For drivers and fans alike, racing at night is both a challenge and a spectacle. But it’s a prospect which also brings its own challenges to the teams behind the lens, as IMSA photographer and resident Road Atlanta mosquito bite sufferer Jamey Price explains.
There’s something very special about shooting car racing at night. No matter what race it is, whether it’s watching night practice, or racing in pitch darkness, I always get chills down my spine. It really is a magical feeling to be standing trackside at night.
All alone on the far side of the Road Atlanta track, with only a swarm of mosquitoes to keep me company, I hear the abrupt and piercing roar of racing engines as the cars file out of pit lane and start their warm-up laps for the start of Practice 3 of this year’s Petit Le Mans. As the cars get closer and closer, you can start to feel the ground vibrate beneath you. The sun is down, but there is just barely a hint of light in the sky. Photographers call it ‘Blue Hour’. That magic, golden hour – the hour or two either after sunrise or before sunset – is what we live for. No doubt, there is something amazing about seeing a string of headlights racing toward you, brought to life by the deafening growl that is the symphony of engines.
Photographically, it’s very hard shooting moving objects in the darkness. The settings you use during the day versus what you shoot at night are completely different. Slower shutter speeds, higher ISOs and wider apertures, all in a constant battle to let more light in the sensor. But in some ways, you see more at night than you do during the day. The cars’ brake discs glow bright orange and red; flames shoot out from the exhaust as the cars downshift and the vast palate of colours adorning each car become the only identifying point to discern which car is which.
I work predominately for Lamborghini’s GT3 program but, this particular Petit Le Mans weekend, I need a variety of photos for each car at the race. When night descends upon Road Atlanta, you quickly learn which car is which based on the size, shape and colour of the headlights, as well as the sound of the engine coming toward you. Any and every detail helps in knowing when one of the particular cars I need photos of is coming toward me.
In the darkness, I’m spending a great majority of my time panning the cars racing past with lights from fans, camp fires, and the little trackside lighting that does exist at a few of the corners to make a photo more interesting. Each element of light becomes a streak of colour in the background. The slower you go with the shutter speed, the more intense and longer that light becomes. I’ve always had a fascination with setting up a tripod at a corner and shooting long exposure images to bring out the different colours on each car. The different lights, brake lights, colours and racing lines all combines in one photo to make something closer to art than a traditional car racing photo.
And though the darkness pushes both me and my camera to the very ends of our respective skill and capability, the result of the challenge always provides something new and worthwhile in the end.