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Ragnar Trail Relay – Lake Tahoe

Ragnar Trail Relay – Lake Tahoe 2016

So this was one of the three main races I was hoping to complete this year. (The other two were Escape From Alcatraz Tri, and Half Iron Michigan that I opted out of in favor of a full Iron in December)
Ragnar was first introduced to me through a buddy of mine in Florida. He had brought up the possibility of doing a relay with our group out there in the Keys. But that was the road relay. Ragnar has two styles of races. Point-to-point road running, and multiple-loop trail running and camping. As I looked at the two different options I found their Tahoe race that immediately appealed to me _because_ it was in Tahoe and I knew it would be hard.

 

I’ve lived and trained in Tahoe two different summers for Ironman Tahoe. So I knew exactly what this race would require from me.

But I didn’t know enough people to assemble a team on my own. And frankly, at the time of this writing in July, I have competed in 11 races that I can think off the top of my head. Ragnar didn’t look like it was in the cards for me.

And then I randomly found a team last minute..

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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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Formula Drift Round 5 – Seattle

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Another Drift race of the season for the books – and a disappointing turn of events for Team Falken.

I just got back from Seattle a few days ago where I was out shooting for Falken once again for Formula Drift. This time around I was on my own covering the weekend’s events since the the rest of the creative staff was in Canada for the ALMS race. And while I got plenty of great photos from the weekend, the actual race itself didn’t go all too well for the team.

I arrived much earlier than I normally would for a race. I selected a super-early flight for some reason… I was trying to remember why I chose a 630a flight when I was just going up north to Seattle versus cross-country. Typically I seem to handle a lot of the far-away races for Falken. So that means long flights, and lots of travel on my part.
But for the life of me and I can not remember why I chose an early flight that put me in Seattle an entire day early.

No bother though, it was a chance to test out the extra Sony camera gear I brought along.

Thursday for me was a long day… not because I was busy, but because I wasn’t. I wasn’t there to work, so I was just hanging out. I didn’t bring my rental car since I rode with the team. Which left me plenty of time to do whatever I wanted. So, I shot around and took a ton of Behind the Scenes kind of photos of the guys setting up. Getting to know the crew is honestly one of the best parts of my job. Sure, taking pictures is great, but meeting and talking to everyone is seriously the best part. Whether it’s BS’ing with the crew during setup, asking the mechanics about what they’re doing and hearing them explain their job, or sitting at dinner talking with Dai about racing (his job), photography (my job), or fitness (mutual interest), it’s just plain amazing that this is what I get to do for a living.

But anyway, you came here for photos… so, read on!
Tons of images after the break from Setup, Practice, and Race Day. Also, Falken said “go ahead and play with lighting”… so, the photos are a bit different than I normally take.

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Formula Drift Round 4: New Jersey

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Just got back from New Jersey Formula Drift Round 4, where I was out shooting for Falken Tire again!

I wasn’t originally planning on being in Jersey for Round 4, but after contacting Falken on a whim it turned out they needed additional support that weekend. So that worked out great for me since I still had that weekend of June open and am always down to fly to a race to photograph.
So after what will likely be my last direct-flight to an East Coast race (you’d be surprised how many tracks I can fly to direct from San Diego) I met up with the video guys and headed out to grab a bite. This was actually the first time I’d really seen the Falken video crew this season. The other races I had be on, Le Mans Sebring, Atlanta Drift, Long Beach, etc, were all for other clients or Falken bookings where I was the only media support.

It’s always a blast being out with the team. They’re such a busy company that I don’t always get to see many people from their crew, which makes catching up on life less frequent. Plus, BS’ing with the video guys is fun since we can nerd it up and talk about cameras, software, hardware, and debate all the stupid things that none of my family or friends in SoCal really care about. Creative Cloud for Adobe?! Ripofffffff, what do you guys think? lol

The race weekend was great, and went by pretty quickly. Overall Falken did pretty well. Justin took second place. Darren barely missed third place, finishing fourth.

