Posts Tagged ‘le mans


Favorite Le Mans image

I began my photographic career as a motorsport photographer.  It was only a couple of years into it that I got bit by the photojournalism bug and jumped ship to tailor a portfolio suited to get a job as a newspaper shooter.

However, a few times a year I freelance for and Zuma Press at endurance sportscar races, most notably at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France.  It’s always fun to return to my ‘roots’ so to speak and see old friends.  I’m back in my environment, I know what to do, and I’m comfortable.  Motorsports photography has everything: speed, obviously, but also people, colors, a need for a sense of timing.  At the end of the day, it’s a sporting event, and covering it does require a certain amount of photojournalism-ism.

So it’s obvious that as I’ve evolved as a pj, I’ve also evolved as a motorsports photog.  And when one of the Zuma editors asked me to shoot some behind the scenes/spectator stuff in order to give a variety other than sports photography, it added a new challenge to my coverage.

So as the race continued on and the sun started to get low on the horizon on Saturday evening, I took a few moments to leave track side and the paddock to join the spectators enjoying the fun.  It had been a long time since I’d been on the other side of the fence, looking at cars several yards away through reinforced fencing.  The view sucks, but the culture doesn’t.

I borrowed a 24mm 1.4 lens from Nikon France who were providing service for credentialed photographers on site.  This was the time to use the hell out of it.  The amazing thing about that lens, other than the insanely cool look that depth of field gives, is the incredibly rich colors and crispness it gives.  When it’s sharp it’s tack, and when the light’s flat, it’s contrasty beyond belief.  It’s the perfect photojournalism lens, period.  The lens’ biggest virtue is how it makes any boring scene look interesting because of the mood it sets.  There’s nothing like setting a mood with a photograph.

So, all that to say that my favorite image from an auto race contains no cars, no drivers, or racing personalities.  Not even an inch of track or tire barrier.  Instead, it’s a scene you could find at any county fair, or amusement park.  It’s more photojournalist than straight sports photographer.  Maybe I’ve evolved past that.  Maybe.

Or maybe it’s just the lens.

June 11, 2011 - Le Mans, France. A fan watches as a couple enjoy a carnival ride during the 24 Hours of Le Mans auto race.


And another just cuz.  It’s a photo blog afterall.


June 10, 2011 - Le Mans, France Audi Sport driver Tom Kristensen, center, of Denmark, during the 24 Hours of Le Mans drivers' parade.




Dindo Capello B&W

I’m not usually one to convert my images to black and white.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t find a good B&W photograph striking in its own way.

When you get right down to it, I just don’t think about it.  I see the world in color, my camera sees the world in color, so my images are in color.  It was different when you loaded B&W film.  You were locked in with no choice.  That’s what the film saw – shades of gray.

Of course, nowadays, with the ability to go back and forth, there is a tendency to turn color images  into B&W to make up for the fact that it’s not a strong picture to begin with.  The photographer hoping the grayscale will add another dimension to an otherwise mediocre photo.  The way I see things, turning an image to B&W actually removes something from the picture.  The eye is no longer distracted by splotches of color in the background or the pink in a person’s skin tone.  In this respect, I believe a photo has to be good enough to start with in order to withstand this stripping away effect.

All that to say, there’s something special about a veteran racing driver from Italy waiting to take the wheel and the look on his face as he focuses.  I hope you agree that this deserved to be converted.



Petit Le Mans


08 Team Peugeot Total Peugeot 908 HDI FAP: Pedro Lamy, Franck Montagny, Stephane Sarrazin during night practice for the Petit Le Mans auto race, Thursday, Sept. 30, 2010, in Braselton, Georgia.


After going on vacation, being busy with breast cancer photo projects, and other bad excuses, I’ve neglected my personal blog a bit.

But a good excuse to update today is my yearly trip to Road Atlanta for the Petit Le Mans endurance sportscar race.  Aside from an opportunity to return to my photographic roots and make great images with motivation, it’s a chance to see old friends – most of whom have crossed the Atlantic for this event.  

