that brief moment of black while the mirror and shutter are up to exposure the sensor. So, I am guessing Sony put this there as a way to reassure you the photo was captured.
Note: This is something that I’ve already talked to Sony about to try and clarify, with them, what I mean by the screen pausing. Now I wouldn’t compare the pause to the brief flash of black from a shutter on a Canon or Nikon – that’s too quick to affect your shot. The image pause on the Sony I found distracting enough to screw up my framing. This is something Sony also said they’ll ask about since it’s not a complaint they’ve heard previously.

But I want it turned off – or the ability to turn it off. That fraction of a second that there is an image in your viewfinder of something that JUST happened is long enough for your subject to move a bit and your framing to get messed up. So while it doesn’t affect the AF or anything like that, you might still not-get the shot due to accidentally cropping part of the subject out.
Now, I know that nothing will be as fast/accurate about what’s going on in front of your camera compared to a mirror, but if you’re looking at a screen you’re definitely going to want that screen as close to real-time as possible.

Another issue that I had with this camera in a race setting is the inability to “chimp” efficiently. As much as that term bugs me sometimes, it’s the perfect word to describe the action of “looking down right after a shot to see what it looks like” like a chimp inspecting something in front of them.
We ALL do this at the track CONSTANTLY. This can mean the difference between sorting through 500 photos when you download your card or 800 photos.

Now, I wasn’t using the most expensive SD card out there, so I’m sure there was some margin of error (read: slow) due to a cheaper card. But I don’t own SD cards since all my cameras use CF cards. So I’ll take some blame for the possible slow speed of writing to a less-expensive card I bought to save money.
However the camera seemed to write very very slow despite using a class 10 card as I was told to do. It was so slow, in fact, that I actually gave up trying to look at the photos I just shot because the camera was buffering them slowly. This won’t work for those of us who are used to quickly sorting through photos right after we shoot them, deleting (quickly) the bad/OOF shots, and being ready for when the next cars come by.
Note: After discussing this with Sony as well they pointed out the the horsepower of the a77 and it’s processor can’t compete at a level that’s near the power of the dual processors of the 1D lineup. It’s simply something that you will have to deal with at the price point of the a77. This was something I hadn’t put a lot of consideration to those days at the track because I don’t shoot with a 60D, ever.

Also another downside to the camera and the digital viewfinder setup was the sensor. On a bright and sunny day we all will put our hands around the LCD when reviewing shots. The light sensor on the back of the a77 always thought I was putting my face back up to the camera and would switch the view mode back to the camera’s viewfinder. This made it impossible at times for me to review photos without turning my entire body away from the sun (and action) to review photos in my own shadow rather than just use my hand.
Note: I discussed this with Sony, also. There are two options to handle this that were pointed out. First is to set the screen option to manual. So, using a button you can switch from viewfinder mode, to LCD, and back again. I personally would not like this option since it involves additional key presses and I’m sure that at some point I would put the viewfinder back to my eye quickly and forget to turn the viewfinder “on” by switching modes. The second option is to un-click the second the hinge of the LCD screen. This would lock the LCD into the “on” mode, however I have a feeling that there would be the same problem with not auto-switching back to the viewfinder when you try to use it again unless you click the LCD all the way back into position. Both of these simply would take practice and getting used to on the part of the photographer – they’re not something I would consider an end-all to using this system by any means.
My experiences with Off Road were similar to that of Formula Drift, so I won’t ramble on too much about it here.
However out at the off road track I tried the focus locking a bit more to see how well it would track a subject.
The way the focus lock works (put most simply) is that it would lock onto whatever was closest to the center and then track it as it moved around. Think of it as facial recognition tracking for large groups – that’s an easy way to describe it.
However when you have a bunch of trucks crossing paths and everything kinda blends together I think the system because overwhelmed. So, instead I stuck with Continuous focus and found that I got a bit better results as long as I kept my subject in the center of my viewfinder.

Overall thoughts on racing photography with the a77: Overall… it’s a very usable system. I think my initial experience shooting Drift with the a77 was hindered by the too-long lens combo on a track that was smaller than I expected. Below you will no photos from Drift, actually, because I’m just simply not happy with any of them.
I had much better luck at the Off Road track during the Lucas Oil Off Road race. The first day I was there was mostly practice which allowed me more time to shoot around and text. The system here, and longer glass worked very well, and with a larger track (both in size and distance) there was more time and flexibility when reviewing photos after shooting them.

