Copyright Scott Bourne 2011 - All Rights Reserved - Using A Slow Shutter Speed & Panning Gets A Better Sense Of Motion In The Final Image
NOTE: This series is dedicated to Dan Wheldon who lost his life during the Indycar race at Las Vegas
One of the reasons I moved to Las Vegas just more than a year ago was the access it affords to great race tracks. One of those tracks is the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. If you are a car person or are interested in racing, then this place is about as close to Disney Land as you’ll get without going to California or Florida. It’s one of the most fan-friendly, accessible, professionally run race tracks in the world. And I’m lucky enough to shoot there.
Recently, the LVMS was busy. The IZOD IndyCar Championship had it’s last race of the season and the season point winner was crowned. The Indy Lights teams also ran as did the folks who race trucks in NASCAR in the Smith’s 350.
Copyright Scott Bourne 2011 - All Rights Reserved - Danica Patrick prepares for her last IndyCar race. This image was made with a fisheye lens. An "over-the-wall" photo pass is required to make an image like this. Note some photographers in orange vests on the right side of the image standing behind the wall. I like the string of light stands in this image top right.
With all those races, the practice and qualifying that goes with, and the surrounding events including tech inspections, fan events, etc. there are tons of photo opportunities.
Lucky for me, I got to cover the races and had an all-access photo pass to help me accomplish that goal.
A pretty horrible self-portrait made after shooting qualifying. Note the Racing Electronics headphones and radio, along with over-the-wall pass, general pass, Nikon D3s, Tenba bag on my shoulder, etc.
In this series of posts, I’ll outline some of what happens when you photograph a professional, national-level motorsports event. Think of it as a diary. I’ll just give my impressions and recite some things that I think other photographers might like to know.
So let’s get started…
It all starts with gear. Know what to bring – and what NOT to bring is the beginning of a successful shoot. This list is pretty exhaustive but I am sure I forgot to mention something.
Nikon 400mm f/2.8
Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR AF-S
Nikon 60mm f/2.8G ED AF-S Micro
Nikon 10.5mm f/2.8G ED AF DX Fisheye
Extra Batteries For Both Nikon Bodies
Olympus EP3 Body (x2)
Olympus 12mm f//2
Olympus 45mm f/1.8
Extra EP3 battery
Kirk Lens Plates
Induro BHD1 Ballhead
Misc 32gb Ultra Fast CF and SD Cards (I don’t use any specific brand of memory card. They all seem to work pretty well for me.)
Tenba Transport 400 mm Lens Bag
Tenba Medium Messenger Camera Bag
You should also note that use of a tripod is almost universally forbidden at most race tracks, including LVMS. You may use a monopod in very limited situations like while at a photo hole or out of the pit area. There are safety concerns in the pits that preclude the use of monopods and tripods.
Copyright Scott Bourne 2011 - All Rights Reserved - E.J. Visio sits in his car awaiting a practice session
Long pants – preferably SPF 20 or better. NOTE Most major motor sports events won’t credential someone wearing shorts. It’s a combination of safety and professionalism.
Long sleeve shirt – preferably SPF 20 or better. I use the Columbia fishing shirts because they have a high SPF factor and sunburn can be a real problem. While a long-sleeve shirt can be hot on a summer day, it’s better than getting skin cancer.
Closed toe shoes. Safety first.
Hat to block the sun. (With me but not shown in my photo here.)
Copyright Scott Bourne 2011 - All Rights Reserved - Lockers in the media room at LVMS
Ear protection (I use the Racing Electronics Uniden Sportcat radio with Racing Electronic Platinum Headset. The headset provides a 24db NRR Rating and simultaneously allows me to monitor individual drivers’ radios as well as the race officials and radio/TV broadcasts of the race.)
Computer/Power Supply/Card Reader for offloading cards.
iPhone for marking locations, tracking sunset/sunrise times, mapping shooting locations.
Water – and plenty of it.
