Is it the end of the year already? That time of year when I get to indulge, and write what was going on in my mind during some of my favorite moments of the past year. As years pass, I’ve grown more and more fond of this article. While I try to write majority of my articles from a personal perspective, it’s often more important to discuss the guts of the content rather than how I was feeling when I clicked the shutter. Because who wants to hear if I was soaking wet, sore, tired, sunburnt, hungry, or nursing silver-dollar-sized blisters on my feet—that’s not why you’re here. However, there comes a time once a year where I get to tell my side of the story. This year I wanted to take a different approach, and discuss my thoughts during the exact moment in time of some photographs, rather than summarizing my favorite parts of some articles. Now, I could bore anyone with personal stories for as long as they’ll allow me to write, so I thought it best to limit this year’s article to just four occasions. Follow along as I walk you through—in no particular order—my top four favorite Front Street moments of 2017.
1. Rob Ida’s Porsche and the Boat
Let’s backtrack to just after the SEMA show of 2016, when I first contacted Rob Ida about featuring his Porsche. We had discussed photographing the car in the winter, as it was due to be sold to its new owner shortly after. In the midst of January, I needed to find a suitable location near his shop in New Jersey, and hope for nice weather—a tall order during winter in the Northeast. I settled onto Lake Assunpink by way of Google Maps, as there appeared to be an open boat launch area that seemed pretty far removed from society. I awoke the morning of the scheduled photo shoot frantically checking the weather, as it was suddenly slated to rain all day, with heavy cloud cover. It was kind of a worst nightmare situation knowing I was set to photograph a SEMA build. I checked with Ida that he was okay with the potential rain scenario and it didn’t seem to bother him—something I enjoy about Rob and his builds, they’re driven.
So my friend Dave and I trekked over to the lake’s boat launch area, never having actually seen the location in real life. I arrived to see the Porsche parked by itself. Shrouded in grey skies, dead trees, and just a touch of fog. Having only spoken to Ida digitally until this point, formal introductions were made, and I began shooting countless images of the car in the spot where Ida had parked it.
Keen on getting as many shots as I could before the imminent rain showers started, I had him move the car only a couple feet and began photographing the interior, engine bay, and details. Once I felt I had sufficient images of the car in that area, I had him reverse the car over to the edge of the parking lot. I had been eyeing up this spot the whole time, for it contained a very small opening between the bushes surrounding the lot. The shoot relaxed a bit from here as I realized I had the content I needed regardless of whether the rain came. I began talking to Ida about the car when I glimpsed a single lonesome motorized fishing boat making its way behind the Porsche toward the launch area. I abruptly left conversation and hustled over to a fitting shooting location about ten feet in front of the car—walking briskly and clicking my shutter as I approached my desired position. Could this really happen? Could I get this boat, among the fog, on the greyest of days, positioned perfectly behind the Porsche with its fog-oriented selective yellow lights illuminated? I immediately looked down at my screen after the boat had passed—I could get that shot, and I did.
An overwhelming calm came over me just knowing that no matter what happened after that, I was able to capture that unexpected moment in time with only seconds to react. We finished off the day with rolling shots, followed by still shots alongside a swampy area where we accidentally left the Porsche sitting idly with the lights on for too long, and killed the battery. Oops.
“Does anyone have any jumper cables?”
2. One Shot at Formula Drift Long Beach
Another of my favorite photographs I’ve taken to date is this image of Dai Yoshihara drifting his Turn 14 Distribution-sponsored Subaru BRZ. Over the past few years, I’ve had the pleasure of covering numerous stops on the Formula Drift (FD) calendar, thanks to my job. This has not only made me much more familiar with the competitors, the judging, and the cars of FD, but has also allowed me to hone my skills of photographing the sport in general. I used to spend majority of an event trying to get as much motion blur as possible, and using shooting locations that no one else was using. This proved to give my work a very awkward feel, as I would usually only come away from a weekend with a handful of ‘keepers’. In a constant evolution of photographic taste, along with constant critique and gained experience, I now map out the locations I want images from beforehand, and work using zoom lenses to frame the subject properly among the foreground.
In this case, I was tasked with returning home from this event with not only full event coverage, but also an image fit for a canvas to hang in the office. So I knew this one image had to combine a ton of elements for the perfect perspective. First on my list to include in the image was motion—that’s key, you can’t depict a racecar without motion. Second was tire smoke, because what explains drifting better than tire smoke? Third, I knew I needed to have the entire side profile in view, so our company’s full logo was in plain sight. Fourth, the image could not be shot through a fence—which just so happens to line the entire Long Beach Grand Prix course.
Fast forward to the final moments of practice at the Long Beach event, I had scoured the length of the track to find the best location to take this image. One that would provide everything I was looking for without a chain-link fence in the way. I stood at the entrance of turn nine—the first corner of the drifting layout—with my back facing the oncoming angry cars. There was about a six-foot gap in the fence, where the cars would speed past for a fraction of a second in a blur of colors and tire smoke at about 60 mph. If I could use a slow enough shutter speed to accentuate the blur, time it right, and follow the action through that frame, I could get the cars on their smokey sideways entry to the drift course. Earlier, I had noted the order the cars were running in, so when I was able to get this gap in fencing all to myself, and saw Fredric Aasbø fly past me, I knew there were only two more competitors before Yoshihara.
The first car went by, and I followed them through the gap with my camera pressed to my eye, holding the shutter button down to snap as many images as I could. I looked at my screen once they had passed. The background and spinning wheel were too crisp, and the timing was wrong. I either cut the front of the car off, or cut the rear of the car off. I would need to slow the shutter down to get more blur into the scene. The second competitor flew by; I was now shooting at such a slow shutter speed that I had begun the picture before they were even in the fence’s gap. Looking at the screen after they passed, it was now too blurry, and just didn’t have the composition and framing I was after.