Click the break for photos!

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Behind the Scenes on Wildpeak Ad Campaign

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Blazing desert heat, cold streams, and windy mountain roads… all just part of the Falken Tire Wildpeak Off Road ad campaign I shot at the end of 2012.

Among many of the projects I was part of with Falken Tire last year one of the most fun was the Wildpeak Off Road campaign. This was a project that was planned, assembled, and shot all within a very short amount of time compared to other projects I’ve worked with Falken on. Falken’s newest tire line, Wildpeak, needed a variety of images created for upcoming ads and media in 2013. So several days were selected, along with several vehicles, to shoot many different images in different locations. I would be handling a large majority of the shooting alongside the video crew, who would be shooting for commercials at the same time.

The entire first day was spent in the desert, under the hot sun and, at times, very high winds. We had a selection of cars: Ford Raptor, Toyota FJ Cruiser, Toyota 4Runner, and the custom built Falken Jeep JK. We also had a few support vehicles with us, a Chevy Tahoe with 22’s for what would essentially be “beauty shots”, a Toyota Tacoma, our tow vehicle/rig, and a total crew of 10 people. This was not a small job by any means.

The second day was the longest by far. We were in the mountains. All. Day. But we were able to capture a ton of different images varying from water/splash photos to “climbing” photos. The video guys also did the majority of their filming the second day as well.
Day 3 was the shortest, and was cut even shorter after the first location we planned to shoot at didn’t work out.

Click below the break to read on and see over 100 images of what goes into a multi-day photoshoot of this size.

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Monster Energy Supercross w/ Falken Tire

Ok, so this is clearly just me and the Falken girls… but still.

This year I’ve been contracting with Falken Tire for the 2012 Monster Energy AMA Supercross Series! It’s actually pretty great to once again be out on the track working with a major brand such as Falken. Several months ago I worked with them putting together the 2012 Falken Girls poster and promotional images of the girls. Three of them, Brittney Leigh, Julie Galindo, and Mayra Tinajero in the photo above with me. Now I’m handling a small part of their racing photography as well.
And most of you know that off road race photography is nothing new to me – I used to do a ton of it when I worked for K&N Filters. Working with Falken is very different though. I’m actually just as much a photojournalist for the day as I am a race photographer.

During the race day I spend a lot of my time with the Falken team photographing their fans and guests that come by the trailer to meet the models, enter the prize drawings and get more information about Falken products. I’ll typically make my way out to the track several times during practice to photograph Ryan Villopoto – not only the top racer in the series right now, but also Falken’s sponsored racer.

I’ll save all the rambling I could post and just put up some images… they’re more interesting anyway. haha!

Let’s start with the San Diego, Qualcomm Stadium race for Round 6..

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BMX rider portraits, Buena Park

When I wanted to do portraits with some interesting people my first idea was to get ahold of Sean Logan – a BMX rider.
I knew that I could create an image of him and maybe a few friends he rides with that would be awesome and telling at the same time. Ironically, none of the images above have much to do with what I set out to create – those come later.

I met up with Sean and a few other riders at Adam’s house to shoot. Adam, along with many other riders, have built some massive jumps in the backyard for them to ride.

When I say backyard… I mean they seriously converted their backyard into their own private course.  Check out Adam in the white hat for a bit of size comparison to the jumps.

But lets start out with the images that I set out to create…

I wanted something a bit gritty looking. Dirty in the sense of “dirt” for a BMX feel.

I created a similar shot with Adam. I kept the bikes in there as a token “yes I ride” theme. However it worked out pretty much exactly how I wanted. All the focus is still on their faces/eyes and the bike comes second. The editing fits the theme perfectly.

These shots were images we did in addition to everything else. While I wasn’t dead set on color shots because I envisioned the photos above first, they came out great and we had some fun. Here’s Sean, whose hair, by the way, still looks like this after hours or riding… it’s crazy.

And speaking of crazy… Stuntman, and friend, Crazy Mike was there to have a few images done as well. Mike and I have worked together multiple times and when he heard that I was shooting with Sean that afternoon he came down with his buddy Ninja Nick so I could do some cover shots for a TV pilot they’re working on. I’d share them here… but I can’t. Sorry guys!
Mike’s personality always comes through in ridiculous images like this one. Haha.

Adam Saunders portrait ended up coming out great. Honestly, part of the reason I love it was that he grabbed his hat and threw a bit of attitude in with his lip.

