I spent two years shooting the club racing circuit in California and it was a challenge for numerous reasons. Technically and aesthetically, road racing shots are incredibly boring: the same shot of a guy on a knee at a turn over and over again. Even at some tracks, the racers complain that the track shooters take exactly the same picture of them at the same turn every year.
I wanted to convey the speed of racing. I picked one of the best turns in SoCal, turn five at Willow Springs racetrack for shooting. The turn comes after a succession of s-curves and is at the top of a hill so that the racers tend to accelerate as they get ready for a downhill s-curve then a big stretch of flat.
I was shooting film and trying for a whip pan effect. I didn’t want to track the racer and have him or her be in focus with the background blurred. I wanted the rider and the background both blurred with the racer and bike an intelligible smear on the frame.
It took several months and many rolls of film to finally nail down the technique which was to have the aperture shut down, almost at f22 in the bright California sun, and to shoot at sub 1/60 shutter speeds. I was also whipping so fast that I would press the shutter when the bike wasn’t even in the frame, then whip the lens right to left, following through so that my lens was almost behind me. There were many, many blurred empty frames until I started getting my timing right.
I must say after all of this effort, I think I finally created an image that conveys the sense of speed of road racing.