This week, RaceCanada's Photographer Profile is long-time racing photographer Ivan Novotny.
Ivan leads Ivan Novotny Design Inc., a boutique firm that specializes in building brands for corporations, products and services. Ivan utilizes a holistic approach melding several different disciplines to help clients with logo development, web media, print collateral, environmental branding, and internal and external communications. A choice project in Ivan’s portfolio was developing the new brand logo for Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, formerly ‘Mosport’, the legendary F1 Grand Prix Circuit. Ivan has also collaborated closely with Canadian racing legend Ron Fellows, working to create “The Color of Victory”, a dynamic limited edition print that celebrates and captures Fellows’ vibrant legacy with GM’s Corvette Racing Program. www.thecolorofvictory.com
Ivan also holds the position of VP Design for Toronto Design Agency Taylor|Sprules Corporation. Ivan has been with the firm for many years, where he honed his craft as a multi-disciplined designer while developing and managing brands for many global organizations. www.tsworld.com
RaceCanada - How did you become a racing photographer?
Ivan Novotny - I’ve always been a race enthusiast, but didn’t start shooting race cars until I was a teen. While in Art College I enrolled in some photography classes where I learned the fundamentals, shot with film and developed my own photos, mostly B&W. In my twenties I continued to go to the races, but was now able to scrape enough money together to buy what was then called a “Super PhotoPass” ticket for the Molson Indy event in Toronto, it came with a “Super Premium” price too, but provided access to pit row where I was able to get close to the cars and occasionally brush elbows with the drivers, I knew this was where I wanted to be!
RC - How long have you been a racing photographer?
IN - I’ve always had a camera slung over my shoulder for every race event attended. Shooting has always been a fantastic escape for me that’s both creative and technically challenging, not to mention a great compliment to my career as a designer. Design has always been my passion and focus, I’ve spent the last 3 decades building a career as a multi-disciplined designer specializing in brand development.
Several years ago a colleague of mine had recommended me to a friend to help them with a design project. Pulling into the parking lot of their office for my initial meeting, I see a Ferrari 360 Modena, I like this guy already! We had a great meeting, turned out we had lots in common… oh yeah, he’s also a Gentleman Racer in a pro race series. I was later invited to the track as his guest for a race weekend, of course I brought my camera… That lead to a photography assignment which included a poster and book design, commemorating his driving in the 24 hours of Daytona - my first big gig in the world of motorsports!
After that experience, I finally decided to fuse all three of my passions, bringing together my love for design, photography and motorsports. It’s coming up to 5 years now that I decided to get serious about shooting with decent equipment and bringing my photography into my design process, providing a fully integrated service to clients.
RC - Can you describe your style of photography
IN - I approach my photography like a design exercise, to me design and photography are one of the same, both disciplines are based on the principles of composition, contrast, colour, tone and form to evoke emotion and tell a story. When I look through the viewfinder preparing to shoot, I’m developing the composition before I release the shutter, constantly making fine adjustments and split second decisions, considering what I want in the frame and how the shot will integrate into my design layout. In both my design and photography I try to reduce the amount of elements in any piece of work to its essential core, distill it to be clean and minimal, removing superflous items that just add noise to the message. My passion for design, simple and bold graphics has certainly influenced my photographic style.
RC - What do you shoot other than racing?
IN - Besides shooting cars, I really enjoy shooting people at the track, which has naturally evolved to taking portraits, from personal photos of family members to business portraits for clients. I have to admit, I also like to shoot my die-cast model cars in the off-season. Sometimes it’s very spontaneous, I’ll pick up the camera quickly to capture the light entering my studio window, draping over the model car, or I’ll get an idea in my head to rig up an elaborate table-top set up with backdrop, lights and reflectors - it’s all fun!
RC - Who do you shoot for at the track? (Track, team, driver, publication, freelance, etc)
My current projects have me shooting a team and driver, although I’m asked on occasion to engage in design projects for the track, so I’m always shooting the major events to build up my library of images for use in any current and upcoming track projects.
RC - What’s in your kit? Why did you pick these products?
IN - My kit is not overflowing, I have the essentials and have been slowly building on some accessories.
