Saturday, February 22, 2014

Daytona Day 2: A Stringer's Life

Daytona sunset
I need a sponsor. Or a benefactor. Or something. Working as a wire service photo stringer as I am this weekend at Daytona has its challenges but it also has its rewards. The biggest challenge is working on spec where you don't get paid unless a photo is used, so it's a risky deal to foot the bill for traveling with no guarantee of success. It's also risky since the area you are assigned to shoot may not be the "spot" where the action happens and pictures can be made that the wire service will want to use. The more spectacular the better but you can't chase the action around, and even when you find yourself in the right spot, you still have to be ready and not following some other cars in the area.

But the rewards are not just financial as if it were just about the money, then most of us wouldn't be out here doing this. The hours are long, you have to deal with traffic, fans or people with hot passes and iPhones who always seem to get in the way at just the wrong moment, adverse weather, and a host of other issues that the average race fan never encounters. I have been to a ton of races the last eight years and everywhere I go I see many of the same faces in the media centers. I don't know everyone's name but I would be willing to bet that there are only a handful of shooters who make a living in racing photographer. I have dreamed of being one of those people for years and worked by tail off at every race I've worked yet these plum jobs in this industry are extremely limited and highly competitive. But the biggest reward is getting the shot. Or when the action slows down and the engine noise drones to a low hum and you feel the photos before you even press the shutter button. That zone is hard to achieve and if I push for it, I miss it; it has to just happen organically. When it does it is magical.

Yesterday was Day 2 on this trip and it was marked by repeated weather interruptions. I managed to miss most of them but the waiting, as they say, is the hardest part and I was in position for last night's truck race over an hour before they track was truly ready for racing. I am not fortunate enough to have a golf cart to get around so I am putting on the miles again this weekend by foot, which is OK since I love the exercise even though at times I feel like a pack mule with a couple cameras on my shoulders, lenses, rain gear and my belt bags packed to the brim to be ready for every possible situation. I needed all of that yesterday and today's forecast looked like it might bring more of the same but the Nationwide race started on time. I was hoping I could wear my prescription sunglasses today (I am in Florida, the Sunshine State, after all) and I am glad to report that I was able to do that, even though today was mostly overcast all day. By no means am I complaining about these opportunities as there are plenty of people who would love to have the same chance I do to go racing. I am blessed in that regard and the hard work pays off in images if not in dollars and cents.

Daytona International Speedway hawk over Lake Lloyd
So we've had two photo finishes in back to back races now. Kyle Busch made a high side pass to win the trucks race last night and Regan Smith nipped Brad Keselowski in an even closer finish in today's Nationwide race. The most exciting thing I saw today was a very large hawk that flew over Lake Lloyd during a late caution period, and as everyone who knows me well will attest, I have a special affinity for those birds so I know good luck is coming. At times today I felt like a gunslinger ready to aim and fire away, but the pumphouse was not the place to be for action today. Maybe tomorrow will be the day, as so far I have not sold any pictures for the wire, although I have made a lot of pictures, not nearly the volume I would have shot in a more freelance capacity as I often do at other races, but shooting for AP has taught me that economy (and a high shutter speed) are quite valuable in their own right. And it sure makes editing a whole lot easier! Until next time, here's a gallery from last night's truck race. The Daytona 500 is next!

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