Compact challenge: Live from Sepang Circuit

I thought I’d give my students a bit of a challenge this time: during one of my recent workshops, we covered a bit of motorsport and documentary photography at the VW Scirocco Cup at the Sepang International Circuit. The assignment was to tell the story of race weekend in 10 images with a compact – with the exception of the moving cars, of course. Of course there was some serious equipment involved, but I’m a big fan of teaching with compact cameras for several reasons:

1. They force you to focus on composition only, and not rely on depth of field or perspective (most of the time) as a crutch;
2. The lag forces you to work on your anticipation skills; it’s impossible to capture a moment when you’re only beginning to react at the instant of the moment itself
3. Very limited dynamic range forces you to think about metering: on your subject, or the scene? What’s going to blow out, and does it matter?
4. Working the files afterwards is both a good test of your photoshop skills, as well as the opportunity to learn some new ones.

There are a number of the images which made it into the reader pool, but I thought I’d contribute a few of my own here. I think this might well become a recurring theme for future workshops…

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Forming up before the parade lap

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Well-used pitlane

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One that got away

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Game face

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Suiting up (II)

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On the grid

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Drive through

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Meanwhile, in the hospitality box…

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Spectator reflections

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On the podium*

*not the same race

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Press conference

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Taking a break after the race

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Obligatory unusual workshop group portrait

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Image review time

The observant of you will note that a) there are some key moments missing in the action, like the start and finish; b) there are no photos of moving cars; c) not all of the scenes appear to be from the same race. There’s a simple answer to all of those: race circuits are huge places to be, and pros do not aim to cover every part of the track at once, much less over a race that only lasts 10 laps.

We used the compacts to gather b-roll and documentary material around the main shooting sessions with the big guns; the start of the race and actual race itself were shot from Turn One at the end of the main straight, which tends to be where most of the action happens – both at the start of the race when everybody is jostling for position, as well as during the race when drivers use the long run to try and make up places under braking. At Sepang, Turn One is actually a right hairpin followed by a left chicane; the complex of corners means the cars both travel slowly and close to the barriers, which make it an ideal area for photography.

Note that we did have the requisite pit, paddock and circuit media passes for the event. Also, motorsports is a very dangerous environment to shoot in – plenty of fast moving objects, people rushing around, hot surfaces, spilled oil and various other hazards. Safety always comes before getting the shot – unless of course you’re a journalist on assignment 🙂 MT


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  1. Hi Ming, Sorry if this is not the right place, but I just saw a very cool timelapse of KL – now I know there are lots of time lapse films, but this one is pretty good imho

    • I actually did something similar while I was experimenting with video on the NEX. It’s a little embarrassing, so I’m not going to post the link, but you can probably find it with a bit of googling.

  2. Paul Lloyd-Roach says:

    Ming, another great article and I like the challenge you set your students but how about trying the same theme without the requisite pit, paddock and media passes. In my part of the world you have to be a fully accredited professional to get your hands on those passes and having been a motorsport competitor in many disciplines I know that without the passes it is a very different agenda.

    I think your theme would still work but the students would have to try that much harder to get the photo’s by only being able to access the areas that the general public can. Just a thought.

  3. I like the challenge you set – anything but the race itself – certainly forces the attention to all those pre/post race opportunities that are treated as “second rate”. A bit like the candid shots at a wedding meal. I cannot quite figure why, but I found the color quite distracting in most of the shots and think they would work better as black & white. Something about they way they are composed is more “structured” than about a single subject/object. What do think?
    Regards, Mark

    • They’re not second rate at all, they’re the context and what makes the difference between one bunch of cars on some road and another.

      Color is never going to be perfect with these as we’re stuck with 8-bit on a very low dynamic range sensor, so you’re going to be stuck with poor accuracy and very quick saturation. As for the composition – that’s a consequence of not having any DOF control to work with; you have to be conscious of what overlaps and what doesn’t.

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