How I Got That Shot: IndyCar Drivers in the Thick of the Action

November 19, 2013

© Andy Batt

For a photograph of driver Will Power in the pit in the early afternoon, Andy Batt added rim lighting and had a technician use a smoke machine to add atmosphere.

Client: Verizon
Agency: McGarryBowen
Creative Director: Cliff Skeete
Art Producer: Hillary Frileck

When photographer Andy Batt was strapped to the front bumper of a truck that was closely following two racecars speeding around a track, it occurred to him that his body was only about a foot above the ground, and he might be at risk. He consoled himself that he and the IndyCar drivers he was following were only going 70 miles per hour. He remembers telling himself, “These cars are designed to go 200 miles per hour, and generally don’t explode or blow out tires unless they hit the wall or another car.” Bearing that in mind, he says, “I was laughing my fool head off.”

Batt was shooting a campaign for the Verizon IndyCar 13 app, which lets fans of IndyCar racing get information on their favorite drivers and stream live race coverage on their smartphones. He wanted to find unique camera angles that would put fans in the midst of the action, and let them feel they were watching Will Power, the Verizon-sponsored driver on the Penske Racing team, up close. In addition to shooting the cars from a camera truck that drove both behind and in front of them, Batt and his assistants mounted multiple cameras onto the cars themselves.

Batt had researched photos of IndyCar racing and found that most were taken with long lenses by photographers standing on the sidelines. “What’s the opposite of a long lens on the side of a track? It’s a super-wide lens mounted on the car.”

The agency, McGarryBowen, planned to use the images in several media. Says Batt, “We had the luck of working with a great creative director, Cliff Skeete.” Skeete asked for a variety of shots, the photographer recalls, “But then he said, ‘You just do what you do and I will figure it out later.’”

The shoot took place over two days at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina, a NASCAR track located near the garage where Penske stores cars for both its NASCAR and IndyCar teams.

The day before the shoot, Batt and his crew went to check out the cars at the garage. With the help of the Penske mechanics and pit crew, and a team of local grips who had experience working on racecars for film and TV shoots, they were able to rig cameras to the cars to get what Batt calls “bumper-cam” shots. He explains, “We had cameras mounted next to the driver so we could shoot across one car to get a view of the second car; cameras mounted over each of the front wheels so we could get a view back at our main car with the secondary car in the background; and a set of cameras mounted on the back wing to get a forward-looking shot.”

He wired the cameras with PocketWizard MultiMAX transceivers. “The MultiMAXes have the ability to function as timed camera triggers,” he explains. After testing, he decided to set the cameras to fire roughly every ten seconds as the cars circled the track. Though he knew this would produce more shots than he could use, “It seemed like the most bulletproof way to get shots.”

They also mounted cameras on the railings of the camera truck. Batt and camera assistant Galvin Collins also shot handheld while riding in the truck.

IndyCar regulations state that during the preseason, the cars can only drive a certain number of laps; as long as they are driven at 70 miles per hour or less, however, the mileage doesn’t count as “laps.” For IndyCar driver Will Power and his teammate Helio Castroneves, driving 70 miles per hour is boring. To enliven the job, Batt says, Power sometimes tried to see if he could come up behind the camera truck and get close enough to touch his bumper to a camera. “He didn’t manage it, but it felt like his car was about to slide under our truck a number of times,” Batt recalls.

Batt also set up shots of Power getting out of his car in the pit of the track. For added insurance, Batt photographed the cars in a stationary position.

Helio Castroneves Indy Car Driver

© Andy Batt

Cameras: For the cameras that were mounted or fixed to the rails of the camera truck, he used Canon EOS 5D Mark III bodies, mounted with either 16-35mm lenses or a 15mm Zeiss lens he rented. When shooting handheld, he and his assistant used one of the Canon 5D Mark III cameras and a Nikon D1X. While shooting from the truck, they had 50mm, 70-200mm and 300mm lenses to try different angles.

Batt used the pCAM Film+Digital Calculator app to help determine the right depth of field. He wanted the empty stadium to appear blurred while the car looked crisp, but found in tests that the roaring cars created strong vibration, requiring adjustments. The images the agency chose were shot at a range of shutter speeds, including
1/30; 1/1,000; 1/1,600; 1/2,500; and 1/6,400.

Lighting: “The biggest lighting challenge for this project came from the fact that we were circling around a 1.5 mile track, with the light shifting all around us,” the photographer says. Batt shot from sunrise to sunset on both days of the shoot, with clouds moving in and out. At any time, some part of the track was in shadow, but the high volume of shots he was capturing ensured that he got many shots in sunlight.

Batt needed a shot of Power getting out of his car, as if during a pit stop. At about 1 PM, the light was not optimal, he says, so he decided to add lights and have the smoke effects technician add some atmosphere.

“It needed a little hard edge to make it a little more exciting.” To create rim lighting, he set up two Profoto 7Bs and a beauty dish behind Power and to the right, near the pit wall.

Processing and Post-Production:
At the media center in the middle of the track, Chris Calvert, Batt’s lead digital tech, set up workstations where he and another digital tech, hired locally, kept downloading images. Whenever a memory card was filled, an assistant would take it out of the camera, run it to a downloading station and put a fresh card back in the camera before it went around the track again. Edits were done on the fly.

During a lunch break on the first day, Power and Castroneves previewed some of the first images caught on the bumper cameras. When they seemed impressed, Batt says, “That was when my stomach settled down a bit.”

Craig Ferroggiaro at Willamette Valley Color in Portland, Oregon, who has collaborated with Batt on many jobs, handled the retouching. They have worked out a system: Batt selects his favorite images, processes and pushes the RAW files, shows them to clients for their approval, then delivers them to Willamette Valley Color to finish the processing. Batt says Ferroggiaro knows his taste for “desaturated, high-contrast” images.

Part of the retouching on the Verizon job involved removing signs from the stadium: “We had to make the track anonymous,” Batt explains. Though he had photographed the cars standing still for insurance, he says in the end the client preferred his more dramatic and action-filled shots.

“It was the ultimate assignment,” Batt says. “I was asked to shoot something new, and I did a little of everything.”

Watch a behind-the-scenes video from the shoot below:

Verizon Indycar BTS from Andy Batt on Vimeo.

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