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Photographers and Artists

Equipment Quandry

Looks like we have a few photographers and artists in our midst so here's a place to talk about all photography, art, and related subjects.

Equipment Quandry

Postby Savannah_Alan » Tue 19 Feb 2008 20:29 GMT

I've been asked this year to be the photographer at some motorcycle track day events. I was put forward for the job by a friend.

What happens is that riders pay to do a track day, I take photos and offer them for sale afterwards via a web site. Some of the people that do it already charge quite a premium for their shots.

Now, the trouble is equipment. My existing camera, while it is perfect for the sort of shooting I normally do (landscapes and pets), has a serious issue when it comes to focus tracking.
The theory is that it is supposed to latch on to a moving object in the frame and follow the focus - predicting where it will be when the shutter is actually released. That is the one flaw with this camera. I've shot bikes before and it really doesn't track well at all - leaving many out of focus shots.
Of course, in some ways, I'm telling myself that shooters managed for years before without the super auto-focus and I have experimented with pre-focusing on the track but, when there are many bikes to shoot - going past you at 100MPH+, and you're expected to get decent shots of them, the pressure is on!

This leads me on to thinking of upgrading the camera. Sensibly, this just isn't in my budget right now.
There is a new camera out - the Nikon D300, which is supposed to be an amazing piece of kit, but it's $1,800, which I simply don't have.
If I bought it, that would simply be debt. I'm not convinced yet that the work at the track would pay for it. I'm committed to doing the work because I gave my word that I would be there.

So, I have two choices: try to get by with my existing camera and risk many out of focus shots and a bad reputation, or get the new camera and hope to do a really good job so that I get more work and sell lots of photos.
I've looked into renting equipment, but the prices are exorbitant. It would be cheaper to buy the camera, use it and then sell it again - taking the hit on depreciation. As much as it would be great to have the new camera, if it wasn't for this, I'd be perfectly happy with my trusty old D70s.

What would you do? :?
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Postby Kay » Tue 19 Feb 2008 21:20 GMT

Interesting dilemma, Alan. Part of me wants to say "Wow! Good luck", and another to say, "Urm, difficult."

I'm pretty sure I understand what you're talking about - if not the exact technicalities of the focus tracking techniques required. I have a few observations and ideas. Bear with me.

1.
I take photos and offer them for sale afterwards via a web site.


This makes me uneasy. I took loads of photos in December - some of them pretty good and offered them as FREE downloads but had no takers (as far as I know). Here's an example:
http://britishexpat.com/pic-of-the-week ... mas-cutie/

I wonder how quick you could be off the mark with downloading the shots onto a laptop and small printer, using cheap photo paper, to give people a quick taster of what's on offer. That way if they want something they can take home a crappy little copy of, say, photos 62 - 65 and 104, and fill in an order form - pay a deposit! - and you deliver the bigger/better photo later.

2. OK, you weren't asking about the marketing. Is it worth buying the photo equipment?

It depends on how much confidence you have in making the money back. Will this be a nice little earner? Are there any other ways you can make the kit pay for itself? How much interest would you have to pay on a loan? Is this a one-off job or if you do well are you likely to get more of the same and make good money? How much interest do you have in this type of work? What about any friends who could lend you some kit or even help you on the assignment? Is it just about money - ie the investment in the kit? There have to be ways around that.

3. Is the website where people buy from successful in terms of selling photos?

4. Can you also use these photos to sell to other markets (probably doubtful, but you'll know better than me).

5. Are there other ways to raise $1,800 (about £900) for what you need and is that worth doing?

Sorry more questions than answers. What would I do?

If I believed in myself and my abilities to make that particular project a success, I'd go for it. If I didn't I wouldn't. :)

I did a bike event many years ago and got some good shots but it wasn't anything like the speeds or numbers you're talking about. I was still using the old Canon AE1 - good enough photos to sell to the local paper.

I dunno, Alan, but good luck!
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Postby Savannah_Alan » Tue 19 Feb 2008 23:49 GMT

Thanks Kay. As far as the business model, that's really already set up. The people at the track expect there to be a photographer - and expect that they visit a web site later on to purchase the photos, so there really isn't any marketing involved, just business cards with the URL given out on the day.

I believe I have come to a decision. I'm thinking that it would just be too rash to get myself into another $2,000 worth of debt for this.