Next up I’ll be heading out to Seattle for Round 5 in Monroe, Washington. Looking forward to that since Falken has said I can go ahead and start being as artsy as I’d like with my imagery from the races. That “they have plenty of action shots” so I can feel free to be more creative with everything. So I’m stoked for that.

Also, I just talked and met with Sony Digital Imaging, I’m going to be testing some of their gear! This is pretty exciting. I was given a bunch of gear to test during the month of July! So I’m currently working with Black Flys sunglasses to set things up with their athletes for some awesome shoots with their athletes. Stay tuned. July is going to a lot of fun with all this new gear….

Anyway… on to the Drift photos!
There’s a bunch for you guys that just want to see a lot of photos of cars/etc. You will be able to tell the images that are straight from camera and don’t really have any heavy editing applied to them.

Oh, also, I’m trying something different for this blog and all the photos that follow are going to be 800 pixels at the longest edge… I’m trying it out to see if I prefer photos a bit larger than my typical 650 pixels at the longest edge. Let me know what you think in the comments about the size change. I’ll need to adjust the right column links though I realize.

More photos after the break

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Formula Drift Round 2: Atlanta

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So I’m finally getting around to uploading the action shots that I took at Formula Drift Round 2: Atlanta.

I was out in Georgia two weeks ago or so for the race shooting for Falken Tire this time around. I was the only creative staff sent by Falken, which meant I would likely be on my own the majority of the time wandering the track and getting images out to the Falken team back home on the west coast for them to upload.
My flight to the east coast came just two days after my return from the east coast where I was attending my friends Aaron and Danielle’s wedding in Clearwater, Florida. I suppose I could have spoken to Falken about flying me direct from Orlando, but, that would have meant that I would need to bring even more gear with me to Florida on that trip since I would need different things at the race than I had brought to Florida for that trip.

Anyway, back in Georgia again, and it really didn’t seem as though it had already been over six months since I was there for Petit Le Mans at the end of the 2012 season.

This race I would be focussed on three drivers: Dai Yoshihara, Darren McNamara, and Justin Pawlak.
I was also able to continue my ongoing portrait series while out there, as you guys may have already caught in my last blog post.

Overall it was a great weekend. The weather was overcast and a bit rainy… which unfortunately makes for less-interesting Drift photos in my opinion. Colder track temperatures means colder tires means less smoke…. means boring photos. Hahaha

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But… Vaughn DID run over a car on the track… that happened.

Haha, click past the break a ton of photos from the weekend. I decided to just upload a ton from the weekend. Enjoy. But sheer numbers alone you’re bound to at least dig one or two of them.

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Portrait shots of Dai Yoshihara, Darren McNamara, Justin Pawlak, & Pat Mordaunt

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Two weeks ago I was in Atlanta at Formula Drift Round 2. This time I was out shooting for Falken Tire. But between my shooting out on the field I was able to find a bit of time to meet up with four additional drivers to photograph and add to my driver’s portrait series that I started at Long Beach in March.

I had already been in touch with Dai Yoshihara a bit about shooting with him this round. And I knew that Justin Pawlak and Darren McNamara wouldn’t be too terribly difficult to meet up with since I was shooting for Falken Tire. Meeting up with Pat Mordaunt was unexpected, but great since I was hoping to try and get at least one additional driver beyond the Falken Team.
Funny story about Pat and when I first met him at Long Beach this season. I was introduced to him through my friend, and fellow photographer, Narisa Masermsim. Pat was just driving around chatting with people during the morning of Long Beach practice. After a few minutes of typical chit-chat (ie: who are you shooting for, etc) I asked Pat which team he was with. “I’m with APEXi” he said, pointing to the trailer off to the side of us. “Oh, cool, what do you do for them?” “I’m the driver.” Ha! In my defense I’m not familiar with Drift beyond the Falken Team. And typically I handle American Le Mans for Falken and I haven’t photographed Drift much since my days working for K&N Filters and AEM Intakes. Pat just laughed it off. Honestly I forget the the Drift drivers are all very socialable and it’s not uncommon for them to be out chatting with people, versus Le Mans where most drivers stay in their paddocks and rigs.

