It's interesting sometimes to look back at things you've done in the past and see where you were at, where you are now and where you are headed in the future. I did this just recently I was looking for something here on my blog and I re-read my post about when I bought my very first Nikon DSLR camera, only 3 years ago. I feel that I've now learnt enough to give you a few insights into my photography journey.
I had to laugh at what I wrote back then. "Shutter priority, Aperture priority, what's it all mean". Haha I was so green back then. That's what phones and point and shoot cameras do to you.
I had absolutely no idea what I was doing then, why would I? I'd never used a proper camera before and didn't know anything. The very first 5 or 6 photos I took with the camera came out totally black. You couldn't see anything. The first few motorcycle photos I took, I now look at and laugh at how bad they actually were. This first one shows the bike completely stationary. No wheel blur or motion blur of any kind, shutter speed must have been really high. You can see the holes in the disc and the rims are completely stopped.
The other problem with most of those first few photos I took was also that there was really bad vignetting in the photos. Vignetting is the darking in the corners of the photos. This is sometimes a popular filter on phone camera apps now but seeing it on a DSLR/mirrorless camera is just user incompetence really. I was so bad. Luckily I didn't know any better.
We all had to start somewhere right, just like riding really. We weren't all superbike racers when we bought a superbike but we all felt like one. So what does one do in this day and age when they want to learn something new at a self learning pace stopping short of enrolling in a paid course? I did what most people do these days and turned to the university of YouTube. I tell you, there is every kind of video on there about every subject. You just have to search for it and it is there.
So I spent the next 18 months to 2 years snapping off shots and wondering how to improve them. There were plenty of failures and a few triumphs, no not he motorcycle type. Lots of practise and patience helps with plenty of tutorials on how to do things.
Fast forward from then to now. So I mentioned earlier in my St George Motorcycle club summer series racing article that I'd updated some of my gear.
This is probably the hardest thing in photography to master, apart from getting your settings and exposure correct in camera. Although software can help with the later bit. Software however cannot help you make a better composition and that is critical between an snapshot and a great image.
This is the thing I seem to struggle with the most, trying to see a composition. If I take my camera on a ride I usually only have less than a minute or so at each stop to get something. Sometimes I get something, lots of times I fail. That's how photography goes. There are so many things that can affect a composition. You can take the same image at different times. One will be great and the other average in comparison. How you might ask? Lighting is everything in photography. Taking images when its cloudy or in the middle of the day under harsh sunlight can ruin images, where if you take the same image near sunrise/sunset during golden hour can completely transform the image into something amazing. It's unfortunate that most of my bike riding activities are during the day and we try to be off the road well before dark and I hardly ever see a sunrise.
The other thing that I've found can help a lot is different angles compared to just taking shots at head height. Getting down low to the ground can produce some good results. But at the end of the day it's all a little bit of trial and error and a bit of luck.
A few extra bits of equipment I bought were a Sirui P-326 monopod. It's made of carbon fibre so is really light and has a collapsible leg so you can adjust for any height. The 200-500mm F5.6 lens I'd bought a while back is so heavy to hold up for long periods of time. So a monopod fit the bill there. You can't really pan well with a monopod but you can hold the camera very still whilst still doing short movements and slight pans. For fast panning I just take it off but its very helpful.
I also got a Black Rapid sports strap to help carry the camera and lense. It's really good quality and it attaches to he tripod collar of the lense and you can free up your hands for something else as the camera hangs down by your hip, nice and easy to get at.
I'd been looking at getting some faster glass. I had some long zoom lenses like the Nikon 200-500m F5.6 and the Tamron 70-200mm F2.8 G2 but for anything shorter than that I only had the kits lense that came with the camera(18-140mm F3.5 - F6.3), which wasn't all that great to be honest.
So during the covid lock down I ordered a Tamron 24-70mm F2.8 G2 lense. Its another fast piece of glass, large and heavy for such a small focal length. It's half the price of the Nikon lense of the same size.
Equipment wise what's the best thing you can do as a photographer? Glass as the Pro's say. A good camera with shitty glass will take average photos, a shitty camera with good glass can take great photos. I'd realised this taking photos at night at SMSP during the night racing and the importance of full frame cameras. High aperture lenses like the F5.6 don't do very well at all at night. I did notice some chromatic aberration on some colours during the night racing. Software helped in fixing up a few of those issues. Perhaps that's why the Nikon lenses cost so much more.
APS-C cameras with their smaller sensor are just nowhere near as capable as the full frame cameras in low light. For those not in the know, a Full frame camera has a larger sensor size which is equivalent to a 35x24mm film camera, an APSC sensor is smaller at 22x14mm which means it's easier for a full frame camera to capture light, with better ISO capabilities, however they are usually more expensive. Everything is a trade off. Below shows the physical difference in sensor size, APSC on the left, Full frame on the right.
|Photo by https://digital-photography-school.com/|
One benefit of the APSC sensor is that it has a crop factor, or in layman's terms the image is zoomed by 1.5 times for Nikon and 1.6 for Canon cameras. The following image you can see the difference in a Full frame sensor to a APSC sensor. This can be beneficial for sports photography so that your lense length is multiplied by 1.5. So my 200-500mm Nikkor lense is the equivalent of a 300-750mm lense on a full frame camera although it's still only up to 500mm physically.
