Having grown up in North Carolina I have been around NASCAR my entire life. I went to my first race at age 4 or 5, and have probably been to 60 since then. I know the sport very well, but I've never seen it from the perspective of a photographer. I've had the chance to shoot races before and passed it up, so I decided this time I had to take the opportunity. I would be shooting the Good Sam 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.
1) It's Dangerous
Most photographers never have to worry about potentially getting hurt during a shoot, but that all changes when it comes to NASCAR. At times when you are shooting next to the track, you are a few inches to feet away from the cars that are going over 100mph. At anytime they could wreck and be coming right at you, you have to be paying attention at all times.
Return is both daunting and adrenaline filled, it's one of those moments in life when you are "living on the edge" or in a spot that is very non typical - these are some of the most exciting.
When you are walking around the outside of the track, the only thing between you and the cars are the catch fence. Then out of no where there is a hole in the fence that is designated a photo hole, at that point there is nothing between your lens and the cars.
2) It's Exhausting
One thing about NASCAR races is they are not short. You're in for a 3 hour race in most cases at minimum. You're walking around the inside of the track, making a 30 minute hike to get on top of the grandstands, and then walking the outside of the track. Luckily for me Phoenix is a short track, and I couldn't imagine what the guys deal with that have to walk around the mile or longer tracks.
During all this in my case, I was carrying 2 camera bodies and lenses, along with 2 extra lenses and accessories on my belt. Doing all this in the heat means hydration is a major key.
3) It's Hard
I can deal with the danger and the heat, but for me the hardest part of photographing the NASCAR race was capturing the elusive motion pan shot. In order to get the full effect of the speed of the car, the goal is to get the car completely in focus while the wheels and back ground are in movement. No matter how many amazing photos you see from NASCAR races, just know - that perfect combination is NOT an easy task. I had done my research and knew basically what I needed to do to make this happen, but I was really shocked at how hard capturing a perfectly tack sharp image was.
4) It's Rewarding
As with most challenges in life, waiting for you at the end are rewards. Once you start dumping your photos and in the mist of all the burry and out of focus photos you find the tack sharp gems - the trumpets of victory start sounding in the background and you let out an scream .. YES!
Thankfully I ended up with some shot's that I'll enjoy forever and a memories of one of the most challenging shoots of my life. I'm ready to shoot my next race and take what I learned it get better!
Here are some of my favorite images from the day.