Daily Photo – Crit Motion Blur

Here’s another shot from the ATT Crit in Austin earlier in the summer. This is during the final race, after the sun had already gone down. There simply wasn’t enough light to work with, even at the extremes: max ISO, almost wide open, slow shutter speed. Not exactly ideal for a sports event.


  • Shutter: 1/60
  • Aperture: f/2.0
  • ISO: 6400
  • Camera: Canon EOS 1d mIII
  • Lens: Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM


Composition and Processing

  • Due to the shutter limitations, I had been trying panning shots. But after a while I kind of got bored with that and decided to reverse things: blurred subject and static background. I liked the way these fans had lined up on the construction barricade across the street, and thought the extra light from the walkway would help highlight the riders. I could have taken this shot against a simpler background, but having the fans in there made the shot less one-dimensional.
  • The motion blur itself was a bit tricky: I needed just the right amount of blur to imply motion, but not so much you couldn’t identify what it was. On top of that, I didn’t want to obscure the fans too much. 1/60 turned out to be the right shutter speed, but it took a lot of shots to get a lone cyclist in just the right position in the frame.
  • I tilted the shot to the right to increase the feeling of action and speed (downhill, essentially). That’s a pretty straigtforward technique. Fortunately I had enough room to do it without losing too much of the cyclist.

September 12 2008 | Photography | No Comments »

Daily Photo – BMX Aptos

This shot was taken back in April, during a family visit to Aptos, California. There’s a large dirt lot at one end of town frequented by BMX riders, although on this day over 50 of them descended on the site for an informal competition of sorts. The riders were top notch — which probably explains the 30+ photographers also in attendance (and we’re not talking cell phone cameras here…L lenses were de rigueur).

I only had 20 minutes to shoot, but the frequency and quality of the action allowed me to get a few good images. The action in this particular shot isn’t terribly interesting, but I liked the camera angle and lighting.


  • Shutter: 1/4000
  • Aperture: f/4
  • ISO: 200
  • Camera: Canon EOS 1d mIII
  • Lens: Canon EF 24-70 f/2.8L USM (at 70mm)


Composition and Processing

  • Most of the photographers were trying to catch something from the side that more clearly showed what the rider was doing. I had plenty of those shots and was getting a little tired of that, so I tried to line up dead on with the riders in such a way I wouldn’t also get run over. I also wanted to catch them less than vertical, so I positioned near a small bank turn that followed a large ramp. They weren’t doing much in the turn besides catch a little air, but that was enough to isolate the rider and get this fairly tight shot.
  • If you’ve been reading these (semi) daily photo posts, you’ve probably noticed a tendency for me to shoot dark. Part of that’s habit — shooting sports or low light, I tend to push the camera to the limits of ISO, shutter and aperture that I’m comfortable with. I’m so used to darker images being standard that as long as the histogram isn’t clipped (much), I tend to be shoot underexposed even if it’s unnecessary. The remarkable shadow detail of the 1d mIII only encourages it. In this case I had a little more latitude with ISO (would’ve been fine up to 800), but I didn’t want to be any wider than f/4 because of the depth of the bike. I also wanted to shoot at 1/4000 because I didn’t know the sport and wanted to be sure the images were crisp. The histogram for the original is actually nowhere near clipping at either end.
  • Amping the contrast and converting to black and white really separated the rider from the background and accentuated the strong side lighting. I considered going to an all white background, but without the faded buildings in the back the rider would have appeared more vertical in the frame.
  • With the way the rider was turning his arms and shoulders, I wanted to get him closer to the right edge of the frame. But I had no room to work with on the left, and I didn’t like how it looked if I cropped into the subject itself. So I shortened the height of the image and narrowed it as much as I dared without turning it into column. It’s still a bit skinny, but tolerable.

