07
Oct

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With the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in their playoffs, also known as the Chase, it is now time for me to shoot less football and now focus on lots and lots of NASCAR. My first of seven playoff races I will be covering was at the 1.5 mile Kansas Speedway. While it is not one of my favorite tracks, it is a nice facility and (most importantly) its a less than two hour flight from my home in Phoenix.

For a typical race I travel on Thursdays and begin shooting on Friday. With how busy my upcoming schedule is I decided to try  a different plan of flying in Friday morning and heading right to the track for work. Although I missed the first practice I made it to the track in time for qualifying (which is more important).

After dropping off all my stuff in the photo room I quickly headed out to shoot as the top qualifiers climbed from their cars after the qualifying laps.

Normally I shoot with a wide angle and an off camera flash. Lately everybody and their brother have been using the same setup so in the interest of being different I dug out my 85mm f1.8 lens. By using the lens at f1.8 it gave me a razor thin depth of field (focus area) which gives the images a slightly different look to it.

The trouble with using a wide aperture like f1.8 it allowed far too much light into the camera which made getting a good exposure in the daytime nearly impossible.

To offset that issue I simply used a two stop neutral density filter on the lens. Basically what that means is I had window tinting over the lens which made it darker so I was able to shoot at that wide 1.8 aperture. (if you aren’t a photographer all that I just said makes zero sense I’m sure so I will shut up now)

Below, Sprint Cup Series driver Greg Biffle climbs from his car following his qualifying lap.

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Nikon D700, 85mm, 100iso, f1.8, 1/1000th, Manual, 2 stop ND Filter

Jeff Gordon is framed by a reporter and cameraman as he is interviewed by the media following his qualifying lap, below.

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Nikon D700, 85mm, 100iso, f1.8, 1/200th, Aperture Priority, 2 stop ND Filter

If you read my camera settings in my blogs you may notice that I often shoot in aperture priority mode. While I catch a lot of crap from other photographers for it I stand by my choice because in the variety of settings I shoot in sometimes by changing camera settings manually I would miss lots of shots that happen in a split second. With the current Nikon cameras out these days the aperture priority feature typically works wonderfully. (especially if you know how to adjust exposure compensations) However I would be lying if I said that it always worked out well for me.

Below is a photo I shot of Dale Earnhardt Jr after he climbed from his car. Since I was low and shooting up at him the bright cloudy background tricked the camera and the exposure went dark to expose for the clouds. Since it exposed for the sky it made Dale Jr very dark (underexposed).

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Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f2.8, 1/4000th, Aperture Priority

Normally I would simply throw the photo away but I really liked the dark clouds and his expression as he stood alongside the car with his name and helmet placed perfectly. I tried to save it in photoshop but the exposure variance was too much to overcome and it was impossible to get the colors to look correct.

So my last option to save the image was to send to a friend (Guy Rhodes) to convert it into black and white.

I always make fun of some of my friends who convert everything into black and white in an attempt to be “artsy” and now I know why some of them do it. Its EASY to save a horribly exposed image!

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One of the biggest stories of the year has been the resurgence of 50 year old driver Mark Martin.

Going into the weekend Martin was leading the points standings. While he has been racing for over 20 years and has numerous career wins, he has yet to win a Cup championship.

Martin would extend his dream season as he qualified on the pole position for Sundays race.

Below, Mark Martin following his qualifying run.

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Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f2.8, 1/640th, Aperture Priority

Even though summer ended just two weeks ago it was pretty cold in Kansas City. For Nationwide Series qualifying on Saturday morning we were greeted with temps in the high 40’s.

Below, Scott Speed wears a horrible horrible hat as he heads out to his car for qualifying. I don’t care how could it is, you will NEVER see me wearing such a hat! Maybe he lost a bet and that hat was his punishment?

