New Season – New Focus

So this Sunday, 24th March, sees the start of the UK Oval Track Legends 2019 season, the first race taking place at Hednesford, a very nice track in the Midlands just north of Birmingham, about a 3.5 hour drive for us coming from Ipswich.

Although my step-son, Damian, has never done particularly well at this track, for me it’s excellent because it’s one of the better tracks for photography. The track is built into what was once a reservoir, with the track in the middle and large sloping banks all around which allows me to shoot over the fence rather than through it.

For this season however, if last season could be considered my “rookie” season as an amateur photographer, I want to try and focus on producing better photos, to look for more creative angles and opportunities, and give more thought to what I’m producing image by image.

Last year I quickly found myself settling into a routine which perhaps wasn’t the right approach. I would turn up at an event, take some pictures around the pits, take some pictures of the cars on track, mostly side-on panning shots, go home with something between 3000-4000 shots on my camera, load them into my PC and try to come up with a set of 100+ images to post on Facebook, usually putting pressure on myself to deliver both a comprehensive set (at least ‘x’ pictures of every car) and to do it fairly quickly after the race (the evening of the next day at least).

In short I was taking a more photo-journalistic approach than what I’d originally intended, which was to try and take some quality photos. What’s more, other photographers at these events, in particular the in-field “official” photographers, were doing pretty much the exact same thing, and so my images were not really offering anything different.

A quick example of this can be seen in these images …

I took this photo at Hednesford last August, and the lady who runs the Legends Facebook group has used it in an album documenting the drivers and cars taking part in the 2019 season. At the time I thought this was a good picture and was struck when I looked at it anew at how ordinary it is and how I wouldn’t now have wanted to post this image as it stands. The big EXIT sign above in the background is distracting, as is the other car behind and to the right.

So here’s a crop of the above image, with background distractions taken out as far as possible. A quick and simple thing to do, so why didn’t I do it at the time?

Here’s another fairly boring and ordinary image:

And here’s the same image after some work in Photoshop:

This is more than a simple crop of course, but it shows what can be done to make an ordinary photo somewhat less ordinary.

The reason I wasn’t doing this last season is because I was putting pressure on myself to deliver a particular set of images, rather than a particular quality of image, and to deliver them within a short time period, so effectively rushing my post-processing.

This season I want to try not to do this.

I want to try looking for more creative compositions in the first instance. I now have a 25mm f/1.7 lens which gives better background blur than my 12-40mm f/2.8, so I’ll try to use that more for the shots taken in the pits, and I have a 100-400mm zoom for extended reach which I’ll try to use to capture more tightly framed shots, particularly of the drivers, either around the pits or in their cars on the grid.

I also want to try looking for better angles for some of the other standard stuff, I’m sure I can find better positions for the panning shots if I just stop for a minute and go look for them. And I want to try even slower shutter speeds than I have been trying. Again, for the sake of coming away with an acceptable amount of in focus images I’ve been letting the shutter speed creep up, I need to risk not coming away with enough images so I can force myself to try harder at the harder shots.

And I want to ensure I take more time to work on each image, so if that means delivering less images some days after the event, rather than lots straight away, so be it.

Remains to be seen whether I achieve all, or any, of this at this weekend’s race, but I’ll try!

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