I know that I'm risking taking a dent in my pride, but I'm just going to turn up with my existing equipment and do my best. If the shots turn out too bad, I'll suddenly experience some equipment failure which mean I lost all the shots :wink:.
There will be another photographer there, so they won't be without any shots should that be necessary. If nothing else, it'll be a test of technique versus equipment.

Pre-focus, manual focus and maximum depth of field will be the order of the day!
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Postby CustomStrat » Wed 20 Feb 2008 01:21 GMT

I think if this is something that will make you some dosh and lead to other, maybe bigger and better things, it's certainly worth having a go. I appreciate the allure of new and better gear but do you really think the D300 would really make that much difference? $2k worth?

You're already a class act as a photographer, as we all know but, as you say, you're more comfortable and confident at seeing a perfect instant in a landscape while this is totally different.

If I were shooting an event like this I'd want, at least, a mono-pod and a nice, long lens to get some distance and set the camera on aperture priority for depth of field. I'd check out the course and choose some settings where the bike will hit a particular spot, like just coming over a rise. Pre-focus on that spot and shoot as many "rounds" as you can get off as the bikes cross that spot. I think I'd also want to go for three quarter front views but, generally, just mix it up and see what works. All in all, just shoot as many photos as you can. Maybe even extra memory sticks. It's the law of averages, isn't it? The more shots you take the more chances at winners amongst the drek... :wink:
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Postby Savannah_Alan » Wed 20 Feb 2008 06:05 GMT

Thanks for your input Mike. I value your experience and opinion.

I've always been aware that the D70 comes up very short with the focus tracking. I've never been able to get a well focused shot of Sally running toward me - even at an angle.
This is even with my superb 70-200 F2.8 VR, which truly is a world-class lens.

Of course, the problem is that to get a frame-filling shot, you have to use a telephoto and that means shallow depth of field.

The D70s has nine focus points in the frame. The D300 has fifty-one!
Also, the processor is much more powerful and faster. By all accounts, the D300 is an amazing bargain as it is essentially the same camera as the $5,000 D3, just APC rather than full-frame.

I think what I'm trying to say is that yes, the D300 really is light years ahead of my D70s in so many ways. You're also getting a hell of a lot of camera for the money, but it still remains that it's outside of my sensible budget right now.

I shall, however, invest in a Nikon 1.7x converter (at about $360), This will bring my 200mm up to 360mm - 35mm equivalent of 540mm. That should give me the extra reach needed. Of course, using that will decrease my depth of field even more, cost me 1.5 stops and make focusing even more critical :?.

I'll take your advice and also invest in a decent monopod because I'll almost certainly be turning the VR off on the lens for speed. I can always just shoot panning shots with the monopod attached by lifting it off the ground with the camera (because my 70-200 is so heavy, I attach the tripod/monopod to the lens - rather than the camera).

Honestly, I'll be going in not feeling right about it all - with just my D70, but needs must and all that... Of course, it's pretty amateurish to turn up without a backup camera anyway :shock:.

Anyway, as you say, shoot as many as you can. It'll certainly be an exercise in good technique.

Out of interest, here are some shots that I took of a friend of mine with my D70:

(174k)
(131k)
(161k)
(146k)
(98k)

They're all a bit soft for my liking, but I believe they were shot with my old 55-200 (cheap) lens.
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Postby Savannah_Alan » Thu 21 Feb 2008 05:01 GMT

OK. Change of plan. A seller just accepted my offer for his Nikon D2h.

Image

The D2h is a few years old now, but was a top of the range professional camera specifically designed for sports and journalism photography.
It has amazingly quick focus tracking. One reviewer showed it taking shots of a racing car coming directly toward the photographer at 100MPH+. It fired away at 8 frames per second - perfectly in focus all the way till it reached him. This should handle the bikes OK :lol:.

As an added bonus, this has a lot of pro features - including the ability to wirelessly upload your shots to a laptop computer as you're shooting. Yep, you can take the shot and a few seconds later see it appear on the laptop screen. Very cool 8).

Now, don't be too shocked by this: It's 4.01MP. They purposely kept the size down so as to get the frame rate and large buffer size. 4MP is perfectly adequate for the work I'm looking at.

