Racing at the Alpenrose Velodrome

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I’ve been an avid cyclist for a couple of decades now. I’ve participated and spectated almost every kind of bicycle race, but until recently I had never had the chance to watch track racing at a velodrome. This is mostly due to the small number of velodromes in the US, which is around 28 (for comparison, the United Kingdom also has around 28 velodromes, but is less than 1/10 the size of the US).

Around the turn of the last century (1900), velodromes and track racing were much more popular. In fact, many people don’t know that it was huge in New York City, regularly appearing at the Madison Square Garden:

“Another notable use of the first Garden was as a velodrome, an oval bicycle racing track with banked curves. At the time, bicycle racing was one of the biggest sports in the country. “[T]he top riders [were] among the sports stars of their day. The bike races at Madison Square Garden were all the rage around the turn of the 20th century.”[4] Madison Square Garden was the most important bicycle racing track in the United States and the Olympic discipline known as the Madison is named after the original Garden.”

While we were living in Portland, I had the chance to attend the regional championship races at Alpenrose Velodrome. Alpenrose is an outdoor track, made from concrete. It is on the property of Alpenrose Dairy, a family owned dairy business.

Trying to follow the races is not always easy the first time you are at a velodrome. There are different (and confusing) formats with individual races, team races, points races, and specialty races such as the “Keirin” and the “Madison” in which pair up in a tag-team format. Riders “sling” their teammate forward to facilitate alternating sprints that keep the pace very high during typically long races (30 km or 19 miles, or more, compared to 3–10 km or 1.9–6.2 mi for most other races).  Since partners can trade as often as they like, this is a very busy race format, with half of the racers racing and half circulating around the track at any time.

The really great thing about these races, from a photographer’s standpoint, is that you are free to roam almost anywhere you want. You can’t get on the track itself, but you can be within a few feet of where the riders are passing by. This makes for some really great chances to show the excitement and intensity of the racers. It’s also interesting in that sometimes the racers are going as fast as humanely possible, but other times they are not quite going all out and are looking around at their competition and trying to figure out their strategy.

Here are a few more images from the weekend:

img_4489-2 img_4537-2 img_4605-2Thanx for listening!!

AL

Flat Track Racing at Aztalan Raceway in Wisconsin

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I enjoy shooting any type of sports…and if it happens to involve some kind of racing….that enjoyment turns to love. Running, riding, driving…if it moves, count me in!
A few weeks ago I found myself in Milwaukee for the weekend with nowhere to be and plenty of spare time. As I was driving up to Devil’s Lake State Park (a place that I’ve wanted to check our for a long time) I happened to drive by Aztalan Motorcycle Complex and see that they had an event going on both Saturday and Sunday. After a bit of hiking and photographing at Devil’s Lake, I hightailed it back to Aztalan where I arrived in time to catch some of the Flat Track (or Short Track) racing program on Saturday night.
I quickly parked my truck in the camping area (gotta love free camping in the pits of the motocross track!) and gathered my gear and headed for the Flat Track. As I approached they had kids racing four wheel ATV’s and I found a place in the fence that had a hole just large enough to get my lens through. Each time another race started, I changed my position on the track and was able to get a different angle or view of the racers.
As they started the heat races and main events, the light was getting better and the racing more intense. The motorcycles came out and I was totally blown away by the lack of control it seemed the racers had over the machines. As I watched more racing, I came to understand that they actually had total control, it just didn’t look like it!
As you can see by the first photo, riders would slide through the corners by applying the throttle halfway through the corner and allow the rear wheel to spin a little as a way to come out of the corner faster.

I love shooting action with a panning motion to really accentuate the blur of the background. Panning seems like a such a simple thing….yet it can be extremely hard to accomplish without a lot of practice. For me, I usually end up with about a 50% success rate when shooting like this.

Also, I couldn’t not include a shot of the little kids that were racing motorcycles on the flat track. Just too cute…..

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Thanx for listening!

 

AL

Desert Dweller

IMG_4924My wife and I were recently in Morocco for a few weeks exploring the country. We did a large clockwise route around the country, and we spent a couple of days near the town of Merzouga, in the Erg-Chebbi Dunes.

On the night that we arrived, we walked out into the dunes from our hotel to see if maybe there would be a decent sunset. The hotels are situated mere feet from the dunes, and between the hotel and the dunes was a group of camels that are used for camel treks into the dunes.

