I've been thinking a lot lately about what advice and help I can give other photographers, largely because I'm leading a photography seminar two weeks before the MotoGP round at Laguna Seca. In addition to technique, camera settings, and workflow secrets, I'll also be talking about the 'mental game' of photography, and one of the ideas of this aspect of getting interesting pictures is overcoming shyness and having the courage to take risks.
The above portrait of Romano Fenati and his father, Claudio, is one of my favorites from 2012, and I'd like to share its tale, both for those who are interested in a behind the scenes MotoGP story, and also for my fellow shooters who enjoy occasionally finding photography-related comments in this space.
Sometimes the guy in 6th place gets there with such style that his story is more compelling, more inspiring, and more enjoyable than the victor's. For me, the biggest story of Silverstone 2012 starts at least as early as Donington in 2008. James Toseland showed up to his home race in his rookie G.P. year to find the expected amount of media attention. It seemed in the days leading up the race that Toseland was on every front page in the country, and it also seemed impossible for any literate person in the U.K. not to know he was the local boy in the coming race at Donington Park. Not shy on courage, Toseland wore the English flag on his shoulders, literally, by appearing on Sunday in custom white leathers adorned with the red cross of St. George.
What unfolded as the race began was painful to watch, even as a foreigner. Toseland charged into the first turn at Redgate and crashed. He gathered himself and his bike up and continued on, far behind the race for the victory, but was cheered as he made his lonely way from grandstand to grandstand. At least local hopes for a good result had not been made to suffer for long.
After Casey Stoner announced his retirement on Thursday at Le Mans, it was obvious that I would choose that subject to write about for that day's round up of events. Stoner's retirement had befuddled me - I was not alone in my befuddlement, it was shared by almost everyone involved in MotoGP - and I discussed the source of the story published by the Spanish magazine Solo Moto in the week between the Jerez and Estoril rounds of MotoGP, which splashed news of Stoner's retirement on its front page, citing an anonymous source.
In my story on Stoner's retirement, I reported on the rumors I had heard at Estoril identifying Livio Suppo as the source of Solo Moto's story. On the Friday, I received two emails, one from Livio Suppo himself, and the other from Borja Gonzales, an editor at Solo Moto, the magazine that broke the story of Stoner's retirement. Neither was pleased, and rightly so.
Having worked directly with Max Biaggi, Casey Stoner, Nicky Hayden and Valentino Rossi, to name only a few, Federica De Zottis’ experience in Grand Prix motorcycle racing is truly unique. For the past five years she has worked closely with the Ducati Team riders, her current main responsibility on race weekends being to assist with the press duties of Valentino Rossi. When I approached her about the possibility of an interview, she was kind enough to invite me to the Ducati hospitality at Estoril to share her story.
Scott Jones: Federica, you're currently MotoGP Press Manager for Ducati Corse. Could you please describe your job for us?
Federica de Zottis: My job is split into two parts, the part that I do in the office in Bologna, and the part that I do here [in the MotoGP paddock]. Of course they are linked together, but during the winter I spend most of the time at the office.
The longer I get to work in the MotoGP paddock, the more it strikes me how many talented people contribute to the show by working behind the curtain while a small percentage of personalities get most of the media attention. Rhys Edwards, whom you may recognize from his frequent position in Casey Stoner’s seat during shots of the Respol garage, is one of many people I’ve met who manage to perform roles of great responsibility while remaining friendly, approachable and warm individuals. When I learned something about his background in Formula One, I assumed he would have an interesting story to tell about his career and how he arrived at HRC, and he was generous enough to let me ask him some questions about his experience during the final GP weekend at Estoril.
Scott Jones: Rhys, you’re Communications and Marketing Manager at Honda Racing Corporation. Many of our readers may not know exactly what that means, so could you give a brief description of your role at HRC?
When I entered the media center at Losail a few weeks ago, I happened to be thinking about how many people contribute to our enjoyment of MotoGP. From the journalists who write the background stories and race reports, to photographers who show us things we can't see on video, to the large number of people who produce the TV feed, each has his or her role in bringing us closer to the racing and increasing our enjoyment of what we see.
Years ago I was an avid bicycle racer, very much inspired by watching Greg Lemond take on the world in a sport dominated by Europeans. The TV broadcasts featured the commentary of a man named Phil Liggett, who still works as one of the main voices of cycling broadcasts in English. Liggett's enthusiasm and passion for cycling are inseparable from my experience of watching those 1980s Tours de France (and every one since, in fact), and he has stuck in my mind as someone who will be, for many, as big a part of the events he described as the events themselves.
The best of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe novels is, in my opinion, his last, the title of which I've borrowed for this piece. In The Long Goodbye, Chandler shows us more of what makes Philip Marlowe tick than in any of the previous novels, and along the way, as observed by my old professor Thomas Steiner, the book itself seems often to be Chandler's personal farewell to Marlowe and to the hardboiled detective novel itself.
