Honda powered Formula 4 United States and Formula Regional Americas Championships photographer Gavin Baker gives us a personal look into his creative process, sharing some of his favorite photos from the 2019 Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.
As a photographer RA offers a few unique challenges and even more opportunities for capturing racing at a venue. Trudging around the outside of any racetrack searching for "epic photos" or "amazing angles" has specific dangers at each track. RA's Cottonmouth's are my primary concern there. Corner workers have warned about them on many occasions. I have never seen one there but I have been startled by movement hidden in the brush close by.
Secondary concerns are the giant spiders that call RA home - especially during Spring and Autumn. I've been told, (not by an arachnid expert or anyone in entomology) that the indigenous ones are harmless, or at least non poisonous, but they are prolific. Many of the advertising signs around RA are positioned about 2-3 feet behind the racetrack barriers. This turns out to be perfect space for really big spider webs that are built nightly in hopes of securing food, or photographers that aren't paying attention.
There are a few "must have" pictures that are required when photographing at RA.These are the pictures expected to be taken, the ones clients ask for, the ones you have to take. The biggie at RA is the bottom of the Esses at turn 5.
The next would be the green flag photo at the end of the front straight - drivers right in turn one. There are quite a few ways to shoot this photo, but my options were a bit limited due to the sponsorship of our series and the owner of Road Atlanta. That's why my start photos feature cars and no scenery, which may break a few photo rules but does present a powerful image in my opinion.
Moving on to some of my favorite spots around the track, I enjoy locations that give depth to photos, and RA with its elevation changes shines with these opportunities. Shooting at the bridge before turn 11 puts race cars in the foreground with the track wandering through the photo and fading into the background past turn nine.
Another spot like this is at the top of the hill as the cars exit turn 5. The background shows an opening that is hugged by trees that the racetrack cuts through and fans watch the action.
Another vantage point is where the racecars begin there long journey up the back straight. The track bends a bit so that other race cars appear in the background, which gives a competitive view and ads context to the photo.
One of the interesting complexities of the track is backgrounds. There are some ugly things around the track at RA. Necessary but ugly. Porto-potties, trailers, and guide wires seem to be in the most inappropriate places sometimes, but that's one of the things that separates photographers. This photo is full of guide wires and even has one of those gray bathrooms in the background. Only at a very slow shutter speed could I make them disappear into the background.
Another spot while we were there in 2019 that had a very distinct background was the exit of turn one because of the construction being performed on the new media center being constructed on the front straight. I used a wide aperture to blur the background a bit and to bring out the welding sparks from the steel girders.
RA provides a nice place to splash the bright colors of each racecar against a deep rich field of green. Shooting through the bridge at turn 11 as the car crests the hill it's far enough away from the background so the trees blur into a field of green shades and hues that make contrasting colors stand out.
Another photo that gives an interesting view of RA is from the hill along the entrance to turn 5. At certain locations there are gaps in the leaves of the trees on the hillside that leave room for racecars to shine through the foliage.
One of my favorite spots is driver's right at the exit of turn 4. The way the track bends gives a real racing feeling to the photos. A narrow depth of field really focuses the viewers' attention on the lead car.
One of the things I love about out series is that we endure through all types of weather. Last year we avoided a downpour through a full race only to arrive at victory circle as the heavens opened up. A little rain doesn't dampen our spirits.
The finish line at RA also affords a nice finish shot since it extends above the track. With a wide enough lens the checkered flags, the final turn, and some of the paddock can be captured along with the winner.
Celebrations are always a joy to photograph at the racetrack. and champagne (or in this case sparkling juice) adds to the emotion.
Most of all, a great thing about our series is family interactions. Watching people celebrating victories with the proud eyes of parents brings an extra level of emotion and joy to victory circle.
I can't wait to get back to the action,