Do you have what it takes to shoot car and motorcycle races like a pro?
Do the giant sponsor banners pose a challenge for you on the race tracks?
That's my biggest complaint about what racetracks have become. I understand it, but it's messy and ugly. What I've come to learn doing this is that the best tool you have on you is your legs. If you don't like the spot you're in, move three paces or move a mile if you have to. Find something with a clean background. Trees and sky work really well.
Sometimes you can use those sponsor banners to get a sense of place. Some tracks have really distinctive banners. There's a track in Florida during the Sebring 12-hours that has a big "Florida" banner going over the track. If you're just doing tight 500mm shots on each car as they go by, then every track starts to look the same. You have to get a mix of everything, including sponsor bannering.
It can actually look good if you use it in a pan. Some of the Honda banners are actually great because they're really punchy and red. If you get the right car going by it, it can be really cool. You have to work with what you got. You can also make one location look a lot different depending on your camera settings. A shot taken at 1/2000th of a second doesn't look anything like a picture taken at 1/10th, even if you're in the same spot.
Your access probably helps you shoot around stuff like that, but it probably brings about a whole new set of challenges, right?
It's really dangerous to shoot one of those races. That's something a lot of people leave out of their minds. It's really fun to go watch a race. You're generally very safe in the grandstands. The organizers usually aren't going to put you in a compromising position where a car can hit you. When you're media, all of that goes out the window. When you're media, you are responsible for yourself in very dangerous spots. A car crash at 180-mph is not a car crash. It's more like a small plane crash. Things explode, sending shrapnel and carbon fiber everywhere. Tires come off. It is exceptionally dangerous stuff.
What about shooting in the pits?
Working in a pit lane is essentially like trying to work in the middle of a highway. Generally pit lane speeds are 60-mph. It's like standing out on your local road where cars are going 45-mpg. It's faster than that. Cars are inches away from you. It's a really dangerous place and the more press there are, the more dangerous it becomes.
Are there some mistakes you see beginners making that they could probably avoid?
There are some people that don't like shooting the back of a race car, but I really do. Some of them are just stunning. That's where all of the money and all of the design work goes into the car.
If you have a car that's moving parallel to the front of your lens, that's where you separate the amateurs and the guys who really know what they're doing. You can take a really benign shot and make it interesting, but freezing the car from the side so it just looks like it's parked on the racetrack, that's amateurish. It gets even worse if the background is messy.