Shooting the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

I got an assignment from Southcreek Global to shoot the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Indy Race (my 2nd time for Southcreek, and my third time shooting the race over-all. The first being for the Indy Racing league itself).

The race was this past Sunday. and I thought I share a few of the shots I uploaded to Southcreek here (the image above is one of my shots featured on their home page). Here are a few more, but I also uploaded some extras to a gallery on my Facebook page (here’s the link).

Above: That’s fan favorite Danica Patrick, just after she climbed into her car right before the race. I got to shoot a for just a few more minutes before the race, but they cut down the time the drivers have in their car before they start ’em up in half this year, so they hustled us out of there after just a few minutes.

Above: I had a special pit access pass (only a limited number of them are given out on race day, to keep from having too many photographers in the pits during the actual race), and even then, to shoot near the wall like this, you have to ask permission from the pit crew first. Every crew I asked let me shoot, but during the press briefing (at 7:15 am) they let us know which teams don’t allow photographers due to safety issues, so I stayed clear of those.

Above: Here’s a slow-shutter speed panning shot of what turned out to be the winner—Dario Franchitti, heading into the straightaway. I kept trying different shutter speeds from 1/30 of a second up to 1/125 of a second. I had to lower my ISO to a setting called L01 (which is lower than Nikon’s native ISO of 200), to let me leave the shutter open that long in direct sunlight.

Above: I don’t know how they drive all tilted like that, and still stay on the track. ;-)

Above: Before the race all the drivers got together to show their support for the people of Japan, and I got this shot of them, despite the fact that I didn’t have a flash with me. I just shot in High Speed Continuous mode and about every three or four shots, another photographer’s flash was going off, so I was all set.

Above: I liked this shot taken just a split second after a pit stop, while the driver’s tires are smoking as he pulls out into the Pit lane.

Above: This is another one I liked, probably because they look like they’re on the deck of a carrier.

Above: Another pit shot—dig the drill in mid air in front of the car, and the pit crewman signaling the driver not to leave yet.

Above: Here’s the first and third place finishers coming out of a turn.

Above: The bubbly goes flying in the winner’s circle.

Above: Race winner Dario Franchitti grins after his big win.

Above: This was another of my favorites, of driver Will Power, and as luck would have it, he came in 2nd. :)

Camera Specs (and some bad lens decisions)
I don’t know what I was thinking. I took my 400mm f/2.8, which works great for football, because you’re shooting more than you’re walking. Not at an Indy race. It’s a 1.8 mile track, and you spend the whole day walking, in the hot Florida sun (it was hot!!!!), and the 400mm was over my shoulder so much, I actually got a sore.

I wondered what I used last year, because I remember it not being so bad, and when I looked at my post, I realize why: I used one camera (instead of two, like this year), and only took my 70-200mm f/2.8 with a tele-extender. That would have worked great. In fact, I wonder how my 28-300mm would have worked (one camera body and one lens the whole day. That would be sweet).

I shot at f/2.8 all day on both cameras, and my shutter speeds were through the roof so freezing the motion wasn’t a problem as long as the car were heading straight toward me. For side shots, I had to lower the shutter speed dramatically, so at that point I switched from Aperture to Manual mode.

More over on Facebook
Like I said, there are a few more shots over on my Facebook page, but overall, despite my bad lens choice, and multiple camera fiasco, I still had a great time shooting. My buddy, pro sports shooter Andy Gregory was also shooting the event, so I followed him around so he could steal all my shots (gotcha Andy!). Ran into some NAPP members as well, which is always fun for me, and as luck would have it, I even met some of them indoors. In the air conditioning. :)

    1. Matt, Ken Toney is going to be SO MAD at you!!! :D

      I’m catching one of your classes at PSW. Bring a pen…I’m bringing my copy of your Layers book! It’s begging for an autograph! :) See you in a couple of days.


  1. Terrific shots, Scott! Love the one of Danika above. You really caught a great expression on her face! :D Might have to retouch her eyes, though.

    Another great series of photos. You continue to amaze me.


  2. Very nice racingpictures. It´s always nice to see someone else´s racingpictures since i have been doing this myself for five years.
    I like the Danica picture and also the one in pitlane with the three guys in yellow.
    I can´t remember seeing to much of racing in your blog since i started following you, and with that in mind i must say that you have come a long way in a very short time. :)

    If you have the time i think you should check out a series of 20 pictures i´ve put up on my site. I wanted a more documentary feel to it and i have followed one race driver over a couple of years.

    Let me know what you think!

    1. Patrik: Here’s what I think: Those shots are AWESOME!!!! You’re right–they have a real editorial feel, and you could so see those in a racing magazine. Great details shots (and I love the post processing!). :)

      I particular like the one where you see the driver in the car through the safety net. Really cool stuff. Makes me want to add more of that style when I shoot my next race! Thanks so much for sharing these, and congrats on some really wonderful images! :)


      1. Thank you for your nice comments! It´s always great to inspire someone. :)
        I always try to improve myself every race, it´s hard but it´s really worth it when you get good results. That keeps me inspired and hungry.

      1. Thank you! :) He is actually just holding the door open since it gets really hot inside the car, it can get up to 60 degrees Celsius inside the car on a very sunny day.

      1. Thank you Erik! Kul att det är någon fler svensk som hänger här. :)
        Fotar du också racing? Du får komma fram och säga hej nån gång.

    2. Can’t stop looking at those slow shutter speeds on moving cars! You really showed motion there; they looked like they’re still continuously running and I felt as if they’re coming out of my monitor. Truly amazing shots!

      1. Thank you Marvin! I like lots of motion and i think that these kinds of pictures does not always need to be sharp all over.

  3. It’s always to see your shoot photographs. You really post the good ones and even the okay so and given a detail on them. It’s quite a lesson in itself. + the specs that you give actually are a good point to start when shooting a similar even or something close.

    Have a look at the fb page. All good :)

  4. Hey Scott,
    Thanks to Ken Toney, I get to shoot the NASCAR Nationwide race from the pits on April 8 in Texas. I’m very excited since this will be my second attempt at this. I learned a great deal last November so I should do better this time.
    You Rock my friend. This time I mean by bringing “Like-Minded Individuals” together to talk and learn.
    Sure wish I could come to PSW this week, Oh well we can’t do it all.
    See ya in September (Unless your new seminar comes to the Dallas area before then) :)

  5. Awesome shots Scott!!!

    Quick correction (or question), isn’t L01 on Nikon’s ISO settings actually the equivalent to ISO 100? That’s what I always thought, but just curious. :)

    1. Hi John: Well, it is and it isn’t. Normally, shooting at 100 ISO would give you cleaner images than at ISO 200 (well, with film it usually would), but with Nikon’s native ISO is 200, so lowering to 100 doesn’t get you sharper shots—but that lower ISO is there for situations like I ran into. I think the reason Nikon just didn’t name is ISO 100, is that everybody would shoot at ISO 100 thinking it would create the least noise, but that’s not the case. 200 is where you want to be, so that’s the lowest number it shows (into you get into the L01 stuff).

      Hope that helps. :)


      1. Couldn’t you have used a ND Filter so you could have kept to the native ISO and gotten light levels to where you could drag your shutter?

  6. Very nice series Scott. I too like the Danica shot…….would work well as an advertising shot for ‘GoDaddy’- they are about due for some new images for their site. Also like the diagonal ‘head on’ shots……….next time take a 500 F/4 IS…….its a lot lighter if you’ve got to drag big glass around all day. As always…..great stuff!!

  7. I also like the diagonal head on shots. That close-up on the website is awesome! We like the tight shots, don’t we? Guess who’s getting creds for the Grand Prix of Alabama this year? Me! At least I think I am… ;) I’ll tell Danica you said hello.

    1. Jeff: I wouldn’t mention anything to Danica. Especially after what happened in St. Pete on turn 1 (see my comment to Kev).

      Congrats on getting creds. Wish I was shooting it with you guys this year—it’s always a kick hanging out with “The Chancellor!” :)



  8. Scott,

    You are my hero! Truly the luckiest man in the world (next to me, of course ;) ) You got within walking distance to Danica? lol

    Seriously, amazing pictures, despite your lens choice. The mark of a true pro to make lemonade when presented with lemons.

    See you in two weeks!

    – Kev

    1. Hi Kev: I don’t know if you heard the back story about Danica getting caught up in that wreck in the first lap, near turn 1, but here’s what happened. She was heading into the turn, and looked over and saw me shooting, and she put her hand up to her ear like she was holding a phone and mouthed, “Call me” and right then she got side swiped, and took some damage to her front air foil.

      One of the guys from ESPN was nearby, and he saw what really happened, and questioned Danica about it in the post race press conference, and she was quoted as saying, “I want Scott to be my ‘Manica.'” I sent her a text at around lap 62 that read, “Danica. It’s over. Let it go. Move on with your life.” ;-)


  9. Scott, man, I can tell the difference this race with the 400! That shot with impact wrench off the ground is awesome! If you were shooting for a news wire you should get some published for sure!

  10. Fantastic shots, as always. I really appreciate how some of the best shots aren’t just about the cars — these really help create a more balanced view of the event.

    BTW, I don’t know if you picked this up during the weekend, but these cars generate a tremendous amount of aerodynamic downforce from all those wings, fins, and appendages. The Indy cars don’t generate as much downforce as an F1 car (which could drive suspended from the ceiling at speed), but they’d have no problem at all remaining planted in your tilted shot!

