Recently I had the opportunity to experience my first Daytona Rolex 24 Hour Race. The event is a proving ground for some of the worlds most expensive race cars. And surprisingly to me it was a melting pot for both the rich and poor to rub elbows and celebrate this test of endurance.
Overall it was a great weekend! But from a photographic sense, it was challenging. I had never shot a race before and as with most new assignments, what you expect to achieve isn't always what you actually capture. The cars were fast, deceptively fast. Plus, all the fences were over 6' and well, I'm not. So what was a short, newbie race photog to do? Turn over a trash can and mimic the pros. You see, the skill of photographing a race wasn't so much in getting the right exposure or composition. It was in capturing a fast car in sharp detail while still making it look like it was going fast. And with that epiphany came the art of "panning". As with most new techniques, panning takes practice. Lots of practice.
The length of the race provided for a variety of shots (still, action, day, night, literal and artistic). As many of you could guess, I gravitated toward the artistic and especially loved the night-scapes. At night the cars came alive! Track lights, head lights and multi-colored LED's created an energetic ambiance.
So what was life like at my first race. Well, lets see! I shared an experience with 10 billion people and camped with a thousand. Luckily for me they had 12 port-a-potties and 4 showers (Woohoo!) It was always loud, VERY LOUD!!! Even at 3am it was loud. Earplugs are a must. I even slept with mine.
Surprisingly, my apprehension to camping outside the track was abated upon meeting a few of our neighbors (as you could guess, a tent doesn't make for secure camera equipment storage.) For many, it was all about the race (come hell or high-water). For others it was all about the party, (24 hour, non-stop party). But for most of us it was about having a good time and enjoying a few days with good friends at an adrenaline charged event. There's something about the smell of high octane fuel and the throaty roar of a supercharged race car that gets your blood boiling. And if they don't the alcohol will at least keep you on the lead lap.
We had some wind and rain. The nights were cold and damp. The walks were long and my feet and legs were always tired. But as a photographer finding a new vantage point made the treks worthwhile. As the oldest guy in the group I probably complained the most, but the younger, more energetic kept me going. And even-though my compadres weren't photographers they were always on the lookout for me and a photo-op. I know it was probably a "kill-joy" for them to be constantly having to stop and wait but their enthusiasm for me to get a good shot was encouraging. And for that, I thank them.
At many times, I just had to put the camera down and enjoy the scenery and there was lots of scenery. Hot cars and fast women (whoops, got that backwards honey!) Fast cars and hot women! (now that sounds better, right?) As a photographer it was hard to make your mind up what to shoot. As an editor I could kick myself for holding down the shutter button for to many times.
Side by side were Porsches and Pontiacs, Ferraris and Fords, Vets and Vanquishes. It didn't matter if your gears were foreign or domestic, everyone bleed oil and alcohol for a few days.