Yoshihara was now on the starting line, I adjusted my settings one more time, knowing I basically had one shot to get the BRZ perfectly aligned in this gap, with the right amount of blur. He sped towards the turn, initiated his drift, and I followed him through my camera. I clicked the shutter button only once, and he was gone, leaving me in a cloud of smoke. I glanced down at the screen one more time, and it had all worked out. One shot was all it took to combine everything into one scene, and I just smiled in excitement.
Dai just so happens to be a very talented driver, too, so his perfectly executed route through that turn meant he was directly in the racing line’s trajectory I had predicted. His front tire kissing the red and white curbing of that turn was the proverbial cherry on top.
3. Celebratory Shot at Formula Drift Atlanta
Covering FD so frequently has also made me rethink the material I photograph for event articles. There are portions of every FD event that I don’t bother photographing anymore, as I have learned I rarely use the photos after the fact. One of those times is during driver introductions. I make sure I take some images to represent the overall scene of the introductions, but watching dozens of yellow media vests migrate from one awkwardly waving driver to another is enough to make anyone question their involvement in the notion. Add to that, the self-questioning of the image’s use after the event is over, “What am I going to do with a picture of Ryan Tuerck waving to a crowd behind me? A crowd that’s not even pictured.”
The other portion I have stopped photographing is the podium celebration. Other than the forced poses in front of the sponsor logos on the backboard, this period of an event never yielded the images I was hoping for. Also, things are so hectic in the area surrounding the podium at that time; I’d just rather be somewhere else.
This does, however, propose an issue, as these images often describe the winners of an event, and provide a conclusion to the photographical story. A viable solution I have come to enjoy is the kind of makeshift parc fermé that FD started in the last couple years. A time when FD separates the competitors of the final battle to park in the middle of the track facing the grandstands, as they announce the winner of the event in front of the crowd. Following the overwhelming intensity of an event, there is a lot of pent up emotion being released during this time. Whether it’s complete exhaustion, elation, or frustration, the scenes captured in this two to three-minute window have produced some of my favorite images.
Upon finishing their final tandem drift battle of the Atlanta event just as the clock struck midnight, the Irish duo of James Deane and Dean Kearney awaited their results for the evening in front of intrigued fans. In the world of motorsports, well-slept nights usually don’t occur before events. With so many mechanical levels to prep and tune beforehand, teams and drivers are usually running on fumes by the end of the event. However, once the announcement was made that James Deane had won his second consecutive Formula Drift event, there was no lack of energy to prevent a combination of drivers and teams from hoisting him high into the air in celebration.
When they initially picked him up above their heads, his body was just cresting the bottom of the massive generator light—one of many tasked with illuminating Road Atlanta afterhours. I decided to move a little to the side in order to center him in the light’s path. I also got as low as I could in the hopes that they would throw him into the air, blocking the light completely. Well, my wishing must have been palpable because a few seconds later Deane was flying through the air, and I was spraying-and-praying with my shutter button pressed.
After one or two hurrahs, the group returned him to his feet, and I was able to scroll through the burst of shots I captured moments prior. Most were okay, where Deane didn’t completely cover the light, or his body language was lacking the victorious enthusiasm I was looking for—but there was one that was perfect. In just one of the twelve, his body perfectly blocked the light, he appeared to be floating with excitement, and his hands outreached to the heavens with the absolute joy of victory.
The image will go down as one of my most prized photographs for years to come simply because it was such raw emotion illustrated using only body language. One that I hoped for, planned to execute, and then successfully recorded.
4. Sensory Overload at First Class Fitment
I touched on this topic in my recap of the event, but each year I have the opportunity to enjoy First Class Fitment (FCF) from a variety of standpoints. Collectively as a photographer, a worker, and a spectator. It’s a unique position that has granted me a different outlook on not only this event, but also any automotive related event in general. I see what it takes to create an event from start to finish. I see the passion expressed from its attendees. I also get to see the undying commitment owners have with their vehicles. It’s a special trio of perspectives that has enriched my view of the automotive scene in general—and in a time filled with Internet hate for everything known to mankind, any newfound positivity is a welcomed refreshment.
Onto FCF, hundreds of hours of planning and labor go into making the show what it is at Princeton Airport.
Similar to the FD drivers when their race is over and the adrenaline finally wears off, a feeling of conclusion and relaxation encompasses everyone involved with FCF after the sun has set. From the staff to enthusiasts in their show cars, when the final award is presented and the show’s hosts thank all of the attendees over the loudspeaker, it might as well be a school’s bell signaling the start of summer break.
With low-flying helicopters soaring overhead adding to the sensory overload, an organized chaos erupts when a variety of 350+ growling show cars all make their way to the airport’s exit at the same time. Each vehicle with its own distinct rumble, hue of ultra-bright lights, and color of paint combines for a vision that has to be seen to be appreciated. It’s a scene I look forward to each year, admittedly just as much as the show itself. Just to be there in that moment, with so many excitable factors is a great experience.
Well, that just about does it for my four favorite moments from 2017. I’ve had an outright blast presenting all of my imagery for everyone to look at all year long. It’s an added bonus I get to ramble incessantly once a week across this medium. It’s not exactly a solo act over here, though. I’m thankful for our talented group of contributors, who push out incredible content from all over the world just for us. A big thanks to my co-workers at Turn 14 Distribution who keep this a visually appealing web page, and most importantly thank YOU for reading. Whoever you are, I’m pumped to show you what we have in store for 2018!