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Photographing World Superbike Racing at Phillip Island

March 28 2008

by Philip Northeast

World Superbike motorcycle racing at Phillip Island’s famous Grand prix track offers photographers a weekend with a wide range of subjects.

Located on the south east coast of Australia Phillip Island a narrow channel separates it from the mainland with a road bridge link to the mainland.

Photographer's Row

A row of photographers capturing all the action at Philip Island

Phillip Island is renowned for its beaches and the Fairy Penguins that enthrall visitors. The sight of Penguins returning from the sea after a day’s fishing and climbing the beach to feed their young is very popular. The island has magnificent sandy beaches and those on the southern side facing Bass Strait are popular with surfers.

Nestled on the southern edge of island is a less natural attraction, one of the best motor racing circuits in the worlds, the Phillip Island Grand Prix track. This is home to rounds of the MotoGP World Championship and the World Superbike (WSBK) Championship. Riders love the fast flowing track with plenty of fast corners providing exciting racing. A rural farmland setting combined with enticing views of the ocean and rocky cliffs keep the cameras snapping between races.

Parking spot with a view of Bass Straight

Parking spot with a view of Bass Straight

Much of the crowd arrives at Phillip Island on their motorcycles and the varied and sometimes exotic machinery creates a vast motorcycle exhibition. WSBK racing tends to attract spectators that are more knowledgeable and this reflects in their choice of bikes.

What is in the Camera Bag

Whether it is by bike or airplane and car, the constraints of luggage space and weight make choosing equipment difficult. Then once at the track it all needs carrying around all day, so each piece of equipment must earn its place in the bag.

Ice cream and bikes

Ice cream and bikes at Phillip Island

With the financial and time commitment necessary to get there, a little bit of insurance helps so a second DSLR body is handy. It also helps reduce the number of lens changes required in the field reducing the opportunities for dust to get on the sensor. Instead of changing lenses, just grab the spare camera and keep shooting. One of the entry-level DSLR bodies is ideal for this job, as they tend to be lighter and more compact than the larger pro-style bodies, in this case an old Pentax *istDS.

The making lens is a Sigma 135-400mm zoom to get close to the action on track. This lens is reasonably compact when set to its shortest focal length helping storage. It has a reasonable zoom range without the designers having to make too many of the optical compromises required for larger zoom ranges.

Spectacular Backdrop

Spectacular Backdrop to the WSBK action at Phillip Island

A Pentax 18-55mm kit lens goes on the spare body and this provides wide-angle coverage for crowd and scenery shots. A Sigma 18-125mm zoom provides coverage between the other two zooms to complete the range of focal lengths.

Lastly is the monopod, this time a cheap and compact lightweight unit. It may lack the sophisticated head and plate mounting system of the regular monopod it is easier to pack and carry while travelling. The long zoom lens and pro-style camera body can tend to get heavy after a couple of days continuous use so the monopod is there more for camera support as shake reduction is available in the camera body.  Of course, there are spare batteries, memory cards, and filters, etc. tucked away in pockets.

What sort of Bag

There is a vast and bewildering range of camera bags available to suit most photographers’ needs. However, one bag may not suit all the changing needs of an individual photographer. For this trip the bag needed to be compact so it could serve as carry-on luggage for the airplane trip and be comfortable to carry while walking around the track.

Victory lap

Troy Bayliss on a victory lap at Phillip Island

An ordinary back served as the main bag. Into it went the big zoom in its own padded carry case and then a small shoulder bag with the two bodies with the short zooms attached. The shoulder bag has a number of pockets for all those small but vital bits and pieces. Once in a general area the small bag went over the shoulder giving easy access to the bodies and the bits and pieces.


originally published by suite101.com



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