When I think about sports photography, and motor sports in particular, I think of photographers in hi-visibility vests carrying huge lenses over their shoulder, or crouched down behind a hoarding at Wimbledon, or a Premier League match, or the Olympics.
The vest is very important of course. It assures everyone who sees it that the photographer wearing it is accredited to take photos at any given event. It also indicates that the photographer is most probably working for a well-known media company, whether it be a newspaper, magazine, website or photo agency.
OK, I’ll admit it, I am quite jealous of the guys (and girls) in the dayglow vests. Why am I jealous? Three reasons; first because they are working professional photographers with all that involves whereas I am not, secondly because they have the super-fast super-expensive long lenses (not to mention expensive cameras) that I can only dream of, and finally because they get to stand in the very best places, in front of the chicken wire fencing, when mere mortals such as myself have to try to find a spot where we can actually see over it!
Now I’ve got that off my chest, let me tell you about my recent visit to Silverstone for the annual Silverstone Classic event. The Silverstone Classic is a two-day event (three including qualifying) featuring some of the finest classic racing cars in the world competing in 12 different classes over 24 races. I was there for the Saturday , intrigued by the prospect of two races to be held in the evening towards dusk, the first a race for pre-66 GT cars and the second for the Group-C Le-mans type cars.
I must thank Trevor Rudkin, chairman of the Desborough and Rothwell Photographic Society, for the ticket to this event. Trevor was a marshall at the event and donated his complementary ticket to me, very much appreciated.
I love the warmth of evening light and I set out early on the Saturday morning knowing that I had 12 races to cover in 12 hours, starting at 9am for the first race – the Formula Juniors, and ending at 9pm with the Group C cars.
I’m not a sports photographer, as you have probably gathered. No super-fast long lenses for me, just my trusty Canon EF 80-200mm F/2.8 and a Kenko 1.4x DG300 extender, giving me 280mm @ F4 at full zoom. However, I did go armed with some advice from Trevor following my first attempt at Silverstone photography which resulted in me getting lots of photos of racing cars and wire fencing, not necessarily in that order. He directed me to an area of slightly elevated concrete terracing at Luffield corner with a promise that I should be able to see the track over the wire fencing at that point.
Yes! I could see both the track and the cars on it, this was definitely the spot for me! I was so pleased with this location, I stayed in the exact same spot all morning without moving. Whilst this seemed like a very good idea at the time, hindsight is a wonderful thing. Not only did I end up with 400 photos which looked almost exactly the same (different cars and drivers) but I also managed to get sun-burned on the backs of my legs after deciding to wear shorts for the day.
After my picnic lunch, at which time I discovered my pink calves, I decided to move to the covered grandstand at Woodcote corner, opposite the old start/finish line. I didn’t like this location nearly as much as I was looking down on the cars rather than across. On the plus side, I was no longer in full sun and I did get the chance to practice some panning, at which I am not very good. I also got some different shots although my keeper rate from this location was not as good.
Three races later, and with clear blue skies now replaced by darkening cloud, I moved back to Luffield for the pre-66 Formula 1 cars, a race I was looking forward to very much. Even as the race started, the dark clouds were becoming more ominous and a chill wind started blowing across the track. A few laps in, with light levels falling rapidly and my ISO up to 1600, the heavens suddenly opened and the track, the cars, drivers and spectators alike were well and truly soaked.
I heard the public address system notify everyone that the race had been abandoned as I ran towards the cover of the stand at Woodcote. Unfortunately, I was fairly well soaked by the time I got there but at least I was under cover. The rain did ease off eventually and about an hour later after much track-clearing by the marshalls, aided by a number of mechanical sweepers, the GT cars came out for their race. Unfortunately for them the rain started falling again just as they came out so the race was started behind the safety car.
With the light fading once again and the rain still falling, the GT cars battled their way through the surface water and put on quite a show for the hardy race fans and photographers who had stayed late to watch them. I did what I could in the conditions, I abandoned the 1.4x extender to get me an extra stop of light and continued to get as many shots as I could. On the plus side, the headlights of the cars, the fading light, and the water-logged track led to some quite dramatic lighting and I was very pleased that I had stayed on to see this race.
In the event, this was the last race of the day, the Group C race having been abandoned due to the wet weather, the darkness and the time which by that time was almost 9pm. I had a brilliant day, notwithstanding the sun-burn and the soaking, with thanks again to Trevor for the ticket. I know my photos are not the best sports action photos, far from it, but they were the best that I could achieve on the day and I am particularly pleased with some of my rain-soaked almost dark GT race shots.
I also finished the day with a good deal more respect for the orange vest brigade. Even given the advantages they may or may not have, there is still a job to do capturing the action, come rain or shine. I’m sure it is a lot less fun when your livelihood and your reputation depends on you coming home with the goods day after day. Perhaps I’m not so badly off after all… I would still love that 5D Mark III or 1DX and a long white lens though, maybe one day…. ;o)
As always, this is just a small selection of my photos from the day, the remainder can be found on my website here.
Whatever your subject, enjoy your photography!