Should Amateur Photographers Compare Their Results To Pros’?
My own experience of using camera bodies like the D300 and D300S is that for motorcycles at speed, models like the D3 and D4 have a noticeable advantage for their more sophisticated focus systems. I have photographed cars and motorcycles and I have found cars to be much easier when it comes to getting images that meet a minimum level of competence. I believe this is because cars are much larger than motorcycles, and cameras have a large subject to work with when it comes to autofocus. Also, from the same distance away, a car presents a larger amount of data to work with. I suspect cars are going slower in corners, too, so they are easier to catch in focus in those circumstances. For the shooter, tracking a larger subject is also easier and thus increases the chances of a successful image.
So I think the car shooter’s strategy might be less successful for motorcycle racing photography. Personally I am happier using a D4 and D3X than I was using a D300 for track images of MotoGP. In pit lane, that was a completely different story, and I found that the D300 and D300S worked beautifully.
And to be fair to the D300 and D300S, I did get useable images from both at trackside. I simply got better results with a D700 at the time, and I get much better results now, a few years later, with a D4 and D3X. I expect my own experience has much to do with this, as I was using the D300 and D300S with less experience than I now use the D4 and D3X.
The observation brings me nicely around to the final thing I want to say on this issue of fair comparisons. More important to this question than the levels of access or gear is the level of experience.
The fellow first mentioned above, while an avid photographer, works every day at a job that had nothing at all to do with photography. His work with a camera is limited to the occasional trip see MotoGP or his national series, so though he loves motor sports photography and enjoys doing it, he only gets to practice a handful of times per year.
In my view, this is the main reason why he, or anyone in a similar situation, should not feel too poorly if their own images don’t match those of a working pro.
Since I started doing MotoGP photography in earnest, I have done many tens of thousands of exposures. I have then spent many hours processing the images, studying what I’m doing wrong, trying to figure out how to do better. I have studied the images of others whose work I admire. I have experimented and refined my technique, both with the camera in hand so that the original captures are better, and at the computer, editing images to make something usable out of images that resulted from mistakes in the field.
If you really wanted to feel lousy, the thing to do would be to hand your gear over to a pro MotoGP shooter and convince him or her to spend the weekend on the spectator side of the fences. I’d wager the images the pro would create with your gear and your access would be much different because of technique and, perhaps even more important, judgment.
For example, if you convinced Gigi Soldano to try this experiment with mid-level gear, his photos from the weekend would be wonderful, I have no doubt about that. They’d be different from those he creates meters away from the track. But they’d still be fantastic because he brings something to his images that goes far beyond the track access and the pro Nikon gear he uses.
So if you’re getting discouraged because your photos from the last GP you attended don’t look enough like those you see from the professionals, please don’t think that spending a lot more money on pro gear is going to solve the problem overnight. Neither is finding a way inside the spectator fence. The only thing that will substantially improve your images is increasing the intelligence and grace with which you operate your camera. By this I mean knowing where to point your camera, when to point it there, how to adjust its settings so you get the image you want, and then knowing how to move the camera (or how to keep it still) while making your exposures.
The surest way to acquire these qualities is though a lot of thoughtful practice. Not mindless practice, where you go out and generate thousands of images without having a goal for each situation. But thoughtful practice, wherein you have a specific idea of what you want the next image to look like, and you try to create it. You then look at the results carefully on your computer, paying attention to settings, looking for what worked and what didn’t, so that you have a better idea of how to come closer next time. The more you learn, the luckier you get, and without realizing it, you’ll be creating a much higher percentage of sharp, competent images.
By then, an image just being in focus won’t be enough. You’ll have lots and lots of those. By then you’ll be wanting more from your images. And that’s when photography starts to get really interesting…
Photograph: ©2014 by Scott Jones / PHOTO.GP – All Rights Reserved
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