There’s a lot more to any race weekend than a magazine article or a TV broadcast can cover. I always do my best to bring varied coverage from an event weekend, hoping to shed light on something the average consumer might overlook or not be aware of.
Even here on Speedhunters, where we have great freedom to publish an essentially limitless amount of photos, you’re still confined by some of the basics: who won, who lost, and so on. Usually, I’ll need a handful of photos of a specific driver or team, depending on what happened over the course of the weekend. While this is all good and well, it often means that my favorite shots end up living on a hard drive in the corner of my closet for eternity.
This time around I’ve decided to share a handful of extra images from the California 8 Hours held a couple weekends back at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, and explain a little bit of the process involved. The best part being that for many of the shots you don’t need any sort of special access to get them.
Before the race starts, and all through the day actually, a general admission ticket gets you access to the entire paddock. While you can’t necessarily stick your head too far into the garages, there’s plenty to shoot and see from right outside of them.
At the start of the race I headed to the Andretti Hairpin (Turn 2) and shot from track level. However, plenty of photographers were up the hill on the access road, which anyone with a standard ticket could easily access as well.
What impressed me the most about the racing over the weekend was the insane proximity of the cars to each other. Obviously it is a race, but over eight hours I was blown away by how close the cars remained. The margins are finite and the trust is massive; during the course of the race there was no serious contact and no yellow flags as a result of an incident.
These shots were taken between the entrance to Turn 2 and exit of Turn 3, most of which aren’t accessible without a fence in your way if you have general admission.
Off The Track
Of course, there’s plenty to shoot around the paddock at an event like this as well.
The California 8 Hours featured a small car show that rolled in early, but being focused on the action on the circuit I wasn’t able to check things out when it was at its busiest. There was a really cool Martini-liveried Nissan R35 GT-R that I wished I had grabbed some photos of — if you were there and have some, post a shot in the comments section below.
I need to make it a priority to dedicate much more time to the action that goes on off the track at future races. I’ve already highlighted some of the highs and lows from the pits so I won’t spend more time going into that here, but I love the emotion you can capture from these guys behind the scenes.
Laguna Seca & The Corkscrew
Laguna Seca is hands-down one of my favorite tracks to watch races in person, as well as photograph them.
It’s a gorgeous layout with great views of the track and Monterey Bay in the background.
But the corner that takes the cake here is the Corkscrew. Cars fly up the Rahal Straight and down a slight crest for turn in before dropping 60 feet into the sweeping left-hand Turn 9, where you’ll drop another 50 feet.
The drop-off is so severe that it’s entirely blind from the driver’s perspective — you just point your car and trust that the track is there. Admittedly, thanks to the camber of the course, it’s a very easy corner to get right after a few goes behind the wheel.
Laguna Seca is also special in that you can easily shoot this iconic corner – and several others on the track – without a media pass. I personally recommend the path around Turn 9 rather than braving the steep hill, but either way if you’re down for a bit of a walk you’ll be rewarded with fence-free lines of sight from the front side.
As such, I’ll break down a few specific shots I captured, and explain the settings I used and why. This chapter assumes you know a bit about shooting already, or that you’ve read our old photography guides here.
If you walk up to the spectator fences near the bottom of the Corkscrew you’ll be able to frame a shot similar to this without lenses that are too exotic. I’ll mostly use my 70-200mm here, a bit of glass which would set you back around $500 for a used f/4 version. This particular shot was taken at 185mm with an aperture of f/20 and a shutter speed of 1/13th of a second. I enabled ISO expansion to shoot at ISO50 so as not to blow out the exposure given the long shutter speed.
If you have a telephoto lens, you can get some nice shots a bit higher up the hill here as well. This shot was taken way back from the fence on the paved sidewalk near the bridge at 500mm, f/5.6, 1/1600th and ISO320.
My favorite angle of the corkscrew is probably from up top, though, which you do need a media pass to access. This spot is my favorite mostly due to the fact that this is one of the few locations on track where the light is actually working in your favor, but the view is spectacular too.
Sara got this shot of the Mercedes-AMG GT3 just barely dipping into the dirt at 135mm on our 7D Mark II. If you’re familiar with Canon’s line-up you’ll know this is a crop sensor camera with a factor of 1.6, meaning that 135mm acts like 216mm. The shot was taken at f/3.2, 1/1600th, and ISO100.
Jumping down into Rainey Curve, I put my camera on shutter priority and fired away at slower and slower shutter speeds. I had plenty of shots that I threw out, but this shot at 1/10th (f/20 and ISO50) conveys the blistering speed of these GT3 cars. I was using a 35mm relatively close to the track here, but you can easily get similar framing with the aforementioned 70-200mm shooting over the fence.
Dragging your shutter is always fun, and towards the end of the day I started pushing the settings more and more. This was taken with my 100-400mm at 142mm, f/32, 1/4th of a second, and ISO50.
The photo above was shot from the same vantage point with the same lens, albeit at 400mm and wide open at f/5.6, 1/1250th, and ISO400. These two shots certainly go to show the versatility of a telephoto zoom, and the old version one of Canon’s 100-400mm can easily be found for around US$800 used. If you ever want to upgrade, you’ll usually get your money out of it too, just be sure to extensively test anything that you buy secondhand.
As convenient and versatile as a zoom lens is, I prefer to shoot with a prime lens if I can. This shot was taken early in the day with my 500mm at f/5.6, 1/1600th and ISO400. The version I have does stop down to f/4.5, but even early in the day the heat waves will start interfering with the autofocus and clarity of the image, so I tend to bump the aperture up a bit to give me some wiggle room.
When shooting portraits or — in this case the podium — prime lenses are definitely the way to go if you can. If you stand behind the crowds you can get a nice snipe of the guys on the podium with a big telephoto, but this time I opted to be in closer to the action with my 135mm and 35mm. The above shot of the champagne was shot on aperture priority at 35mm, f/2.5, 1/1600th, and ISO100.
On the topic of aperture and shutter priority modes, there are plenty of
old-timers and camera snobs very friendly people who will inform you that you aren’t a real photographer if you aren’t shooting on manual, instantaneously choosing all of your settings. But I personally don’t see the sense in buying an expensive camera that can meter light using a variety of algorithms for different situations and not use any of them.
For the podium I was shooting a lot of different lighting situations back-to-back very quickly, meaning I was much better off selecting the aperture I wanted to isolate my subject and leaving my camera to figure out most of the rest. If you’re just getting started I’d encourage you to do similar before moving on to full manual, contrary to what many old school photo guys might say. Aperture priority and shutter priority will teach you a lot about the mechanics of your camera and lenses as you learn, and you’ll get decent shots along the way.
While I was shooting the podium ceremony around f/1.8 to f/2.8, this shot was taken at f/9 as I didn’t want much isolation in the photograph. In other words, I wanted everything relatively sharp. I’ve posted it here as it’s the last sunset I saw at our home on the opposite side of the bay from Laguna Seca, which can be spotted from atop the Corkscrew. At least, if you had a telescope.
There’s no doubt that California is an all-round great place to shoot and live, but Sara and I are moving on. I’ll definitely miss Laguna Seca a great deal, as well as the many friends I’ve made from races, car culture, and hunting speed in California’s Bay Area.
More on what’s next later, but I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at the California 8 Hours through my camera.
Trevor Yale Ryan
Additional Photos by Sara Ryan
Cutting Room Floor