LA Stories

Everyone once in a great while the planets and star align and some really cool and somewhat unexpected things happen.

Every April I find myself in southern California covering the Long Beach Grand Prix.  This year was no exception.  The LBGP is the longest running street circuit in North America.  It has seen everything from Formula 5000, Formula 1, CART, IndyCar, IMSA sportscars, and drifting competition.  This event is the foundation of the rebirth of downtown Long Beach - it has made serious economic impact on this city over the past 40 years.

I made the trip to the left coast a couple of day early this year,  as I was invited to attend two events which I had made minor photographic contributions to.

The second of these events was the world premiere of the new documentary WINNING The Racing Life of Paul Newman.  The film is the love child of comedian, actor and radio personality Adam Carolla.  He can add the title of movie director and producer to his resume.  Carolla owns a lot of Newman's old race cars and was the driving force to making sure this film was made.  He did a great job digging up old footage of PLN's racing career and adding in-depth interviews by Bob Sharp (Newman's team owner in the early days), Mario Andretti, and a various Hollywood actors.

I was contacted last fall by one of the producers when he came across one of my photographs of Newman.  I did not photograph him very often - he was a private man and had very little tolerance for photographers unless they had a real reason to photograph him.  I did shoot for one of the teams that he drove for during the 24 Hours of Daytona, and the last time I worked with him was a story for Car and Driver magazine about the catering team for his IndyCar operation.  In those instances he was a pleasure to be around.  Most of the other times I had no interest in him, nor he in me.   I have two images in the film, one that appears early in the film and one of the last still shots toward the end.  I was glad I could contribute.  And pleased I was in LA and able to accept the invite to the premiere from the good folks at Nissan North America.  Nissan was one of the sponsors of the opening and only fitting considering Newman was arguably the most famous driver ever to race one of their cars - which he did for the majority of his racing career.

The first event of the trip, and the real highlight of the trip, occurred the previous evening in Beverly Hills.. 2 weeks ago I received a phone call from Doug Fehan, the Program Manager for Corvette Racing, asking if I could quickly get my hands of the Le Mans 24 podium shot of the Corvette team I took several years ago.  I said I could, and Doug put me in contact with Bruce Meyer.

Bruce Meyer and I have crossed paths a couple of times many many years ago through our mutual friend David Seibert.  Bruce is a car enthusiast without equal.  He was the founding chairman of the Peterson Automotive Museum. A man of great taste, and great humility,  and a friend of everyone in the world of cars and racing.  He had recently purchased the last Corvette GT1 car to with the Le Mans 24 Hour race.  He saw my podium shot and wanted to use it in his garage.

Now Bruce's garage is unlike any other.  His garage was built in 1926 and was the first public parking garage in Beverly Hills.  The Corvette is the latest addition to his collection which includes Porsche 935, a Ferrari 250 GT SWB (both Le Mans winners), a 57 Ferrari Testa Rossa, a 1936 Bugatti, a 1929 Dusenberg, and so forth.  His garage has been called by some "the ultimate man cave."  i would simply call it a space filled with automotive significance and history.

So a couple of weeks back Bruce called and asked if my LM24 photograph of the Vette drivers on the podium in France celebrating their victory above the mass of humanity, could installed behind the car and be a permanent part of his collection. Uh, yes it can.

The Vette, painted in its original yellow livery, is the brightest car in the garage.  The photograph is the only color image in the garage.  They fit well together.

Bruce graciously invited me to his Racers Night Out event - a wonderful gathering of the (mostly)  southern California racing scene - several of whom I have had portrait sessions with - Gurney, The Snake, Parnelli Jones, Dario Franchitti, and Jan Magnussen; and the chance to catch up with old friends that I don't get to see often enough - including Gayle and Peter Brock, Lyn St. James, and Johnny O'Connell.

Toward the end of the evening I saw Doug Fehan and thanked him helping to arrange all of this.  He is racer in every sense of the word.   He told me, "the coolest part of this whole deal is that car has a legacy that will be honored and admired here long after we are all gone.  And your photograph will too."  

Humbled and Honored.  


The Game Changer

A lot has been written over the past several months about the Profoto B1 Off Camera Flash system and I thought it was time to weigh in. So let me get right to the point.  The Profoto B1 500 Air is a "game changer."  It is the most significant piece of photographic equipment brought to the market in the last 2 years and has changed and will continue to change the landscape of photography in the years to come.Quite a statement I know, but I firmly believe this.  And here's why.  

The B1 system is powerful and portable.  Gone are the cables that attached a head to a power pack.  This means I can place a light virtually anywhere I choose - whether on a traditional light stand, on a Super Clamp mounted to tree, on a suction cup attached to a car, or entrusted to an assistant to hand hold for long periods of time.

The unit gest 200 pops at full power and I can change batteries with one hand, in less than five seconds.  And the cost of a spare battery is a bargain.

I can shoot in using TTL, high speed sync, or full manual (which I prefer) inside a studio or on location.  I can trigger the units, or change my lighting ratios with push of a button on the Profoto Air Remote - which by the way is the most reliable wireless triggering device I have ever used.

I have owned Profoto equipment for more than a decade.  My inventory includes Profoto D1s, 7b's and the now the B1 500 Air.  I bought my first B1 in the spring of 2014 and now have a total of 4 units.  I use them in conjunction with my other Profoto gear, but most often by themselves.  Below are a couple examples of recent assignments where I used the B1 units.

The beginning of every racing season requires portable studios to be set up on location.  So in January of this year I found myself at the Daytona International Speedway, sharing a space with 4 other photographers in a large room.  In addition to being used as a studio for 2 days, the room was also being used for meetings, so people would be coming into and out of the room.  My original thought was to simply use my Profoto D1's.  However, my appointed spot to set up was near a door that had folks walking in and out of pretty consistently.  This a 5 light set up - 3 heads on a white backdrop and 2 heads on the subject.  The power cords from the D1's, even if I taped them to the floor, where going to present hurdles and obstacles for anyone walking thru the door.  So I switched to the B1 500 Airs to light the background, a 4th B1 as a kicker, and I used only one Profoto D1 as the main light.  The D1 was placed on a roller stand, so it could be moved very easily when shooting or if needed to moved from the flow of traffic.  The shot below is of BMW driver Jens Klingmann and was shot for Michelin North America.

In early February I was back at the Kinetic Racing shop in the suburbs of Atlanta to shoot an assignment for Kia Motorsports and their new driver Ben Clucas.  I had been at this same race shop a couple of months earlier shooting their racing car with its new 2015 livery.  Those cars shots were taken with 3 Profoto D1's and 3 Profoto B1 500 Airs.  During one of the set ups, an employee walked past and accidentally caught his foot on the power cord of one of the D1's.  It was knocked over, created a large bang and a bit of mess to clean up.  I wanted to narrow the odds of this incident repeating itself on the latest assignment.  So the B1 Air was the only option.   Below is a shot of Ben - lit with Profoto B1 500 Air units.

The image below shows how I ship these units - 4 heads, 8 batteries, 3 chargers, and 2 Profoto Air Remotes - in a Pelican 1730 case.  This system gives me peace of mind whether I am checking this case as part of my airline luggage or shipping it cross-country with FedEx.  You may also notice from this image that I have my B1 500 Airs configured differently.  Two of the units I have equipped with the Profoto Glass Domes (covers).  The domes give a different quality of light than the recessed reflectors - not necessarily better, but different and gives me one more option when considering how I want to light a subject.

My final thought on the Profoto B1 500 Air is simply this:  It is the best value of any lighting system on the market.  Period.  Why?  Because it is the best engineered product, the best constructed product, and it produces the most consistent light output of any product in this category.  And it is the most reliable of any portable flash unit I have ever used.  Quality and reliability pay for itself the first time and every time I use Profoto gear.  Knowing equipment is going to work and provide consistent results every time it is used is simply priceless.  I love this gear.  I rely on this gear.  You should too.  

The Birthing Of A Racing Car

A lot of attention has been given to the new Nissan GT-R LM NISMO since the launch of the car during the 2015 Super Bowl.  I've been involved with the project since May of 2014 and thought I would give a little bit of insight on the documentation of this project.

It was last May, when on very short notice, I was asked to fly to Japan and photograph the teaser photo that would accompany the Nissan press release announcing the Japanese manufacturer's return to the prototype racing at the Le Mans 24 Hours and the World Endurance Championship.  The day after the TUSC event at Monterey, I flew from SFO to LAX to NRT, and then made the short drive to Yokohama, home of Nissan corporate offices and NISMO.  I was met by a small film crew from the UK and together we created images of a new production car and the teaser photo of the new race car.  While the new GT-R LM NISMO had been conceived many months earlier, this Nissan image told the world "we are expecting."

Several months went by as the final design of the car was completed and the building took place.  I made several cross country trips documenting the construction of the car and the early testing days.  It was magical to witness the car being crafted by dedicated mechanics and engineers.  Time consuming minor details being worked out, honed, and fitted, refitted, and refined.  And that process continues on the GT-R LM, as it does with every racing car, no matter the age.

