Creative Commons License

Licensed under a CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 SG License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at this page.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Photographing Formula 1 (but wait, there's more!)

Yes you have probably seen about 30 posts on this by now. Read about 5.

If you haven't, well congratulations for starting. And thanks for choosing to read this one. But don't close those search results yet. Read. Read all the articles listed on the first page. Cross reference and confirm facts. This is research after all.

Here are some of the more common things to note when shooting F1. But I've got one last point I don't recall seeing in the articles. Read on.

Camera body
We've had debates about this, even uproars, but as much as I hate to admit it, your gear matters when shooting F1. Especially when you are shooting as a non-press member, but just another photographer out of the thousands squeezing in the crowd, behind the barricades. Make no mistake friend - these cars negotiate sharp 90degree turns at just below 200km/h. Unless you are that well-practiced in the right timing technique, you had best be armed with a high speed camera. That is, one that captures images at a fast rate, like Canon's 7D or 1D, or Nikon's D300 and D3s. Shoot first, and select later. Singaporean photographers or shutterbugs coming to our lovely island to capture the action from the Singapore GP will also need a camera that is able to handle high ISO speeds without submitting to noise - Canon's 1D Mark IV is my hero in this respect. Sparkling clean images at ISO3200.

You are far away from the cars, you need to shoot past the barricade grids and you quite probably want your shutter speed (not to be confused with continuous burst rate) to be as fast as possible. This translates to the need for a large aperture telephoto lens. The minimum range I would recommend is 200mm. It would be best to have a 300mm or 400mm. At this range, the lowest aperture is quite likely f/2.8, so that decides your range of lenses (if you can get yourself the 200mm f/2... well then good for you. But remember it is range as much as brightness). I will quite reluctantly refrain from stating that image stabilization is crucial, because many have done perfectly without it, and I survived without it, but it would be very, very, very, very much preferred. Finally, with such heavy equipment (upwards of 3.5kg), a monopod is crucial. Do not be fooled if your awesome biceps can handle the weight single-handedly - you will be shooting for about 8 hours, perhaps over up to 3 consecutive days. Your reflexes need to be quick and sharp to follow the action. Your arm alone will not bear the weight of the lens for that long.

Again, you are shooting for 8 hours. At least more than half of that will probably be in blazing hot sun. Bring your own water in, but be mindful of the restrictions so that your bottle doesn't get confiscated. Prices within the race track will be higher, but even if you wish to stinge on food, do not stinge on water. Hydrate yourself adequately.

Stills & Pans
Be ruthlessly practical. You are there to get photos to keep, not get illusions of grandeur of being a visual artist. Get your still shots settled before attempting panning. There are plenty of spots to pick for panning and alot of them may turn out to not be the best spot. You do not want to go home with 1000 blur photos, and no back up.

The only pan I managed to get.

The Straights
This is a race. Drivers will not be cruising past you showing a cute V sign. They will be flooring the accelerator, activating all sorts of boosts, and blazing down the straights at 500km/h. You only have a very small window to snap a good shot, and chances are you will be stuck with a narrow field of view that will limit your chances of panning a sharp shot.

The Turns
Research the turns properly and set up camp where you will find your angle! Wait at the head of the turn to pan drivers as they slow down, and camp on the second half of the turn to catch still shots of them before they speed up again.

A great technique for beginners. Find the sweet spot you want to capture the driver at. Observe the tire marks on the road and focus in the middle of the range of markings. Review your results and be meticulous in your fine tuning - do not worry about missing cars as they go past, you have plenty of rounds to snap later on. The faster you get your focus right, the more pictures you are likely to be able to keep. Don't be thrown off if some appear not to be sharp. The slightest change in super telephoto focal distances (and with large apertures too) will throw the image out of optimum focus, but you can never expect cars to follow the route that smoothly. Just keep shooting. Canon's 300mm and 400mm primes, for one, have a Power Focus feature, a ring that activates the lens motor to shift the focus to a predefined focal length. After I have determined the focus I set this so that in between cars I can trigger the lens to snap back to the focal length, in case I accidentally moved the focus ring while shooting.

Ground Level
Some of you may have the privilege of entering the race track courtesy of some organization offering you a fabulous bird's eye view to take fabulous photos. Do not be lured by that prospect. A bird's eye view is good for enjoying the race and literally seeing the bigger picture. I find that the most engaging photos are capture when you are at eye level with the driver, ie. on the ground, behind the barricade. Enjoy your privilege and hang out at the high spots to catch the preliminaries or less important rounds, but know the important timings and get down and dirty on the ground (if your track pass allows, of course).

Finally, my last tip. This came on to me rather naturally, but I found it so crucial in enabling myself to catch the cars within my frame.