This is my first race of the year after missing three or four major races I used to cover religiously.  It’s like riding a bike.  And I’m glad for that.


March 21, 2010 – Julien Ehrhardt and Ayrton Senna

March 21,2010.  My new son’s birthday.  Born at 4:18 p.m. to a stunned dad (who still can’t believe THAT could come out of HER) and a mom who was a champ through the whole thing.  Ten hours in labor is nothing for her side of the family.

But it wasn’t until I had posted a few pictures on Facebook, that a good friend and colleague, Eric Gilbert, art director at and more of a racing nut than I am (yes, it’s possible apparently), pointed out to me that March 21 is Ayrton Senna’s birthday.  He would have been 50 years old on the day my son was born.  I was elated and very very proud.  It was almost enough to call the birth certificate lady back into the room and change his middle name to Ayrton (my wife would have be so pleased, let me tell you.)

In my mind, and you won’t convince me otherwise, Ayrton Senna was the greatest Formula 1 driver of all time, period.  Some say Fangio, others say Schumacher were better.  But Senna was the best in an era where the cars were getting faster and faster, but none of the electronic aids had come into the sport yet.  It was a time when drivers were still manually shifting (i.e. clutch and stick shift) and no traction control or other handling assistance had been invented.  It was the height of car control.  He was a master at going faster and faster, always on the edge but rarely tore the car up.  And he drove with his soul.  In 1994, he lost his life after crashing at the San Marino Grand Prix in Imola.  To this day, the cause of the accident has still not been fully determined with theories ranging from a steering column failure to the car simply bottoming out over the bumps on the Tamburello corner.

I consider myself very fortunate to have watched Ayrton Senna race and remember fondly rooting for him while my dad supported Alain Prost, Senna’s French teammate at McLaren at the time.  You’d think I’d prefer the French guy, but he was too quiet for my tastes.  I much preferred Senna’s fiery character and fly by the seat of your pants style.  Plus, his famous yellow helmet, accented with green and blue (Brazil’s flag colors, his homeland) was just so cool, and contrasted against the white and red Marlboro McLaren Honda he drove.  He solidified my love of auto racing, which eventually led to my interests in photography.

I’ve heard many stories about his uncanny driving skills but this one is still my favorite:

Story told by Pat Symonds, Executive Director of Engineering (Ayrton’s first race engineer with Toleman in 1984):
“Dallas was what I would call an ‘old-fashioned’ North American street circuit, delineated with concrete blocks. It was a very tricky circuit, and bumpy enough to make even Monaco look smooth: the drivers literally had to fight their cars all the way round as they skipped and jumped from bump to bump. I remember during the race, Ayrton hit the wall, and then later retired because of the damage. When he eventually made it back to the pits, he didn’t seem to understand how he could have hit the wall. It seemed to come as a complete shock to him that he had hit the wall, and his immediate reaction was “I know I didn’t make a mistake – the wall must have moved.” Remember, we were talking about a twenty tonne concrete block here, but he was so insistent that he persuaded me to walk round the circuit and take a look. When I did so, the wall had indeed moved – somebody had clearly clipped the previous block and in doing so, displaced the next one by only about 4cm. Instead of the transition from block to block being smooth, a 4cm difference had caught the rear wheel, broken it and punctured the tyre. That was when it really came home to me, the precision to which he was driving, and made me think he was a bit special… And remember this was a guy in his first season of F1, straight out of F3…”

The man was a prodigy going up the ranks in F2000, F3.  A living legend while in F1.  A god in death.  And my son has a small connection to the man who helped define my career and to a large extent, my life.

Ayrton Senna, March 21, 1960 - May 1, 1994

In 2009, I covered the Le Mans 24 Hours (a race held in my old backyard in France) where Ayrton’s nephew, Bruno Senna ran with the ORECA team.

Bruno Senna, right, speaks with teammate Stéphane Ortelli during practice for the Le Mans 24 Hours, Wednesday, June 8, 2009. Rainier Ehrhardt/