20 January, 2015

Morning (Rhythm of Racing, Part 1)

Annual car races have a certain kind of rhythm to them. A fundamental identity that defines them, even as they evolve over time. Certainly, from year to year, things always change — different conditions, different competitors, different tactics. But every December that I make the almost 200-mile trek to Thunderhill Raceway, I find a race that's familiar, even though it's always a little bit unique. Annual car races have a certain kind of rhythm to them, and the 25 Hours of Thunderhill is no exception.

After driving overnight through a torrential (by California's standards) downpour, I arrived to a clear morning that was free of the particulate haze that sometimes develops in the farmland surrounding the track. As twilight turned to dawn, Thunderhill's characteristic trio of windmills stood still before a lightening sky, and above a paddock that was still wet from the night's rains.
The air was cool and calm. Not as frigid as the prior year, when I arrived to see Hoosiers covered in ice, but the wet still made things a bit uncomfortable. At the cusp of dawn, many of the teams began pulling back the covers that they had lashed to keep the water out overnight. It was the beginning of the last preparations before they would do battle against the clock, against each other, and against themselves.
The safety crew also had final preparations, and they huddled as the sun had just crested the horizon. It would take a little while, yet, for the day to warm. In the photo, Mike Easton (second from right) addresses the group, with coffee in hand, as his breath leaves a faint trail of condensation in the air.
As time counts down toward the start, teams snap into their morning routines and pick up steam. In the photo, the JFC (Just Fast Cars) racing team adds a calculated initial load of fuel to their car.
Clarity of vision is a constant focus in motorsports — the easier it is to see well, the easier it becomes for the driver to stay relaxed, avoid fatigue, and avoid making mistakes. Many teams run Lexan windshields and windows rather than glass because Lexan is lighter and won't shatter in the event of a crash. Then they polish and protect those pieces incessantly.

Here, a crew member for Team Quick Racing Products wipes off overnight condensation as he cleans the right-hand window of the team's Superlight SLC racecar. The team retired from the prior year's race with a broken steering mechanism, and hoped to better on that result during this race.
Likewise, the paramedics also need to see. Here "B.C.", an emergency medical technician, wipes raindrops from the windshield of one of the Side Trax EMS vehicles as they prepare for the race. You may also remember B.C. as the blue-clad patriarch in the "Safety in Numbers" post from last year's 25 Hours of Camaraderie series.
After all is clean and dry, the teams do final vinyl applications, typically including driver name touchups and sponsor decals. In the photo, a member of the Honda factory race team adds a remembrance for Joe McCarthy, a fabricator who specialized in Honda engine work.

22 December, 2014

Five Day B&W Challenge: Day 5

"Momentito"

During a four-day vacation in Mexico, I captured this photo of two people hugging at the side of the street. I loved the juxtaposition of the bus's motion in the background with the stillness of their embrace.
From a conversion perspective, this image was pretty straightforward. The challenge was more of a personal struggle — I love the streaks of red on the pair's clothes, but I think it still works out pretty well in black and white. I tried to crop it in a way that would reduce the amount of distraction without eliminating context. I didn't want to focus so much on them that you lose track of their surroundings, or that you lose the feeling of the street moving around them.

04 December, 2014

Five Day B&W Challenge: Day 4

Earlier this year, I visited some friends in New York City, and we took some time to visit the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. The Memorial consists primarily of two square-shaped waterfalls, which are somewhat distinct in that they are so large, but so easy to interact with. The walls of water are dozens of feet tall, and hundreds of feet wide, but the water originates in a mirror pool that you can swirl with your fingertips before it pours over the edge, and your influence can alter the continuously-changing pattern that the water makes as it falls.

The names in the memorial are inscribed in bronze panels and mounted where people can touch them. Feel them. Mull them over and ponder them. I noticed that a lot of visitors would stand at the edge, pause with a hand on the stone, and just look out over the water.
For the B&W conversion, the main challenge here was that the man's shirt is overexposed in the blue channel. After a couple different attempts to bring his shirt down without adversely affecting the rest of the image, I decided to just crop him mostly out. The final image shows him, and shows his contact with the child, but focuses on the child and the child's experience of the memorial.

23 November, 2014

Five Day B&W Challenge: Day 3

For day three, I decided to dig into my mostly-neglected set of images from the NASCAR Toyota/Save Mart 350, held at Sonoma Raceway back in June of this year. As far as conversions go, this time was all about controlling the viewer's visual attention — getting them to notice certain things, and to pay less or no attention to other things. Many of the the NASCAR teams feature incredibly bright, saturated colors which are designed to attract attention, and the grayscale conversion allowed me to work against that dynamic.

My treatment of this first image was mainly to diffuse the viewer's attention. In the original, the bright colors draw your attention to the crew member's uniform, and from there, to his face, to his hands, to the air hose on his gun, and to the fire extinguisher inside. As your eyes take in the image, it ends up being difficult for them to focus on other aspects of the scene — the tires and other pit-stop paraphernalia surrounding the main subject; the details of the mock hub mounted to the trailer; even the actual expression of concentration on his face that reinforces the dynamic pose of his body.
By contrast, the treatment of the second image was to make the distribution of viewer attention more focused. The bright colors everywhere cause the viewer's eye to bounce around the scene. Whereas in the monochrome version, all of the colors are relatively similar shades of gray, and the strong contrast of the brake components draws the viewer's eye into the wheel well.
This one didn't really work out; but not all experiments turn out how you hope they will. I wanted to focus attention on the different crew-member acts — hands poised to give the car a push start out of the pits; gas can chugging away; new windshield tearoff whipping in the wind; and something with the front-left wheel.

But it's all pretty muddled. The windshield tearoff pretty much disappears when I try to set the curves/contrast for the rest of the scene, and if I set things for the tearoff, the rest of the scene ends up with way too much contrast. The comromise that I'm publishing is really just the worst of both worlds. Oh well. Still more to learn :o)