That whole thing about F1 and earplugs - it's not a joke, and it's not hype. Get them and wear them. If like me you happen to be an audiophile, in-ear earphones and custom-molded earphones are great as earplugs as well (and if you're a loner you can pump music too!) When the race is on, let your aural stage expand, and listen. F1 is probably the world's fastest land sport, but it is also one of the world's most repetitive sports. Listen up for patterns and recognize the rhythm - this is great for straights if you are pushed into the corner of having to capture your shots from a small view like I was. The picture below was as much of a view as I got - immediately to the left and right of the lens' view was solid concrete. I started to realise a pattern - I would hear the sound of a screaming car entering the straight, followed by a second of silence, before the car roars past me within half a second. It didn't take long before I knew when to begin bursting my camera just before the car flew into and out of view. Depending on the situation and your position, this could also be great for blind panning, when you are confined to a small space and unable to visually track the car moving down the track. Listen for the car, and soon you'll be panning past the concrete barricades as if you could see right through it.

Good luck!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Lowepro Passport Sling - The Traveller's Doraemon Pocket

Originally posted at


Meet my new friend, the Lowepro Passport Sling. It's my friend, because it makes my life easier. Anyone who makes my life easier is my friend. The only exception will be my wife, who ever this blessed lady will be.

But what if I was a conniving turncoat? What if I was jealous of my friend's ability to make my life easier, and spilled its guts with this cute little rusty penknife?

Police will rush to the scene of the murder to find split from its stomach, the following items:

  1. Canon 7D with 18-135mm kit lens mounted
  2. Canon 350D body with battery grip
  3. Canon Speedlite 580EX II flash
  4. Lowepro filter pouch
  5. Large blower
  6. Flash diffuser cap
  7. Cleaning cloth
  8. Lens pen
  9. CF card
9 items, in a camera sling bag little larger than (and looking quite like) a bagpipe. And that's with the restricting zip approximately 3/4 zipped up. The full capacity of the bag could probably contain another large telephoto lens.

As my friend succinctly put it, it was a rare product that looked good whether it contained 1 item or 10. Reviews have also asserted its superior stitching, durability and water resistance. And if you think that this Doraemon's Pocket would naturally cost a bomb for its innovative size-space ratio, then you will be very pleased to note that it retails in Singapore at all major camera stores for $55-58. Surely an ideal 1-system mobile solution for both amateur and seasoned photographers.

Go get it!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Shutter Journey of Singapore

Nicole first invited me to join her in a photo shoot back in the middle of May, with a Facebook-based hobby group called Shutter Journey. They were going to the CBD on Sunday to take photographs based on the theme of 'reflections'. How interesting, I thought, and joined in.

 Iconic fountains outside Capital Tower (album link)

It is now mid-July, two months on, and the amount of things I've learnt and been able to apply to create better photos is simply incredible.

 Onion stacks at Pasir Panjang Wholesale Center [not with SJ] (album link)

I cannot vouch that Shutter Journey is the best photo club (to term it loosely) to join in Singapore, especially since it's the first and only group I've joined. For the same reason, I also can't say if other groups in Singapore are about to teach you more or less things about photography than Shutter Journey. What I can tell you from my short experience with this bunch of people is that they have a burning passion to share what they see with the world, and for most of these people it is self-evident if you just visit their personal Facebook page, because they're constantly uploading photos (stunning ones too). And even more than that, something about most photographers, and definitely those in Shutter Journey, make them totally selfless people very eager to share knowledge about techniques and factors cumulating into those rare, once-in-a-lifetime moments that photographers live for.

 Best and luckiest shot so far. (album link)

It is natural that not everyone joining such an open group would have a DSLR, myself included. Apart from the more recent shoots or occasions where I know I will need a particular lens type and borrowed my brother's 500D, my weapon of choice is a G11, and all the shots in this post at least are products of the G11. On normal shoots, my darling can do the job, and I daresay one or two things that DSLRs can't, but I felt severely unequipped when I went along with their trip to the zoo, where the theme of the day was 'eyes'. Everyone came with telephoto lenses formidable enough to use as battle clubs, and there I was with my overly bulky point and shoot camera. But for me and everyone who subsequently came with very normal point and shoot cameras, there were always people insisting that no matter what you held in your hand (well, as long as its a camera), good shots are never out of reach. And indeed, one would be amazed what compacts can do in the hands of an inspired photographer.

 The star photo of my most challenging shoot - animal's eyes at the SG Zoo (album link)

At the end of the day, Shutter Journey just aims to have a big load of fun with people of similar mind and passion. Ask any of the event regulars - they'll gladly tell you that there's always a risk of being bent over in laughter while your precious photo opportunity floats serenely by. If you want to learn more about photography, or if you're thinking of joining a group that goes on regular excursions, you can always consider Shutter Journey.

 The only time we had two group shots - toy art photoshoot (album link)

It's alot easier when you're with a whole bunch of people who perfectly understand when you're 100m behind trying to get your perfect shot. Chances are, there'll be another group about 50m behind you anyway.

ToyArt toy group shot

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


About a month ago, I decided to stick my greedy fingers out there, and just join any competition or contest (legit looking ones, I'm not about to click the big red YOU WON!!!!!!!!!!! banner) to see if I can snag myself anything. I've joined two Twitter contests for 5DMk2s, and a FB photo competition vying for an iPad.

