The Skill of Observation

From Lair of Sorrow

Photography is visual - it is the art of seeing things. Taking a picture is sometimes a lenghty process that used to be finalised by pressing the shutter button (now it is finalised by exporting the final image file).

It usually starts with a vision, then moves on to adapting that vision to whatever is available at the given moment (or waiting for the perfect moment). Then all rules of successful photograph are applied, one after another, then the shutter is pressed. Finally, the image is processed in software and exported as a ready-to-use image file.

King of Speed

The end result can often a pretty good photograph, like the above of a speedway rider. Going to a speedway tournament I had my initial expectation of what I would like to take pictures of, and one of the things was a lone rider followed by the trail of dust, ideally on his way out of the curve.

This is exactly what I accomplished and I am very proud of how the picture ended up. However, it was not done in an instant. It took a few tries and some prediction of how each race is going to pan out (read rules of speedway if you are unfamiliar with this sport) - for that particular shot I needed a heat where one rider has quite an advantage.

As you could expect, some races were more competitive than the others, and in those taking a picture of a lone rider is nearly impossible.

Catch Me If You Can

It is basically the same picture as the previous one, slightly modified to include two riders. Now it is more dynamic, there is energy and the focus is on the rider desperately trying to chase the heat leader.

Given that a typical speedway event has around 15 to 20 heats sometimes boredom creeps in. Tense moments, however, can happen at any time and one needs to stay focused.


On the upside, the repeatability of the event offers great exercise in observation. By looking at the riders and how they perform during each heat you have endless possibilities for interesting shots. You also learn how to predict what is about to happen and whether anything interesing can result from this.


Of course, one the most fascinating moments of each heat is its start. The riders are focused and have only a tiny fraction of a second to optimally begin racing before they are overtaken by others.

This cannot be said, though, about the track referee. His only job is to make sure the riders are positioned properly before the start, then back off and wait until they go. There is no excitment, just regular dull work.

Get Ready, Will You?

Naturally, I have not planned this picture. Instead, as the event went on and on, I started looking around the obvious things to see if there is anything interesting. I noticed the track referee being indifferent to who is in each heat (which is good, because he should not care about the results) - but also becoming more and more bored and impatient with the riders. It is worth mentioning that while each rider has exactly two minutes to be ready to race, they often use maximum time allowed to position themselves for start. This results in a cavalcade of seemingly pointless moves - which, in the end, bored the referee.

And that is the story - from a vision of a lone rider in the dust to an impatient referee, just by observing things out of the ordinary focus.

You may have noticed that this post is slightly different than some of the other ones - it still details how a particular frame was taken, but this time it goes more into the process of taking a photo rather than steps taken during editing. I hope to mix and match those approaches as the blog continues. Thanks for reading!