This week you’re getting one of my photography learning moments that luckily resorted in a photo I could “fix” enough to show off. It was my first time shooting a Superbike race and boy did a learn a lot.

But First…The Story Behind, The Story Behind the Photo
A while back, Scott Sheppard interviewed me over on Nik Radio. It was basically a 30-40 minute interview on how I got into photography and Photoshop, what inspires me and a bunch of other things. Here’s the link in case you missed it. Well, toward the end of the interview, we started talking about how the story behind the photo is sometimes as captivating or interesting as the photo itself. So it got me thinking about a possible series of posts here on the blog. Let’s get started:

The Photo
(click for a larger version)

Location: Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama

Date: May, 2009

The Gear

The Story
A few years ago I was telling Scott that I really love superbikes and I’ve always wanted to get one of those photos where the rider is basically laying down on a turn, with his knee touching the ground. So Scott (being the great friend that he is), got me set up to shoot a race with him a few weeks later.

The day came and we got up at the crack of dawn to catch a flight out, so we could get there in time for the race. We try to minimize our time away from families since we travel a lot for work anyway. So we planned on flying out and back in the same day. We arrived at the track (where we met our friend Jeff Rease) just as one of the qualifying rounds of the superbike race was about to start. The tracks are pretty large, and it ended up taking much longer than we thought to get into a good shooting location. But we did. Now, at this point I still thought we had a whole day of shooting. I knew we had a 6pm flight back home, but it was noon, so I figured we were good to go and lots of shooting opportunities were yet to come.

My First Learning Experience
We get into place, and I’ve got my camera set up on Aperture Priority mode with my Aperture at f/2.8. I look and my shutter speeds are anywhere from 1/1000th to 1/1500th of a second so I know I’m going to get some sharp photos. And I did. There was a turn right in front of me and I was able to get the riders basically laying down on the ground as they went around the turn. I’m thinking to myself, “Man! This is easy!”. I ran over to Scott at one point to show him and he tells me “Dude, that’s great… But… they look like they’re frozen in air. You’ve got to get your shutter speed around 1/200th – 1/250th and pan to get some motion blur in the background”. Ah!!!! It was my first time and I didn’t do my research ahead of time (and was too stubborn to ask anyone first). Basically what Scott was saying is that if you shoot moving things (like cars, planes, people, motorcycles) at too high of a shutter speed, then they look like they’re frozen. 1/1000th of a second is going to freeze everything (including the background), even if you’re panning. So it looks like the motorcycle is standing still on the track.

I Can Catch on Quick
At this point, I’m thinking no problem. I understand what he was telling me and it made total sense. I switch over to Shutter Priority, set my shutter speed to 1/250th and let the camera choose the aperture. Then I start panning with the riders. It was at this point where I realized this stuff ain’t so easy. You’re shooting a moving object while you’re moving your camera at the same time. You’ve got to get your panning motion in sync with the bike in order to keep the motorcycle and rider sharp, but blur the background so it looks like they’re moving. A lot easier said then done, but I felt like I was getting the hang of it. I had a lot of blurry photos so far, but I was honing in on getting a good shot. Then… all of the sudden… it got quiet. The qualifying race ended and I barely got the chance to try out the things I learned. No sweat… I had all day right? ;)

Did I Mention That Thunderstorms Were Forecasted That Day? You See Where This Is Going Dontcha?
One thing I forgot to mention so far is that there had been a light rain happening on and off at this point. Well, as soon as that race ended, it started raining harder so they postponed the next races (which were the smaller sport bikes, not the big super bikes that look really cool). As the day went on it became painfully clear what was happening. By the time the rain ended and they resumed the races that got postponed, we realized the next superbike race wasn’t going to happen until after we left for the airport to head back that evening. Yup… that 15 minutes of shooting that I got earlier was going to be the only 15 minutes I had that day.

The Post-Processing
Post-processing was key here. Since I didn’t have a sharp photo with the background blurred, I had to fix this one in Photoshop after the fact. I made a selection of the background and applied Photoshop’s Motion Blur filter to it. It wasn’t easy though. It takes a bit of painful brushing to get the motion blur right up against the edge of your selection and get it to look realistic. Trust me, I wasn’t proud of having to do it that way. Don’t get me wrong. I actually like post-processing work in Photoshop. I enjoy the nature of working on my photos. But, in this case, I felt like it was more of a fix to take a bad photo and make it good – rather than using Photoshop for what I prefer which is to take a really good photo and make it great. It’s like replacing skies. I’m not happy about it. But hey, if I gotta do it, I’m not above it ;)

Lessons Learned
It’s simple. Ask for help early on :)

Thanks for stopping by today. I hope you enjoyed the story. Have a good one! :)