Well, the end of the season, anyway.
Since the last entry I've done three very different events - with very different results. To try to reduce the boredom factor I'll cover each separately.
The first was the Midlands Youth Tour, which I previewed in the last entry. I knew there were going to be five very different stages over the three days, but I wasn't quite prepared for how different the weather - and, as a consequence - the photography would be.
Stage 1 was a 5km time trial for the Under 14s and Under 16s on a B-road running into an industrial estate and pretty simple from a photographic perspective. Half decent light - thick cloud but still quite bright, early summer afternoon. I stood about a mile and a half into the 3 mile course and waited - one rider at a time, a minute or so apart; get the focus locked a good way out and then track them through. Got a couple of shots I was very pleased with including some pretty tight close ups.
There was then a long wait before Stage 2, which was on the Curborough Sprint Circuit. A great venue - the only problem was that it was being used for motor racing. By the time the riders got onto the circuit, the cloud was thick and black and the light was fading fast. With separate Under 8, Under 10, Under 12, Under 14 and Under 16 races scheduled it looked like the older riders were going to be riding in the dark, but in the end the cloud started to clear about halfway through to make up for the sun starting to disappear over the horizon so it stayed gloomy but tolerable throughout.
You would be able to see the variation of light conditions by looking at the Under 8 and Under 16 pictures, but I managed, somehow, to lose all the pictures from the final race (including some superb shots of the bunch with a rainbow in the background).
How it happened is a bit of a mystery. I had four CF cards with me - one 2Gb and three 1Gb cards - which was clearly not going to be enough for a three day tour, so I also had my laptop. I'd only used the 2Gb card and two of the smaller ones on the first day but had two stages to shoot on day two, so I transferred all the photos to the laptop, in my normal way, deleted the images off the card (or so I thought) and turned the laptop off without have reviewed or post-processed any of the images.
The following morning I put the first card on and there were images on it. I assumed I had forgotten to delete though, so I wiped the card and reused it. When I filled that one up I put the next one in and that had images on it, too. Worried now, I put that card aside and used a different one. I managed t get some photos onto the laptop in the afternoon and so avoid using the 'full' card from the day before.
When I got back to the hotel I found that I didn't have the images from that card on the laptop and I didn't have the images from the Under 16 race anywhere. I probably have been more annoyed (actually, I was 24 hours later - see my bike blog) but not very often.
Anyway, to return to the plot, Stage 2 was over the tight, twisty sprint circuit in the near-dark, so was the obvious choice for my first experiments with the SB-800. And, I have to say, I was quite pleased with the results. I had the diffuser on the majority of the time because I didn't want to distract the riders. It worked from that point of view but did mean that the range on the flash was very short. Very impressed though.
The third stage was another time trial - this time for the Under 8, Under 10 and Under 12 riders over 1.5km round internal roads at RAF Cosford near Wolverhampton. I took a different approach for this and set up at the start and took a set of pictures of each rider - a close-up as they prepared for the off and a series of shots of them powering away from the line. Some of the individual shots have come out quite well, but it isn't the most exciting set of photos in the world. The light wasn't great, either - a combination of grey clouds and shade from surrounding trees.
Stage 4 was a road race for all ages on a longer version of the Cosford circuit. The nice thing about this one - apart from (mostly) brighter weather - was that the races were long enough for me to adopt my Gorrick technique of walking the course backwards during the race to get lots of pictures from different viewpoints, although after the fifth and final race I felt more exhausted than most of the riders looked!
I spent quite a long time trying to get a shot I wanted outside the Joint Services School of Aeronautical Engineering of the usual RAF fibreglass Spitfire with the four service flags flying above it and the main pack riding past. I only had the 80-200 lens with me, so I couldn't quite get the shot I wanted and the light all disappeared at that point, but I'm resonably pleased with the result, which is at the top of this blog.
Finally, the Bank Holiday Monday saw us in a farmer's field in Chesterton for Stage 5, the only 'real' road circuit of the tour - 5km of twisty, hilly roads in beautiful countryside with glorious sunshine - and rain. Nothing complicated, photgraphically. The best shots were taken from the top of a long climb, which was pretty, showed some real suffering on the faces of the competitors and had the additional advantage that they weren't moving very fast.
The other vantage point I quite liked was on top of a huge spoil heap, looking down on the start finish line. Not the most glamorous place to be, but an unusual angle!
After that it was off to the pub for the presentations and on with the SB-800 again. The lighting was dreadful with a very brightly lit window behind the riders as they received their awards. Without the flash I doubt I would have got anything useful (although, to be fair, the pop-up flash on the D70 isn't bad) but I didn't much like what I got with it.
More blogs about cycling photography.