We try on the role of track photographer!
(Editor's Note: Our deepest thanks goes to Joseph Hansen of Electric Eye Images, for allowing us to accompany him on one of the most enjoyable adventures we've had in a long time!)
You're hard on it, dragging knee through your favorite racetrack corner and in your peripheral vision, you catch the wink of a flat silver disk. Awesome! Your mind has just enough time to register that the event photographer caught you at your most heroic. No doubt, you'll be buying THAT picture!
Ever wonder what it takes to produce a really good action photograph? We have. Here at Trackdaymag.com, we shuffle through countless images and have gotten to work with some of the best sports shooters in the world. The top shutterbugs have the ability to make a picture tell a story, which is the talent we that most respect in any professional photographer. Not just anyone can do it. To make true magic happen with a camera, you need to be in the right place at the right time, holding the appropriate equipment adjusted to the correct settings, have the action unfolding in front of you and most importantly, possess the soul to tell you exactly when, where and from what angle to capture the perfect shot.
Most of the ingredients listed above can be learned but the last part. that innate sense of what makes a shot cool, is a God-given talent. Of course, it helps if the photographer is a rider himself, since that experience has taught him when and where he feels the most excited and alive during a hot lap. What we here at TrackdayMag.com don't know about photography could fill a thousand books but our understanding of the thrill of racetrack riding is tattooed into our DNA. Given the proper tools, some technical guidance and the necessary access, would our "motorcyclist's soul" let us take some memorable shots? It was time to find out.
One of our favorite photographers is Joseph Hansen, of Electric Eye Images. He has the ability to make your average trackday rider look MotoGP-worthy and when he shoots the world's best riders, his images are so surreal as to appear to have been shot on another planet. An Electric Eye image of Marquez or Rossi shows you just how worthy these riders are of their "Alien" status. This summer, Hansen invited us to spend a weekend shooting with him at a Sportbike Track Time event held at Putnam Park Road Course, in
Zero to Hero
In the movie "Zorro," Anthony Hopkins asks Antonio Banderas if he knows how to use a sword. Banderas replies, "Yes, the pointy end goes into the other man." We arrived at the track similarly educated in the art of photography. You point the glass part at the riders and push the button, right? The rest is just settings and stuff! HA! Were we in for an education. For two straight days, Hansen coached us on things like the difference between cropped and full frame bodies, focal lengths, prime versus telephoto lenses, shutter speed, aperture and more. It was crazy to see how a given lens could produce widely different results on different bodies, as well as how the body used could radically change the perspective of a given corner. We'd be lying if we claimed to have absorbed more than 10 or 20% of what he tried to teach us. We were a "zero" as far as knowledge went. Still, it wasn't long though until Joseph had us feeling heroic!
In your Face
If you've fancied the job of track photographer, you can only imagine how incredibly cool this weekend was for us. Hansen rides a well-used Kawasaki KLR from corner to corner. At one point, Joseph made the comment that if you took into account all the gear he had stowed aboard the bike, it was worth as much as a Ducati Panigale. We'll admit that there was a certain amount of gut clenching involved when he assembled a rig amounting to the price of a well-equipped GSXR, adjusted the shutter speed and aperture to suit the moment, locked the camera into auto mode and handed it over. "Oh damn," he said. "I forgot to bring an extra strap. Well, just be careful." EEK! Who has ever stopped to consider that you could crash a camera? With more than a bit of anxiety, we took a firm grip and pointed the lens at some moving motorcycles. Instantly, we were immersed into a very intimate world. You can't imagine how close-up and personal a good camera makes the on-track action seem. It takes a moment to adjust mentally, since if you were seeing things from this perspective in reality instead of through a long lens, you'd be in imminent danger of getting run over. One peek through this marvelous device and we understood immediately that with the right equipment and access to an appropriate shooter's position, photography can deliver a rush that you'd never expect.
Semi Auto Sniper
Having grown up in the era of 35mm film cameras, we instantly understood the beauty of digital photography. You don't have to pay any developing costs in order to take and inspect photographs! Joseph was able to turn us loose with a body set to 12 frames per second on motor drive and let us blow through pictures to our heart's content, because there was really no cost to capturing the images. We were amazed by just how much photography at this level feels like playing a first person shooter-style video game. You sweep the adjustable reticle onto your target, match your pan to the motorcycle's speed and push the shutter button. A lovely whir of precision machinery emanates from the camera as you "hose" your target with a blast of image captures. If you ever get the chance to try this, we dare you not to giggle the first few times you push that button!
In the Game
One thing that really surprised us during this photography adventure was just how much a part of the event we became. Those long lenses that professionals like Hansen use effectively let you reach right into the action without getting yourself run over. Of course you're hard to miss out there with that big hunk of artillery in your hands, so every rider winds up noticing where you are and they all seem to try just a little bit harder when they see you pointing your magic looking glass at them. You're right up in there for the passes, the crashes and the pickups that follow. Mentally and physically, you become a part of the roaring, whirling dynamic that makes up a track event. You begin to exist for the capture, loving the clattering snick of your shutter and living for the images in your viewfinder. Believe it or not, track photography has a very addictive quality about it. This is just one of those activities that can engage you 100% and make you forget everything that exists outside your field of vision at that moment. Sound familiar?
We've seen professional photographers who just couldn't capture the essence of high performance motorcycling with the best gear available. Like we said, this job requires the soul of a motorcyclist if exceptional results are to be expected. So how did we do? Well, when a top shooter like Joseph Hansen is setting up thousands of dollars worth of gear, handing it to you and aiming you at the best location to suit the light of the moment, you'd have to be pretty hopeless not to produce come decent, saleable images. We took a lot of good shots, which was no less than we expected we'd be capable of. But how about pictures with that indefinable surreal quality? Judge for yourself. The photos accompanying this article were all shot by Senior Editor K3 Chris Onwiler. These were his best captures from many hundreds of attempts. Good? Absolutely. Above average? Perhaps, depending on whose work you were to compare them with. Magic? Well, we're just glad that we know photographers of Joseph Hansen's caliber. He may have taught us how to shoot, but we're still a long way from creating art.