For the next couple of weeks, you all get to deal with my excitement about attending the Belmont Stakes (I) through a series of warlgarbl’d text posts. Aw yeah.
As the ponies are one of my favorite subjects to photograph— be they Thoroughbreds, Saddlebreds, Morgans, Friesians, and others— one of the main draws for me personally at the races is getting some good snapshots of the horses in action. As a spectator, it’s tough to find your shots from mostly one vantage point, and last year I had just gotten another DSLR after having to sell the first one I had. Bringing home mostly “meh” pictures of some really outstanding photo opportunities was kind of a letdown, so I made it my goal for this year to get some better stuff to bring to the races this summer.
Incoming photo nerd stuff!
Last year, I had only just gotten my new Nikon d5000 (which many call “outdated trash” but I say otherwise… the camera model you have should be the third most important thing AND NO HIGHER on your priorities), which came with the stock automatic lens, which is pretty good, but I could only zoom out to 55mm maximum. 55mm is like what you see with your own eyes and doesn’t let you get up close, which is what I prefer to get.
This is about as good as I could get to getting a close-up of sprinter Hamazing Destiny last year. It drove me nuts just having the stock Nikkor lens on hand.
Because autofocus lenses are very expensive and only get pricer as they increase in focal length, I opted for a tried-and-true manual option. The greatest thing in the world about DSLR cameras is the backwards-compatibility they have with many old film camera lens. You can go on eBay, buy a beast piece of glass from 1991, and as long as you’ve done your homework about the mount type/buy an adapter to work with both, it works! The only reason why more people don’t buy manual lenses is because they’re a) optics whores… honestly, images don’t need to be National Geographic sharp to be beautiful! and or b) too reliant on the autofocus feature, which can be as harmful as it is helpful!
While you have a good deal of control over what the autofocus chooses to bring into focus, its results are often spotty. And honestly, if I can shift the autofocus ring myself as opposed to pushing a button, is that really worth several hundred dollars’ more? Nope. Enter my new favorite lens, the Sears 100-200mm (pictured above).
I absolutely love this thing, and even though it’s my cheapest lens ($30 on eBay), it’s my favorite one out of the 4 I currently own, which include 2 top-of-the-line Nikon pieces. It’s not super sharp, but that’s part of the draw as it gives this dreamy, soft, filmic look to all my pictures while letting me get close to my subjects:
Both images were only edited a little bit (a feature called “Leveling” which adjust the darks, middles, and highlights of the picture) and were shot in the camera’s RAW mode— an advanced shooting mode that captures very high quality picture files. This was my first time ever using this particular lens inside a dingy-dark indoor arena, so this is pretty good!
For the aspiring photo nerd: get a DSLR. Doesn’t matter what kind, though I prefer Nikon or Canon (Canon is allegedly more user friendly with richer colors, but I wouldn’t know since I’ve been Nikon all these years). Learn a little bit about photography, do some homework online about what mount type your camera accepts, and go manual on the cheap. It’s honestly getting so cheap with used DSLRs and lenses on eBay that you don’t have a good excuse to NOT want to venture outside of your smartphone and point-and-shoots. Especially if you’re like me and like going to the track and getting some spicy shots.
So yeah, I’ll have my bag o’ stuff with me at Belmont in railbird position, but I will no doubt be picking up better pictures this time around. Getting a really good picture at the track is like hitting a 20-1!