Loren’s shot I dig because of the simplicity, and his eyes. Shades in photos always add attitude. But eyes humanize any image, and this one totally pulls you in despite all the color and busy-ness of the photo as a whole.

And while we’re on the topic of eyes… Check out Dustin Nette…
No, take your time, those are his real eyes. Not enhanced. I didn’t add color either. Dustin was throwing tricks and riding with everyone that day. But when he stopped and was walkin around I noticed his eyes – seriously, you can see them from 20+ feet away. I talked to him briefly and asked if I could do a quick portrait of him. I shot this with my 85 f/1.2 because I wanted all the focus just at his eyes and everything else to fall off. Came out great.

So, time for some action shots… since I’m sure that what many of you came to see.

Sean, doin a Superman over jump two.

Adam, backflipping jump two.
Check out the barn-type structure in the back. They cut out part of the roof and made a ramp to use that to drop into the jumps.

Loren, drop three in jump two.

Loren, turn down flip in jump two

Loren, backflip in jump one.

Dustin, cheesin’ it up for the camera.

Loren threw a flip table only about three times before we got a great image.

Sorry I don’t have the names of the tricks, I’m still learning all the BMX trick names. But, I’m sure a few of the guys can help me name everything and I can update later.
Hope you guys liked the images, I was really happy with how they all came out. I’m planning to try and keep going with these portraits and see what else I can come up with.

Next up will be images from a shoot I did last week with a Swedish model and dancer named Bambi – totally colorful crazy outfits and everything. I think you all will dig it. And if all goes as planned, I’ll be shooting long time friend and nation pole dance competitor Mina Mortezaie this weekend.

BMX, with Sean Logan

I wanted to share more images of BMXer Sean Logan with you guys as promised.
As I talked about in my last blog update, I spent part of last weekend at the jumps with Sean Logan and Eric Hough. It was great to have a couple hours to just work on getting some great images that not only looked good, but were also accurate trick shots timed correctly on both Sean and my part as the photographer.

Unfortunately I don’t know the names of the tricks that Sean throws, there are a lot of names to remember and between all the shooting we did I simply lost track.

This was earlier in the afternoon. On bright, hotter days these jumps have much more of a harsh yellowed desert look. But we had some great clouds to work with this past weekend.

The only bad thing about these jumps is that they’re surrounded by power lines – which I try and remove from some shots.

This is shot from the handlebars with a fisheye lens. I’m thinking a mounted shot in a jump like this could potentially be pretty awesome. But Sean said he tried it and it didn’t work well. Bummer.

Toward the end of the day we moved locations slightly to take advantage of this tree at sunset.
All the shots we did here came out great.

This was one I shared in my last post, but I’m sharing again..

Coming up will hopefully be more images of BMXer’s Eric Hough and Cody McKenna. I’m just waiting on them to sort through the images I took so they can tell me which are the best shots (in the BMX world) – because they look for things in their technique that I don’t notice.

So check back soon!
I’ll also have photos and video from my motorcycle shoot to share with everyone.

Crazy Mike, from “We Play Crazy”

Sometimes a completely different style photoshoot demands a different style of editing. This is sexy, gritty, dark, and has attitude. I needed the final image to reflect that and went with a rougher post production than I typically would take with my work. But, I needed a billboard worthy image. Hell, I could easily be selling you cologne with this photo… and you’d buy it, too.

This weekend I had the pleasure of working with with Crazy Mike of We Play Crazy. Mike and his team are currently out here from the East Coast filming with MTV. Saturday we hit the beach with model Lyla Dee and did a night shoot in Venice on the sand and in the water. I have to say, the photos came out pretty damn hot. I’m still working on the other pieces for Mike, but they’ll be posted up here soon, too.

This image will make an awesome poster – I’m going to probably print one tomorrow on my new Epson medium format I just picked up.
Mike and I did a few series of these backflip shots while waiting for Lyla to meet us at the beach.

Now today, Sunday, I ended up chillin’ with Mike and his crew again… but this time we did something I have quite a bit of experience with… extreme sports.

That’s Sean Logan doing a backflip-360 about two feet away from me. Crazy Mike down below gettin’ some footage for their new reel.

Eric Hough was hitting quite a few jumps and tricks too. His face is a bit blocked in this shot, but it’s always great to have a clean, simple image that you don’t see every day.