Copyright Scott Bourne 2011 - All Rights Reserved - Photo vest, credentials, racing electronics gear
NOTE: The Las Vegas Motor Speedway is one of the top race facilities in the world. It’s certainly the nicest track I’ve ever photographed at and the media center is the best in the business. There are large media rooms with desks, power, free refreshments and lockers. The photo staff assigns lockers and hands out locks. I store everything I don’t need for each shooting session in the locker. The media room is under heavy security so I feel like it’s safe. It’s easier to get to the drivers and their cars than it is the media center! Unfortunately, this kind of luxury isn’t found at most race tracks. Call ahead to see what amenities the track offers for credentialed photographers.
Next on the list is access. Having access is the most important thing when you want to photograph any pro sport, including motorsports.
To get access you have to get permission which usually means you need a client or a good friend with the connections. At major tracks like LVMS it’s much harder than your local drag strip. In either event, don’t try to arrange access the day of the race. This sort of thing is usually arranged well in advance.
Credential office at LVMS
Here at LVMS there is a separate “credential shack” on Craig Road behind the speedway. You go to this building to get your credentials. Depending on what and who you’re shooting for you get different levels of access. Each event is different. Some require hot or cold passes and these have to do with where you can be when there is activity on the track. At most events at LVMS there is no hot or cold pass but there is an “over the wall” pass which is required to go over the pit wall for any race.
Once you have credentials you pick up the schedule. This isn’t the schedule that the event posts on its website. This is the media schedule. This document details press conferences, media avails and other information needed to cover the race.
Copyright Scott Bourne 2011 - All Rights Reserved - Helio Castroneves jokes around with other drivers as they prepare for the mandatory IndyCar driver's meeting.
At this race (and most national races,) there is a photographer’s meeting – much like the driver’s meeting. In this mandatory meeting you find out all the rules. The organizers will tell you where you can and can’t shoot, go over safety rules, discuss further credentials such as a photo vest and even handle mundane stuff like passing out meal tickets. (Yes at the big events they even feed us!)
The most important part of the pre-race photography activities is the safety talk. Believe me when I tell you there are few things in life you’ll photograph that are as dangerous as a major auto race. Read on below to see some examples. Everywhere you go you are in danger so be alert!
Copyright Scott Bourne 2011 - All Rights Reserved - Shot From A "Photo Hole" at the finish line using a fish-eye lens on what the track officials call "The Outside." Anything on the pit side of the track is "The Inside" and anything on the grandstand side of the track is "The Outside." At this track there are 20 holes for photographers. These holes are three feet from the track, behind the "Safer Barrier." Don't let the name fool you. If a car impacts the wall at the location you're shooting from, you're in danger. During the truck race a truck crashed right at a photo hole here at LVMS.
Rule number one is never turn your back on the track when it’s hot – i.e., cars are on the track. You never know what might be coming at you and if you’re facing it you have some chance of avoiding it. You also want to be aware of your surroundings in general. The garage and pit area are very dangerous. There are tires rolling around, cars charging out of the stalls, engines catching on fire. You don’t want to relax in this environment because you might end up getting hurt.
The crews and drivers generally don’t think much of photographers. They see us as a necessary evil as best. They’re not usually in a very good mood when we’re around so don’t expect them to go out of their way to look out for your safety. That’s your job. Pay attention at all times. Give them enough room to do their jobs, which are also very dangerous. Work together.
No matter how much I talk about safety in these posts, it can’t be enough. Ed Reinke, a well-known race photographer with decades of experience, died after he fell and suffered a head injury while covering the IndyCar race at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta.
In 1971, the pace car at the Indianapolis 500 slammed into a photographers’ stand. Nobody died but there were several serious injuries.
In 2005, four photographers were injured in the pits at the Daytona 200 when a car slid through a pit stall.
I’m not trying to unnecessarily scare anyone. I just want to make sure all race photographers understand the risks and prepare for them.
In the next installment I’ll cover shooting behind the scenes stuff on pre-race days, practice and qualifying.
Helmet Cameras @ GoPro.com