Richard Dole is widely known for his auto racing images and portraits of legendary drivers. Every now and then he spares some time from his busy schedule to write down his stories for us. Now he is back with an article about a shooting of the winners of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
My assignment boiled down to simply this: I would have approximately 20 minutes to photograph the most recent winners of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
OK, here are more of the details. Photograph Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber, two of the three Porsche drivers who had taken the checkered flag and overall victory at the famous sports car race in Le Mans, France (the 3rd driver, Nico Hulkenberg, was back to his Formula 1 duties). They were in the United States, where they would spend the balance of the 2015 season, driving for the Porsche North America factory team.
The drivers had a 20 minute window in the middle of the day for the session. Normally photographing this time of day would be an issue, but I had decided early on that I did not want to shoot the drivers trackside or by their cars. Instead, I wanted to photograph them in a tunnel.
The location was Watkins Glen International Raceway in upstate New York. I’ve shot at this track a number of times over the years and one of the great locations at this circuit is a corrugated steel pedestrian tunnel that runs underneath the backstretch. The tunnel is about 50 feet long, 10 feet high, and 4 feet wide. I choose this as the location.
In the 20 minutes of shooting, I needed to photograph the drivers together and individually, and give the client two different looks.
The key to this type of assignment is being prepared and ready to go when the talent arrives. I scouted the location the day before the shoot. My liaison with the drivers was Erin Cechal, the Porsche team PR representative. Erin is one of the very best PR reps I’ve ever worked with in any sport. Professional, buttoned up, and at the top of her game. I took Erin to the location the morning of the shoot and explained to her what I was trying to accomplish.
Equally as important is a good assistant. For this assignment, I relied on fellow photographer and good friend John Thawley – who understands the role of voice activated lightstand better than most.
So the drivers were briefed in advanced, and arrived on time. I took a couple of test shots and showed Nick and Earl the images on the monitor and they immediately bought into the concept I was going after.
There was only one lighting choice: the Profoto B1. No cords. No hassle. The B1 have become my favorite light in the entire Profoto line. I have used the B1, and only the B1, on every assignment since February of this year. They are very portable and very predictable. And given the tight quarters of this particular shoot it was the only option I considered.
The lighting on all of the images was quite simple. For the vertical shot of Earl Bamber, two Profoto B1 units behind the driver at the opening of the tunnel. Both units set on full power and equipped with Zoom Reflectors. One unit set at shoulder level and the other set at knee level. A third B1 was used as the main light, equipped with a Seven Inch Grid Reflector with a 20 degree grid. It was located above and just behind my right shoulder. Nikon 24mm lens, ISO 100, 1/250th at f/7.1.
The vertical shots were the only images needing post-production work, and that consisted of removing dirt and leaves from the tunnel floor.
The horizontal shots of Bamber and Tandy were set up as follows: One Profoto B1, bare bulb with a Seven Inch Grid Reflector, set ten feet behind the driver in the center of the tunnel. A second Profoto B1 with a Softbox RFi’3 Octa, 3 feet from the driver and just out of the camera frame. The settings were nearly identical for both images: 27mm, ISO 100, 1/250th at f/11 for Bamber, and the 24mm, ISO 100, 1250that f/10 for Tandy.
In addition to photographing the drivers individually, I also photographed them together. Same lighting set up, except a small rectangle softbox, directly behind me, as the main light.
Michelin North America was my client for this assignment, and they have used images both online and in the print edition of their racing publication The Alley. Additional editorial usage is in the German publication Sport Auto, that runs a feature story on driver Nick Tandy.
I find myself shooting more and more environmental portraits mixing hard light with soft light. Perhaps it is simply a phase I am going through, but I really like the look and feel of this type of lighting. The important is to keep the lighting as simple as possible, especially when you have a limited amount of time and space, like in a shoot such as this one.
No racing drivers, especially not those who have just won the 24 Hours of Le Mans, like to waste time away from their car or the track. 20 minutes in front of a camera is an eternity to them. And just the right amount of time to knock out this assignment, thanks in large part to the Profoto B1.
Richard Dole is a corporate and editorial photographer based in Saint Augustine, Florida.
More of his work can be seen at his website: www.dolephoto.com