As we walked out into the dunes, a couple of guys that I guessed were camel handlers started walking towards us, and when they got near one of them asked where we were from (this is the favorite way for Moroccans to engage tourists, and we were probably asked this question hundreds of times in the days that we were there). He spoke a little English, and a little Spanish (which my wife is fluent in) and we talked a bit as the four of us walked into the dunes. I was keeping one eye on the sunset (which never occurred due to high winds kicking up too much sand and blocking out the sunset) while listening to the conversation. We finally reached a point where I could tell that I wouldn’t be taking any photographs, and we stopped walking and stood talking for a few minutes.

That’s when the sales pitch started….

Tourists are seen as a way to make a living in Morocco. Not unlike everywhere else in the world. Unemployment is huge, and there aren’t a ton of ways to make money. This makes for some very uneasy conversations…… There wasn’t a single person that started a conversation with us that didn’t ask us to buy something, or come right out and ask for money. At first, it was hard to say no. By the end of the trip however, we found it extremely easy to ignore a friendly “hello”, because we knew it would lead to a conversation about $$$.

Our two “friends” that accompanied us into the desert had some fossils and handicrafts for sale. Morocco is huge when it comes to crystals and fossils, and there are shops and roadside stands everywhere in the desert that have shelf upon shelf of them.

In the end, we bought one thing from each of the men that we were talking to. Naturally, I asked to photograph them (I now considered them paid models) and this image of the older man that spoke no english is one of my favorites of the trip.

Plenty can be said when it comes to tourism, and paying people to photograph them. I don’t always think it’s a good idea, but sometimes I feel it’s appropriate. Everyone is trying to make a living….just like me. Some people will say that you should never give $$$ to anyone that you photograph, but if models get paid here in the US, why is it wrong to pay them abroad?

A few times on this trip I was yelled at for taking photos of fisherman in one of the villages that we were in. I wasn’t happy, but I put my camera away. No need to get into an argument when there were about 100 fisherman and just one of me. I wanted to explain that the tourists taking pictures of them were the same tourists that were buying meals at the restaurants that they sold their fish to….but it’s probably a moot point for them. They just don’t want to be photographed, regardless.

It’s always interesting to see what happens when you start pointing a camera at people. Some people shy away, some people love it…..while others see it as a way to make money.

In the end, we bought some souvenirs from some guys that obviously could use the money. I got a few photographs that I really like. It’s that simple….

 

Thanx for listening……

Lighting Test with Cyclist

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I have a love-hate relationship with fill in flash. I love the way that it separates a subject from a background. It helps add depth, lightens shadows. Lot’s of pluses…… But, I hate the way it’s so obvious. You normally get a very distinct shadow, or drop shadow, coming off the back of the subject, or to the right/rear if you happen to be shooting vertically.

If you are not familiar with this technique, it’s normally used when a subject is backlit (or maybe sidelit….or just plain underlit) outside. Normally you would get deep and dark shadows across their face or the part of your subject that is facing the camera….but with fill flash, you use your flash or strobe to “fill” in those shadows so that your subject is more evenly illuminated. Nowadays, a lot of DSLR’s and even point and shoot cameras have a Flash Fill setting that will give you the desired effect.

There are a few ways to get around the dreaded drop shadow that is the normal telltale sign of fill flash. The easiest is to simply point your flash at the ceiling or a nearby wall (if you are inside) or use a bounce reflector that hooks onto your flash (if you are outside). These work somewhat, but they don’t always eliminate the shadow. They also cut about two stops of power off your flash. And, if your flash isn’t adjustable directionally, you are out of luck.

A fellow photographer, Jim Bastardo, was telling me that he had started using a ringflash for some indoor lifestyle/party shoots that he had been doing. It didn’t have the obvious look of an on-camera flash, and didn’t necessitate him having to light an entire party scene to be able to move through it photographing lots of people. That got me wondering about other uses for this tool that is normally used for macro photography. A ringflash (or ringlight) hooks onto your camera and actually surrounds the lens so that the light seems to be coming from directly behind the lens….thereby eliminating any shadow.

I had purchased one, and was looking for a good way to test it out. I really enjoy combining auxiliary lighting with fast moving adventure sports, and  came up with the idea of shooting a cyclist on a road bike during a descent of a hill. I really wanted the photograph to have the feeling of speed, and there were two ways to achieve this.