One last image of Sean as he’s doing his backflips. Hopefully I’ll be working with these guys again in the near future. I would love to start mixing their skill with mine and take stunts like these and mix in what I do with color and light and create some really incredible stuff.

So, I have quite a bit of editing ahead of me this week. I leave for the Bay Area on Wednesday – so for everyone back in the Bay… text me. Let’s meet up. I’d love to see all of you while I’m back in town for Christmas.

Racing update coming soon!

I’ve been working on a major update to my Offroad portfolio.
I have a few thousand images from the Lucas Oil Off Road Race Series that I’ve spent a good part of this year shooting. Well, for those of you with a sharp eye on my Racing portfolio, you may have noticed I haven’t done a major update since the Long Beach Grand Prix.

Within the next day or so I will be adding between 10 and 20 new images from the Off Road Series. I’m actually considering creating an entire section with just dirt track images. I have more than enough work from both dirt tracks and asphalt tracks to fill two sections. It may be best that I just do that instead.

I also have a lot of images like this…

And I’m sure some of you will be excited for those, too.

So, check back soon. I have quite a few updates coming.

Another incredible off-road race, wrapped!

Last night wrapped the final day of the Lucas Oil Off Road Race Series, Lake Elsinore, event. As many of you have already read, I spent three days out there again this month covering the races. The main difference this time around, compared to last month, was that these races were held at night. And, for only one heat… we had some incredible light!

The day, overall, was slow paced for me. I spent most of it tracking down certain drivers and trying to set up some portraits for my side project I was doing during this particular weekend. Unfortunately I was only able to shoot an additional three drivers – but, that’s better than not being able to shoot any. More on that later though…

It’s really unfortunate that more of the racing couldn’t have this kind of light! How amazing would it be to have a series of race images with this kind of color? Granted, I would have needed some Alien Bees and my Pocket Wizards to REALLY play it up and take advantage of the light… but either way, I wish sunset lasted longer than one race, haha.

And check out this shot of Robby Melton… I wish I was this much of a badass at his age. Seriously. How much fun would this have been in Elementary school? I had to settle for the little go karts at the mini golf place. I feel slightly cheated out of race-driver-in-training childhood.

Now I mentioned above that I was able to do a bit more on my portraits project that I previewed in my last post. Sunday evening I had the pleasure of meeting, and photographing, Carey Hart. Here’s a guy who was not only a really chill person, but also a man of his word – which can be very rare in this industry. Carey agreed to a shoot at dusk, which as it turned out, was perfect for my lighting. And even as busy as Carey was, he still made time to meet with me – which is hugely appreciate.
Check out this portrait below..

Let me know what you think in either a comment, or shoot me an email. I would love feedback on this series of portraits I’m working on.

Night fell pretty quick, and that’s when things started to get really serious… Trophy Kart was done, UTV was done, and Buggy had long since been over… It was time for the trucks.
Lighting, was harsh… I’m not going to lie. But, I love a challenge, and even if I don’t come back with a ton of images, I can usually create something cool.

Above is Rodrigo Ampudia driving the Papa’s & Beer truck, being chased by the KMC truck – which is quite obviously rocket-powered.

Rodrigo was one of my favorite drivers to photograph all weekend. He was realllly pushing his trucks to the limits – sometimes a bit too far actually. And again, the fun part about night shots is capturing the flames that shoot out of the exhaust. I would have loved to do some dusk drag-racing shots when I was in Nevada a few months ago, but the weather didn’t permit it.

This shot of Carl Renezeter is among my favorites from that night too. This shot is pretty much straight out of camera. Let’s hear it for the 1D Mark III, L glass and some serious hand-held panning skills huh? To be fair, panning at 1/100 of a second is not difficult at all. This was shot at 1/100, f/2.8, ISO800 at 80mm with my 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM and 1D Mark III with available light from the track floods – no additional speedlites/etc used.

Another example I wanted to share. Number 99, Robby Woods – a really cool guy who actually wrenches on his own truck. I don’t care who you are, it’s impressive to walk into a pit and see the driver hunched over his rig making repairs on his own.
The above image hasn’t been altered in any way. No color correction or toning – nothing at all.
It’s shot, completely handheld, at 1/60 of a second, f/3.5, ISO800 at 70mm with my 1D Mark III and 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM lens.
I really wanted to share with everyone what my images look like, uncropped, straight from camera.

Here’s another quick shot of KMC’s rocket truck! Haha, seriously though… there were quite a few trucks spittin’ flames last night. KMC and Papa’s & Beer just happened to be in front of my lens most of those times.

