Saturday, May 29, 2010

2010 American Le Mans

As promised, here's one example of a shot taken with the Canon 500 mm (and Tom, this one's for you!). On the plus side, image quality, clarity and sharpness were top-notch. On the minus side, it's heavy and somewhat unwieldy. I also found that, for Laguna at least, it didn't add enough over the 400 mm in getting really close to the action, except for the times when it was too much and I'd have been better off with something of shorter focal length! Anyway, worth the exercise in renting it, even if it meant I used it far too much, shooting with it even when it patently made no sense to do so!

The racing? It was OK, but there were far too many incidents throughout the day, resulting in way too much time spent running behind the safety cars. This seems to be an all too common aspect of racing here, especially the ALMS races.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Big Guns: Canon's Canon

Since the 2010 American Le Mans series is rolling into town this weekend, I thought I'd take the opportunity go and cover some racing. It's been two years since I was at this event last so I'm looking forward to seeing what's new. But I also have another mission - to try out the beast shown above. Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to the Canon 500mm f4 lens. This bouncing, 8 lb baby, would run you some $6,000 if you fancied owning one, which is precisely why I'm renting it for the weekend. Stick it on the front of the 1D Mk IV and now you are hefting around some 11 lbs of kit just for this one combination, setting aside all the other stuff one usually ends up carrying up and down the hill behind turn 7 to the Corkscrew.

I'll let you know how it goes ... pictures to follow sometime next week, though maybe not until we get back from Yosemite.

Monday, May 17, 2010

San Francisco At Night #5

OK, into the home straight. Final stop on the tour was Treasure Island, shooting back towards the Embarcadero. Getting pretty late by now so time was a bit short. Above is yer basic long-exposure shot with the bridge on the left leading the eye towards some buildings towards the right. What I should have done was turn this into a panorama and shoot the next two parts, adding in recognisable landmarks like Ciot Tower and the Transamerica building. However, by the time I realised that this would have been a good thing to do it was already time to leave.

(Interestingly, given that it was by then knocking on 1 am, there were still quite a few people around, though I use the term "people" quite lightly. Actually, "jackasses in crappy cars" is nearer to the truth. But I digress.)

Overall, a very worthwhile workshop and one I'd recommend, both in terms of the advice available and as a way of finding new and interesting places to shoot from.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

San Francisco At Night #4

After a brief refueling stop for coffee and a snack it was time to head to the Embarcadero. This is a location I've shot from before so no great surprises here. The photographic opportunity is to shoot the Bay Bridge with some old pilings in the foreground and, because it's night, the lights of Oakland in the background.

Despite the darkness, this set-up actually works quite well because there's enough light spill from the roadway to illuminate the pilings sufficiently to allow them to be balanced against the skyline and lights on the bridge itself.

There is, though, one challenge: light temperature. Frankly, it's all over the map but with a heavy dose of sodium vapor just to turn everything green. I was able to back most of that out but then had to ease off slightly to warm things up a little.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

San Francisco At Night #3

OK, next up on our nocturnal tour of San Francisco was Lombard Street, but just the famous bit - you know, the very twisty piece snaking down an overly-steep hillside? The obvious night shot is of car lights winding down the hill, pulling the eye towards the city skyline in the distance, and mostly that's what's duly shown above!

The not-so-obvious picture is just using Lombard as a context for some other shot, such as here where I just liked the juxtaposition of the chimneys, cathedral window and Transamerica pyramid building.

I actually like both of those approaches here, though the arrangement of the latter shot could, I now see, have been much better, and the former is made more challenging by ugly street lamps and sign posts. Regardless - it was an interesting stop!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

San Francisco At Night #2

From Baker Beach we moved but a short distance to the headlands right above. This gives a "look down" sort of view onto the bridge and is a location I'd like to go back to when a) it's not blowing a gale and b) there's some fog to soften things down and make for a more interesting feel to the place. Even so, it was a worthwhile stop, even if the strong winds made getting a clear shot somewhat difficult. And yes, this is all somewhat of an excuse to try and explain why I'm only posting the above picture, made by zooming the 70 - 200 mm lens while the shutter was open. I have some others I may get round to working on but nothing really "grabby".