1. Have the cyclist ride past me while I was on the side of the road and use a “panning” action to photograph him as he rode by. This would work but I was figuring on having to take 20-30 shots to get something that I would be happy with. That would mean my model would have to ride by me 20-30 times, then stop, turn around, and ride back uphill for the next attempt. Most of my friends are pretty good sports, but I figured that would really be pushing the limit……

2. The other option, and the one that I decided to use, was to sit in the back of a car with my camera and have the cyclist follow me down the road. I contacted my friend Justin Jensen who said he was up for modeling for me. I also asked my girlfriend (now wife) Jennie if she would be willing to volunteer her car and her driving skills.

We gathered at the top of the road to our local ski resort, and the three of us had a discussion on how to keep us all safe. Jennie had to drive with one eye on the road and one eye on the rear view mirror making sure that Justin was still behind us and that I hadn’t fallen out of the car. Justin had to keep approximately the same distance from the car the whole time and listen to me as I yelled instructions. I laid on my stomach in the back of the Subaru with the hatchback open and held my camera out, sometimes up to my eye, but sometimes as low as I could get it to the ground to get an aggressive angle.

I thought we might have to make 2-3 trips up and down the mountain, but in the end I was really happy with what we got during our first descent. We kept our speed between 20-25 MPH, and I shot at 1/30 of a second to get a little bit of blur in the background, but minimize it on Justin. The ringlight functioned perfectly, actually working as a keylight as we had waited until we were totally in shadow so that I didn’t have to fight the sun coming from different directions as we made our way around the switchbacks.

As you can see in the photo, Justin is illuminated a touch brighter than the background, which really makes him standout. There also isn’t any shadow coming from the ringlight, thereby eliminating any hints about how it was lit. There is a nice amount of blur in the foreground/background to give the feeling of speed. All in all, everything worked out perfectly and I was extremely happy with the results.

Thanx for listening.

 

Four Princesses

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This image feels like it could have been shot in the early 1900’s, but in fact it was taken on my first trip to Amsterdam in the early 2000’s.

We were on our way to a cafe for dinner, when I saw these four little girls in princess dresses walking the same way as us, but on the other side of the street. I had two cameras with me….one was an old Holga (plastic camera, known for soft lenses and light leaks) that was loaded with T-Max 3200 film. The other was my trusty Nikon F3 with color slide film. I immediately pulled the Holga out of my jacket pocket as I noticed that they were crossing the street and would be slightly in front of us. Shooting with the Holga was s double edged sword. On one hand, it was easy as there was very little control over exposure or focus. On the other hand, it was extremely difficult for the exact same reasons.

As they crossed the street, I was able to get one shot as they made their way in front of us. If I’m being totally truthful, I never saw the bicyclist until I had the negative in my hand. He was an exceptionally happy accident that really adds balance. Afterward, I was trying to figure out if I thought I had a decent exposure….but in the end it was too difficult and I just crossed my fingers. I was able to get two exposures of them with my Nikon before they ducked into an ice cream shop for a birthday party. The images are okay, but show none of the energy of this image from the side where you can see them pulling the adult with them in their hurry to get to the pary.

The film was pushed two stops, and then I printed the image using the “lith” process. (http://www.lithprint.com/Lith_Print_Introduction.htm) This adds to the graininess of the image, and also helps give it that “period” feel and warmth. Lith printing is a long and involved process, but gives you something that (I feel) is unobtainable with digital. GASP!!

The final image you see here is a scan of an 8″x8″ print.

Thanx for listening!

