Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Edit makeover revives pics from '05 shoot

In most walks of life, there is something to be said about getting second chances. Sometimes in photography, too, you can get second chances, especially if your shoot is something organized that you control, like a portraiture.

But what about an event that is fluid, such as a football game, wedding, concert or theatrical performance? You almost have to get it right the first time.

Eleven years ago, I voluntarily photographed the parade and Boy and Girl Scouts soap box derby competition at the 59th annual Morristown Derby Days for The Indianapolis Star. Morristown is a small community in northeastern Shelby County, about 35 miles east of Indianapolis.

I'd had my first digital single-lens reflex camera for only a year at the time, and I was still struggling with handling some of the basics about this new technology (new to me, anyway). White balance was a foreign concept to me, I hadn't become sensitive to backlighting problems (when I didn't want it, that is), and my conversion to using RAW format full time was still three and a half years away, so my JPGs were extremely vulnerable to the sundry exposure and post-processing problems I did not know how to deal with.

Yes, I was never happy with the pictures I made from that shoot, largely because so many reflected darkened faces of young soap box derby racers because of backlighting or shade from the driver helmets. Compounding the problem was the fact that I used a very limiting Microsoft photo editing software; basically, I lacked the post-processing tools to salvage images the way I can do now in Adobe Camera RAW and Photoshop Elements. For years, I told myself many times that I would bring up those Derby Days JPGs some day and try to do them right.

"Some day" came Sunday, and I was mostly pleased with the results. Since the shoot happened well before I launched this blog, I decided to dedicate a post to the results today; these are images taken in July 2005 and given new life in 2017.

Here's a little background about the soap box derby in Morristown that you might appreciate and even enjoy. The derby competition has been held annually in Morristown, on the last weekend of July, since the late 1940s. The town blocks off a major highway -- U.S. 52 -- on both sides of town and runs the competition down a hill on 52 at the east end of downtown.

But Derby Days is not just about racing. In 2005, other Derby Days activities included a parade, a Lions Club fish fry, a 5K run/walk, a 3-on-3 basketball tournament and games and rides for kids. Since then, festival activities have grown significantly to include an adult derby competition, a car show, a softball tournament, an animal show, laser tag, live music and other amusements.

In 2005, then-11-year-old Cameron Crenshaw (left) became the first Scout to win the derby four times (and four is the maximum number of times any Scout can participate in it). The previous record of three had been done only once -- by Jeff Decker (1969-71), and in Decker's day, three was the maximum a participant could enter.

In all, Crenshaw's total heat record in four years of derby competition was 31-2 (Note: Competitors who lose their first heat drop into a loser's bracket and can still reach the championship run-off if they survive loser bracket competition. In two of his four years -- including the 2005 derby -- Crenshaw reached the title run-off via the loser's bracket).

Winning the 2005 Girl Scout competition was 10-year-old McKenzie Short, herself a multiple winner. That's her in the No. 22 car at right, her father flanking the vehicle, waiting in a queue for the first heats. The following year, Short's last in the competition, she finished runner-up to 12-year-old Emily Burton.

Since it has been 11-plus years since the 2005 festival, I was curious about what happened to the two winners, Crenshaw and Short, and I am impressed with their success stories.

Based on online research, I learned that Crenshaw would attend Shelbyville High School, graduate in 2012 as valedictorian of his class, then attend Trine University in Angola, Ind. He is majoring in mechanical engineering and is scheduled to graduate this spring.

Short was an honors student and president of the class of 2013 at Morristown Junior-Senior High School. She graduated Ball State University in 2016 with a degree in marketing and was married in August. Time sure flies fast.

So here you are ... rehabilitated photos from the July 30, 2005, shoot at the Morristown Derby Days, leading off with my favorite of the day ... the one time I was able to catch two racers finishing a heat this close together.

As usual, click on any image to bring up a larger, sharper version, which is particularly helpful if you access this blog from a mobile device. For a look at a full gallery of the images from the shoot that I processed during the new edit, visit my site at

Photo geek stuff: I shot this with Canon's original Rebel DSLR (300D) and switched back and forth between the Canon standard zoom lens (18-55mm f/3.5-5.6) or the EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 long-range zoom.

Above: This shot of Courtney Warrick is a good example of what I gained during the new edit. In the original photo I made, there were no details in her face, partly because of helmet shadows and partly because of partial backlighting. Boosting the shadows slider on my Elements software gained me considerable light and detail. I was willing to accept that for the tradeoff -- some pixellation in the face. There were literally scores of photos in my shoot where facial detail was restored in the new edit, including the one above of McKenzie Short.

Above: The U.S. 52 hill used for the derby races, looking west toward the downtown finish line. 

Above: Before heat competition began, 2005 Boy Scout derby winner Cameron Crenshaw used WD-40 to lubricate his vehicle's wheels on a side street near the starting chutes.  

Above and below: These shots of Bryce Kleiman at the conclusion of his first heat (depicted in the lead-off photo) are the first of two "before/after" examples of what I was able to accomplish in the recent editing "remix." The original JPG I made (below) screamed for help. Fixing it was a simple matter of slightly boosting exposure and a healthy dose of shadow elimination.  

Above and below: Another example of what I achieved in the new edit. I was panning to follow Crenshaw at the finish line in a pre-finals heat, and as I snapped the shot, the blue foam-padded vehicle stopper crept into the right side of the frame. You see more of the blue foam below in the original shot (for the new edit above, I made a point to crop out as much as I could without sacrificing key facial features), but you see nothing of Crenshaw's face below. After I boosted exposure and eliminated shadows, I really liked the capture of eyes peering just over the rim of the cockpit. Even with the gains in the revised version above, I would never submit this photo for use in any professional capacity because of the annoying blue stopper being part of the photo. But I include it here to illustrate the before/after improvement. 

Above: Emily Burton, who would win the Girl Scout Derby the following year in her final year of competition, was another 2005 racer whose face was undetectable in the original image. You can see it now after the new edit. 

Above: McKenzie Short (left) leads down the U.S. 52 hill in her first heat of the day.  

Above: Details in Kirsten Klepper's face in the original image also were lost because of darkness, making it an ideal candidate for the new edit.

Above: People in this section of the course downtown watched the derby competition on the south side of U.S. 52 about 30 yards or so from the finish line.

Above: This photo from the parade didn't require nearly as much rehabilitation during the new edit. In the days after the parade, I submitted this photo (and several others) for publication in the then-Johnson County suburban news section of The Indianapolis Star. According to my notes, the girl on the left is Lilli Thompson, then 4, and the girl tossing candy is Alyssa Allen, then 8. They were on a boat used for a float by Morristown United Methodist Church that promoted the theme "Fishing for Men." 

Above: Kids along the parade route looked for people in the parade who tossed candy their way, and they got it from this girl.   

Above and below: Members of a unit then called the 35th Indiana Irish Brigade participated in the parade, discharging their firearms and marching at various intervals along the route. According to the unit's current historian, Brian Henry, the organization now goes by the name 35th Indiana Infantry, First Irish. 

Above: Another spectator along the parade route.

Above: Just to reinforce how inept I was when handling my 300D in 2005, I took this shot -- oblivious to the white balance setting -- under the tent where the fish fry was being served. The original actually came out much redder than this and is something that, today, I could have fixed relatively easily in Camera RAW. But in JPG format, this image couldn't get any closer to truer color than this -- even in a remix. According to my notes, the couple in this photo gave their names to me as Dan and Maria Gabbard of Shelbyville.