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Nikon D700, 400mm, 1250iso, f2.8, 1/2500th, Aperture Priority

Speed TV reporter Wendy Venturini (below) calls the action for the broadcast on pit road.

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Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 1250iso, f2.8, 1/2500th, Manual

Longtime NASCAR team owner Jack Roush was the face of intensity as he walked down the grid to watch his cars in action (below).

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Nikon D700, 400mm, 1250iso, f2.8, 1/5000th, Aperture Priority

ARCA Series driver Parker Kligerman stands by his car (below) in preparation for his first ever qualifying attempt in the Nationwide Series. Kligerman is driving a Roger Penske car so the chances are pretty good that he may one day become a future star. With that in mind I shot lots of images of him in case he goes on to become the next Dale Earnhardt Jr Jeff Gordon.

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Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 1250iso, f2.8, 1/8000th, Aperture Priority

During Nationwide qualifying Greg Biffle crashed his car in turn two. After the car came back to the garage I used the 85mm f1.8 lens to shoot what I thought was a cool photo of the destroyed car (below).

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Nikon D700, 85mm, 100iso, f1.8, 1/1250th, Aperture Priority

At the end of qualifying Parker Kligerman stood atop the speed chart to win his first career Nationwide pole in his first career attempt. Needless to say he had a smile a mile wide on his face as he posed for the photographers below.

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Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 640iso, f2.8, 1/2000th, Aperture Priority

After transmitting a few qualifying images it was time to head into the Sprint Cup garage as drivers began climbing into their cars to head out for practice.

Below, 3 time champion Jimmie Johnson slides into his car for practice.

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Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 1000iso, f2.8, 1/1000th, Aperture Priority

From a few garage stalls down I noticed an interesting angle to shoot Johnson sitting in his car so using the 400mm lens I shot the below photo.

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Nikon D700, 400mm, 2500iso, f2.8, 1/800th, Aperture Priority

I used the same angle for his teammate Mark Martin (below) as he sat in his car waiting to head out on track.

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Nikon D700, 400mm, 2500iso, f2.8, 1/1000th, Aperture Priority

By moving directly in front of Martins car I shot the standard sitting in car shot that every photographer shoots, below.

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Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 1000iso, f2.8, 1/500th, Aperture Priority

Team owner Rick Hendrick (below) was all smiles as he owns the cars driven by the top two drivers in the points.

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Nikon D700, 85mm, 320iso, f1.8, 1/200th, Aperture Priority

After practice began it was pointless to stick around the garage so I made the long walk from the infield through the coolest tunnel in NASCAR (below) to the outside of the track to shoot some head on car shots.

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Nikon D700, 85mm, 1600iso, f1.8, 1/100th, Aperture Priority

Kansas is a 1.5 mile track but for some reason there are only two small photo holes for us photographers to shoot through. (Other tracks of the same size and smaller have closer to 10 photo holes to shoot through).

I shot from the photo hole entering turn one and the below photo of driver Brad Keselowski shows the standard head on angle you can shoot from the outside.

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Nikon D700, 400mm, 2500iso, f5.6, 1/2500th, Aperture Priority

While it is a clean shot and many clients look for the standard car shots like that I wasn’t too happy with it. Its a photo where you have no idea what track it was shot at. I prefer images that have more of a localized feel where you can at least tell which track it was shot at.

By shooting a wider photo I am able to include the curve of the outside soft wall into the shot which adds a bit of framing as well as an aesthetically pleasing curve to the photo.

In the below photo of Kyle Busch you can see what I am talking about.

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Nikon D700, 400mm, 2500iso, f5.6, 1/2000th, Aperture Priority

After the long walk back into the inside of the track I had a few minutes to download and transmit some images before it was time to head out on the grid for the Nationwide Series race.

As I previously mentioned I made it a point to get some photos of rookie driver Parker Kligerman as he hung out by his car before the start of the race.

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Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f5, 1/250th, Manual, SB-800 Flash

After I fired off a few shots I made the walk over towards turn two where I planned to shoot the first half of the race.