Anyway, click past the break for the various portraits that I shot of everyone in Atlanta. A couple varations of course, a tight crop alongside a wider one.

Hopefully I can continue this series in Seattle – which at the moment is the last of the Drift races that I’m booked for.
Also, you can check my portfolio here online for a gallery of larger images: Driver Portraits

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12 Hours of Sebring 2013 – Le Mans

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I’ve been putting off and putting off posting up photos from my experience at The 12 Hours of Sebring this year.
Mostly because my photos were so screwed up that I simply didn’t (and still don’t) want to edit the majority of them… I’m guessing that many of you read my blog post titled: “My New, Damaged, Canon 1D-X. And Canon USA’s refusal to help” If not, click the link and you’ll immediately see why I haven’t edited much from that trip. And you read the whole thing it will be sure to piss you off at the lack of customer service I dealt with.

However, now that we’re approaching the THIRD Le Mans race of the 2013 season, I wanted to share my images from Florida before people simply didn’t care anymore… if they don’t already. Haha!

My original plan at Sebring was to freelance and attempt to sell my services to various teams at the race that weekend. But that hope was dashed as soon as it was clear my camera was damaged and all my photos would require serious editing.

I did do a bit of work for John Edwards Racing though. So, my focus was the M-Power BMW you see up top.

Go ahead and click the break for a large assortment of shots from Sebring. The majority will be dusk and night photos since those are the images I was able to edit quickly and without much editing because the damage to the sensor was not visible as wide-open apertures.

Enjoy!

I’m currently on my way to Atlanta for Formula Drift this weekend and not Monterey for Le Mans. So, this is very likely my only American Le Mans Series post of the year unfortunately.

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Portrait shots of Vaughn Gittin Jr, Chris Forberg, Ryan Tuerck, and Bil Baldwin

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When I’m asked what I like shooting most of all my answer would be portraits. Which is saying a lot because I have the opportunity to shoot a LOT of different things from models to racing to weddings.
And while all those other things are a lot of fun, coming back around to portraits is where I always end up. It’s wonderfully simple an they’re WAY more interesting than a racecar on a track I feel like.

The Formula Drift season just kicked off for 2013 – and I’m sure many of you likely saw my blog post earlier this week about it. And during Round 1: Long Beach, I was on assignment from K&N Filters and AEM Intakes. One of the things I was required to shoot was headshots of various drivers that they sponsor. I immediately thought “Awesome! Now I HAVE to get photos with three of the busiest drivers at the track: Vaughn Gittin Jr., Ryan Tuerck, and Chris Forberg.
Now I’m not saying these guys won’t give you the time of day – that couldn’t be further from the truth. However as a photographer for one of their sponsors it’s much easier to get a few minutes of their time set aside specifically for you to photograph them.

Each of my portraits of these drivers only took me about 5 minutes to create. So long as I have nearly all my camera settings dialed than it’s just a matter of lighting being balanced, a few test shots, and a couple “real ones” where my subject can smile or do whatever they like…. then I’m done. Out of their hair AND I have both headshots for my clients along with an image and I can edit into the portraits you see above.

I also met and photographed Bil “The Bearded Man of Drift” Baldwin, who’s become a bit of a legend in the Drift world. I actually had heard of him through a friend of mine that knows of Bil from the “Beard Life” community, haha!

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Me and Bil, right after his portrait the morning of the race!

Anyway, click past the break for the portraits I created of Vaughn, Ryan, Chris and Bil – along with some Behind the Scenes that my buddy Rex shot while I was working with Vaughn!

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Petit Le Mans – The ALMS Finals with Falken Tire

What an awesome year spent with Falken Tire.
The 2012 American Le Mans season was a blast! I was very lucky to be able to cover half of it for Falken Tire – in addition to many other projects that they brought me in for throughout the year. By far my favorite was ALMS, though. There is an incredible team of people out at Walker Racing that I was lucky to be welcomed in to. Through many events and long days/nights of work I also had the chance to work closely and get to know much more of the Falken Tire team, too.

