Photography is a huge part of racing, from the great, museum worthy shots we see in the glossy magazines, to the photos in news websites such as this one, to the photos all the fans take home with them after a great race weekend.
Just about everybody seems to bring a camera with them to the race track, but shooting race cars isn't easy, and the art of racing photography, and the work and techniques that go into it, seem to be largely ignored.
Even more ignored and overlooked are the men and women who shoot these pictures, and RaceCanada's new Photography category is going to start correcting this by exploring the equipment and techniques used as well as turning a spotlight on those that create the photos that so many of us love.
Our first article in the new category, fittingly, is a Photographer Profile of John R Walker, who, among other things, is the track photographer for Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.
RaceCanada - How long have you been a racing photographer?
John R Walker - Since my High School days; I was lucky my Dad sold me his old car for a buck so with the money I saved for a car I bought a brand new Olympus OM1. My buddies raced motorcycles at Mosport and Shannonville so I scrounged up some film from school and started taking photographs as I was not crazy enough to race! Developed the film and made prints at the high school darkroom, matted and took them to the track.I was just doing it for fun but amazingly families of racers paid me for them. I now had beer money… Some things never change!
RC - What do you shoot other than racing?
JRW - I like to shoot as many different subjects as possible. A High School art teacher told me to be diversified and never pigeon hole oneself when it comes to art and photography. I guess that stuck as I shoot Industrial, automotive,people and landscape. Lately I have been very fortunate to be picked up by www.photoworkshopadventures.com out of NYC and get paid to lead groups in travel photography.Latest trips have been to Cuba but in June I will be leading the PWA 24 Hours of LeMans adventure.
RC - How did you become a racing photographer?
JRW - The thrill of racing was instilled in me at a young age by my father who dabbled in stock car racing with a local team that raced at the CNE, Pinecrest and Sunset Speedway. I was little but his enthusiasm and love of the sport had an influence on me to this very day. With no means/funds to go racing I did the next best thing and became a racing photographer.
RC - Who do you shoot for at the track? (Track, team, driver, publication, freelance, etc)
JRW - I shoot for Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and create content for their print, PR and web publications.Trying to keep the content consistent and of the best quality available. I have also picked up freelance assignments for automotive brands, sponsors and racing teams across North America.
RC - What gear do you use? What brand of camera? Brand of lenses and focal lengths? Why did you pick these products?
JRW - I like Canon cameras and lenses as I believe it works best in my workflow. I have 2 bodies; 5D MKII and a 7D MKII my main lenses are the 24-105mm and 100-400mm. I also carry the 18-35 Super wide angle and the 8-15mmFisheye. Top that with a 580EXII Speedlite. I also use Apple computers and communication devices with Adobe Lightroom software. They all work well together. I picked these products as I try to travel as light as possible and keep things simple.I have also found this gear is very durable for the outdoor shooting conditions at the track.
RC - If you could only bring one body and one lens to the track that you own, what would it be, and why?
JRW - I just got the 7D MKII and I love it! Amazingly fast and accurate.I would have to match that up with my 24-105mm. I call that my money lens. Great for fast shooting and versatility in the paddock and pits.With trackside access it is all you need at CTMP if I could only use one.
RC - If you pick any one body and lens on the market to bring to the track, whether you own it or not, and cost is no object, what would it be and why?
JRW - For action Canon have nailed it with the 7D MKII. It would be great to have the 1DXs at $10,000 and the 200-400mm f4 at $11,700.00, but the performance on that 7D is great for my deliverables and budget.
RC - What makes a great racing picture?
JRW - I think something that is dynamic and different. CTMP has been around for over 50 years and it is very difficult to get some thing fresh and new from a track that has been shot from about every angle. With the new restrictions and insurance liabilities access to some prime shooting locations has been limited. So somedays there can be 30 shooters at one corner trying to get something unique. It is not going to happen.So finding something fresh is the key. Also speed and movement in a still shot is good but clients always love the tack sharp image and their logo large and dead centre!!
RC - Does it take a different mind-set to shoot track-side action photos and photos in the paddock?
JRW - Sure it does, In most cases I have a shoot sheet of required shots that I have to deliver throughout the weekend. Trackside you need to get in a rhythm and find your sweet spot that lets the subject show its dynamics. In the Paddock it is a entirely different mood. More anticipation is required and discipline to get your shot and get on to the next subject. Being efficient in your shooting is key. I see way to many accredited shooters fall into super fan mode that is not professional.
RC - What advice would you have for photographers coming to the track, first for those who are pro's or very experienced showing up to a new track for the first time, and second for amateurs shooting outside the fence?
JRW - Show up early and stay late…research web sites and information on race weekends from past events.Visit the track before all the fans and teams get there. Get a map and mark out you best shooting spots.Talk to Pro photographers. Most will share some tips and love talking photography. Race-day can always throw you a curve ball with banners ,TV stands and obstructions that were not there previous to raceway. Also be flexible and always have a backup plan. Since you can get close without creds CTMP is a very good track to shoot outside the fence. Some of my favourite shots from the past have been shot outside the roped off areas.
Here's how to see more of John's work or get in touch with him: