Thursday, October 15, 2009


This is about focus. Something I've found myself becoming a lot more familiar with using the Nikon. Focus is also a thing motorcyclists need to be worried about, too. I'm wrapping up a loose end from a couple of posts ago. I think you'll see how it all relates.

Back in July, when I started the photography class, we did a photo shoot during our third class. The shoot was supposed to happen later, but the guy who owned the subjects of our shoot was only available this week. The subjects were a couple of classic cars. The one that's pertinent to the post is a 1958 Edsel.

I'll show you the car in a minute. As an interesting side note, Harry Carter is an old friend of my Grandfather. Harry says they used to work together before I was even thought of. As another interesting side note for Mike, I'm taking a lunch break at the food court of Clackamas Town Center as I start this post. Seems we both use mall food courts for mobile offices.

Our instructor had Harry move the Edsel into the sunshine next to some trees. We were supposed to work on getting good exposures. We were also tasked with making some "artistic" shots. Yeah, right. I was going to do good just getting the lighting right.

The Edsel wasn't doing much for me. We were in the bright sunshine photographing a stark white car. I'd barely heard of an SLR digitial camera before I'd recently purchased mine, let alone know how to adjust all those mystical settings the instructor kept talking about. And as for artistic, well, it's me we're talking about.

"Good God, Jim, I'm a Warrior, not an artist!"

However, life ain't all bad, as they used to say on Hee Haw. As I was framing a shot of the car, I spied a black Kawasaki Ninja in the background. Now I'm into familiar territory with something I'm actually interested in. With my attention definitely captured, I raise the camera lense a bit to look past the car. Remembering to eeeeaaaaaasssse down the shutter button, I fire off the shot. Hmmm, something's wrong.

I'm looking at the bike, but the camera isn't. I try again with identical results. Time to regroup. I've heard a definition of insanity as doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results. Why is the camera so in love with the car while I want to pay attention to the bike? I mention it to Paul, our instructor. He tells me to check the auto-focus settings of the camera. The what? Being a kind of "If I give you a fish, versus teaching you to fish" kind of guy, Paul tells me to look at the owner's manual. Sure enough, there's a setting that tells the camera what to focus on. It's set to focus on whatever is closest to the camera. I can change that. Cool!

Ok. To those of you who might be snickering at me right now, I say cut me some slack. I've used freakin' point and shoot cameras for over 40 years. What can I say?

Having changed my settings, I try it again. While not the best photo, and certainly a world away from artistic, I'm pleased to get the subject I want in focus.

Now the camera looked past the car and focused on the bike. Speaking of bikes, let's go back to riding.

While this was just a photography exercise where I learned something about focus, neither of the previous two photos are good examples of where and how to focus while riding. Especially in a group. I'd posted earlier about a group of motorcycles travelling together. When traffic conditions on the freeway changed suddenly and unexpectedly for the worse, the riders were caught by surprise.

Here's the official release from the Oregon State Police:

News Release from: Oregon State Police
Posted: September 19th, 2009 1:26 PM
Photo/sound file:

Photo 1

Photo 2

Photo 3

Photo 4

Photo 5

Oregon State Police (OSP) troopers are continuing the investigation into Friday afternoon's multi-vehicle traffic crash south of Wilsonville on Interstate 5. Ten motorcyclists traveling together as part of the Brothers Speed Motorcycle Club was injured, two critically. Names of three other injured motorcycle operators are available with this release.

On September 18, 2009 at approximately 2:45 p.m. approximately 26 motorcycles were traveling northbound in the left inside lane near milepost 282 in a formation of two columns when traffic ahead began to come to a stop. The first two motorcycles maneuvered to avoid a collision with a 2005 Toyota 4Runner but the rest of the motorcycles could not react in time and crashed into the sport utility vehicle and into each other. A second vehicle, a 2004 Nissan Pathfinder sport utility vehicle in the center lane was also struck by one of the motorcycles attempting to avoid the collisions.

Medical responders arrived and subsequently transported eight motorcyclists by ground ambulance. Two others identified as HERBERT SINCLAIR, age 48, from Heyburn, Idaho and DAVID BOWYER, age 44, from Coeur d'Alene, Idaho were transported by LifeFlight to Oregon Health Sciences University and Legacy Emanuel Hospital, respectively.

Both men are reported in critical condition.

Names of three of the other 8 individuals injured in the crash are identified are confirmed as JUAN RAMON MATA, age 60, CHRISTIAN J. GANKEMA, age 40; and, GARY PAWSON, age 38, each from Idaho.

The names of the two drivers are not available for release.

Interstate 5 northbound lanes were closed for about two hours before one lane was opened. All lanes of Interstate 5 were open at approximately 5:40 p.m.

Oregon State Police troopers were assisted at the scene by Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue, Clackamas County Sheriff's Office, ODOT, Aurora Fire Department, Canby Fire Department, Wilsonville Police Department and Marion County Sheriff's Office.

No other information available for release

Photograph Source: Oregon State Police

If you click on the links you should be able to see the photos taken by OSP. As Dean W commented on the original post, one of the critically injured riders from Idaho has died of his injuries.

So what went wrong?

A large number of bikes were cruising down the freeway in formation. I'm not going to comment on the being in formation in the first place. For most riders it's not a good idea. Some choose to ride that way. All I'm saying is that it's a risk factor that needs to be taken into account.

The real issue seems to be that all the riders were surprised by changing traffic conditions. Traffic ahead of the bikes began to slow. Directly in front of the bikes was the Toyota 4Runner, which would block the available visual lead. I, obviously, wasn't there. However, based on everything I know about managing risk and where to focus in order to do so, it seems pretty clear that the riders weren't focused nearly far enough ahead. If they had been looking farther ahead, the disaster probably wouldn't have happened. Surprise equals inadequate visual lead. A simple formula.

Riding in formation compounded the situation. It's easy in a group of bikes to let the attention focus on the bikes. We all look cool. Hear the rumble. Whatever. I don't mean this as ridicule. There's just this fascination with a large group of bikes. We want to look at the bikes and our fellow riders. On a freeway we expect to make unimpeded progress. The camera lense seeks that closest to it.

A 20 second visual lead required when we ride. We want critical information just as early as we can get it, don't we? The faster we ride, the farther that 20 second projected path of travel extends ahead of us. That doesn't change if we ride alone or in a group. Visual lead is visual lead. In fact, when riding as a group, riders should be hyper vigilant about looking past the bikes and scanning ahead. Even in a group, we are responsible for our own rides.

That's not to say we shouldn't focus closer, either. Just as we shouldn't look close to us and ignore those things farther away, we would be foolish to look far away and not scan close to us.

Here's the key. Scan at least 20 seconds ahead to pick up clues just as early as possible. Scan more aggressively 10 seconds ahead of us. That's where the immediate action will be. Which, hopefully, we got a clue about in our 20 second scan. See how it all works smoothly together? Do it successfully, alone or with others, and we can be like Goldilocks. It's all "just right".

The Edsel's in my immediate focus but I also have a clue about the other car and bike coming up. That's how we should focus while riding. Now you'll have to excuse me. That image of us all being a bunch of Goldilocks with our blonde curls blowing in the wind has me freaked out. Time to go get some coffee!

Miles and smiles,



Mike Simmons said...

Very cool Dan. Another nice analogy with photography and riding. I always enjoy reading your advice on riding, and this reminder about focusing 10 and 20 seconds ahead is great. As I read this I realize I haven't always been doing that.

Thank you for the plug, I'm honored that you did that. I worked Astoria today and stopped by Camp Rilea. I'm in the cage today but next time I want to get a "tank shot" like you.

Stay focused...

bobskoot said...


You have a way with words to intertwine your focusing thoughts. It's great that you are focusing on another hobby which is complementary to riding and which you are still able to enjoy in later years. (didn't want to say when you are old and unable to ride). I often look back on my images with a smile and they often bring back happy memories of a moment, frozen in time . . . well, at least most of the time.
As for focusing, I prefer to set my camera for a single focus point, focus, and recompose. I don't always like the camera to make decisions for me

bobskoot: wet coast scootin

Lucky said...

I like what you did there.

Also, multiple auto-focus options? NEAT. My (film) SLR has two auto-focus settings: On and Off.

Sojourner rides said...

Excellent lessons...I've never ridden in a group and don't plan to. Even the few times I've ridden with my spouse, I've noticed that my focus can be interrupted. I ride solo in part to stay focused on what I need to. Nice analogy with focus as pertains to depth of field and camera stuff.

Krysta in MKE said...

Trust you to work a bike in there somewhere... even when you were supposed to be looking only at the car. ;) Your pictures are improving, bit by bit. I was lucky (?) to have a photo-obsessed dad who taught me photo theory & practice at a fairly young age. I spent lots of my allowance having film developed. Digital is so much cheaper!

As for that crash, I said before it looks like too many people too close together & not paying attention. And looking at the photos I don't see a helmet anywhere, nor any other (bike) safety equipment. That frosts my little ATGATT soul.

Also, I realize I'm vastly overtrained compared to the average person, but folks, take at least a basic first aid course & carry at least a basic kit with you. It's better than standing around gawking at a crash, for both you & the hurt person.

Heinz N Frenchie said...

We were taught in scooter school to never ride side by side and we often see motocyclists doing just that. We always ride together but we have never riden in a group. Just does not appeal to us. Good luck with your photography.