One of the best events of the year for photographers and nonphotographers alike is happening today in downtown Merced.
Of course I am talking about the McDonald's Downtown Grand Prix bike race. This fast-paced event, which features sharp turns and long straightaways, is held on a one-mile circuit in downtown Merced with the start-finish line at 20th and N streets.
There are several different races scheduled all day long, with the first set to begin at 7:30 a.m. and the last race at 2:30 p.m. The highlight is the Elite 1, 2 Pro race, which is a fast 40 mile race which will feature some of the best pro cyclists from the United States and abroad. This race is scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m.
Also on the schedule is the fun PeeWee Classic for kids, which begins at 1 p.m. All of the races offer great photo possibilities and a chance to use some of the amazing features on your DSLR camera.
Cycling is a very fast-paced sport and gives us great opportunities to use shutter speed for creative control. Shutter speeds let us set how long the shutter stays open. A fast shutter speed would be one faster than 1/1000 of a second. A slow shutter speed would be 1/60 of a second -- and slower.
By using a fast shutter speed, you will be able to freeze the motion of the racers. Conversely, a slow shutter speed will cause the moving bikes to blur as they come speeding across your field of view.
Of course you have to pair the correct shutter speed along with the right aperture, or f-stop, to make a good exposure.
A great way to make a good exposure using a shutter speed that gets the look that you want is to use your camera's Tv, -- or shutter-priority -- setting. Tv stands for time value, and it lets you set the shutter speed, allowing the camera to take over so that it can set the appropriate aperture for a perfectly exposed image.
There are three basic ways to approach shutter speeds with creative control. The first stops action: You use a very fast shutter speed of at least 1/1000 of a second, and the cyclist is frozen with sharp detail.
The second method blurs action: Use a slow shutter speed of 1/30 of a second or slower to show the racer blurred, with the surrounding area in sharp focus. This technique will give the impression of speed. One key point when using blurred action is that the slower the shutter speed, the more pronounced the effect will be. Try experimenting with slower and slower speeds.
Another thing that is very important to be mindful of when shooting with slow shutter speeds is camera movement: You need to hold the camera very still or you will have everything out of focus. It takes a steady grip to keep a camera still when using speeds slower than 1/60 of a second
If you own a tripod this would be a good time to use it.
A third fun trick is pan action. Pan action is one of my favorite techniques for fast action sports. With this method you will want a shutter speed of around 1/60 to 1/125 of a second, depending on how fast the racers are moving.
Photograph the racers as they are coming from a 90-degree angle across your camera's field of view.
As the bikes are approaching, lock on to them and follow the action.
When the bikes are right in front of you, take the picture as you continue to move your camera along with them.
The goal is to try to match the speed of your panning with the speed of the cyclists.
If you do it correctly, you will make a very cool image of the bikes in sharp focus but with the background a blur. This really gives the viewer of your image a sense of the speed that your subject had. This trick might take a few tries before you get it right, so have fun with it and be patient!
My photo project for this year's race is to make studio portraits of some of the racers at the event.
I will be set up in a vacant office building right next to Dr. Jeff Lee's optometry office, which is right in front of the start-finish line. Please stop by, say hello and check out what I am doing.
Jay Sousa, a former Sun-Star photographer, has his own photography business in Merced, conducts private classes and teaches photography at Merced College.