When I started my career as a photographer it was at the Indianapolis 500. I was a teenager. I knew nothing about nothing. But I knew what I loved. I loved cars – fast cars – race cars. And I loved racing. From the time I was old enough to ride a bike I dreamed of racing a car at Indianapolis. Unfortunately, God saw fit to give me the body of a football player so I ran for the Arlington Golden Knights instead of Team Foyt or Andretti or Unser. But my inability to become a professional racing driver never once hindered my passion for racing or cars or anything connected thereto.
So instead of becoming a professional race car driver I became a professional motor sports photographer. The first six years of my photo career were spent photographing racing. Along the way I was lucky enough to get to know and even become friends with some of the biggest names in motor sports. Every once in a while they would take pity on me and let me get in some lap time and teach me the ropes.
Long story short: I’ve driven lots of race cars on lots of tracks – rarely competitively – just for fun. But in that process I have attended 14 racing schools and logged thousands of hours on various race courses. I’ve learned that photography and racing have more in common than you might think.
1. Both require intense focus (no pun intended.) At 200 mph you’re moving a football field per second. There’s no time to think about anything other than what you are doing RIGHT NOW. The next apex of the next turn is all that matters. Period. If you’re thinking about anything else you are either getting lapped or crashing and maybe heading to the mortuary.
Master photographers understand how to live in the moment. They understand how to be fully tuned in to what’s happening the instant they click the shutter. They are paying strict attention to the photograph, not thinking about when they will pick up their dry cleaning. Photographers and race car drivers have this in common above all. They must pay full attention to their surroundings and their task at hand. They notice every detail. They live every detail. Details matter.
2. Racing allows you to put your past behind you. In fact it compels you to. If you came into the last corner hot and lost time, you can’t waste time thinking about that. At speed, you have no time to waste because the NEXT corner, the NEXT challenge is right in front of you – RIGHT NOW. You have to react with lightening-fast reflexes so your focus is fully forward. You can’t do that if you’re worried about the past.
Photographers (especially new ones) have a tendency to be too hard on themselves. They lament that last missed shot to the point of missing the NEXT great opportunity. Both racing and photography are great for human morale in that they both allow us to concentrate exclusively on what’s next, not what’s behind us and any mistakes we may have made, photographically or otherwise. Master photographers learn this lesson and apply it.
3. Racing requires pounds of pure passion. It’s hard. It’s incredibly hard. It’s super incredibly hard. I know it LOOKS easy on TV, but believe me when I tell you it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It’s one of the hardest things any human being can do. It’s hard on your wallet. It’s hard on your body. It’s hard on your mind. It’s called a sport because it takes incredible endurance and concentration. It’s also very physical. You can easily pull two Gs in some turns. That means your body feels like it weighs twice what it does now. That’s a lot of pressure.
Now imagine that for a couple of hours straight with no bathroom breaks or snack breaks or rests other than coming into the pits for 10 seconds and you’ll start to get the idea. Now multiply that times many weeks a year. Got it?
Only VERY passionate people race, and they have to remain passionate about racing to stay in the game since the costs (on every level) are so extremely high. Each race requires the driver to put everything on the line, including their very lives.
Master photographers are also very, very passionate. It’s simply not an option to be anything BUT passionate if you want to succeed. It’s impossible to be a master photographer unless you love your craft and your subjects. Master photographers also have to invest in expensive gear and training. They spend years practicing their craft. They stand around for hours sometimes to make one or two exposures. They hike mountains or canoe down rapids to make a shot. This also takes endurance and concentration. Sometimes they also risk their very lives. If the photographer ends up short on passion, the shot will end up short of the mark.
Whether it’s motor sports or any other kind of human endeavor, look for ways that what we do as photographers parallel other disciplines. There’s something to be learned by such comparisons. You’ll know it when you see it.
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