August 07 2008 | Photography | No Comments »

Daily Photo – ATT Crit 2008

This shot was taken at the ATT Crit in Austin on June 21st, the longest day of the year. Four square blocks are cordoned off downtown and crowds gather to watch riders loop around the short 1k course throughout the day. There are seven races total, each lasting for a fixed amount of time (40 – 75 min depending on the category). I only had an opportunity to shoot the last couple races, but the course conveniently runs in front of my apartment.

This particular shot was taken during the Women’s Pro race, as the light was fading from the day, on the corner of 2nd and Guadalupe. Despite a number of tall buildings in and around the area, there’s really nothing obstructing the view (yet) when you face west down 2nd. I could tell the sun was going to line up perfectly down the street, so I waited as long as possible before positioning myself on the northeast corner.

The riders were cutting the corner pretty tight — it’s not obvious in this shot, but they’re actually leaning over the curb. I was looking for some sort of backlit composition, with the sun poking through the spokes or the racer’s handlebars, so I sat on the ground as close as I felt comfortable and held the camera out from my body towards the racers as they zipped by (probably about two or three feet from them). I zoomed out as wide as I could: 16mm, which was effectively 21mm on the 1d due to the 1.3x crop.

I chose the 1d over the 1ds for this shot for two reasons: first, the speed of the riders meant I really wanted to do this at 10fps. I was basically just holding down the shutter and letting it fly (with AI Servo set), hoping I’d get enough in focus with the 10fps drive speed. Second, even though I was shooting into the sun, the riders themselves were pretty dark in silhouette at the 1/1600 I felt I needed to shoot at. So that meant a higher ISO, and the 1d is about 1 stop better from a noise standpoint than the 1ds. I gave up a lot of pixels though (10mp vs. 21mp).

The shot is actually a touch soft for my liking — I probably should have shot at 1/2500 or higher and ISO 1600 instead.


  • Shutter: 1/1600
  • Aperture: f/2.8
  • ISO: 800
  • Camera: Canon EOS 1d mIII
  • Lens: Canon EF 16-35 f/2.8L II USM (at 16mm, but an effective 21mm with the crop)

Final Shot:

Original Shot:


  • The racers were still too dark, so I pushed up the Exposure slider up a couple stops (+1.71), and tried to bring some of the highlights back with Recovery (+13). But having the sun blown out behind the racer was kinda the point of the shot, so I wasn’t too worried about that.
  • I lazily hit the Medium Contrast setting in the Tone Curve and was comfortable with that. Honestly, for a lot of shots that setting is close enough it’s not worth tweaking the individual sliders; unless it looks too contrasty or there’s a specific problem with the highlights or shadows in the scene, I usually do that and move on.
  • The image was too warm for my liking, so I dropped the temperature from 5800 to 5095.
  • Adjusted Blacks by +4. I could have increased Blacks by more, but I though I might do some stuff in Photoshop where I’d lose some detail in the shadows, so I left myself some room.
  • Cropped it and sent it to Photoshop.


  • I’ve been doing a lot of tinkering in Photoshop with the Nik Color Efex plug in, and I thought their bleach bypass effect might wash the image out in a way that matched the strong backlighting. The resulting image was a bit high key — I lost detail in both the highlights and shadows — but I liked what it did to skin tones and the racer’s outfits. That’s all I did — back to Lightroom.


  • I did some very subtle changes that were so small I’m not even sure they were noticeable: Vibrance +5, Clarity +4, Orange Saturation +5, Red Saturation +5. It’s easy to get carried away with Clarity and Vibrance, but unless you have a specific look in mind, I think they make the image appear too artificial above +10.
  • I ran the Vignette slider down to -40. I didn’t want the shot to have a strong vignette, but this was just enough to darken the edges and draw a little more attention to the lead racer.
  • I still had a little room to play with the shadows after coming back from Photoshop, so I moved the Darks slider down -5 in the Tone Curve.
  • Lastly, I sharpened the image as much as I could without halos showing up (+27, left everything else default). Still not sharp enough, but probably ok at small sizes.

While I would have liked a sharper image and a slightly different sun position, I’m still fairly pleased with the end result.

July 27 2008 | Photography | No Comments »