May 25, 2014

Having Fun With Track

The two weekends before the Belmont Stakes, I will be at IHSA State Track & Field Finals. This past weekend I wasn't shooting for anyone and I went down just for fun. Next week I will be shooting the boys meet for the Chicago Sun-Times along with another photographer.

Since I had no distractions of making sure I got certain athletes, I decided that I would just have fun with it. I tried a bunch of different things and now I know what I will do for next week's meet for when I'm actually working.

I used only three lenses for the shots below, 200-400, 15mm fisheye and the 35 f/2. Some of them aren't as successful photos as the others but I was really experimenting with trying new things today. The one shot I'm the most frustrated about is the first one. That was the only race where I was standing at the finish instead of sitting or laying prone, that that would have made it better. There is also a 1-2 sequence of a remote and a handheld of the 2nd runner-3rd runner baton exchange of the 4x100.

May 18, 2014

(5-18-14) The Preakness

Right now we (Ting Shen, Brett Moist, and I) are on our way home from Baltimore. We all drove together from Chicago to shoot the Preakness for Eclipse Sportswire. I gave up on trying to sleep and now I'm going a bit loopy.

For The Preakness I got to be the head-on position which was really cool and pretty intimidating. It hasn't really sunk in that I might be witnessing one of the most amazing and rarest feats in sports. California Chrome would be the 12th horse to win the Triple Crown if he wins the Belmont Stakes on June 7th and I will be there if he wins or not.

Throughout the Preakness Day, I was all over the place, which was a much different experience than I had at the Derby. I visited the infield, helped my friend Brett Moist set up his remote at the turn for home (where I finally met Jeff Snyder of Adorama in person), shoot turf races head on while kneeling in the grass and finally shooting the Preakness from head-on.

Just like the Derby, there was some crazy exposure differences and I used the same method of setting my custom modes to different exposures but without a pan shot. Seconds before the race started clouds came in and then went away which made for a little bit of panic trying to switch the settings up.

Unlike the Derby, I had a much faster pace of responsibilities for after the race. Less than 5 seconds after all the horses passed me, I walked through the gate of the track and started running along the outer rail to the finish line. On my way to meet Scott Serio to hand over my card, I noticed someone at the edge of the rail trying to reach a pair of sunglasses that fall on to the track and was just barely out of reach, so I stopped for just a second to grab them for him and met Scott right as he was crossing the track. I had to tear down all 4 of the remotes we had used for the finish. I somehow managed to carry 4 remotes and my 2 cameras with me back to the media room through the heavy crowds. I don't think I've ever had that much gear on me before (for the tech nerds, the cameras were various bodies, but the lenses I had to carry was Canon [200-400 & 85] and Nikon [300 2.8, 70-200 2.8, and a fisheye]). There were also a few floor plates and magic arms on them.

Throughout my time working with Scott Serio at Eclipse Sportswire, I have become more comfortable with going feature hunting. This is something I have always struggled with and I'm glad to be seeing an improvement. He's been really pushing me and helping in challenging myself. I know that for the Belmont I am going to push myself harder than I ever have because I might never have another chance to shoot a Triple Crown winner, if he wins of course.

I'm glad I didn't have to do the editing on my own for deadline, below are my favorite frames in chronological order.

General features from early in the day

This photo was featured on NBC's photo gallery about the fashion at the Preakness.

General features from early in the day

One of the races before the Preakness taken next to Jeff Synder and next to Brett Moist's remote

My friend Ting Shen texted Brett Moist and I that there would be a fly over and we both scrambled to find a picture. When I took this shot I accidentally had my lips on the back of a chair so I could get the steep angle.
California Chrome ridden by Victor Espinoza on the first turn.

California Chrome ridden by Victor Espinoza crossing the finish line to win the 139th Preakness Stakes

California Chrome ridden by Victor Espinoza after crossing the finish line to win the 139th Preakness Stakes

California Chrome ridden by Victor Espinoza crossing the finish line to win the 139th Preakness Stakes

California Chrome's assistant trainer Alan Sherman reacts after winning the Preakness

May 7, 2014

9 Days in Kentucky

I'm finally mostly rested after an exhausting 9 days in Kentucky covering the Rolex Kentucky 3-Day Event, the Kentucky Derby and Oaks and working on a photo story about Churchill Downs' first Spanish speaking chaplain. First I have to give a humongous thank you to Scott Serio of Eclipse Sportswire for being so accommodating to me and giving me such amazing opportunities, that's right, more than one. My trip to Kentucky had months of preparation and research on both my end and Scott's and it really paid off.

[scroll down if you just want to look at pictures]

I had to wake up no later than 6am central time (the majority was 4am) for 11 days and I crashed really hard the night of the Derby. I was literally falling asleep while working on my previous post, I was probably asleep within a minute after finishing it. I ended up sleeping for 11 hours straight the first night I got home which was wonderful. As odd as it may sound, sleep deprivation might be good for me. I've made some great pictures the past two times I've had several days with little sleep.

I haven't really explained much of what I was shooting throughout the week so I'll explain it a bit.

I arrived in Kentucky on Friday April 25th. That night we went to a farm that had an event to promote to use of thoroughbred horses that are out of racing age (older than 3) for other equestrian events. I spent over an hour just walking through the barn and trying to bond with the horses that were there to find a connection with them. It was really important for me to understand how people and horses had a relationship.

On Saturday and Sunday we were at the Rolex Kentucky 3-Day Event. The horses and riders had to navigate a cross country course with various jumps and obstacles and complete the stadium jumping course (along with dressage that we didn't go to). The shot below of a rider crashing in the water was during the cross country event. On Saturday night we headed over to Churchill Downs to attend opening night and the revealing of the world's largest 4K screen, at 171' by 90'. I actually think it could be bigger.

