Thursday, June 12, 2014

Photographing the World Rally Car Race in Sardinia, Italy

I just returned from a week long trip to Sardinia, Italy where I was photographing the World Rally Car (WRC) race. I was really looking forward to this trip for two reasons. Firstly, it was on the beautiful island of Sardinia, and I had never been there before, and secondly, because I had never photographed rally cars before, and always love shooting something new.

This blog post is all about the race, and next week's blog post will show you the beauty of the island, with many aerial photos and videos taken with the DJI Phantom II Vision + drone. So let's get to the race.

The first event that I photographed was the ceremonial start, which was located in the southern city of Cagliari. This event started at 9pm, which meant that the lighting was going to be low and the action was going to be fast.


I started shooting the race with my Canon 1DX and Canon 28-300mm lens, but soon realized that this was not going to yield me any good photos. The variable aperture of the long lens meant that I could not get a fast enough shutter speed to capture the cars clearly. I decided that my best shot would be right at the jump, with a wide angle Canon 16-35mm lens. Since the lighting was less than ideal, I cranked up the ISO to 5000 and I put on my flash and set it for high speed sync. (Photographer's note - High speed synch allows you to use your flash at shutter speeds faster than 1/200 sec without over exposing your photo or having your shutter appear in the image.)

Even pushing the ISO as high as 10,000 and using the flash, there were not many good photo opportunities at this event. More than eight hours of driving, getting us back to the hotel in Alghero at 1am, and this was one of the few photos that I considered a "keeper".

But I knew that the rest of the rally would be during daylight hours, with better conditions for shooting.


The next day we were up early to head out to the second stage of the race. The light was much better and the action was really great, with the drivers pushing the cars hard through every turn.

There were three big challenges to shooting this rally.

1. Since the rally is spread out all over the island, there were many times when we had to drive 3-4 hours to get to our location. This meant that we had many days where we were up at 4:45am and in a car driving for more than 7-8 hours to shoot for one hour.

2. It was really hot, with temperatures often reaching close to 100 degrees F.

3. It was REALLY dusty. As it turns out, the dust on Sardinia is a really fine silt that gets into everything. It is going to take a while to get all this dust out of my cameras, my lenses, and my lungs.


Thankfully, I decided to bring the Canon 28-300mm lens, which was a good choice for this rally. With the this focal range, I could shoot wide at 28mm or zoom to 300mm without having to change lenses. And, in these conditions, the last thing I wanted to do was expose the cameras sensor all the dust in the air.


This is one of the videos that I captured with the DJI Phantom II Vision + drone. You can see how much debris is coming off the back of the cars, and flying into the air.


This photo shows all the dust along the race course, and also shows you how close the fans get to the action. Some of the fans were really crazy, and would get within a body's length from the cars.


This driver lost control of his car and came straight at me as I was shooting. I was not worried since, as I was looking through the camera, I could see him lock up the brakes and gain control of the car. I think he came within 6 feet of me and some other photographers.


Once the leading cars all passed through, I decided to put on my circular polarizing filter (to darken the environment and give me a longer shutter speed) and do a little motion panning. This photo was taken at ISO 100, f/22 at 1/30th of a second.

The next day, we drove way out into the mountains to photograph the cars coming off the big jump. I knew that this would likely yield the best photos of the rally, and I was excited to capture this stage of the race.


My first photo position was at the top of the jump. I wanted to get some good action shots, but also wanted to include all the fans that made the long trek to this remote location.


I photographed the first 3 or 4 cars from this position, and then moved to a forward facing position.


Wow! These guys catch some serious air!


You will notice the well placed Lexar banner in the background. Since I was shooting photos for Lexar, I made sure to position myself in a location where I would have the car in mid-air and the banner in focus in the background.


I grabbed this shot, right as this guy nosed the car into the ground.


This car got the best air of any of them, and I was happy to capture this photo at the crest of the jump.


I was shooting pretty tight on the cars, when this helicopter appeared over the crest. I quickly zoomed out to show how close the chopper got to the crowd. These pilots are really good!


I framed this shot to highlight the car and also the photographers. This shows the first photo position, where I was shooting from the top of the jump.


Another shot showing the rally car and low flying helicopter.


I walked along the road (in between rally cars) to get to different photo positions. Typically, the cars were spaced about 3 minutes apart, but since this was fairly far from the start, the timing was not guaranteed. For this shot, I had to jump up into the bushes, as this car was oncoming. And yes, I got completely covered in the trailing dust!


I tried to stay on the up-wind side of the road, but this was not always possible. And then, when I was shooting on the down-wind side, I would do my best to shoot and then try to run away from the bulk of the dust.


After shooting all the close-up shots on the previous days, I wanted to get into a position where I could shot a wider, longer shot of the cars.


After one of the rally cars passed by, I took this photo to show the dust cloud left in it's wake.


I saw this fan with his Sardinian flag, and had to get a shot.


After the race was over, we packed up and loaded up the car. But there was a stand serving cold beer and sandwiches. We had to stop, since we were very thirsty and had not eaten lunch. They had two choices of sandwiches, sausage or horse meat. I chose the sausage (although I did try a piece of horse meat - just to say that I did). After we were done eating, I saw this fan walking back to his car. He was completely covered in the Sardinian dust, and I just had to snap this shot.

Stay tuned for the next blog entry with some photos and videos of the island.

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If you are interested in purchasing any camera equipment, please click here to go to B&H Photo, as I get a referral from them if you enter this way. I would really appreciate that.
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10 comments:

David Lambert said...

Great stuff, Jeff. The "publisher's note" on HSS is *almost*, but not quite right, btw. The problem with shots faster than sync speed isn't overexposure, it's the black bar that starts to appear on photos. Sort of interesting that the car in that first shot doesn't seem to be using its lights, though -- am I seeing things?

car service said...

Great photos man. You should do more of motoring events

Alex Glushenko said...

Jeff, hi!
Plese, tell more about feelings with TN-panel in Samsung againts IPS-panel in Apple.
p.s. TN - is the reason of small angle of view in normal colours

Nelson said...

I love these type of car racing and hope to join next time when it started in my area. Thanks for sharing your racing photography.

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My Car said...

Awesome race! I wish I could join such a race like you do. Thanks for sharing your story.

Holly said...

Amazing car race, some of them are flying, thanks for share

Racing Car said...

I very excited with racing. Your photos are best!!! I love them!

Dent said...

I love these type of car racing and hope to join next time when it started in my area. Thanks for sharing your racing photography.Your post is great.Thanks for sharing such an useful article.