As it's getting quite old now, and the new cameras have been released, it's available at a good price. The guy just accepted my offer of $650. That's a bit better 8). As most of the depreciation has already happened, if I decided to sell it on, or recoup my investment, I'd stand to lose very little.

Of course, the D300 (or even the D3) would be great, but that's for the future when I've got the money together.

At least I'll feel better equipped for the track now!
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Postby Dave » Thu 21 Feb 2008 06:32 GMT

Good stuff, Alan - glad to hear you got yourself kitted out, even if it's not what you originally had in mind!

Any chance of us seeing some of the results you get? :wink:
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Postby Savannah_Alan » Thu 21 Feb 2008 09:09 GMT

Thanks Dave. I just hope it all arrives in time now (Camera, monopod, teleconverter and memory cards).

Yes, I'll post a link to some pictures (providing it all comes together :wink: ).
I've been looking at some sample images from this camera. It's amazing what 4MP can do!

Alan.
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Postby Kay » Thu 21 Feb 2008 09:09 GMT

Great! I'm quite relieved to hear this as I didn't like the idea of you taking on a job without having equipment you were happy with.

I know you're a good photographer but you still need to have the right kit for the job. I'm a good cook but there's not much I can do without knives or pots (or ingredients!).

This D2h sounds pretty good. The age doesn't matter, I guess a lot of the newer cameras have a lot of features which one would never use anyway. If I were to need to go back to film for any reason, I'd still be happy with my ancient Canon AE1. :D BTW, I also have a Box Brownie - just as an ornament, I've never used it.
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Postby Savannah_Alan » Thu 21 Feb 2008 09:22 GMT

Thanks Kay. Yes, I must admit that I wasn't feeling good about it - trying to make do with my trusty old D70s.
As I said, the D70s is a great camera - and I'm sure I'll use it until it dies, but it only has one major failing - focus tracking - and that is exactly what is required for this job :lol:.

This one is apparently in excellent condition. The shutter is rated for between 150,000 and 200,000 actuations. This one has just had a new shutter 670 shots ago 8). The owner describes it as a "machine gun".

It'll also help with my dog photography. Hopefully, I'll be able to capture the buggers when they're running about now!
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Postby Trev » Thu 21 Feb 2008 20:26 GMT

Savannah_Alan wrote:
They're all a bit soft for my liking


Have to admit Alan that I thought they lacked a bit of sparkle, just didn't seem to be up to your usual standard.
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Postby Kay » Thu 21 Feb 2008 21:06 GMT

I'm looking forward to seeing some shots from the new camera.

(Vested interest - they'll be up for grabs as the next POTW. :twisted: )

Dunno if I agree with you, Trev. I thought some of these examples were pretty good. I was wondering if it might be possible - if you got 12 shots of a rider to make a calendar out of it, or postcards...
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Postby CustomStrat » Sat 23 Feb 2008 05:27 GMT

I agree with Kay; they look pretty darned good to me. Capturing a sense of speed and movement and energy. Not bad at all.

I'm sure if that's what you can do with your D70 the D2h will only add further potential to your arsenal. And your confidence in your equipment will make a big difference to the quality of the end results. I have no doubt.
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Postby ruggie » Sat 1 Mar 2008 18:11 GMT

The D2h should be great for what you're after. Lucky break, even if it's still quite a wad of money.

If I'd been in your position and had to stay with the D70, I'd have gone back to what I did with both the AE-1 and the F65 - concentrate on nearly head-on pics and lie down on the ground to get dramatic angles. Remember the Land Cruiser pic I've just posted here ? However, I have to admit that I only got a very small percentage focused like that, with the front the only sharp bit. Too many times, the focus point ended up halfway down the side of the car....


Only problem is, I'd be more scared that a biker posing on a paid track day might lose it than I ever was about off-roaders riding in ruts...
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Postby ruggie » Sat 1 Mar 2008 18:29 GMT

The best of you sample pics is the last but one, which gives some clues about solutions to your problem if you hadn't found the D2h:

- nicely panned, the background softened by the blurring
- low shooting position makes a more dramatic pic
- because you were on the inside of the bend, the distance from you to the rider changed more slowly, allowing the D70 to handle it.

However, bikers will want low angle front view, knee-on-the-ground pics as part of the mix...

Have fun.
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