Every morning from Sunday through Thursday we woke up at 5am eastern (which felt like 4am to me) to get to Churchill Downs in time for the morning workouts for the Kentucky Derby and Oaks horses. Throughout those days, we had access to the backside of the track where all the horses and workers live. The only restriction was that we couldn't walk up to the stalls that the horses were kept in. We were able to be up close when the horses were bathed after their workouts too, which was sometimes fun. Tuesday morning had the heaviest rain I have ever seen and that was pretty cool. I love shooting in bad weather for some reason.

Monday afternoon was the first time I met Chris Wong, the subject of my photo story. I spent a total of 24 hours with him from Monday through Thursday evening. You can get more in depth on that work here,

On Friday May 2nd, it was Kentucky Oaks day. It was also the day where everyone set up their remotes and marked their shooting positions for the next 36 hours. This was essentially a practice day for the Derby. At about 11am I headed up to the roof to set up two remotes and mark my shooting position. I set up a 1D Mark III (thank you Brent Lewis for supplying that) and a 70-200 at ~130mm aimed at the finish and a Nikon D3 with a 45mm tilt-shift lens aimed on the home stretch. Both were not as successful photos as my handheld 1Dx and 200-400, but they helped give different viewpoints.

On Saturday, Derby Day, with the advice from Scott Serio and Alex Evers (also working for Eclipse Sportswire), I played around with the tilt-shift lens up on the roof to find other cool things to shoot. I took a picture from every possible angle I could get myself to and eventually found myself looking at the paddock.

So for the actual Kentucky Derby I had my two remotes set up, each on a different letter channel (25, C & D) on the pocket wizard and my handheld. I had C for the tilt-shift which was to my left, and D for the finish which was on my right. Both of the remotes were on cameras where the buffer would fill up pretty quickly since I was shooting in raw. This also meant I had to have perfect timing on them. Because of that, I triggered the wizard manually from my left hand while I was shooting with the 200-400 and had to add on channel for the finish line camera.

To add another twist, I had to be ready for three different exposures during the race that I needed to change to instantly because there were three different lighting conditions (sun, shade and a pan in the shade). Luckily I know my camera very well and know a way to do that. Before the race started I set up the three different exposures in manual mode, custom mode 1 and custom mode 2. I also have the M-FN button (next to the shutter) programmed to switch between your selected mode (manual at the time) and custom shooting modes. This worked very well for me and I didn't even have to think about it, I just glanced at the meter to make sure it was an acceptable exposure just to be safe.

I handheld my 200-400 the entire race and only put it down to rest for a little bit every few minutes or so during the post-race activities. Since I had so many technical tasks to worry about, I hardly remember much about the race itself. I took only 290 frames from my handheld during the 2 minutes and 3 seconds race. I followed the horses through the entire race since I was on the roof and could see everything.

I know it's sometimes fun to hear some more technical/hands-on explanation of things, so I'm going to try something new and explain what I was doing during the Kentucky Derby and see how it goes, I'll even include some contact sheets for reference. I'll start from when the horses started walking to the paddock since that is where everything began.

-I shot every horse as they made their way from the backside to the paddock

- Once the horses got to the paddock, I ran down one level of stairs to another part of the roof with a better view of the paddock to shoot with the tilt-shift

- I ran back up a level and put the tilt-shift back on the magic arm and set the focus to the 1/8th pole

- While I anxiously waited for the race to start, I set up the three different exposures for sun, shade and panning in the shade & set the pocket wizard to 25 C
- When the Derby began, I took 2-4 pictures every second while they passed for the first time while triggering the tilt-shift remote

- Once they got in panning range, I switched to custom mode 1 and started shooting until they passed me

- I switched back to manual for the first turn, taking a few frames
- At the end of turn one, I put in the 1.4x TC
- I took about 50 frames from the end of turn one until they finished the turn for home

- I flipped out the 1.4x TC for the home stretch
- Triggered the tilt-shift when they passed the 1/8th pole
- I noticed California Chrome was starting to take the lead and got a few shots of him leading with the rest of the field in the frame

- Added channel 25 D to the pocket wizard in my left hand at about the 1/16th pole
- California Chrome entered the shade so I switched to custom mode 2
- Stayed on California Chrome through the finish and into the turn (I took about 100 frames on the final stretch)

- Once California Chrome rounded the first turn after winning, I threw back on the 1.4x TC to shoot him on his walk back and flipped it back out once he was closer
- I switched cards I was shooting to on my handheld to separate race from post-race
- I flipped the 1.4x TC back in once he was on the turf cooling off and going in to the winners circle and stayed focused on him the entire time until it was over

- I quickly took down the remotes and carried them one in each hand, threw the monopod back on the 200-400 and over my shoulder and put on my backpack and headed down to the media room
- I handed 4 cards to Scott Serio for him to edit, breathed for two seconds, packed all my gear up and then helped tear down the other remotes at ground level on the inside of the track

Below are my favorite shots from my entire time in Kentucky.

Action during the Rolex 3-Day Event

Part of my photo story on Chris Wong. I actually ran in to the adjoining room once I saw he was using the window's reflection as a mirror.

Shot during Opening night the Saturday before the Derby

The final stretch of the Derby

A horse during morning workouts when it poured

The rider got flipped over the horse when it stopped instead of jumping during the Rolex 3-Day Event

A close finish during a turf race

Tilt-shift shot before the Derby

Pan shot during the Derby

California Chrome

May 3, 2014

The 140th Kentucky Derby

I am trying to stay awake as I post this (I'm almost falling asleep just sitting here), so it will be short. Here's my take of the Kentucky Derby.

All the pictures are in chronological order.