Brian and Graci by Drew Meredith

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This image comes from a series of images that I have been working on for the past 5 years. The inspiration for the series came from the art work of René Magritte and his painting entitled Son of Man. Living in North Idaho I was inspired by the beautiful scenery that surrounded us every day. I would ride my bike around the area and certain things would stick out to me. If I was by myself riding I would get some crazy ideas and then try to execute them. These times would always lead to some of my best photographs. This shot is was inspired by one of these bike rides where I came upon a man tying to wrangle a few head of cows. I stopped and watched for awhile, it was quite a show he had his two children riding rough-shot on their bmx bicycles riding around the cows mostly driving the dad crazy but really only giving the cows fits. The next day I rode out to their farm and told the man of my idea. Initially he wasn’t quite sure he said he would like to talk to his wife about it. Maybe I’m just a little sketchy looking but it turns out that a friend of mine was a neighbor and she put in a good word for me so he said come out any time.
I enlisted my friend Brian McCarthy to be my model not solely for his good looks and friendly demeanor but mostly because he had a suit, ( a rare commodity in the furthermost reaches of Northern Idaho ). I think this shoot was a new world record time. The owner walked Gracie out Brian sat down and I started to shoot but needed the cow to take a half step forward. Now I don’t know if you have ever worked with a cow before but they are not one for taking direction. However I had no idea that this was a trained cow. The owner put a pile of feed about 6 inches ahead of Gracie and sure as shootin’ she took a half step forward and I got the shot.
It’s one of my favorites in the entire series.
DrewMeredith
You can see more images in this series, along with Drew’s commercial work at:

Student in Zambian School

zam school002In 1999, I had the privilege of going to Africa and photographing for Northrise University Initiative. At the time, there was only one college in Zambia, and NUI was just getting the ball rolling to start a second one.

I spent two weeks photographing around the country, and more specifically, in Ndola, Zambia. The sights and sounds that I experienced (and was sometimes able to photograph) are still with me to this day. Someone told me before I went that “if you go to Africa once, you’ll definitely go back again”, and I can verify that it’s true. I’ve been back once, and have plans for visiting few more times.

While there, we spent time touring various schools, nurseries, and hospices. It was a truly humbling experience, and I was lucky to be able to hide behind my camera as scene after scene of unbelievable poverty and sickness unfolded before us.

One morning, as we toured a grammar school I spied these kids through a doorway. As the small group that I was with was being introduced to the teacher, I stayed in the back of the classroom and approached the table where these students were sitting. I smiled, and slowly raised my Nikon F3 to my eye. The one student in the middle kept his stare locked onto me, and I was able to make one exposure before the teacher demanded everyone’s attention back to the front of the classroom.

While this photo is simply a picture of a student in a school….I can’t help but see so much more in his eyes.

 

Thanx for listening.

AL

Portrait of Woman at LifeCycle Ride.

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I have been an avid cyclist since the early 90’s. A couple of my most memorable rides have been during the Aidsride/Lifecycle rides – week long fundraising rides that started in San Francisco and ended in Los Angeles.

In 2002, the ride was transitioning from “California AidsRide” to the new “LifeCycle Ride” (the change was due to disagreements between the principle organizer – a for-profit company – and the recipient organizations, and is a story in itself).

I volunteered to photograph the event. I had done the ride twice in the past and felt that I could really bring out the stories of both the ride and the inspirational people that participated.

On third or fourth morning of the ride, I wanted to set up and do a number of portraits before the riders left for the day, and again when they finished.

I awoke to find low overcast clouds, and a slight mist in the air. The low angle, early morning light that I was hoping for was nowhere to be found. Deciding to make the best of the situation I took my photo gear over to where the bicycles were parked each night and waited for riders to come over and start saddling up for the day.

I had brought a Norman 400B battery operated strobe with me, along with a small/medium soft box. I set that up camera left, and adjusted it until my meter (this was back in Analog Times) told me that I had a 1:2 ratio.

The strobe was set fairly low, as I just wanted enough to give me a bit of ratio on the people, but I wanted to use a small (numerically) aperture thereby allowing the background to go out of focus.

I photographed a few people as they were getting to their bikes to start the day’s ride. As I was in the middle of one of these, I saw a woman in the background that I knew I had to photograph. I quickly finished up with the person that I was with, and jogged down to where this woman was rolling her bicycle out towards the finish line. After quickly explaining who and I was and what I was doing, I asked her if I could photograph her.

In the crustiest of voices, she replied “As long as it doesn’t take very long”.

I thanked her profusely, and led her over to where my camera and light were set up. I immediately knew that I wanted to use black and white to really bring the focus in on her face. A color image would have been too distracting, and brought the viewers eye’s to various splotches of color rather than where I wanted it. I switched out cameras (I had been shooting color for the earlier portraits), and had her stand in front of my camera.

“What do you want me to do?” she asked.

“No smile, look straight at the camera, and tilt your head just a touch this way” I replied.

I took one exposure, and without saying a word she turned and walked away.

 

Thanx for listening.

AL