- Nikon D300
- Battery Pack
- SIGMA 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM | Art Lens
- NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4G
- NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II
Nikon Speedlight SB-700
- UV and ND Filters
- 28" Apollo Speedlite Soft Box
- Cactus Wireless Flash Transceiver V6
- Manfrotto Monopod 680B
- Adobe Photoshop
- Adobe Lightroom
15" Macbook Pro Retina
My first camera was a CONTAX 139Q (film camera designed by Porsche Design Group) and had a couple of Carl Zeiss lenses, but traded that in for my first digital camera, it was a consumer grade Canon. After trying a friends Nikon pro camera, I fell in love and eventually joined the Nikon fraternity. I’ve always liked Nikons, always seen them as a premium brand, great build quality, producing outstanding image results.
As for the hardware and software, I’ve been an Apple and Adobe user for over 25 years, key tools for a designer… and photographer! Being a designer, I’ve always appreciated Apple’s exceptional industrial design, they’re simply beautiful objects with an unparalleled user experience.
RC - If you could only bring one body and one lens to the track that you own, what would it be, and why?
IN - That’s easy, I only have one body at this time, the Nikon D300, but would bring the NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II as my lens choice. The 70-200 zoom is so versatile, very sharp and lets a lot of light in! At the track I will use this lens for anything from action shots trackside to portraits in the paddock and grid, including tight cropped artsy details. I believe this is a staple lens for most professional sport photographers.
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?
IN - To be honest, I’m not sure… I’m still working on squeezing everything I can out of the D300! Sure, I could use more megapixels and a little more sensitivity in low light, but my focus has been to push myself to be creative, I don’t find the level of camera is limiting me at this time, it’s my ability to create a new idea that’s the challenge, a new point of view, something different.
RC - What makes a great racing image?
IN - What I think makes a great racing image may not be great for someone else, I think it’s very subjective, and also depends on the application of use - what’s the image being used for and who is the audience? So I think it’s very hard to define, but there are some key fundamentals found in all great race shots; the shot should convey a strong sense of the sport, make a visceral connection with the viewer. There is so much one may choose to focus on; the exotic car designs, excellence in technology & engineering, sense of speed/motion, the traditions, pageantry and celebration on the grid, the people (drivers, team and celebrities), the winners, and the danger… the opportunity to take a great image is unlimited, and to do so much more than just document the event, you can tell a story, be creative!!
RC - Does it take a different mind-set to shoot track-side action photos and photos in the paddock?
IN - Yes, I think it does. Shooting track-side you are dealing with the speed of the cars, setting up your point of view and crop, positioning yourself track-side to optimize your background (avoiding Blue garbage cans in your frame), reviewing the light and shadows, really scoping out the environment first, before you shoot. I try to see the finished shot in my head prior to clicking the shutter. Once I’ve taken my initial frame, I then work at making fine adjustments to the camera and my position track-side to achieve the final shot, moving a few feet can make all the difference sometimes.
Shooting the paddock is the same in regards to being aware of your surroundings, reviewing light and shadow, etc, but I find the opportunity to tell a story is much greater! Focusing on the personalities, the people behind the machines is great fun. It allows you to capture the human aspect of the sport and bring an element of emotion to your images. Beyond shooting the many great faces in the paddock, you’re also able to focus on the cars, the exotic high-tech machines that are truly works of art… I could easily spend a full day just shooting one car, so many beautiful curves and angles on the body, to the meticulously engineered chassis and engine, which are usually fully exposed as the mechanics prepare the car. Not enough time in a day to capture it all!
RC - Whats your favourite thing to shoot on a race weekend?
IN - I would have to say shooting the grid just before a race, it’s a total rush! You can’t help but get caught up in the excitement, especially during those 5 minutes just before the cars launch off the line. You can feel the adrenaline coursing through your body as the engines start up, tension building for all on the grid, the hair on my arms and back of my neck are standing straight up! It’s beat the clock, running from car to car shooting the drivers strapped in their cockpits, just moments before going green, is truly a magical moment for me… to capture the look in their eyes through their helmets, it feels like I’m sharing a very intimate moment with them as they prepare mentally for the race, going through their own rituals, getting into the zone, totally focused - it’s intense!!!
Here's how to see more of Ivan's work or get in touch with him: