How To Photograph Endurance Racing
Longer sessions, multiple drivers, often racing into the night… There are so many factors that make endurance racing an enjoyable experience to photograph.
That said, endurance racing also means long days, especially 12 and 24 hour races. This means that endurance racing is also the most mentally and physically exhausting style of motorsport to cover.
So, let’s take a look at what you need to know before you attempt to cover an endurance race and how it is different from other forms of motorsport.
The best part of endurance racing is the longer track sessions, but not just the race itself. Often, in the lead-up to a 6, 12 or 24-hour race, there are several hour or longer practice sessions to allow teams to work on and test out a myriad of things before the race itself.
This has a two-fold impact on how you approach photographing endurance races. Firstly the longer sessions really give you a chance to be more creative. You can try out several different shots and angles that you probably won’t have time to test during shorter sessions. But it also means you could spend long periods trackside without your client’s cars on the track as they work on stuff in the garage.
The other thing to remember is that you need to pace yourself. This is often something I need to remind myself of in the lead-up to an endurance event. Typically if you photograph shorter endurance races, you’ll get into a rhythm of rushing to get as much variety as possible to be able to tell the full story of the event. However, if you do this during hour-long practice sessions, you might find that you’ve covered everything (although not thoroughly) by the end of practice two, leaving yourself repeating shots for the remainder of the event, including during the race.
In my experience, I find it’s often better to pace yourself, photograph sections of the track more thoroughly (and creatively) and split long practice sessions between being trackside and in the garages (where possible). This approach will also help you manage your own fatigue, especially if you’re photographing a 12 or 24-hour race where there are going to be both late practice sessions and an exceptionally long race day (or two).
Another thing to keep in mind while photographing endurance races is that teams have multiple drivers. Obviously means driver changes during pitstops (which we’ll get to in the next section), but there are also a few other things to keep in mind.
The most notable thing is how different drivers will drive the same car. This is far more evident in Pro-Am driver combinations, but even two professional platinum-rated drivers could have a different approach and style to driving the same car. It could present itself as the lines they take, how flamboyantly they attack the apexes and bounce over kerbs, or how aggressively they try to overtake other cars on track. But it is worth keeping in mind that the same car might have a different approach the next time it comes passed.
Once you’ve built up a bit of a repour with the team and the drivers, you can often tell which driver in the combination is driving the car, just simply on how and where they place it on the track.
Another thing to keep in mind is that different drivers have different personalities. How a driver interacts in the garage, how much time they spend in the garage, and how they react to having a camera in their face could be very different to what you are used to, particularly for bigger international events where you’ve got a mix of drivers.
Taking a little bit of extra time to watch and observe from the corner of the garage (out of the way) and taking shots from slightly further back can be a good approach when capturing drivers you don’t know yet. At least while you work out their routines and what they are comfortable with.
Pitstops & The Crew
Sure, shorter races can (and do) feature pitstops. And while they can have a big impact on the result of the race, in sprint races. However, in endurance racing, pitstops typically take longer, with more things happening to tell a much bigger part of the story of the race.
Obviously, the rules for each series (and event) can be different in their specifics, but driver changes are an important element to capture. Fuel also takes much longer, and crews might not be allowed to change tyres while the re-fueling is taking place. Giving you time to focus on the different crew members and their roles and get more variety of photos of the team as a whole.
Just keep in mind, depending on the series, there will be different safety requirements and levels of access that you will need to comply with to photograph pitstops. Most series or events will have a separate photographer vest for those who are allowed to access the pit lane. Some events will have a couple of vests that are available on a rotational basis, that you can book out for a small window during the race.
Also, keep in mind that anytime there is the possibility of refuelling, it’s a fairly safe assumption that you will have to be wearing a full fireproof race suit. It’s also likely you need to be wearing a helmet. If you’re unsure, it’s worth checking in the lead-up to attending.
That said, even if you don’t have access to the pitlane, what happens in the garage is just as important to the story of the weekend that you are trying to tell with your photos. From the action of drivers and crew getting ready ahead of a pitstop, the debrief with engineers after a driver change, the discussions about race strategy, or even crew members resting between stops. These are all elements that play a part in the overall story of an endurance race weekend.
The Story Of The Race
I’ve metioned telling the story of the race through your photos a couple of times already in this post. But what does that actually mean?
Well, there is more to endurance racing than just being the fastest driver in the fastest car. Strategy, the performance of multiple drivers, fatigue, and the fragility of the cars, on top of everything else you are looking to capture during any other race, all come together in this rollercoaster of ups and downs that plays out over the course of several hours. And what makes photographing endurance races really unique is that you really don’t know what that story is until late in the race, if not the chequered flag.
A good motorsport photographer will capture photos over the course of not only the race but the full event that can tell that chapter of the story at any given moment. The highs and the lows. In fact, the best stories involve overcoming some sort of adversity. So make sure you capture the images of all these elements of the race, not just the highlights.
This will allow your customer, be it a driver, team, manufacturer or publication, to tell the full story of the race (and the event) through a series of photos.
Endurance racing is both a dynamic challenge and a unique creative opportunity for motorsport photographers. But the end result for a good photographer is a testament to the power of visual storytelling through a lens.
I've been working as a motorsport photographer in Australia since 2012, building up my business InSyde Media. I am very fortunate that I have been able to work at all sorts of motorsport events including Supercars, F1 and WRC all over Australia and New Zealand. Also, check out my personal website where I document my travels and a few other things.
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