Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Photographing The Grand Prix of Indianapolis

This past weekend was the running of the Indianapolis 500, but just weeks before was the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis. This race happened on a road inside the famous oval of the Indy 500. I had been to Indianapolis many years ago, but only drove by the famed motor speedway. This time, I was in the city to capture photos of the Lexar race car driven by the Tony Kanaan. Being able to photograph Indy cars in this city reminded me of the London Olympics, when I got a chance to shoot tennis at Wimbledon.

Since I was lucky enough to be there, I am going to share the experience with all of you. Let me take you through day.

I started shooting photos with the Canon 1DX and 24-105mm lens, in the Chip Ganassi race area. It was really amazing. They park 6 semi trucks side by side, only inches apart, and then they connect them together to create a mobile living / working area. I knew that I was going to be meeting up with Tony Kanaan, but on way into the trucks, I ran into Dario Franchitti. I have photographed Dario many times before, since I have photographed the Chip Ganassi team for years, but this was the first time photographing him so relaxed. Due to a major accident last year, he is now retired from the sport, which meant that he could relax and enjoy the day from a different perspective.

I asked Dario to stand next to the truck for an impromptu portrait.

And then Tony joined us, and I put him in the same position to get this photo. As you can tell, the lighting was not ideal, but I didn't have many options in this area.

After meeting with the drivers for a while, I went back to the Chip Ganassi hospitality area. Since Chip was there, I did a quick portrait of him as well. And then it was time to move out to the race track.

Right as I was walking towards the famed Gasoline Alley, I saw the race team pushing the Lexar car towards the lineup area.

Here is the car in the pit row getting last minute preparations.

I climbed up and shot this photo of one of the crew preparing for the next couple hours of racing.

They had a better than expected turn out for the race.

There was no way that I could have this access to the track and not get a photo of myself by the legendary "Yard of Bricks". It is tradition to kiss the bricks. A friend asked me if I kissed them, but my answer was "I don't kiss and tell".

Then it was back to work, getting photos of the car and driver.

One of the crew showed me the steering wheel and explained all the buttons and indicators. This is some sophisticated stuff!

My goal was to get a photo of Tony entering the car, but I had to wait for his interview with ESPN.

One more shot of Tony up close.

Thumbs up!

Just prior to the National Anthem, I backed away from the car so that I could frame this shot. I wanted the entire car, but also wanted the scoring tower and the great clouds in my shot. Right after shooting this photo, I turned and saw a formation of airplanes coming my way.

I quickly framed a shot with the incoming planes, but made sure to show include the people who were on the track watching.

And as the planes flew overheard, I turned my camera straight up and shot this. (Photographer's note: Since the sky was so bright and there were lots of white clouds in this photo, the RAW file was properly exposed for the sky, but the planes were dark. I went into Adobe Photoshop and pulled the "shadows" slider to the right to open the shadows and expose the planes correctly.)

Then it was time for the Tony to put on his helmet and get into the car.

I really wanted a shot of Tony straight on to the car, with nobody else in the shot (I have done this before with other races), but they had already kicked all photographers off the track and I had the president of the race team helping me stay as long as possible. This was the best I could get before I jumped over the wall and they started their engines.

I was walking along pit row as the race started, and within seconds there was a massive pile up. As it turns out, the lead car stalled and other cars from the back of the pack creamed into that car. I looked up and saw debris flying in front of me and saw a father shielding his daughter from the flying pieces. I ran up to a photo position at the start, switched to the Canon 100-400mm lens, and grabbed some shots of the wreckage.

This car wasn't going anywhere on it's own.

And then after a lot of cleanup the race got going again.

I shot these next photos from the same start/finish platform but really didn't like the shadows, the angle and the background, and decided to move to Turn 1.

I liked being down on the track, since it put me at the same level as the cars...

...but I was still not happy with the background. Too many distractions!

I walked a little to the left of Turn 1 and found a better shooting location. Since I have photographed race cars before, I knew that the best photos would be motion pans. So I started to slow the shutter of the camera. This photo was taken at 1/160 sec.

And then I started slowing the shutter even more. This was taken at 1/125 sec.

This photo, and the next three, were shot at 1/100 sec and I purposely turned the camera to add some more drama to the shot.

I love the red car against the green background, not to mention the fact that this is another Ganassi car.

Practicing on the other cars made it easier for me to grab a good shot of the Lexar car in the same location with the same settings.

Then I decided that it was time to challenge myself even more and try panning along with these cars at 1/40 sec. This was the first "keeper" at this shutter speed.

And another, this time getting the driver as he entered into the turn.

Once I felt that I had all the shots I wanted from Turn 1, I moved on to Turn 2. I switched the Canon 1DX back to a high speed shutter to get some safe shots. These were taken at 1/1600 sec.

I took this photo strictly for the blog. I wanted to show you what a race car looks like when it is "frozen" on the track. Doesn't this look boring. Heck, you could park the car out there, have the driver hop in and it would look the same. 1/1600 sec is safe but there is no action in the photo!

After shooting at Turn 2 for a little bit, I walked over to Turn 3, just in time to see Scott Dixon spin out. I grabbed this shot as he spun his rear tires to clear out all the gravel, and darned near hit the oncoming car. Other than this, I didn't see much for me to shoot from this location.

I went back over to Turn 1 to get more panning shots.

These last two photos were taken at the same shutter speed (1/40th sec). If you look closely, you will see that the photo above does not have near the same motion blur at the photo below. And there is a good reason for this. The first photo was taken as the driver slowed down to enter the turn, whereas the second photo was taken as the car accelerated out of the turn.

This increased speed of the car in this last photo, and the very low shutter speed is what makes this photo so difficult to capture. I have to say, I think that this is one of the best sports photos I have taken this year.

And next week I am off to Sardinia, Italy to photograph the World Rally Car Race. That should be exciting!


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.


Anonymous said...

As usual very good stuff. It is great to see the action, but the behind the scenes info is what I love. Keep these coming.

Unknown said...

Great Stuff Jeff!

Rather jealous that you got to shoot at Indy, and SUPER jealous that you are shooting the WRC in Sardinia.

Atleast that I'll be seeing the WRC, a a good drive north in Oz later this year.

Cleibe Souza said...

How much post production you did on these shots Jeff? They look amazing. I'm a huge motorcycle race fan and go to Indy every year for the MotoGP. This year besides Indy I'm going to Barcelona (in about a week and a half) to photograph MotoGP over there. I wish I had a permit to get closer to the bikes.

Thank you for sharing your work. Amazing job!! I wish I had half your talent!

Zan said...

Very much enjoyed your blog of the Indy500. Thanks for sharing.