Friday Moanin' Out of My Head

Mack Truck hood ornemant shot at Detroit Grand Prix using the Leica Digilux 3As much as I love being home with my family, I'm sitting here on a Friday morning with an itch I can't scratch. No race. No shooting. No brain food.

So as my mind is racing with ideas of what I want to do next, I thought this might be a good time to talk about down-time, small good cameras and how to make them work for you.

WIth anything you do, and especially things you do with a passion, it's important to know when and how to take a break. Now, that doesn't mean to just climb on the couch and go comatose. It means find something else to stimulate your brain... something that will recharge and refresh your batteries.

Chevy concert in the "Fan Zone" DGP - shot with Leica Digilux 3But, since I'm one of those people that can't really shut down, I like to take pictures. So much for taking a break, right? Well, I think of it as a two-fer. I get to relax... and I get to stretch my experience and repertoire with the camera.

So, while I'm passionate about shooting motorsports, it's work... it's my job. And, to be honest, at this point in my career, it can still leave a void... that is a photographic void. I want to push my photography and my vision to a broader range. So, the void, in a sense is a good thing. Anytime you can find yourself wanting to do more, wanting to get better, it's a reminder that you're alive and well. Curiosity may kill cats, but its how we humans progress.

Naples July 4th Parade shot with Leica D-Lux 3 in 16x9 aspect ratioI've always made a point of keeping a good, small camera in my arsenal. The "small" in the equation allows me to have a camera with me most, if not all , of the time. Additionally, it doesn't intimidate people or impose itself into a situation... making people change how their acting or lure them into the need to "pose."

The "good" is important because you're a photographer. There will be occasions where you capture something great with your little derringer, or find yourself in a situation where there's a great shooting opportunity and the pocket pal is all you've got to work with. So, you don't want something that will let you down. You want to be sure that at the very least, you'll have a good file to work with.

Goofing off in an outdoor cafe in Naples - shot with Leica D-Lux 3 16x9 aspect ratio

This all started for me with one of the early Canon digital Elphs. Back in 2000 I was traveling specifically with one team. I learned early on that it was important to document the "human" aspect of the tour. You get X amount of photos of the car on the track and after a while... nobody really cares. The photos of the people, the places, the pranks and good times carry a huge amount of emotional currency. This was their life that season, with those friends, on that team and in those places.

A few years after that, during Trans Am's year-end banquet, we did a slide show on a 20' screen that ran while people ate dinner. It was around 400 photos of nothing but Series' participants taken through out the season. People hanging out in the paddock, laughing, goofing off and basically having a great time. The slide show was a huge hit and the people couldn't have been more appreciative. For me, to sit and watch the faces in the crowd and here the comments, cheers and laughter was priceless and something I won't soon forget.

Emotional Currency

Pit lane at AMA Superbikes - Leica Digilux 3You can't put a price on it. I learned from that experience what pictures are really all about.. at least to those on the other side of the camera. Of course we're not talking about commercial use. We're talking about people and their lives. Over that season I noticed the feedback from the people within the racing community became more and more about the images taken with the small camera. Why? Because I was using it to take pictures of them. Them with their friends, having fun and being themselves.

After that, I always made sure I had a good small camera. The Elph was a bit too small... and the "good" was subjective... though technologically relative to the times. Since then I've burned through a Canon G5, a Panasonic/Lumix DMC-LC1, Leica C-Lux 1, Leica D-Lux 3 and the Leica Digilux 3. The last two are with me now.

Morning at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course - Leica Digilux 3The D-Lux 3 is a small pocket camera. It goes everywhere. Something this small is obviously going to have its short comings... noisy at high ISO settings... flash fall off, shutter lag... etc. etc. But, if you're smart about it and a realist in your expectations of what a small camera is for,  (this is true for all point n' shoots) it takes phenomenal images. If you're going to start pushing the envelope trying to shoot black cats in back alleys at night, you're going to be sorely disappointed. If you want to take a beautiful wide angle landscape, do some detail shots at a car show, or record your kids being kids, a camera like this will fill your hard drive quicker than you can say terabyte. And, you'll have files that can easily produce wall sized murals or printed photo books with no problem at all.

The Digilux 3 was purchased for similar reasons... but also for personal reasons. Reasons more related to my own desire to improve. The Digilux 3 is an SLR. What attracted me to it was the lens and the analog positioning of the camera's controls. It is a digital camera that features aperture settings on the lens barrel and shutter settings on a knob that resides on the top of the camera. It looks and feels like an old fashioned 35mm film camera. For me, the feel of this camera changes everything about the way I shoot when I pick it up.

Mid-Ohio Vintage Bikes in the garages - shot in Black & White with the Leica Digilux 3What I mean by that is everything slows down. Or, at least it did. As I get better with it, I'm shooting (and thinking) more from the hip. But what is important is it is changing how I think and shoot. The zoom is 14mm-50mm (28mm-100mm equivalent). This forces you to rethink the shot.. analyze the scene and make the most of what you have to work with. Compared to what I shoot with at my "day job," this is like swinging two bats in the on-deck circle. It's sort of like exercise.

Ah... but here's the bonus. Amazing photographs and great rewards for your efforts. The more I shoot with this camera, the more I'm filling a personal void and expanding my vision of how I work when I am covering a race. It's helping me capture a different perspective of the event.

Too often I come home with image after image of the cars on track. Same angle as last year... same corner... same cars.. same, same. I'm not saying the cars are easy... but, you do get stale... been there, done that. But now, what I'm shooting with my walk-around camera is spilling over to my work. I'm looking at things differently. I'm seeing pictures that I might not have seen before.

Marlon terrorizing the seagulls at Clam Pass - shot with the Leica D-Lux 3 16x9 aspect ratio

I guess the point of today's ramble (I do apologize), is to urge you to get a good small camera and enjoy your down-time. It's a two-fer. It will put some enjoyment in your photography, provide rewarding images to share with others and make you a better photographer. You don't have to spend a ton of money.. I think the Canon G9 is under $500 and is getting raves. It is often referred to as the "professional's point n' shoot." I believe Nikon is days away from introducing a similar camera as well. These little guys come with full manual overrides, nice zoom range, good quality optics and they'll even shoot RAW.

Trust me, this is a sure-fire way to put some fun in your photography!