Starter’s orders

A few weeks ago I invited myself along to a friend’s race meeting. This one was to be the closer for the Monoposto Racing club’s 2017 season. I had attached myself to Neil and his father’s racing outfit who were racing their very pointy and very red Dalara f302.

One of the many great things about photography is the way that it can act as a passport to things one would not normally be able to see. Asking someone if you can come and take photos of something they do is much easier and more understandable than saying “can I come and watch you do stuff?” Photography has proved to be a socially acceptable way to show an interest in something or someone.

By horning in on Neil’s racket I got to do something I’ve wanted to do for ages. I’ve photographed motorsport in the past and enjoyed it, but I find that I want to work with the humans rather than the cars. The pits and the paddock are where the action is for me. (I prefer to shoot the kitchens over the restaurant, the dressing rooms over the production, the quarry over the stone).


When Neil and I arrived, his dad had the car unloaded and various panels removed. We ate bacon sandwiches and walked the car to scrutineering. Once the car and Neil’s safety gear had been checked over it was back to the van for final checks.

With multiple events taking place during the day there’s a lot going on behind the scenes. Marshals are queuing up event cars between races so they can move on to the grid as soon as the previous set of competitors come off the track. I grabbed photos of the cars as they waited to go out for their qualifying lap, and as the drivers prepared themselves for the race.

Once we were out into the pits proper I was saddened to find that the finest trackside view I’ve ever had came with a no photography rule. Neil grabbed a spot on the second row for both races and once the times were set we were back to the van to tweak, de-fuel and re-fuel the car, and to wait.

Alongside the Monoposto Tideman trophy there was action from the CCRC FF1600 Championship, the CCRC Saloon Car Championship, the CCRC GT Championship, the CCRC Hot Hatch Challenge Series, the CCRC Open Sports vs. Saloons, and from Porsche GB with Pirelli, which made for a packed day’s racing/photography.

I spent the first race in the spectator area at Camp Corner aiming over the top of the chainlink with my 150-600. Then it was back to the paddock to congratulate Neil on a well earned third place. I haven’t been as invested in a particular driver before, and it was cool to hear him interviewed over the tannoy.

Later we were back to the van to re-tweak the gearbox and await news about one of the other drivers. One of Neil’s friends and key competitors crashed out hard in the first race and everyone was waiting to hear how he was doing. (The crashed driver was sore but okay, sad that he’d knocked all four wheels off his car).

Neil was on the second row again for the second race, and I headed off to the raised area between Folly and Avon Rise to grab some more pans. I tried a few different lenses but eventually settled on the 24-70 f/2.8. Neil took second place in the failing afternoon light before the time came to trailer the car and collect trophies.

I found that having the connection with Neil and with Nick made the racing more exciting, but the ‘backstage’ photography was definitely where I want to be in future.

Principles and Post-Production

One of the reasons I like shooting film so much is that it looks different, unreal, separate. I’m a firm believer in the idea that by creating a little distance between your photo and the real world one can create engagement with the image, rather that with its subject. The hyper reality of digital photography is perfect for instant communication, perhaps where one wishes to hide the artist’s presence: “This is not art, it is an honest and truthful depiction of reality.”¬†I also think that Kodak Portra renders colour nicely, and I am, at least when seen from the outside, a hipster douche.

Earlier this year I tried to re-invigorate my passion for digital landscape photography. When I came to present those images I did so having applied some different effects in post-production. I used a mixture of split-toning and white balance manipulation to give the light in those photos a bit of a twist. My hope was to make the pictures a little un-real, not jarringly so, but enough to alter reaction to them. What was interesting was that a few people¬†thought I’d been shooting film.

Soon afterwards I started to tentatively experiment with some emulation presets. These are effectively recipe lists that can be applied to photographs and that mimic particular film types. In the past I’ve been pretty sniffy about presets, particularly the film emulation examples. “If I want it to look like Portra then I’ll shoot it on Portra”, is something you might have heard me say, and I’m not completely over it.

Film works nicely when you are the client and the work isn’t mission critical. If however you need to able to provide quick confirmation of success; to shoot in volume and with out the constraints of film or development costs; or when you might only have one go at something then the glory of digital really comes to the fore.

This is one of those questions that concern purity and principle. I stopped using simulated and ersatz ‘burned-edge’ frames in my post -production a number of years ago, because it felt counterfeit and dishonest, all the while I was retouching film scans digitally.

Perhaps I’m concerned that I won’t go through the pfaff of shooting large format colour film once I realise that I can shoot it digitally, with my tilt-shift lens, and slide an emulator over the top. All the lovely, much less work.

All of this is moot anyway. Process is just process, and it only matters to me. Images are key, and whether they move you. All else is toys and pram. (This types the man who recently bought a lens precisely because a photographer he admires had one… I digress).

The Finish

I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted out of my day at the track. Some nice pictures of Neil and his dad together, some nice panning shots of Neil racing, and some cool black and white reportage from the pits. (I was aiming for the romance of mid-century Motorsport photography). After trying a few black and white edits, I added a pushed Kodak Tri-X emulation preset. My justification for this was that pushed Tri-X was a black and white film loved by reportage photographers in the 60s, and that was the look I was going for. I really liked the result for the pits and the paddock, but it wasn’t working for the on-track stuff.

I was adamant that the photos of the day would all be presented in the same fashion. The racing photos were a continuation of the day and I thought that if there were a transition from monochrome to colour then it would feel like too much of a divide. By maintaining the same post production they would bond as a series.

After some consideration I decided to try the tweaked Portra Emulator that I’d used for a recent family shoot. The bonus here was that I kept the wonderful red of the Dallara that contrasted so nicely with the green of the verges, but I maintained that ‘one-step removed’ feel that film photography can create.

I posted a selection of the images here, both the Tri-X and Portra inspired versions, hopefully you’ll see what I’m getting at, or something.

Special thanks to Neil and Nick for letting me come along and ask daft questions and be in the way, if I wasn’t too irritating I might get to join them again the new season.

Analog Stuff

Here are just a few images actually shot on Portra, with that pesky Leica that I’m persisting with – I took it to to finish a roll off. I even had a quick bash at panning –