If you don’t wear ear plugs, you’ll probably never hear again. You’re saddled with more camera supplies than you know what to do with, you’ll probably have sun poisoning by the end of the day, and you’re required to be at press briefings at the crack of dawn. So, what’s so great about earning that highly-coveted press pass?
1. The Vantage Point
There’s no better view than the one through a photo hole. While everyone else is stuck behind the secondary safety fence, photographers with media access are permitted to stroll right up to the debris fence, placing their lens mere inches from cars that can be traveling at upwards of 170 miles per hour. In addition to the amazing close-up experience, you can walk right into the pits and photograph all the action as crews rush to swap out worn tires and refuel cars. In between races, you can walk the track. If you’re lucky, you can take home a souvenir from a damaged car; don’t worry, track officials told me it was allowed. Just make sure to bring a filter to protect that expensive lens, because the debris can be quite dangerous for a small piece of glass.
Without media access, this close-up photograph of Japanese driver Kenshiro Gushi wouldn’t have been possible.
2. The Networking
This might come as a surprise to some, but a fantastic part of the race photography experience is the amazing networking opportunities that you’ll be presented with. With well-known photographers from around the world traveling to cover these events, you’ll have time to swap business cards, discuss your own photography endeavors, promote your own media ventures and more. You’ll gain likes, shares and new followers, all while helping out fellow photographers. However, the networking doesn’t end with media professionals. This year at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, I was fortunate enough to meet the owner of KPAX Racing. If everything works out next year, I could be contacted by him to shoot for their team at the 2016 Grand Prix. Opportunities like these are rare and exciting, and I truly don’t believe I would have been this fortunate without attaining that media access badge.
Thanks to my media credentials, I was able to meet Red Bull Racing driver Mike “Mad Mike” Whiddett at Formula Drift Atlanta this year.
3. Getting Experience
In case you didn’t know, it’s significantly harder to shoot a vehicle traveling upwards of 100 miles per hour than it is to take a family photo. Instead of making sure everyone is all smiles and shooting away, you’ve got to worry about exposure times, aperture, ISO, framing, and managing to keep the car in focus, all while pivoting your body to follow the vehicle’s path. Everything is a variable in this equation, so when you change one setting, you’ve got to change them all. To get great pan shots, with a blurred background, but crisply-focused subject, you’ve got to slow down that shutter speed. As a result, any shakiness whatsoever will cause a terrible amount of blur, and aperture will need to be raised to account for the extra light getting in during the longer exposure. There is a pretty serious learning curve with this kind of fast-paced photography, so expect to take days, rather than minutes, perfecting your shots.
This is a great example of a low shutter speed panning shot. The blurred background really emphasizes the sharp subject.
4. Everything is Free!
Nothing is better than getting something for free, right? Well, assuming you’ve been awarded media access, you’ll be getting into any event you shoot for free. You’ll get VIP access to virtually anywhere imaginable, an obnoxiously fluorescent vest to let everyone know who you are, and of course, free food and drinks in the media room. Scheduled catered meals are brought in throughout the weekend, you’ll have a refrigerator filled with refreshments at your disposal, and sponsors will fill your arms with free merchandise! I’ve taken home portable charging bricks, thumb drives, hats, bags, and anything else you could imagine. Race coordinators certainly know how to take care of their reporters and photographers.
My friend and fellow photographer, Victor Wang, showing off his new (free) tire and Exedy Racing bandanna.
5. The Results
Well-executed race photography is on a completely different level than traditional photography. The amount of stress you’re under while hoping to get the perfect shot, putting your expensive camera in harm’s way, battling dehydration in 90 degree heat — it’s all worth the end result. That perfectly focused panning shot that brings a smile to your face, getting recognition for the quality of your images, and getting exposure with the help of drifters and sponsors on social media are all some of the most gratifying feelings I’ve ever experienced. My images have been shared by drivers like Mike Whiddett, Pat Goodin, Ken Gushi, and Ryan Tuerck. Sponsors like Scion, Garrett Turbochargers, Retax and Rotiform Wheels have all posted my photos to their social media accounts. Recognition, in the race community, is something that you can only achieve through hard work and talent.
Pat Goodin, one of the drivers that regularly shares my images on his Instagram and Facebook accounts, burning through a set of tires during qualifying.
Although it can be quite challenging, and even frustrating at times, motorsports photography is the most rewarding photography endeavor I have yet to embark on. If you have yet to give it a shot, there’s no time like the present. If you’ve already done so, until next time, see you on the track.
If you’re a photographer interested in applying for a Formula Drift media pass, click here to visit their application page.
Daigo Saito, a well-known Japanese driver, in his new R35 GTR.