This FB competition is actually an FB page started by my dear friend Willy Foo, called Photo Tourism. I guess it's quite self-explanatory. I hadn't met him in awhile, but when we both happened to attend the same event recently, he told me to my immense surprise that my photo got shortlisted.

The Statue of Brothers, Korean War Memorial, Seoul, South Korea

I took this while I was in Korea. It wasn't exactly evening, it was more like late afternoon (5ish I think) but I just flicked my G11 to the Sunset mode anyway to get the enhanced orange colors (which is still relatively weak in view of the time) and the high contrast which resulted in the firm solid silhouette you see. I knew it was a keeper immediately (not because I so damn good, mind, but only because of right place right time), and for a short while it was my trophy display as my laptop's wallpaper. As I said though I was just trying my luck, and I didn't expect anything out of it. In fact, I totally forgot about that page until Willy told me.

The iPad obviously still mattered, but suddenly I wanted people to Like my photo (that's how they tallied the votes of course) because it touched them, not so much for the iPad anymore. And I thought to myself "What a huge about-turn of perspective!" And in that sense I realised that photographers too are attention-seekers and artists in a way. It's just that we use pictures to speak up, instead dying our hair hot pink and wearing chocolate skirts.

Well, the photo didn't make it to the second round of shortlisting to the top 20, but after looking at the other shortlists, I would have been far more surprised if I made it through. I mean OMG see for yourselves.

I have a nice photo, I will be the first to tell you that. But that's nowhere near these stone cold stunners.

While we're here, vote for your favorite photo! You won't win anything, but remember kids, good deeds always make a U-turn!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Me snapping the War Monument at the War Memorial Park, South Korea, snapped on a Lumix FX-12 by Spencer Liao

Some people have winced or gasped when I told them that I'm allergic to peanuts. I have winced and gasped when my friend told me how her friend was allergic to chocolate. If you have ever winced or gasped at the thought of someone missing something really good in life, then you know why I smile sadly at people who say they don't understand shutterbugs at all. Because they don't. They really don't. Not even after saying it themselves.

Thursday, May 6, 2010


Given the right location and timing, sunset photography is one of the easier shooting concepts to get right. Most cameras worth their cost would probably have a Sunset scene preset. Prosumer and DSLR camera users should also be able to replicate such a setting in Manual mode as well.

Sunset view from the vantage point at Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan

At the very basic level, the aim of sunset photography is to maximally capture the vivid orange, red and yellow colors produced by the setting sun, as well as show the sun as a tangible ball of fire, as such. This should not be taken to mean that the picture is orange or red-tinted, merely that the colors in that range are emphasized, ideally while still retaining much of the fidelity of the other colors produced or present as is possible. The ability of one's camera or one's own settings to successfully achieve this balance will bring you pictures great contrast such as this following picture.

Sunset view from Sky Bridge at Pinnacle@Duxton, Singapore

See that the top half of the photo is a solid blue, while the effects kick at the bottom half of the picture where the light of the sun is peeking out of the heavy clouds, whereas a simply tinted picture would be stained orange where orange does not belong. This effect can also be used in the rarer occasion where one finds a picturesque object reflecting the light from the setting sun.

Ground-up view of 63 Building from Han River (Han Gang) Park in Seoul, South Korea

A camera would produce the result of the visible shape of a sun by drastically reducing its light intake. This effect conveniently allows the photographer to take silhouette shots in that magical window where the sun is really low and gets really glaring. There must be some skill and artistic creativity involved in positioning the sun, the subject, and the background, because while one need not worry about grain or color, one has to worry in turn about the former three factors, since the slightest misjudgment in positioning could result in the silhouette having funny extra shapes or unwanted background shadows.

Sunset silhouette shots from Han River (Han Gang) Park in Seoul, South Korea

In the case of the last photo, not having a complete silhouette turned out well (to me at least) since the subject is wearing white, and I think having some of that turn up puts an additional bit of depth into the shot. The higher-than-usual light intake allows the sun to look much larger as well.

Of course, one has to play with his or her camera, and I daresay get intimate with it, to know the camera's abilities and limits. Point it everywhere and anywhere when shooting sunset, and observe how the color and light balance changes accordingly. Once you get that, you'll start to understand what kind of shots are within your reach.

Then just go shutter-happy.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Dinner @ Dempsey

Dempsey is almost always an inviting location for photographers to satisfy their shutterlust, with its colonial quirk and expatriate idiosyncrasies. My brother picked a restaurant there to celebrate his 19th birthday, and this is what I got out of it.

We ate at E Food and Wine, and went after that to this restaurant called House for desserts on my brother's recommendation. My next post will be a feature of that restaurant. Meanwhile it's back to camp.

Meowth! Cats are much more dignified than the way I behave in Pokemon!

I saw this kitty at the Aljunied MRT bus stop while waiting for a friend. The second picture is kinda cuter, but what I really wanted to catch was the sphinx-like manner in which it sat. And most cats have a strange thing about walking towards you the moment you squat to take their picture, but this one posed like a good kitty should for me, and it's got such a naturally regal air about it, which is what I adore and admire in cats. They really seem to be able to burn you with those piercing eyes.

Or maybe it was just sleepy.