The season wrapped up in Atlanta, at Petit Le Mans. Another endurance race but this time only ten hours instead of twelve like in Sebring. Haha! Even one of the managers at Falken, when he asked me the next race I’d be at and I told him “Petit”, laughed and just said “We send you to all the long ones, don’t we?”

Since it was my last race of the season I brought a bunch of gear out Road Atlanta with me. Instead of a 300mm like I had at Sebring, I brought a 400mm since this was a large track. And since there was a lot less access than at Sebring it’s a good thing that I did. I also carried a brand new Canon 1D-X with me – I was definitely excited to see how the sensor and tracking system performs over my 1D-3 that I’ve been using for years for sports.

I’m not going to go on and on about my weekend. I’ll keep it short and say that it has been a blast being part of Falken’s season and part of their team. With a bit of luck I’ll be doing some more work with them next year, but I won’t know that for sure for quite some time.
Until next race season starts up it’s going to be back to model photography and smaller projects for me! So keep checking back for updates on those – one of my next shoots is for April O’Neil and my ongoing Ninja Turtles project.

And to comment briefly on my opening image up top… I felt this was definitely a great closing image to contrast my opening image at Sebring for the season…
Here’s a comparison:

Nice, right?

Anyway.. click past the break for over 150 images of Team Falken, and several other teams/cars at Road Atlanta this past weekend.

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Road America – American Le Mans with Falken Tire

Road America, with the Falken Tire racing team.. and what a beautiful weekend it was out in Wisconsin!

Yes. We crashed. Let me start with first saying that I don’t know any details about the crash beyond this: Whatever the end cause was, it sent Bryan into a wall at an incredibly high speed. It wasn’t head-on, so, Bryan escaped with a few bumps and was cleared quickly by medical. As for the cause or crazy photos – I don’t know, nor do I have any. I was at a different location on the track when it happened. And the cause is being investigated so changes (if needed) can be made before Baltimore in 11 days.

Now, onto to details of the rest of the weekend..

Any sort of East Coast travel always means very little sleep the night before. Going to bed early doesn’t really work well for me, and first-flight-out typically means leaving the house at 5am. So I only got about four hours of sleep that evening. The travel day went surprisingly smooth. Funny that with all the flying that I do the best service I have is consistently “budget-airline” Southwest.

That first afternoon in Wisconsin was spent with Cale and Qazi, two of Falken’s video team. We were going around town doing some filming and shooting of the city for b-roll type footage that they could use for their final piece on the Road America race. We found a couple cool locations and the guys did their thing as I wandered around on my own. I didn’t really have much use for any of the shots I would have taken, so I pretty much just took behind the scenes stuff.
Later that evening we checked into our hotel to get ready for a busy Saturday at the track. Oh, and we stayed at the Osthoff Resort which was incredible. I was in an awesome two-bedroom suite on the top floor with a view of the pools and lake.

Practice day for me started early. The photographer meeting was at 730am. So, I was up early to get ready and get out of the hotel in time. Plus it was a new track so making sure I figured out my way around was important, too.
Overall the practice day went really well. I was able to check about half the track during the various practice sessions. Road America is a 4 mile track, so that’s either a LOT of walking… or a lot of driving if you are lucky enough to have a golf cart. Our video crew used the golf cart the majority of the time, which means I was on foot. Qazi, one of the videographers, actually joked “You’re in the best shape out of all of us, John. So you get to walk.” Hahaha!

Race day was a different story… as we arrived at the track the first GT practice of the day was getting started. So, I had the guys drop me off so I could start shooting right then. I rather have every opportunity I can to get shots of the car on the track than risk not getting enough images. The rest of the day was whirlwind of bouncing around the paddocks, grabbing breakfast/lunch at whatever point I had a few minutes to do so, and hiking pretty much the entire track to check out possible new areas to shoot.

And as everyone is aware, our race day was cut short due to a crash – a very disappointing end of the race for us when Falken was bouncing between 3rd and 5th place at the time.

Anyway, I’ll stop typing. Read on for a ton of images and captions from my weekend with Falken’s ALMS team at Elkhart Lake.

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