Lucas Oil Drag Boat Series... A story from behind the lens

November 04, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

I just posted an article on about my experiences at the 2013 Lucas Oil Drag Boat World Finals.  I decided to tell the story of what goes through my head as I look for image opportunities and why I choose to shoot the way that I do.  Hope you enjoy, and as always, comments are encouraged!


Typically when I write about my experience at a given event or trip of mine I try to give everyone who wasn't able to attend a front row seat to the festivities by telling a little story and adding some of my pictures to reinforce the words. This past week a friend of mine made a post about my photography in her Blog and it got me to thinking. I usually go about my business taking photos then, when I get home, I organize them into a story for that event. I often write the story in the first person giving it a little more editorial feel, but that isn't really the way I experience the event. I experience these events through the viewfinder of my camera which, for me, is how I prefer it.

I thought, just this once, I'd try to tell the story from behind the lens. I've often been told that my images are unique in perspective and, while I don't find my work to be on par with many of the other talented shooters on the boards, I appreciate that people find it interesting. So, I'm going to bring you all with me on a journey through some of my favorite images from this past weekend's Lucas Oil Drag Boats World Finals and talk a bit about what it is that I see when I decide to press the shutter button.
I hope you enjoy and if you have any questions, please feel free to ask!

I'm going to start with the money shot, or in this case shots. Usually I would wait to use a particularly cool image till later in the story, but this isn't a typical story...
I want to show these shots first because they represent what, I think, most people expect from motorsports photography... Action. While I enjoy a good action shot as much as anyone, it isn't my forte and, frankly, doesn't excite me as much as some of the other shots I take.

For these images I was on my way back to the start line from the far end of the track when I saw that the Top Fuel Hydros were poised to take off. Unlike many sports photographers, I don't shoot on the motor drive very often. I don't do this out of any sort of purist, I'm too good for that, reasoning... I do this because I'm lazy... and I don't like sorting through thousands of nearly the same image to find just the right one, but I digress. For this shot I did decide to shoot on the motor drive, which is the rapid fire shooting you hear cameras do when a sequence shot is being done. Why did I decide on a sequence for this particular shot? Because Top Fuel Hydros go over 250 mph and I might miss something!

I set up and chose a relatively slow shutter speed so that all the beautiful industrial buildings and semi-trucks on I-10 would be rendered a blur in the final image, but unfortunately for the driver and team of Problem Child, we never made it that far. Daryl Erhlich, the driver, was fine afterwards which is truly a statement to the safety measures built into these amazing boats.

This picture, which I took the day before, is more what I was going for when I set up for the above sequence. Again, slower shutter speed so that the background is blurred. This motion blur also really accentuates the violent speed of this boat.

Moving from action to a little more editorial/journalistic approach... These are the types of shots that I can geek out on all day and also garner weird looks from the people in the pits. When people see me pointing my long lens at a piston or some exhaust pipes they must think I'm lost or something, but these are the shots that I enjoy the most. You see, to me seeing cars and boats and motorcycles in action is fun, but its the bits and parts that make these machines capable of such amazing feats that are really intriguing to me. There is something about the symmetry of mechanical things that is just beautiful.

This was literally the first thing I pointed my camera at when I pulled up in the pits. Wild Horse Pass Lake has to have the nastiest water on the planet and its actually harder on machines than salt water. When I pulled up, this boat was getting washed after being pulled off the water. Between the colors and the water droplets I can look at it forever. What can I say... Shiny stuff is cool!
Again, the backdrop at the track is less than aesthetically pleasing so, I overexposed the background to keep from seeing it.

The Top Fuel teams tear down their engines after every pass. It's impressive to say the least to see how efficiently these teams can tear down and rebuild an 8000 hp engine.
For this shot I wanted to frame the rods with something, so I shot through a cart sitting next to the boat. I shot with aperture wide open to create the shallow depth of field that blurs all but the rods themselves.

Who doesn't like carbon fiber?

These teams come prepared. They have backup engines for their backup engines.
In this shot the crew was swapping parts from one engine to the next and prepping for their next run of qualifying. Again, shallow depth of field combined with warm afternoon light makes the second set of mags stand out.

These crews don't even bat an eye at swapping and entire engine between heats...

Gratuitous Jugz Girlz shot...

Without the racers that put their lives on the line to run these water rockets, this whole deal would just be a boat show. Lately I've become enthralled with the expressions and overall demeanor of the racers just before their race. When out of the boat they are typically jovial and joking with their crew and other drivers, but once they climb in the boat a notable change happens. Their faces are painted with focused determination and their eyes often tell a story all their own. Getting these shots is about timing and patience, but once the racer gets that 1000 yard stare I find the images take on a whole new level of drama...

This is what championship focus looks like... Legend Tony Scarlata.

Light is the paint that a photographer uses to paint the image you see and it can make or break a photo. Often times I will look for interesting light and try my best to use it to make a picture more dramatic. It is one of the most interesting and time consuming parts of capturing a picture, but when you get it right the results are always worth it.

In the late afternoon sun, underexposing a shot where certain elements are framed in shadow can produce interesting results...

Without the spectators who show up to the races to with their family to enjoy the energy and excitement these events have to offer there would never be great venues like Havasu and Wild Horse Pass. The spectators are the reason that teams are able to get sponsor money to go racing. Hats off to all those who threw down their hard earned cash to attend these races!

I wanted to illustrate more of the spectator experience here. To me this picture is about everyone craning their necks and reveling in the raw power and beauty of the the Pro Mods. I exposed for the water in the rooster tail on the pass before this one which makes the spectators almost a silhouette.

Line is one element of a photo that I am often drawn to. It's easy to see that in many of my pictures. They way line directs your eye is one of the most powerful elements in art and is often what can give an image a unique feel.

Just so you guys don't think I hate action shots I'll wrap this up where we started with some of my favorite action shots from the weekend. I hope you all enjoyed these as much as I enjoyed taking them! If there are any questions, please feel free to ask. Now, get out and take some pictures!

See you on the water!

Tom Leigh (PinkTaco)

I know this isn't action, but I like it...



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