The Long Beach Grand Prix is the single biggest event in the city with it’s constant annual attendance of about 200,000 people. It’s an adrenaline rush. It’s got to be. I live about 2 miles from the center of the track and I wake up to the practice runs at 7am. I met a girl who lived about 4 miles away and she said that the sounds are still distinctly audible. I moved to Long Beach in 2004 and I don’t think I went until 2007 because I didn’t think there would be anything exciting about watching cars go ’round and ’round and ’round. I decided to check it out one time just for the heck of it and was hooked as soon as I stepped off the bus (parking is really horrible so take public transit) and heard vroom vroom zoom zooms.
After all those years I still never really bothered paying $265 for the photo pass which allows you to shoot from designated “prime” spots (hard to see but they’re marked with the green stars at the turns):
Here’s a bigger map
I don’t shoot sports so it’s rather hard to justify spending that much for photos that…well…might not provide enough ROI. You can still take photos at the event though you’d be pressed to find a good vantage point. There are two layers of barricade/chain link fence surrounding the track so good luck shooting through that. Elevated positions are plentiful but race shots are best done at a low angle.
Notice how the Press Telegram photo is very three-dimensional? That really nice look is due to the shadows and the change in depth of field from the foreground to the background. Shoot from a high angle and you get a very flat scene called “the pavement” and “the top surfaces of the cars.” So yes. Get a photo pass if you’re there for the shots (photographs that is….. tequila you can get plenty of with just the general admission ticket ^_^).
I guess that was Lesson 1.
Lesson 2: If you’re going to use manual focus, make sure you know how to really work it.
I camped out by turn 8 and had to shoot through the 2 rows of barricades so I switched to manual focus and pre-focused about 30 yards out with hopes of getting something out of this situation:
Then out of nowhere this car shoots past the turn and started doing donuts right in freakin front of the crowd:
And there I was going “OMG OMG OMG there’s a freakin car doing donuts right in my face and my camera is manually focused 30 yards away!!!” This was the shot that came from my entire 2-second panic attack:
Come to think of it I had a second camera body with a wideangle lens but I never even thought about dropping the one I had on hand and switching to it…then again kinda hard to do in 2 seconds. Things happen so fast that you have to be constantly aware and be prepared to react even before things happen. The whole “anticipating action” thing that sports photographers talk about does not only apply to knowing when to press the shutter. It also applies to knowing when to drop your telephoto and switch to your wider lens (pro sports shooters carry at least 2 camera bodies).
Speaking of things happening fast…
Lesson 3: No Chimping
Look how guy 1780 waits for the action while red hat dude is…well…doing something else.
“Did you get it? Did you get it?”
Lesson 4: Persistence is Key
Now I don’t have an image for this but those who want to work as editorial and commercial photographers might want to take note of this. The track is just shy of 2 miles but the drivers have to go around it like 85 times. There are far more people lining up for those big advertising jobs than there are jobs themselves. What happens then? You send your material to ADs, CDs, and art buyers and you don’t get any sort of response for A LONG TIME. They might not have jobs available the moment you send your promo material in, and even if they do your particular style might not be the right fit or they already have someone else in mind. It’s the same with the race – there’s already someone in front of you (unless you start 1st of course). Persistence. Keep doing your thing. Drive with precision and be prepared to make your move once the opportunity presents itself.
Lesson 5…now this is actually just a personal one for me:
Ask Wells Fargo to hook it up. I’ve been with them for like a decade and their downtown branch overlooks the track. How ’bout a seat up there? ^_^