  11. I was as confused by your pit row and panning shots until I actually Googled a map of the track… so used to the wall being on the driver’s right that I couldn’t figure out where you were shooting from until it dawned on me that the pit wall was on the right instead of the left and that they were either on a road course or were following the British and racing clockwise…

    On the pans, did you have your rig mounted on a monopod or were you using a gimble setup?

      1. Really great technique! The tops of the walls are razor straight. Have a great time at PSW!

  12. Great shots, Scott! The last one, the tight crop in a corner, reminds me of the first time I shot the Long Beach Grand Prix back in the day when it was a Formula 1 race, and I was fortunate enough to get a photographer’s pit pass. During the race I set myself up at a tight corner and prefocused my Minolta XE-5 and lens (200mm as I recall) on a spot on the pavement, and burned up about ten rolls of K64 to get that one perfect corner shot. These days, one burst would probably do it…. The other highlight for me that day was to capture a candid portrait of George Harrison, one of my favorite images of my photographic career.

  13. Great stuff, Scott! As one of the two-dozen IndyCar fans left in the country, I love seeing the sport getting attention in non-Indy circles. Keep up the great work!

    1. IndyCar uses 100% fuel-grade ethanol from corn, grown primarily in Iowa. It’s renewable, environmentally-friendly, and creates jobs here in America. How exactly is that a “disgusting display of wasted energy”?

    2. FYI, a lot of the fuel-efficiency technology seen in today’s cars got its start in racing. Fuel efficiency is a factor in most races – if one car can go a lap further before it needs to pit for fuel, that could be the difference in the race. In addition, more efficient designs typically also produce more power, which is (obviously) good for racing.

      Thanks for having an open mind about this, though.

  14. That shot in the pits with the crew working on the car is the best action shot off the race track I’ve seen for a while.

    Well done Scott. I guess you had to have the motor drive working hard, but you have to be in the right place at the right time to get the action.

  15. Really love to see your race shots. Hope you don’t mind the comment but you can see a real step up in these shots and could not distinguish these images from the Pro shots I have just been looking at from the European F1 race from the weekend. Would be very very pleased if I was able to take the same calibre of images. As always love to see the fruits of your labour.
    Know it would not be easy but it would be interesting to see/show how you could use a consumer lens for some shot in the future as well as the Pro lenses just to prove that it’s not always down to the kit but also down to observation/eye and knowing the limits of your kit and how to use. What do you think?

    1. Sorry just re-read this and didn’t intend to imply it wouldn’t be easy to take shots with consumer kit. Actualy ment to say not easy to carry yet more kit as well as the pro kit as well! NOT that it would be hard to take the shots images.

    1. Yup. He tossed it. The whole process takes literally just five to seven seconds, including changing two tires and fuel, so they don’t gently lay their tools down when they’re done with it—they toss ’em. :)

  16. It’s always cool to see these racing shoots. I’m headed down to Long Beach to shoot the next round of IRL and all the other attendant series next month, can’t wait. I’m hoping my 70-200 and TC14EII on a DX body is enough glass, and trying out whether to put the 12-24 or 24-70 on my other body, or just carry both of them.

  17. Nice work Scott I know what you mean about walking at race tracks, as you were shooting this I was on assignment at World Superbikes at Donington Park in the UK a 2.5mile circuit :-) Luckily they provide a media shuttle bus to take you to those far away corners but you don’t always get to catch it back if there’s more bikes out on track quickly at the end of a session. Needles to say I did a lot of walking this weekend!

  18. I really, really like the way you talk your shots in the blog, Scott. Win or Lose you tell ’em all. However, I have a question. You said when you are shooting from the front, meaning the cars are coming towards you, you were shooting in Aperture priority. Is it safe to assume that you’re using Auto ISO too? Taking into consideration that when in modes other than Manual, the exposure could quickly change due to clouds suddenly casting on the cars dropping your SS down to a not-so-ideal speed, or cars going into tunnels, etc. Could you please give us (read: ME) a little insight on how you shoot when in Aperture.

    Thanks a lot in advance.

  19. Im shooting the Toyota Grand Prix on friday I shoot with a canon 40D I was wondering what lens i should bring I have a 70-200 2.8 is that all i need do you think? what about for inside the pit / crew tents etc will that be to big ? i have full access

    1. If you’ve got a tele-extender, that would be ideal. Inside the crew area, a wide angle of some sort would be ideal, but if not, the 70mm will work, too. Have a great shoot!!! :-)

      1. thanks for getting back to me . I so excited to be able to be so close should be a good time. The lunchen is today to meet and greet everyone.

        does canon make a 28-300 like you were thinking ? if so i can rent one of them. would that be better?

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