Thank you Scott and Brad for inviting me to be the guest blogger this week.  It is quite an honor.

I have photographed a wide variety of sports throughout my 25 year career including the Olympics, U.S. Open and French Open tennis, PGA Tour golf and college football.  However, I am probably best known as a motorsports photographer, which typically represents about 70% of my corporate and editorial work in any given year.  With the racing season now in full swing I thought I would offer some insights on how I approach a typical assignment.

Most of my 2011 racing season will be spent covering endurance sports car racing – these are high-tech, multi million dollar prototype cars with the typical race lasting between 6 and 24 hours.  The 12 Hours of Sebring and the 24 Hours of Le Mans are two of the best known sports car races.  LeMans is the Indy 500 or the Daytona 500 of sports car racing.

I prefer shooting sports car racing for a number of reasons.  The venues are great – whether shooting in Monterey, California or Imola, Italy – no two tracks looks the same.  The tracks are road courses, so the cars turn left and right, and go up and down hills. Le Mans, for example, is 8.5 miles long and much of the track are public roads through the French countryside. And the races take place rain or shine. Shooting in great, magical light is the norm, especially at the longer races.  At the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the sun sets around 9:45 and rises at 5:45.  These races give the photographer a rich, ever changing palette. Locations are only limited to your imagination.

My kit for most assignments consists of three Nikon D3s bodies, a 500mm f/4, 70-200mm f/2.8, 50mm f/1.4, 24-70mm f/2.8, 14-24mm f/2.8, two 1.4x tele-converters, two SB-800 flashes, two 77mm circular polarizer filters, a 52mm drop in polarizer, a Singh-Ray Vari-ND filter (1-8 stops of neutral density, two spare camera batteries, and a Nikon remote trigger.  All of this gear, with the exception of one camera body and one flash, is carried in a Think Tank International Roller (yes it all fits!); and the other body and flash go into a Think Tank Airport Check In along with my laptop, card readers, and external drive.  I carry both of these bags on board, so if my luggage gets lost, I can still work.   My checked luggage carries a monopod, battery chargers, magic arms, super clamps, and radio slaves.

Photo Mechanic and Photoshop are the two most used programs on my MacBook Pro (15 inch, anti-glare Matte screen).  I use three different online photo library systems, depending on my client’s needs – Photoshelter, PhotoCore, and MagImagebank – and charge every client for the space they use on these systems.

I feel the key to good photography is location.  I always try and scout every track, even if I have been there 30 times before.   And quite often my scouting is from the public viewing areas or something off the beaten path.  Photographers David Burnett and Bernard Asset were big influences early in my career. Burnett said if 50 photographers were in the same location looking the same way, he would turn in the opposite direction and seek out an angle others did not see.  Frenchman Bernard Asset thinks much the same way.  He is like a sniper, working alone away from the pack of other shooters, but returns at the end of each event with killer images.   So part of my scouting routine is to seek unexpected, undiscovered locations – which could be in the middle of the woods, the top of a building, or simply driving my SUV to a spot and standing on the roof for a different perspective.  The dented roof is well worth the results.

I also feel it is important to tell a complete story with my images.  Motorsports photography is far more than shooting cars on the track.  It is important that my photographs give the viewers a sense of place, a feel for the ambiance, and insight to the people who encompass this sport.

I receive a lot of questions regarding technique.  I have some general rules, but like every rule in photography, I break them all of time.  But here are a few guidelines.

a) When shooting head on or font 3/4 car shots, the aperture needs to be at  f/6.3 or f/8 to insure the front of the nose to the drivers helmet is sharp.  This is important when shooting for corporate clients who want to see their sponsor logos clearly.
b) The majority of my head on or front 3/4 car images are shot at 1/640th or 1/500th of a second.  I want the tires to be moving and shooting faster than this usually freezes the car too much.  It is a race car, it is not a parked car.  The exception to this is ground level shots at the Indy 500.   The cars are going 230mph, the cover the length of a football field in one second – shutter speeds need to be at least 1/1250th and the wheels are still have motion.
c) Change your angle.  Race cars are low to the ground,  shooting them from a standing position tends to get boring in a hurry.  Shoot as low as possible, shoot as elevated as possible, anything to give you a different perspective.
d) As the weather gets warmer, heat haze becomes an issue when shooting ground level.  The easiest solution is to shoot from an elevated position, above the heat haze.
e) Experiment with slow shutter speeds – 1/125th to 1/15th of a second should be part of your comfort zone.  And don’t just shoot pan shots at slow shutter speeds.  Front and rear 3/4 angles work great with slower speeds, especially if you find a corner where the lead car is exiting the corner in one direction and another car is entering the corner from the opposite direction.

Motorsports photography is the best place to take chances, experiment, and to stretch yourself.  If you mess up a shot, wait a couple of seconds and another car will be in your viewfinder.  Take advantage of this.

I hope to see you at the races!

Rick Dole

You can see more of Rick’s work over at DolePhoto.com