This off-season has been a kind of Long Goodbye of my own, in this case not to a genre of fiction or to a fictional character, but to a real one. My main task over the past few months has been to go through my photos from each race weekend I've attended since 2008 and pull out the best images to show on Photo.GP, my online archive. Each time I open a new catalog or revisit one partially processed, I'm confronted with more images of Marco Simoncelli to edit and decide if they belong on Photo.GP or not.
You don't get many chances to get an image like this, with the entire grid together on track. Some circuits don't have a good first couple of turns, or it's hard to get there from the grid in time for the shot, or a good plan to get there is ruined by some unforeseen problem like a broken down shuttle, V.I.P. traffic on the access road, etc.
As you have surely noticed by now, the site has a new design and layout. The old layout, with light text on a dark background, has been dropped, and the new site has switched to follow the golden rule set by every website designer, usability expert and ergonomics consultant on the planet: dark text on a light background. Readers from around the world had asked for the change for a couple of years now, and I finally caved in to their requests. The readability is now vastly improved, but the framing layout with orange links on a dark background has been retained, to preserve something of the feel of the old site. Photo stories will continue to use a dark background, as we feel that the darker layout does more justice to Scott Jones' beautiful photos.
The change has not been completely finalized - there are still one or two points of the site that need to be tweaked, and all comments and suggestions for improvement are more than welcome. Some tables, in particular, could still appear with either the wrong background or the wrong text color; if you spot any errors, please feel free to drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Site supporters have a wider choice of page layouts, including the option of reverting to the previous layout with the light text on a dark background.
The San Francisco Dainese D-Store welcomed me and Jensen Beeler last week to share some of our thoughts and experiences in MotoGP. For my part of the presentation, I showed some photographs on a projector and told the stories that went along with them. A few folks asked if I could video the show, but that turned out to be a non-starter for various reasons. So instead I thought I'd write up the stories to share here for anyone who is interested. So here is the story behind...
MotoMatters.com continues to grow in popularity - a massively heartening phenomena, for which we are all grateful - but that popularity comes with a downside: at peak times, the site can become very slow, and provide a frustrating user experience. In response to this - and in anticipation of the further growth of the site - we are switching MotoMatters.com to a different server, with more powerful hardware and much more memory. The end result, once the changeover has been made, should be a much zippier site which loads and responds faster, especially around the busiest times on race weekends.
The switch has been a little more complicated than expected, but it looks like we have everything under control, thanks to the outstanding support from our hosting company Rimuhosting.com. who we really cannot recommend highly enough (and no, we are not being paid to make that statement). The actual switchover will take place some time today (Wednesday, February 8th 2012), once the new server has been fully tested and all of the data has been transferred. In the meantime, the site may go offline for a brief period to facilitate the switch. We are working hard to make the changeover as painless as possible.
I'm going to be appearing at the San Francisco Dainese store again in February and I anticipate still more questions about photography in addition to those about what it's like to work in the MotoGP paddock, so I thought I'd post something photography-related here for those of you who enjoy taking pictures at the races.
The above image of Marco Simoncelli at Indy is one of my personal favorites from 2011, and I thought it would be useful when talking about what a photographer can do in the darkroom, whether that's one that smells of chemicals or the digital version. While some photographers still lament the loss of film as a medium for various and often quite legitimate reasons, I am grateful for the opportunities to start with one image and end up with another via digital tools more powerful than those in the wet darkroom. This image is a good example of how digital tools turned one image into something much different, and ultimately a photograph that I place among my best of the season.
I spent more time on the grid in 2011 than ever before and one of the interesting benefits of this was the level of details I started noticing in some of the helmets. On TV, or even at trackside, it's difficult to see exactly what the helmet designers have done to make each rider's crash hat unique.
So I started grabbing a few close up shots of helmets as they popped out of the hustle and bustle that makes up a G.P. grid. This collection is arbitrary in that I made no effort to look at each helmet to find the best ones. There simply isn't time to do that, nor is it possible to look in a systematic way since the bikes arrive in an unpredictable order, and the grid itself is a fairly hectic space until right before the start when they kick us off.
My attention was drawn to Rich Lee's MotoGP illustrations some time ago when I stumbled across his work on Facebook. As a long-time graphic designer who has worked with many illustrators, I am often amazed at what folks like Rich are able to do: draw! I can't draw at all. Not even a little bit. Just ask my 7-yr old daughter. "That doesn't look very good, Daddy." Seriously, you'd think a half-way decent dog would be pretty easy to draw. Perhaps I'm a photographer so that I can take a picture of a dog that looks just like a dog.
As a designer I'm also very familiar with the software digital illustrators use to turn their sketches into finished art. I use them for my own projects at a level that doesn't come close to that of which these applications are capable, so when I see a skilled illustrator do the kind of shading and detail evident in Rich's work I'm further amazed and humbled.
In August of last year I posted a desktop wallpaper on my website of the above image with a bit of information about the championship trophy's creator, GARCIAROJALS Studio in Barcelona. I'd seen the trophy up close for the first time while it was on display in the lobby of the mobile Dorna HQ building that travels to the European rounds. I was very impressed by the workmanship and design. It's quite a beaufitul bit of art, and I was pleased to share the above photo with others who shared that opinion.