R3/Cr into 24-70mm
What do goats and Shetland ponies have in common? Both get chased by a two-humped camel in the middle of Missouri… and this was just the start of my rally weekend…
While I’m no stranger to the 100 Acre Wood rally having crewed there 3 years and spectated a couple more, I’ve yet to have the opportunity to take part as credentialed media. Going in I had a fair idea of what to expect (just prepare for everything), but more or less my goal was to be David’s lackey if needed and learn a couple things along the way. After a bit of a drive down, some small talk at tech inspection, and an errant recce that didn’t quite reveal the road we were looking for, we were all set to start early at Shakedown the next morning.
One of the greatest parts of rally is the variety of sounds you encounter. We set ourselves on the inside of an open hairpin about halfway in the Shakedown stage and listened for the first car off. Right on time the subtle creaking of pines in the wind was replaced with six cylinders of Mk.II Escort cracking through the elms. As each car set off there was a new voice in air; chortling turbos with spouts of deafening anti-lag, V8’s thundering down the road in cars the size of my shoe, and the occasional straight piped N/A that gives me tinnitus again just thinking about it. A blistering symphony of combustion that would bring a smile to anyone’s face.
If I were just spectating, this would be more than enough to just sit back and watch, but I didn’t come down here camera in hand to do only that. Shakedown was a great chance to knock off some rust from not shooting cars in a few months, and get used to the speeds we’ll be seeing over the weekend. The biggest challenge I found wasn’t so much getting the camera set, it was the constant change in environment throughout the corner. Once I found a spot I liked I could set for that zone, but as the car moves by you are now dealing with changing lighting from the trees and possible obstructions along the way. What’s great for corner entry might be useless on exit as you go from full sun to full shade in 10 feet. Oh, and there may be the occasional sign post mid-corner that ruins your shot.
After our warmup it was on to Parc Expose then back out into the woods to catch 3 more stages before the day is over. It all comes down to planning and timing to see as much action as possible. While it’s unfortunate we can’t stay to see all of the cars go by on each stage, staying on the move allows for less of the same photo over and over. The other minus is the whole eating thing never really happens – once you get to your spot you do a quick scan to see how you want to shoot the cars and by the time you’re set up the stage is hot. Get through as many cars as you dare to be on time to the next stage then back in the car and on the move again. Rinse and repeat until its 15 hours later and you’re back at the hotel prepping for the next day.
Remember when I said just prepare for everything? Day 2 we found ourselves setting up to shoot one of the water crossings and lucky me with the wellies got to traverse the river 6 times over – four on foot, the remainder transporting the team vehicle back since we all couldn’t fit in one go. Don’t blame them though – since the water was over 12 inches deep in places making for a great splash with the rally cars. It was well worth all the logistical oddities to capture such a unique moment on a stage.
Our last stage of the event brought us to the famed cattle guard jump. As with the water splash, some competitors took it a little easier on the equipment while the rest just sent it. Watch all the videos you want, a proper jump where a car could clear your average hatchback is a sight to behold in person. But of course, this is rally, and you can’t just have a simple image of an auto flying past you. You need to take into account that surrounding environment that ruined more than a few of my shots on this trip. In this case, however, the more seasoned photog’s quickly realized the shadows they were casting on the road left no need to feel down, as competitors picked themselves off the ground.
With another rally in the books we prepare for a long transit home while I take time to look back on the weekend. Motorsports photography is definitely its own animal, but the natural environment of rally is a whole new level. Constant lighting changes in a single corner, imagining how to frame a driving line that over 70 different competitors will take with various drivetrains and styles, and even adjusting the background to suit your needs to create distinct images. Lack of sleep, lack of food, but zero lack of excitement, photographing stage rally definitely needs to be on my radar more often!