Along the way I stopped to shoot the below photo as US Army soldiers saluted during the national anthem.

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Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 200iso, f2.8, 1/4000th, Aperture Priority

Early on in the race Patrick Sheltra (81) lost control near the top of the track…….

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Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 200iso, f4.5, 1/800th, Manual

…….and made a slow spin down the track, narrowly missing driver Kevin Conway (26)…….

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Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 200iso, f4.5, 1/800th, Manual

…..in the below shot Sheltra just barely misses getting hit by Greg Biffle (16).

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Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 200iso, f4.5, 1/800th, Manual

As with most Nationwide races this year it was dominated by Kyle Busch. (seen making a pit stop below)

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Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 250iso, f5, 1/640th, Aperture Priority

Below, late in the race Brian Vickers (32) spun through the infield after some contact with Carl Edwards (60).

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Nikon D700, 400mm, 200iso, f5.6, 1/2000th, Aperture Priority

Although Kyle Busch dominated the race leading numerous laps it was teammate Joey Logano who passed him with four laps remaining and went on to take the checkered flag, below.

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Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 200iso, f5, 1/1000th, Aperture Priority

The late afternoon light had the track partly in the sun while the rest was in the shade which made for some awesome looking images as Logano did a king sized burnout.

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Nikon D700, 400mm, 200iso, f5.6, 1/2000th, Aperture Priority

After the above shot with the 400mm I quickly switched to my body with the 200mm lens on it and got the below photos that really show you how impressive the burnout he did was.

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Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 200iso, f5, 1/5000th, Aperture Priority

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Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 200iso, f5, 1/1600th, Aperture Priority

After shooting the burnout from pit road it was a short 50 yard run to victory lane where I did my normal thing of shooting with a camera in each hand.

In my left hand I shot with a wide angle to get the full car in the shot (below).

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Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 250iso, f5, 1/800th, Aperture Priority

While in my right hand I shot with another camera with an 80-200mm lens for a tight vertical (below).

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Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 100iso, f5, 1/1000th, Aperture Priority

After shooting the initial celebration I ran into the media room and transmitted the above two shots.

Then a few minutes later I headed back to victory lane to see what I could shoot as Logano posed in all the different hats of his sponsors.

I liked the below shot as he tossed a sponsor hat to his PR rep between photos.

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Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 200iso, f2.8, 1/4000th, Manual

And with that Saturday was over. On to race day.

Earlier in the week it got out in the media that the car of Jimmie Johnson just barely passed tech inspection in the previous weeks race so when I was walking through the garage killing time and saw his car going through inspection I figured it was probably worth shooting it, below.

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Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 200iso, f2.8, 1/1000th, Aperture Priority

….fast forward a few hours to pre race time…

For driver introductions the drivers are always introduced one by one on a stage in front of the crowd. After their name is called they walk across the stage and wave to the fans. It absolutely boggles my mind the mass of photographers who shoot those photos. (excluding commercial shooters who have to photograph check presentations and such) Instead of shooting the lame looking photos of a driver on a stage waving at people I always look for something different to shoot because the one good thing about driver introductions is its the on time you are guaranteed to get photos of every driver.

For this race I set up shop behind the stage where each driver would climb into a US Army hummer for the ride around the track to once again wave at the fans.

One by one each driver would walk towards me and climb into the back of the hummers. As they climbed into the trucks I shot with a wide angle and an off camera flash to get a nice clean shot of each driver with the main grandstands serving as a backdrop.

Below is an example of how the shots looked as Paul Menard climbs into the back of the hummer.

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Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f5, 1/250th, Manual, SB-800 Flash

After their lap around the track one by one the drivers were dropped back off near their cars where they hung out and waited for the race to begin.

The amount of fans, and crew members milling around the cars made it very difficult to get clean shots but by getting low I was able to compose a nice clean shot of Jeff Gordon as he leaned against his car (below).

