Thinking Outside the Hole

Here I shot the track surface by placing my camera directly on the ground. This was a Leica Digilux 2 set at 28mm angled slightly upward.So, one week we're in St. Pete on a temporary circuit and two weeks later we're in Long Beach on yet another temporary street circuit. Both have very limited access, and what little access you do have can be very challenging to get to. Trust me, it's easy to talk yourself into shooter's block with these two events.

But wait. Maybe limited access is a good thing. Maybe you can turn it around. Here's an idea... ignore the access. That's right... ignore it. Now, when I say ignore the access, I'm speaking specifically about the photo holes. You know, those predetermined locations where the track promoter graciously, albeit begrudgingly, takes a pair on tin snips and opens up the fence. For the most part, the photo holes are located in the same place each and every year... though sometimes they do seem to disappear. I'm not sure how that works... I mean seriously, how does a hole disappear? Oh well, I digress.

I realized that if I made a conscious effort to work at avoiding the photo holes, I'd have a much better chance of coming away with fresh views and images of the event.Back to the predetermined photo holes or, as indicated on the track map, the photo locations. Let's just think about this for a minute... if the photo holes are predetermined and printed on a map, what's going to happen? Isn't EVERYONE going to shoot through them? Of course they are. They're on the map. You numbly go to the photo meeting. You get the map and you use it locate the holes. Now I know about now you're saying to yourself, "yeah... OK, Thawley... been there done that... WHAT is your point?"

I'll tell you my point... if the holes are predetermined, doesn't it seem to make sense that your shot selection is ALSO predetermined? Hey, I'm sure you're a great shooter and you've got all the trick gear and lenses. And I'm sure you're going to walk away from that photo hole with a couple of different looks that are absolutely "spot-on." But will they be any DIFFERENT than any other photographer got by shooting through that same hole? Notice, I didn't ask if they'd be better, I asked if they'd be different.

If we're looking for something different, we're going to have to look different. Not straight ahead or just side-to-side. You need to look up. You need to look down.So faced with the mental block of shooting St. Pete and Long Beach back-to-back, I made a decision... THINK OUTSIDE THE HOLE. I realized that if I made a conscious effort to work at avoiding the photo holes, I'd have a much better chance of coming away with fresh views and images of the event. Of course, there are specific locations where the shot is good... especially if it's a tight car shot you're after. But given my goal of improving my view and reportage of the overall event, "Thinking Outside the Hole" seemed like a good plan. Would it be successful? I didn't know for sure. But what I did know, is if I went to these races and and populated the predetermined photo holes like everyone else, I'd come home with exactly what I shot last year.

If you really wrap your head around the concept and the logic behind it, you'll soon see that it applies to all kinds of photography.Now before you set about and begin avoiding all the photo holes, make sure you're not throwing the baby out with the bath water. I don't want to imply that the photo holes are bad and that you shouldn't shoot through them. Quite the contrary. If you've prepared a general idea of your shot list for the weekend, there are going to be a few "must-have" shots. If you're shooting for specific clients, they too will have requests. But I think my logic is good and with a little planning in advance, I think you'll find you've been overlooking a lot.

Spend some time doing recognizance work. Believe me, it doesn't take much effort to make things start happening for you.So, now we've got our brain off auto-pilot, what are we looking for? If we're looking for something different, we're going to have to look differently. Not straight ahead or just side-to-side. You need to look up. You need to look down. Find lower vantage points. And by all means... look for higher vantage points. I mean REALLY high vantage points. One suggestion Regis Lefebure threw out was to simply climb the grandstands. The point is DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT. Spend some time doing recognizance work. Believe me, it doesn't take much effort to make things start happening for you. And, if you really wrap your head around the concept and the logic behind it, you'll soon see that it applies to all kinds of photography.

This going away shot with my 500mm, taken through an open in the K-wall. Others were shooting the same location, but I moved about 15 to the left and got more of a slice along the track edge.Last year as Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course's track photographer I had the opportunity to shoot a few events were the infield wasn't as crowded as the IRL and ALMS events. You have no idea how your view of the track changes. My friend, Chris Clark, and I found ourselves standing in the middle of the infield with our 500mm lenses coming up with all kinds of fresh looks. That opportunity changed our entire point of view shooting future events at the same track.

You might recall in my last post, I spoke of how at St. Pete I found myself up in the top of the grandstand reviewing a shot where the cars head from the city streets back to toward the airport. It's a so-so shot... and I've shot it before. Suddenly the sky opened up and it began to pour. I moved to front center of the grand stand since it was covered for hospitality use later in the week. Suddenly, there it was... a nice loose shot that took in a good portion of the front stretch with lots room to track the car for a slow pan. In addition, the rain had given things a lot of nice contrast and the dark sky helped light up the jumbotron. This became one of my favorite shots of the weekend.

I had been walking about earlier in the day and noticed that the Hyatt Regency where we were staying had a railing encompassing the roof.Again at St. Pete, instead of fumbling around trackside with the short morning warmup, I decided to go to pit lane and take advantage of the morning light and the bustle of pit lane. With the session red flagged, it fell right into my hands and provide some very nice background images.

At Long Beach, I've never been happy with the start shot. I'm fortunate enough to receive a reserved spot on the turn-one shooting stand... but, the shot leaves a lot to be desired. The cars are too spread out by time they get to you... and there's not much else to shoot once you're up there. So, considering I felt I had nothing to lose, I set out to find something else. I had been walking about earlier in the day and noticed that the Hyatt Regency where we were staying had a railing encompassing the roof. I figured.. what the heck? I knew I would get some great shots up there. I might not get the start shot... but I was sure there'd be some cool looks. I wasn't going to get much of a start shot anyway. I got permission (and a security escort) to shoot from the roof. I took three bodies mounted up with a 12-24mm, a 70-200mm and my 500mm. I don't mind telling you though, I goofed. I think I could have swapped out the 500mm for my 24-105mm and picked up a few more looks.

By all means... look for higher vantage points. I mean REALLY high vantage pointsThe 12-24 was perfect for wide arial views. And, there were several clean shots as I moved around the roof perimeter looking toward the water. The 70-200 was good shooting some of the cars a bit tighter.... but where I missed was not having something in between the 24mm and the 70mm. One was too much car and pavement and the other was too much scenery. Oh well, next time.

I made three other shots that I particularly liked in Long Beach. The first was simply shooting the track surface by placing my camera directly on the ground. This was using a Leica Digilux 2 set at 28mm, angled slightly upward. The other was a going away shot using my 500mm taken through an open in the K-wall. Other photographers were shooting the same location, but I moved about 15 to the left and got more of a slice along the track edge. It wasn't the most used line, but it was a great look.

I thought this was a nice representation of the event and the crowds Long Beach attracts. There are also several "landmark features" silhouetted in the shot.The last shot my very last shot of the weekend. I was crossing the pedestrian bridge that goes across Ocean Drive at the end of the race. I saw a line of spectators that were back lit as they overlooked Pine Street and viewed the far end of the track. I thought it was a nice representation of the event and the crowds Long Beach attracts. There are also several "landmark features" silhouetted in the shot.

In the end, I will continue this thought process after Salt Lake City... since there are no photo holes (or fences for that matter) at Miller Motorsport Park. Hopefully we'll find some fresh points of view. And when we do, you can count on me sharing them.

Thanks for listening...

JT