Taking It To The Streets

With the Belle Isle Detroit Grand Prix in the history books, we look forward to the two remaining events on the American Le Mans Series schedule: Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta and the Monterey Sports Car Championships at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

Obviously, these next two events are photographer's dreams. Gorgeous natural terrain circuits each with its own signature and identifiable features. But, I want to give credit where credit is due and tip my hat to the organizers and those that put on the Detroit Grand Prix.

Maybe it's the benefit of being on an island, but this venue brings quite a bit to the photographer's table considering it's a temporary circuit. And while the shot selection might be a bit confining, the ones that do exist are probably some of the best when compared to other temporary tracks. In fact, the start shot is probably one of the best you'll find. You get the whole front stretch. The flag stand is positioned to where most the cars are on the straight when the green is thrown. And, last but not least, you have a clean, clear shot of the Detroit Skyline. But you know what, this didn't happen by accident. That's the difference of the Detroit Grand Prix. This shot was planned and is there by design. And to take it one step further, the organizer even provides TWO hydraulic lifts specifically for elevating photographers so they have clean access to the start shot. That's organization.

Getting The Most Out of A Temporary Circuit

Scooters in the Penske paddockLike any track, pay attention to the "big picture." I say this often, but it's very common for all of us to get out there and start filling up the viewfinder with race cars. Big fat full frame in your face race cars. You need to slow down and think about what you're doing.

If you're shooting a review of a car for Road & Track, the car is obviously the star. But, make sure that you don't walk away with nothing but cars that look like they're shot on "any track USA." When shooting a race, it's important you put the car into context. After all, some of these locations are historic in their own right and have every bit of a story to tell as the cars that race on them. So back up and take in the track... years from now you'll be glad you did.

A model for Hankook Tires on her way back from the autograph session

So while Detroit might not provide us with mountainous vistas overlooking Monterey Bay, it does have its own personality. Plus you also have the intimacy of the other entertainment typically provided to the spectators attending the street races. As a story teller, make sure you get some of these activities in your viewfinder. If this is a weak spot in your skill set, all the more reason to pay attention and go do it. As a photographer, it is important you use these opportunities to broaden your scope.

I often worry about getting pigeon holed of being "just" a motorsports photographer. Not that I want to be something else, but I do want to have a broader set of photographic skills. And that is the great thing about motorsports. If you THINK about your shooting and take a broad view of the whole event, there are lots of opportunities to grow. YOU need to take charge and find those opportunities.

This pigeon was hanging out by the water while we waited for a caution during Saturday morning's warm-up.I had an interesting conversation with Rick Dole who just returned from Beijing and shooting the 2008 Summer Olympics. One of the comments he made was his surprise at how much his motorsports experience came into play shooting the different sports and venues during his three week stay. He felt it was a big advantage in knowing what to look for... anticipating where the action would unfold how to position yourself to work that action along with pleasing backgrounds. He felt there was a lot of overlap.

He also noted the opportunity. "You knew every time you shot an event that at some point there would be an opportunity." He was referring to the athletes and their emotions.  People being people.. being themselves.

So, the next time you're feeling in a rut, Keep that in mind as you walk around the race track. Go work the paddock.. work the spectator areas... there is so much more than the action on the track. Learn to watch for opportunities. There's a lot more out there than you think.