© 2011 mitch Infineon Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma 2011

Practice Uncomfort

The smell of octane burning, the muffled roar of car engines through ear plugs, the blur of race cars as they fly by at break neck speed; all of these are uncomfortable to me and I love it.

I’ve always found amazing value is testing your limits, putting yourself in uncomfortable situations, and practicing adaptability. This whole journey from being a newb stealing Megs shinny new DSLR to the photographer I am today has been one big exercise in uncomfortableness.
The latest challenge was a visit to the 2011 Infineon Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma. Now I’ll admit I don’t know the first thing about motorsports photography. Sure, we chase the occasionally speeding toddler or excited bride, but nothing matches the speed of a racecar. More then that though, I don’t have the faintest idea what differentiates good motorsports photography from the great stuff.

It was an oppressively sunny day out and my instincts told me to go back home and wait for the golden hour. Unfortunately, the race coordinators dis-respectively scheduled the race to start at 2pm. No problem I guess. After a little of wandering around, I found what seemed like a reasonable place to catch the start of the race. Before to long I found myself bumping elbows with a number of seasoned track veterans. A little idle chit-chat let me know I was among some very capable photographers. A former photographer for car magazines, a track photographer, and me. So I did what I did best, admit my ignorance and ask the silly questions: “So, with track photography, how do you tell the difference between a good photograph and a great one”. They lamented, shared stores of talents long passed but most importantly, they shared one important tip for good photographs in their field; show the speed. Make sure the cars look like they are moving, in action, moving fast. Sure, with all the light out you could shoot at 1/4000th of a second and make the car look like it’s parked on the track but that’s not interesting. If you can capture the car moving, solid and sharp in the frame at 1/200th of a second (or if you’re really good, at 1/30th of second) you can capture a much more compelling picture.

Armed with that knowledge I shot and shot and shot. I practiced my panning skills and shot some more. All in all, a couple hours of shooting rendered 500 frames. Did I get any keepers? Sure, a few I’m really proud of. But what’s more important, I honed a new skill and came out of the experience with more knowledgeable. Who knows, maybe next time we have a speeding young toddler or a fleeing bride, I can use a skills honed on the track to capture an image that is unique and compelling. Or at least next time I spend some time at the track, I know I won’t seem like such a novice because I practiced uncomfort.


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