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Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 200iso, f5, 1/1000th, Manual

The below photo of Jimmie Johnson relaxing before the race would have been awesome had the background not been so horribly distracting. Even had I gotten on the ground it was bad with lights and poles dangling out overhead.

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Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f5.6, 1/250th, Manual, SB-800 Flash

Below, Mark Martin sits on the window frame of his car with son Matt Martin by his side.

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Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f6.3, 1/250th, Manual, SB-800 Flash

As with the previous days race I would begin this race from atop the photo tower at the exit of turn two.

In the below shot from the tower during the pace laps you can see several photographers against the inside wall. The reason I didn’t shoot from there was the limited field of view as the cars came through the turn. Other photographers would be in your shot if you shot something happening earlier in the turn. Plus by being elevated it allows me to see nearly the entire turn which is very helpful to spot a potential incident about to start.

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Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 320iso, f6.3, 1/500th, Aperture Priority

Below, on lap two of the race driver Joey Logano lost control at the exit of turn two. Right after that shot he was blocked by the massive inside catch fence that begins near the end of the turn.

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Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 200iso, f5.6, 1/1000th, Manual

After the race got going again there was yet another crash in the same place, this time involving six or seven cars. Of course the catch fence ruined any chance of me getting any acceptable images.

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Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 200iso, f5.6, 1/1250th, Manual

After quickly getting bored with the shooting location I climbed down from the tower and made my way towards pit road for the first round of pit stops.

On the way I stopped to shoot the below photo as a couple fans watched the cars go by from beneath their umbrella.

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Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 200iso, f5.6, 1/1250th, Manual

Once on pit road I noticed a cool photo to take with the spotters all lined up atop the pressbox/suites which had great reflections off the windows, below.

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Nikon D700, 400mm, 100iso, f5.6, 1/400th, Aperture Priority

From that spot I shot some pan blurs of all the race contenders as they sped past the Kansas Speedway logo in the tri-oval.

Below, Tony Stewart races through the front stretch tri-oval.

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Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 100iso, f10, 1/160th, Aperture Priority

Later in the race while on pit road preparing to shoot pit stops I heard “trouble in turn four!” yell out by the play by play announcers in my radio headset. I looked up and saw Brian Vickers sliding backwards at me.

Below, grass flies as Brian Vickers spins through the infield.

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Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 200iso, f2.8, 1/8000th, Aperture Priority

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Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 200iso, f2.8, 1/2000th, Aperture Priority

Smoke comes from the tires of Bill Elliott (below) as he leaves pit road.

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Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 200iso, f2.8, 1/8000th, Aperture Priority

Supposed future star Brad Keselowski pits for tires, below.

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Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 320iso, f6.3, 1/640th, Aperture Priority

In the below photo I shot silhouettes as crew members for Brian Vickers jump off the wall to perform a pit stop.

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Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 320iso, f6.3, 1/1600th, Aperture Priority

After a few more minutes on pit road I went to the photo tower at the exit of turn four (below).

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Nikon D700, 400mm, 100iso, f5, 1/1000th, Aperture Priority

Below, race fans cheer during the closing stages of the Price Chopper 400 at Kansas Speedway.

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Nikon D700, 400mm, 100iso, f5, 1/1600th, Aperture Priority

The below photo of Jimmie Johnson with the Kansas logo on the wall is a prime example of the types of single car shots I strive to get of the contenders during each race I shoot.

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Nikon D700, 400mm, 100iso, f5, 1/640th, Aperture Priority

Championship contender Tony Stewart took the checkered flag (below) for his fourth victory of the season.

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Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/1600th, Manual

Tony used to do great burnouts and climb the catch fence following his wins but as of late he has grown to be pretty boring with his celebrations.

Below, sunlight glimmers off the rear wing of Stewarts car as he does a Polish victory lap.