The early days of testing a race car is much like watching a child learn to walk.  Stumbles occur, patience is required, but confidence grows as crawling turns into baby steps, which turns into jogging, which turns into sprinting.   A fast steady marathon is a the desired end result and this simply takes time.

I finally saw the completed race car in mid December at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin.  The COTA circuit was flooded with a huge production crew filming the Nissan Super Bowl ad.   What an education that was.  The production was a logistical exercise of a small Army of highly skilled professionals, each designated with a specific task that had to be prepared and ready to perform at a specific time.  Action shots with single cars, multiple cars, at night, during the day, a crash sequence, a podium sequence, and dozens of other shots that had to be captured in a 72 hour period.   Add the demands of wardrobe, make-up, lighting, track prep, catering, FX, etc., the list is endless.  And it all went off like clockwork.   The set up still photography was squeezed in a 45 minute on day 2 and a 3 hour early morning window on day 3.   That was all that was needed and the results speak for themselves.

The car was "born" during the 2nd quarter of the Super Bowl, along with the 2016 Nissan Maxima.  A great double header debut orchestrated by the folks at Nissan.  Online content was released a few minutes afterwards and additional material will follow in the coming weeks. 

A couple of notes about the images I shot.  The images were taken on Nikon D4 bodies and 4 lenses were used , 14-24/2.8, 17-35/f4, 24-70/2.8 and a 70-200/2.8.  Profoto power packs and heads were used for lighting.  The static shots were taken during a lunch break on the 2nd day.  Profoto was responsible for the killer lighting and one can easily see the difference it made when compared to the images were shot at exactly the same time by another photographer working for a monthly magazine and did not have the benefit of Profoto gear.  The rigged shots were taken over a 3 hour period during the early morning of the 3rd day.  Cameras were rigged to both the car and the tow vehicle and given the limited amount of time, several views had multiple cameras rigged and shooting at the same time.  The reason for the D4 bodies and not a Nikon D810 is quite simple.  I own two D4 bodies and only one D810 (that is about to change as another D810 is coming my way) and I wanted the image quality to be consistent shot to shot.  Using two different bodies would not have accomplished that goal.

The response to the images has been very positive.  Needless to say, it was a very good shoot.  The entire campaign from the printed material, to the online material, to the video both on television and online, and to the next wave of material that is forthcoming, is the end result of very talented people all working together to accomplish one goal - a kick ass campaign that resulted in one of the best launches of any race car in the history of the sport.  To those individuals that worked with me on my minor part of this project, and the people who gave me this wonderful opportunity and can only say thank you.  

Several years ago Steve Jobs spoke at the commencement ceremonies at Stanford University.  The message of that speech was "Don't Settle."  The good folks at Nissan and NISMO have lived this motto for the last 10 months and will continue to do so for the life of this race car.  And one other motto applies to this entire experience:  "Epic."

A Glance Back

2014 was a wonderful year of shooting of great assignments, the opportunity of seeing new parts of world, and working with very talented people.  One assignment stands out from the rest, a place I had never been before, but have definitive plans to return.  

Early on Monday morning following a very long week of covering the LeMans 24 Hours, I was part of a 4 car convoy of journalists on a 3 day whirlwind assignment through France and Belgium.  The final destination of this day was in the north east corner of France.

My only previous knowledge of Reims, France is a beautiful black & white photograph that hangs in my office of the start of the 1955 Grand Prix.  The image was taken by the great Jesse Alexander.  The frame is taken from the last row of the grid, Jesse standing in the middle of the road, and in the distance the viewer sees the grandstands on both sides of the circuit and the far horizon of the French countryside.

We arrived in late afternoon, winding through endless vineyards that produce some of the best champagne in the world.  Later that evening and the following morning time was taken to explore the city including Notre-Dame de Reims, the place of most of the coronations of French monarchs and Saint Remi Basilica.  But the current destination was the same location as Jesse's photograph - the grandstands of the grand prix circuit - still standing along the two lane public road.  This historic racing landmark did not disappoint.  It is virtually the same as it was 50 years ago.  Yes the logos are a bit faded, some of the concrete a bit cracked, however, it is alive with the spirit and history of racing.  It sits alone along this road, surrounded by  tranquil green and golden fields.

Spending time here was the highlight of my photographic year.  I love France anyway - the people, their appreciation of art and photography, and the history this marvelous country holds.  Reims is one of the most beautiful parts of this country or any country I have visited.  Perhaps the best part of this trip to Reims is remind myself to take my eye away from the viewfinder, take time  away from the deadlines, and simply appreciate the simplicity and beauty that surrounds me every day.