Staying On Track
Michael Scott - February 19, 2021
In a year without shows I’d been finding it hard to practice shooting in various scenarios, particularly at motorsport events. One of my favourite automotive disciplines to photograph and one that always presents new challenges. I was desperate to get out and shoot something fast paced.
Luckily for me, Knockhill - Scotland’s only racing circuit - is only a 15 minute drive from home. However, that doesn’t mean it’s always accessible - especially during a pandemic. As restrictions were eased slightly the circuit opened up to track days again, though members of the public couldn’t spectate as normal, so I had to sign up and get registered just to be able to attend - if I could find a track event that would have me.
There are a few track days organised by various groups or by Knockhill themselves, but not all are equal. The events that seem to get the most exciting cars and action are the Scottish M Track Events - organised by the Scottish M club. Having seen them post on social media and seen posts & content from drivers and fellow photographers, I knew these were the events I had to get involved with and that this was my best opportunity to practice shooting motorsport. Despite the name, these events aren't restricted to BMW but instead bring a variety of supercars and track toys, though BMW does seem to be the most popular marque.
The paddock is always a great chance to get some static angles too.
Despite photographing cars for the best part of eight years, motorsport photography was still somewhat new to me. I'd tried my hand at it while attending track days or motoring events in the past as a spectator and had a good knowledge & understanding of the techniques involved. Having shot at events like Festival of Speed, I knew how to capture the action.
What I wasn't so prepared for and had underestimated, was the ability to create content that was different and stood out. Most photographers with a decent knowledge of how shutter speeds work can capture a moving car with some motion blur. Don't get me wrong, that can make for some exciting content in its self. For me, this was a starting point, shooting tracking shots from mostly the same part of the track, slowing my shutter speed more and more as I went trying to find that sweet spot between consistently sharp images and super silky motion blur. If you've ever shot this kind of stuff, you'll know consistency is not common, for every ten shots with a slow shutter you might have one that's of any use. A game of 'how slow can you go' can be a fun way to entertain yourself and find your limits.
The next challenge for me was to find some more creative angles. Knockhill can be walked around or driven around pretty easily, under normal circumstances there's access to the centre of the track as well but the bridge was under construction while events had been stopped, so this wasn't an option (the spectating area in the centre is pretty small anyway).
I found myself starting in the usual spot by the hairpin, then hopping in the car and moving to the straight, then the next corner. I worked my way around the circuit one bend at a time. While access is pretty good at Knockhill, there's fences in the way at a lot of points - virtually invisible when shooting at a slow enough shutter and low aperture - but I like to use some foreground features in my work, so I made sure that if you could see them I would use them to frame the car. There's not much foliage around the circuit, so I worked with what I had, in some cases that meant using barriers, the track or even other cars to add some foreground elements into the shots.
Perhaps even tougher than finding creative angles was coping with weather changes. As you'll see from the images throughout, the weather is never the same twice at Knockhill. Though I enjoy the images captured from a rainy track day and the added drama that comes with it - not to mention sideways action - I don't enjoy standing in the bucketing rain fiddling with rain covers on my camera.
Knockhill is pretty well known for it's ever-changing weather scenarios, you'll get it all in one day. This makes it exceedingly difficult, changing camera settings constantly to compensate for clouds covering the sun - if the sun comes out at all. Though again, I was here to practice so "bring it on" I thought, as the cliche goes 'Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass. It's about learning how to dance in the rain.' and I certainly learned more from one stormy track days than I did at three dry, consistent days.
The mixed conditions made for some great atmosphere.
The last track event of the year was in November so not only did it rain but the temperature had plummeted - not so much a challenge in terms of taking photos, but a mental challenge to force myself to work through it. I'm glad I persisted, the rain stopped leaving the track damp and because it was November the light faded quickly. I was given another challenge. Shooting in 'dark' conditions, cars using their lights and battling reflections. From seeing images taken at endurance events I'd been desperate to shoot motorsport in dark conditions and while it didn't quite get that dark, it was great to at least get some practice in.
Winter is nearly over now and spring is teasing us around the corner. If shows and travelling to events is off the cards even for the next few months, I know I'll get my fix when the Scottish M Track Events start up in April - and you can bet your ass I'll be there whatever the weather, getting some practice in and staying on track.
Photos: Michael Scott
Words: Michael Scott
Location: Knockhill Racing Circuit, Scotland