My Indy Car Shots (and a lesson about planning)

I posted some of my favorite images from the race, and the story behind them, over at — if you’ve got a minute, here’s the link. 

What I didn’t postâ¦
…were the shots I never got to take because quite honestly, I kinda blew my game plan for covering this race by biting off way more than I could chew.

Anytime I’m covering an event, shooting sports, planning a complex location shoot, or even shooting a wedding, I start by coming up with a game plan based on what I want to come away with. It starts with the equipment I think I’ll need, and in this case it was a pretty simple set-up:

> Two bodies (I want to switch lenses as little as is humanly possible, so I’ll be carrying two bodies)
> Three lenses (1) My main lens would be a 200-400mm f/4 for the race action shots. (2) For getting shots of fans, vendors, etc. I would use a 24-105mm, and for wide sweeping shots of the track and downtown from up high, I’d use (3) the 16-35mm.
> A monopod to hold the long lens, a Black Rapid Strap for my 2nd body, and a Hoodman Loupe.

I was given a shot list of the things they needed me to cover (I was one of four photographers covering the event for them on race day), and it included everything from fans to fun to very specific race action, and lots of sweeping shots showing the race taking place on the waterfront (otherwise, the track shots could have been taken at any Indy event).

Where I went off track (no pun intended)
A solid game plan includes making good decisions about what you can cover in the time you have to cover it. The race lasts around 2-1/2 hours from start to finish, and I plotted out the course I wanted to take from one end of the track to the other. That was my first mis-step — this is a huge course — nearly 2 miles long and to get from one end to the other, making your way through huge crowds while lugging a bunch of gear, takes at least 20 minutes, especially if you decided to first climb up to an airport control tower for part of the race, and then soon after wait while your assistant gets shots from the top of a Ferris Wheel with a 30-minute wait to get on. I tried to do way more than I ever should have, and because of that I didn’t get to cover all things I really wanted to and as a result I didn’t come away with the type of shots that made me want to shoot the race in the first place.

Above: Here’s the view from the airport control tower that I really had no time to be up in, but at least I got a shot of the Ferris wheel that threw us off by 40-minutes. 

Eerily Similar Shots
The worst part — I pretty much came away with mostly similar shots to what I took last year. Nothing really new and special. I gambled on shooting from an office building outside the track (I had to actually leave the race track to reach the building), and while it was a great place to see the race from, there were so many trees obstructing the view that I only got around one single shot out of it, yet it took 20+ minutes to get there, and 15 or so minutes up there, and the race actually ended on our way back, because I didn’t manage my time well and tried to do WAY too much during a 2-1/2 hour time frame.

Above: I’m still smiling at this point because the race hasn’t started. LOL!! Photo by Rob “State of St. Pete” Foldy.

The Smart Thing Would Have Beenâ¦
To choose a few key locations, not far from each other, and really try to work those to come up with something special — not traipsing around a huge track where you spend more time walking than shooting. I was pretty cranked at myself (still am), but I learned a valuable lesson about not trying to cover too much ground, and too many different locations. It’s hard to find your “groove” when you’re constantly relocating.

Luckily, I was more concerned with getting the images the City needed than what I wanted, so I got a lot of shots for them (about 4x as many shots as I turned in last year), so that’s a good thing. The other good thing: I learned a valuable lesson about future game planning for an event. Come up with what I want to do, and then cut that number in half.

Today I’m only shooting one thing!
I’m out an airfield this morning for a sunrise shoot of one of the world famous Blue Angels — they’re rolling one out on the Tarmac for a group of photographers from the ISAP (the Int’l Society of Aviation Photography) along with an F22 Raptor. I’ll be tired, but I’m only shooting that one thing. OK, maybe two. ;-)

In case you missed itâ¦
Here’s the link.  to some of the shots I actually did get. :)

Have a great weekend everybody, and I’ll be back on Monday to kick off Photoshop World Week!




  1. Scott, I checked out your pics earlier today when you posted them on Google+. I really like the format on, as it flows nicely from page to page. Sorry to hear that you bit off more than you could chew on that day. I think that in hindsight, it was a good thing for US, as you taught us about planning and scouting locations for future shoots. Always a teaching moment, Mr. Kelby!

    I’m psyched that you’re getting some pics of the Angels and the F-22! They’re coming to RI in the middle of May for an air show, and I’m planning on going. The air show was cancelled due to the sequester last year, and I sorely missed it. Tips would be appreciated!

    My friend and I are super excited about PSW next week in Atlanta. It going to be an awesome four days. See you next week, and I hope you’ve scouted out some good burger places! ;-)


  2. Scott,
    If you’d like some inspiration from a great racing photographer, check out Darren Heath. His work goes beyond the traditional racing shots and shows the beauty, art and soul of the sport. I really think you’ll like his work.

  3. Thanks for sharing your experience with us. Not many people would publicly chastise themselves for an unworkable plan. But it sure helps us avoid a similar fate.

    BTW, my last racing shoot was the Long Beach Grand Prix, back when it was Formula 1. Had a pit pass and got some great shots of the drivers including Nikki Lauda, some glamorous European girlfriends, and even the late George Harrison. An unforgettable experience.

  4. Thank you for sharing your experience and I had a similar one covering horse eventing a few weeks back up here in Tallahassee, which was a first for me. It was a two mile course over uneven terrain and while it lasted all day, the light was only good on 90% of the course. I ended up getting a handful of good shots until the sun was up and they I was stuck shooting in horrible light. I tried to make some “lemonade” by shooting an action sequence and by sheer luck it turns out that the rider was famous (see attached photo). On the other hand, I ended up with exactly zero shots of the winners, but the event is using my sequence shot so it ended okay.

    Also, one other thing – if you don’t have the drop-in CPL for the super teles, give one a try. It’s really handy with the thumb wheel and helps cut down on windscreen glare and the harsh Florida light.

  5. Looked at your shots…First let me say that I am an admire, your book Retouching tips on Portraits made me better at my craft by leaps and bounds. However, after looking at your photos, either you are still getting used to the Canon cameras or you have got to be missing the D4 sharpness.
    Thanks for sharing and keep on trying new things, we learn from your adventures.

  6. The Breaking the Rules shot you like is good, maybe better than the pan at 1/50 you posted. The blur around the wheels and clipped front and back of the car add a bit of tension and excitement that you don’t get from the 1/50 pan shot.

  7. What’s the saying Scott? ‘ whatever doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger’… Don’t be too hard dude. You more or less give 101% on just about everything with the Kelby name attached to it. Next race.. It will be better and you’ll nail it. Just like when you started out on the sidelines of the NFL… you had no knee pads..

    I have no idea what the sum total of the shots look like that came away from the day from all the shooters you were working with. But the ones you did get are pretty dam good.

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