Something very different this week for us, and something to test my fledgling photography skills to the limits!!
I have a couple of friends who race cars in various racing series, and for this trip, we would be supporting my friend Jack Bartholomew. Jack now races in the Porsche Cayman Islands Sprint Championship in the UK after previous racing for Lamborghini in Asia and Europe and having great success.
Covid has obviously been a huge problem in the previous year, so this was a new venture for him, and he has had a very successful season so far – taking several wins and sitting comfortably second in the championship of this competitive series.
We were heading there on Saturday, qualifying day – wary of the crowds that race day may bring and the social distancing implications, but we would still get to see Jack do his qualifying session, as well as the British Touring car Championship(BTCC) qualifying, and a few other race series including Ginettas and Minis. The main races on Sunday would also be broadcast live on TV, so we could watch from home the next day and not miss out.
The drive took us about 1 hour 45mins after an early start, and we arrived around 8.30am. We immediately headed around the track to check out the viewing areas, and was pleasantly surprised to see it was actually very good for photographers, as the fences were low in most areas, and the track very close at the paddock end of the circuit.
The British Touring Cars were out for their free practice session first, so I took the opportunity to practice my photography. I had thought a lot about the settings to use – I kept with back button focus, and used auto focus – it’s very good on the Nikon and it also has focus tracking, which was perfect for this situation. I mounted the 70-300mm lens – although very small in motorsport circles, the lens gave me enough range at this circuit to get cars almost full frame at 150-300mm zoom. I did get some serious ‘lens envy’ when I saw what the other photographers were using – I felt very inadequate with my little Nikon lens!!
I had decided I would use 2 methods to get shots – firstly a very fast shutter approach, and secondly, use panning to try and get some motion blur in the background.
I started with the fast shutter – it took a few attempts to get the timing right as the area I had chosen meant the cars were doing 60-100mph depending on where I hit the shutter – so framing was my biggest issue at first. I was tracking the cars as if I was panning, but using the fast shutter to freeze the action. I was deliberately setting the f stop low, and the ISO a bit higher to keep the shutter speed as rapid as I could. The light was a bit murky which didn’t help, but constantly adjusting settings kept things clear and sharp.
As usual, I took way too many photos, giving myself a huge amount of work in post editing and when decided what photos to share!!.
After taking around 20-30 photos to get my eye in, I decided to try panning. I lowered the shutter speed, increased the f stop value, and practiced. Took a few attempts to get the speed of the panning correct, but eventually I started to get clear shots.
After this I increased the shutter speed again, and moved position slightly to a point where I could photograph the cars mid corner – some were lifting their inside wheels as they took the turn, so I decided to try and capture this.
I went back to panning after this, from the new position as the cars exited the corner and accelerated away – this was very tricky as the cars speed was increasing, meaning I had to do the same with my panning speed.
We had arranged to go meet my friend Jack in the paddock before he had to get ready for qualifying, so we headed to the inside of the circuit. This was great as you could see all the cars and drivers and had free roam around the whole paddock. We caught up with Jack, wished him well, and decided to get some food before we headed out onto the outer circuit again.
From where we sat at lunch I managed to photograph the Ginettas and Minis as they did their sessions – we were sat at a very fast part of the action at this point, and my panning skills were tested to the max, so I switched to fast shutter to be more consistent!!
After lunch we headed back out to the outside of the track – but decided to try a different area at the last turn before the start/finish line. I could just about see over the fencing so tried a few shots.
After this, we headed for the same area as the morning ready to shoot the BTCC qualifying, and then Jacks qualifying session.
I spent the BTCC session practicing my photography some more, so I could be sure to be ready to do some photos for Jack when his session arrived.
Jacks session was up next, and I put all the practice to use and managed to get most of the shots I wanted.
Jack managed to qualify on pole position for the races after this session, a great result for him – and I was pleased with the photos I managed to capture.
I have hundreds more photos, all of which I am happy with from the day.
There are two more I want to share that hopefully send a message about the brave circuit marshals and medics who do such a great job for the circuit and the racers. This is never more apparent than now, as there was a tragic accident at Brands hatch circuit earlier this year where a marshal sadly lost their life.
Thank you for the volunteer work you do to keep this sport going – without you it all stops.
After this we headed home – it had been a long but thoroughly enjoyable day. I had learnt so much, and managed to achieve some good results with the little 70-300mm lens. I definitely will do more motorsport photography going forwards.
Update – Jack was involved in a big accident while challenging for the lead in the first race on Sunday – he went backwards into the tire wall and was taken to hospital for checks – luckily all was well and a bit of rest and recuperation will see him fine.
This accident again shows the value of the Marshals and Medical volunteers at the circuit, they looked after Jack and did a great job to make the scene safe and help Jack with his injuries – thank you again.