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Nikon D700, 400mm, 100iso, f5, 1/2000th, Aperture Priority

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Nikon D700, 400mm, 100iso, f5, 1/400th, Aperture Priority

In victory lane Stewart appeared to be in a good mood for once as eh actually faced the photographers when he climbed from his car to celebrate.

The below two pictures are from my camera in my right hand with the 80-200 shooting tight vertical images.

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Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 250iso, f5.6, 1/2000th, Manual

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Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 250iso, f5.6, 1/2000th, Manual

The below two images are from my camera in my left hand with the wide angle lens to include the full car.

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Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 320iso, f6.3, 1/2500th, Manual

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Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 320iso, f6.3, 1/2500th, Manual

For the champagne celebration Stewart ran from the stage to avoid being doused, fortunately for the shooters crew member Aaron Kuehn snuck around from the side and sprayed a surprised Stewart (below).

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Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 320iso, f6.3, 1/2500th, Manual

While Stewart posed for the standard sponsor hat photos I went to the side of the stage and shot something different. The nice clean background is something impossible to get when you shoot the boring head on stuff that everyone else is doing.

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Nikon D700, 400mm, 100iso, f4.5, 1/800th, Manual

Once finished in victory lane I was sitting in the photo room and sending out images as Stewart was next door doing the winners press conference. They had the audio playing in our room and in standard Tony Stewart fashion he went off on a journalist who asked a question Tony didn’t like.

The below clip is eight minutes long but its worth watching. Pretty funny stuff.

After listening to him going off on everyone I went next door to shoot a photo (below) in hopes that one day it will become as famous as the Dennis Green “They are who we thought they were” press conference.

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Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 2000iso, f2.8, 1/400th, Manual

That wraps up my glorious weekend in Kansas. Next race is this weekend in boring Fontana, CA!

Web clips:

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Posted in Kansas, NASCAR, Racing, Sports   | 8 Comments

8 responses to “NASCAR Kansas (where the only excitement is in post race press conference)”

  1. aradilon says:

    Great photos especially the black and white one and the one with the silhouet of the pit crew.
    And whats the movie about? As a Belgian i don’t know much about nascar (Do they only ride rounds all day? They don’t know how to corner?), but the photos make it look exciting nonetheless.

  2. No remotes? Seems like you haven’t been using the remotes as much lately. Any reason?

    I’d love to see a photo of you working the double camera setup. I’m trying to figure out how you manage to hold and shoot with your left hand and keep it straight and sharp. I’m guessing you hold the camera in your palm so you can hit the shutter on the vertical grip?

    Anyway, great stuff as usual. Keep the techno/photo info coming. Those of us who know what you’re talking about love reading that.

  3. Jason Gynn says:

    Awsome stuff as usual, even though you may find it as just the norm im sure, like myself others find your event coverage to be top notch.

    1 question, when your using off camera flash for your people shots, are you using a cable or raio trigger? i do some work at my local drag strip and i used my pocket wizards last time out but found them a bit bulky so was going to try wired, just wondering how you went about it.

    Jason.

  4. These are great shots! I especially like your description of how you took the pictures and the camera settings. Now I’ll have to play with my density filters some! Keep up the great work and thanks for sharing!

  5. Alan Stewart says:

    Great stuff as usual …

    Can’t believe you didn’t get a shot of Smoke hauling off the chair, though … 🙂

  6. Cool shots Mark. I can say with 100% certainty that I would be as toxic as Stewart if I had been racing pretty much every weekend since February. If I were his Doctor, I would perscribe him two full weeks of cold beer and an opium pipe on a tropical island with scantily clad Thai girls

  7. Michael says:

    I agree, you should get Jennifer to take a photo of you doing the two handed shooting. I tried and I don’t think my hand is capable of this!

    Great shots as always!

  8. Ted says:

    Awesome photos as always, I too would like to see how you grip both cameras. Are both cameras vertical and you press the shutter on the battery pack?

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