I thought this might be a nice image to end on.
It feels a bit serene… Like it’s all quiet on the track and this lone truck is out there by himself in the moonlight. Of course that’s not actually the case, but it’s fun to make up little stories in your head, right?

Overall, I’m thrilled with the images I came back with this weekend. I shot quite a bit less than previous races – but, I was aiming for more variety and trying some new things. Some of those new things worked, and some didn’t. I have more ideas for what I’d like to try in the future and will hopefully get some opportunities to do other shoots with various drivers or teams directly in the future for other projects.

In the mean time however I have quite a few photos to edit still and some major updates to my portfolio to do at some point. But I’m also still editing previous wedding shoots from this month.

I’m still busy as hell, and will continue on like that the next six weeks.

But when you’re doing something you love, it’s hard to call it work.
I haven’t had a day off in a month – but I barely notice.

Good night everyone!

Lucas Oil Off Road, Day 2… Rocked

Yesterday was Day 2 of the Lucas Oil Off Road Race Series event at Lake Elsinore. This time around the racing was all at night – with made for some tricky lighting, but also some bitchin’ shots.
From my location on the track, around turn 5, I noticed pretty quickly that some of the trucks were backfiring pretty bad. And after getting a pretty cool flame shot during the Long Beach Grand Prix, I decided I wanted a night-backfire-shot from off road, too. It was only another two laps or so before I nailed this one; the image itself is a bit grainy… but it’s shot with only available light – I don’t have Alien Bees to set up on the track and risk them getting run over.

The racing actually started in the evening, at dusk. Here’s what shots were lookin’ like before the sun went away completely. Not terrible, but not amazing either. I think I miiiiight actually bring some of my 580EXII’s and Pocket Wizards out to the track tonight and play with some lighting at sunset… maybe… that’s a lot of gear to risk.

This shot was made during the Unlimited 4’s… Carl DESTROYED the rear end on his truck coming off a jump. I was fairly sure he was going over the way that he landed (right in front of where I was shooting from). He held it together just fine, but the truck was done – and he was out of that race.

Flames were pretty common in the Unlimited 2’s and Superlite classes. There were mainly three trucks or so that kept backfiring when they landed. KMC Wheels was one of those trucks. I was able to get a few pretty good shots of it. This image looks really soft as I read this post – I need to double check if my images are being resized on upload… grrr.

Last but not least… another preview of the portraits I was shooting yesterday. These are quite simple, rough, harsh portraits of the various drivers. I shot these with hard, direct light for the really dramatic and powerful effect. What these guys do for a living is pretty hardcore, I wanted some cool images to show that attitude. The above driver, Leroy, is the driver who flipped his truck last month (see earlier posts for photos). Really great guy and his race team has treated me great this weekend.

So, now it’s about time to start packing up my gear and get ready to ready to head out. I have one more day/night of race coverage for this event. We’ll see if I feel like setting up my Speedlites today – I’d love to play with some light and color, but am also half certain that my gear will get run over out there. hahaha.

Check back late tonight or tomorrow morning for an update of the results of the entire weekend!

Back in Lake Elsinore, shooting LOORRS once again.

Today was the first of another three days of off road racing at Lake Elsinore for the Lucas Oil Off Road Race Series. I was out at this track a month ago covering the same race/series. Today wasn’t quite as hot, but I would say it was MUCH more dry, and MUCH more dusty… All around, a pretty miserable day.

I was incredibly frustrated with how many issues there were on the track – I have no idea what they were, I just know that I sat out on the track for an hour waiting for whatever the delay was to end. I came home with VERY few images in general, let alone many good ones.

I did, however, decide that I’m going to do a portrait series on our sponsored racers…

This is how I intend to shoot this series… very dramatic lighting… harsh, sharp shadows… The races are in the desert, these photos will pretty much demand this style I feel.
This is a portrait of Malcolm Pointon, from New Zealand. I actually have shared a few shots of him in previous posts. Today I had the pleasure of meeting him.

This is a shot I did of Malcolm last month as the previous race. It’s one of my favorites from that weekend.
Speaking of that weekend, I need to update my portfolio still with those images. I’m not behind by off road racing, flat track racing, two weddings, and an engagement shoot…

Too much to do, and too much edit.

I’m staying incredibly busy though… and honestly, I may hire someone to start assisting with editing.

Good night all, see you on the track tomorrow.