The secret of making great photographs is simply â€œknowing where to point the cameraâ€ and thatâ€™s harder than it sounds, especially after schlepping a nine pound lens, monopod, and camera body around Californiaâ€™s Laguna Seca track all day. This shot was created at dusk at an ISO setting of 800 using a moderately priced digital SLR, the Canon EOS 20D. Sure, the EF 500 f/4.0 lens cost $5500, so (I hear you saying) â€œIt oughtâ€™a take good pictures.â€ Well, it doesnâ€™t always work that way.
Let me tell you a secret, I donâ€™t own the lens. I borrowed it for a short time from Audiâ€™s team photographer, the incredibly talented Regis Lefebure. You can always rent expensive lenses like the 500 f/4 that, when purchased, cost more than a new Chinese car. Out where I live, this lens rents for $50 a day. Is it worth it? You bet it is. And donâ€™t even think about making racing photograph with any big lens without a monopod. The lightweight EOS body was a less than perfect counterbalance to this beast; my EOS 1D Mark IIN would have been a better fit, but where was it? It was tucked away in my equipment closet back in Colorado.
The first step in making any kind of racing photograph on a road course like Mazda Speedway is knowing where you should be located. If youâ€™ve never been to a track before, talk to some of the other photogs but walk around during practice and, well, practice yourself. Decide where you want to be and what lens you might use. A good place to shoot at Laguna Seca is near the top of a turn called â€œThe Corkscrew.â€ The cars have to break hard for a sharp left turn then go through a series of twisty turns gradually picking up speed as they do. The corkscrew, like at many other tracks has a protective fence barrier with â€œholes â€œ where you can poke your lens through, so your final choice of location may be limited and since only two or three photographers can fit a particular hole, donâ€™t hog the space. Let others get some shots too.
As night began to fall, I gradually began inching up my ISO speed from itâ€™s daytime starting point of 200 at the start of the race to finally 800 as dusk descended over the track. I follow the car, panning with the motion and instead of firing off long multi-frame bursts in continuous mode, keep squeezing the shutter in rapid succession short bursts with fewer and, I think, better images. I shoot racecars in Tv mode and in this case the best I could get was 1/320th at f/9.
Donâ€™t forget your earplugs. No matter how many Janice Joplin concerts you attended as a flower child, nothing will prepare you for the unmuffled sound of a full bore racecar. Earplugs are cheap, so get a couple of sets for each camera bag; that way you can loan a pair to somebody who forgets thereâ€™s and as Emeril says â€make a friend.â€
Visit Joeâ€™s Blog â€œSaving the world, One Pixel at a Timeâ€ (www.joefaraceblogs.com) for daily tips on digital photography.