A walk in the woods
A tale of mud, cold and exhaustion chasing the perfect picture at Wales Rally GB.
I don't really shoot rally's. I've nothing against them, indeed there's not many things more exhilarating than a rally car flying past on opposite lock just a few feet away, but they're just not high on my list of things to shoot. But for Rally GB I always try and make an effort and treat it as a fun day out as a paying punter rather than worrying about getting the hero shot and hitting deadlines.
I think it's the early mornings that really put me off, that and the cold and general wetness you find in a Welsh forest in October although in a funny way that's also part of the attraction. Regardless, here I was arriving on the stage at 7am and paying £30 to experience all those things and more.
If you've never been to a forest rally then parking is on the access road, a long snake of cars parked in single file so the later you arrive the further you have to walk. At the end of the day the last parked car I drove past was a mile and half past where I was parked so my 30 minute walk to the stage was at least half that of some of the latecomers.
Having got to the stage the next thing is to find a location to shoot from, I may have been there for fun but I still wanted to do the job properly so there was no point being stuck in one location with limited shooting options. I walked for another hour through the Gartheiniog forest before finding a remote location way over on the other side of the course.
There aren't many places you can walk the track between sessions.
The thing about shooting a rally is you only get one chance and then the cars are gone so if you miss them or get it wrong it's tough. For this reason I like to shoot with a similar sized lens to what I would use at a circuit, usually my 400mm zoom. The spot needs a good view, it's not all about getting the car huge in the frame so don't be afraid to be at the limits of your lens with the car just a tiny speck. It's coming towards you so you'll get your big close-up whatever happens.
Lovely autumn colours.
It's also key to move about, just a few metres left or right will change the perspective and give you a different picture. The stage ran for about 50 minutes giving ample opportunity to move around and by the end I was several hundred metres from where I started.
The stage was being run twice so there was no time to relax after the last car went through, all the gear is packed up and it's off to find a new location, ideally as close to the start of the stage as possible to facilitate getting out at the end of the day.
For the second run I wanted a different set of pictures, something closer to traditional rally shots so big close ups and mud flying everywhere. After yomping for over an hour back along the stage I found my spot. It wasn't the best but I was running out of time plus I wanted some lunch and I was only here for fun.
The spot was OK but I needed to move on and get some variety in my shots. Everyone has different needs but I was amazed by how many other photographers didn't move from the spot they were shooting from. If shooting for a paying client then often there is no choice to do this but if shooting for fun I fail to see the point in shooting 1000 identical pictures.
Even less I didn't understand the guy whose chosen spot meant he got covered in mud when a car went by, I stood next to him for one pass and was pretty sure the shot wasn't worth the pain.
This never happens at Silverstone
At the end of the second run I made my way back to the start, still a good couple of miles back along the stage and I arrived just before the national rally started but by this point I'd had enough. Sitting on a tree stump I poured out the final drops of coffee from my flask and just enjoyed the spectacle.
I still had that 30 minute walk back to my car. I was cold, a little damp, slightly hungry and more exhausted than I've ever known. Each step was an effort but I made it back and I think the pictures were worth the trouble so yup, I'll probably do it all again next year.