Monday, May 10, 2010

San Francisco At Night

As duly mentioned last week, S and I went up to San Francisco on Friday evening to do a night-time photography course. The schedule called for a 6 pm start at Baker Beach and from there to shoot 4 or 5 locations in and around the city, ending up back at the starting point sometime after 1 am.

I haven't yet processed all of the pictures I came back with, and that's despite taking fewer than normal thanks largely to the extended exposure times making that decision for me! And as always, from even a cursory glance at those I did take then I now see all the pictures I should have spotted instead of the ones I actually took. Sigh. Nevertheless, a very worthwhile and instructional session, well organized and run by the Aperture Academy in Campbell.

Background now duly set, the above was from the beginning of the evening, taken on Baker Beach. We again found ourselves out shooting in the midst of strong winds, a problem magnified five-fold at the next stop! Still, at 7 pm it wasn't yet too cold on the shoreline and the wind did at least move the tops of the waves around to provide a bit more visual interest.

Others, though, are clearly made of hardier stuff than I, including the large naked bloke who was wandering around in and out of the water. He seemed harmless enough, and indeed was quite chatty to some of the female course attendees, but judging by what was being displayed, I'm not sure he had much reason to be parading it all around (though I'm sure he'd just claim it was all down to the cold weather.)

San Francisco, eh? Tch.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

BMW Runflat Blues

Those of you residing in the Bay Area will doubtless have noticed just how bad the pot holes have been on the highways and byways of Silicon Valley this year. Not only are there more of them, but they have been deeper and more aggressive than ever, leading to an interesting phenomenon - the canny commuter. Those of us driving the same roads everyday soon learn where the really bad ones are and hence we'll steer round them. It's easy to spot the locals, therefore, because they are the ones weaving back and forth in their chosen lane, for all the world looking as though they are playing some weird version of Frogger. And just like Frogger, mistakes have consequences, especially when you venture outside of terra cognita.

A couple of weeks ago, we hit a huge pot hole somewhere between San Francisco and home, I think it was, with the kind of thump that has you crying out in sympathy for what the poor offside front wheel just went through. When stopped, I jumped out and took a quick look but didn't see anything immediately amiss. With a sigh of relief, we headed onwards ...

Fast forwards to Monday of this week and the Beemer was in the garage for a check up, mostly to see why it was low on coolant. Ultimately, no particular issue was found on that front but while waiting for the dealer to open I did notice a large bulge that had developed in the sidewall of the offside front. Hmm, don't like the look of that. I then went round to inspect the other front tyre and saw a weird wear pattern had developed on the outside shoulder. This wasn't going to be good, which in a garage translates into "that's not going to be cheap, sir".

Despite being runflats, and hence having stiffer sidewalls than normal tyres, that pot hole had nevertheless comprehensively broken that tyre and ruined the suspension alignment, thereby buggering its rubbery chum on the other side. You know where this is going, right? Low-profile runflats; German; dealer has your car up on jacks ....

4 new runflats (rears were anyway getting low after 26,000 miles), suspension alignment and taxes ran me $1,800. Gulp.

If you reckon on how many other drivers that hole must have caught out, it would probably be cheaper for us all to chip in for its repair, thereby saving California the problem of finding enough loose change down the back of CalTran's sofa in order to pay for patching it.

No wonder I cried out at the time - it was just a practice run for receiving the eventual bill. I guess I never was much good at video games, Frogger included.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Heads Up

Just a warning - off to do some night shooting this weekend so there's a fair chance that this will continue to look like a photo blog for a bit longer yet. However, on the plus side then it's almost time for the American Le Mans series to roll into Laguna Seca at the end of the month so by June at least you'll get a break from the landscape/cityscape shots!