A good full frame camera can be anywhere between 4-6K, top end pro bodies are around 10K. Good glass can cost anywhere up to 20K. Yeah that's as much as a new Motorcycle. Check this 120-300mm F2.8 Nikkor lense. I'd love to own that lense but sadly haven't won the lottery recently so just a dream. I could buy a new motorcycle for $15K.
A CAMERA UPDATE
I was happy with my camera except with the amount of missed shots at the track. The focus system is ok but not the best. A pro body was needed so that I wasn't taking thousands of photos just to get a few good ones. With the D500 the focus system is so much better. I would say that at a shutter speed of 1/160 sec my D7500 was getting about 10-20% photos in focus whilst the D500 was getting about 50-60%. That's a huge difference in editing time not having to sift through so many photos. The camera could also take 10 frames per second over the 8 frames on the D7500. The D500 is a beast.
|Left D7500 with 24-70mm F2.8, Right D500 Pro Body with 70-200mm F2.8|
Andrew don't even ask about the auto setting on the new camera. It does not have one. Photo below of the command dials. D500 at top, D7500 below. Green auto sign clearly visible on the D7500. D500 is pro body and no Auto setting.
I found it was pretty difficult photographing bikes racing at night. Looking at the back screen of the camera and zooming in on the photo on the LCD looks pretty good. Once you get home and load them up on the PC is when you really get to see how good they were. Following photo shows the photo looks ok.
The D500 did much better in the focusing department luckily but there are still limitations in what it can do.
One of the best pieces of advice I could give anyone is to shoot in RAW format instead of Jpeg. There is so much more data available in the RAW file, 14 bit compared with on 8 bit for Jpeg, so your throwing away half the data straight away shooting Jpeg. I only ever shoot in RAW now and never shoot in JPEG. There is just so much more you can do with the files in RAW format during processing, if they are not 100% right in camera they can be fixed in post. It's one thing I learned early on once taking up DSLR photography. Taking the shots is only half the battle, the other half is editing them to make them look good.
I also recently was offered a job taking photos for MotoDNA rider training here in Sydney. I was pretty excited to be asked however I eventually had to turn it down as 90% of their riding training days are on weekdays which doesn't align with my real world job that pays the bills. A part time photography job ain't going to cut the mustard with Sydney prices.
A SOFTWARE UPDATE
I was using Photoshop elements 17 which is a bit clunky and hard to use and didn't really have any filters or smart AI. It also couldn't read my RAW files from my D7500, so I began to look around for a decent editing program. Seems like Adobe Lightroom is the go to program for photographers. However there's one problem with that. Adobe went to a subscription service where you pay by the month to rent the software. Stop paying and you have no software. I don't really like that model where you pay and don't own the software so I went looking around.
I saw a great YouTube channel about adobe alternatives by Joseph Cristina called Adobe cutting the cord. He basically runs through all the alternative software programs to Photoshop and Lightroom and compares the features of each. I found it very insightful.
Here are some links for Photoshop and Light Room alternative programs. Click the link to open in a new window.TOP 5 Best Adobe Lightroom CC Alternatives Life After Adobe
I choose ON1 Raw as my editing software and couldn't be happier. I tried Capture One, Darktable and Luminar4 and it was too slow and buggy but had some really good features. I didn't see the image tears that Joseph found but it still had a few annoying bugs. ON1 Raw was much better and only cost $99 on special last Christmas 2019.
ON1 Raw has plenty of presets and filters that you can use for your photos and it also has a smart AI feature that at the click of a button you can adjust the colours and tones in your image. I use this quite often it's really good.
I have no affiliation or sponsorship from ON1, I just like their software and pricing model. You can trial it for 14 days free.
A PC UPDATE
I did find though that my PC had slowed down quite a bit, I'm running a Windows 10 i7 machine with 8GB RAM and 1 GB HDD. ON1 was taking about 3-4 minutes to start and about 5 minutes to close. So I went out and upgraded to 16 GB RAM and put in an 500 MB SSD drive for about $150. The SSD is also so small in comparison to a HDD. I put a 10c coin on the box for scale. I was shocked at how fast my PC ran after the upgrade for so little money outlayed.
I still need to buy a 1 or 2 TB SSD to replace my other HDD, but that starts getting expensive once jumping up to 2TB so maybe a little later I'll update that one. ON1 Raw now opens in about 10 seconds and closes in about 5 seconds. My PC now starts in about 15 seconds where it took more than a minute. The speed of the SSD drive is fantastic. Best upgrade ever, I'd highly recommend anyone to upgrade from a hard disk to a solid state drive.
It's made working in ON1 easy now rather than the chore it was becoming because the PC was so slow.
So where is this all leading? Who knows really, I'm enjoying photographing bike racing but I can't see myself wanting to do weddings or portraits anytime soon, perhaps some nude girls hahahahah.
I just finished photographing my first ASBK event which I've put up some photos on my facebook page which was pretty exciting, meeting a whole new bunch of professional photographers and seeing the inner workings of an event like that its pretty awesome. Man they have some crazy expensive gear. But I'm pretty happy where I'm at right now, selling a few images here and there, no pressure with all the fun.