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Shooting A Formula 3 Racing Series

On any given weekend this past summer you would have found me and my assistant Nils Carlson at Sonoma Raceway covering the relaunched Jim Russell F3 Racing Series for Simraceway. It’s a gentleman’s series made up of amateur drivers testing their skills against the track and each other. Many of the same faces returned to Sonoma each weekend to race, and by the end of the summer many were quite competitive. As a gig, it was fairly intense.

Best surprise: When a security guard lights you up with a flashlight at 1am as you’re backed up to a building while loading computers and camera equipment into your truck.

These weekends involved a few +100º days, some F3 car crashes, a new workflow using (2) computers networked together, extremely late nights editing, many aesthetic adjustments, and roughly 20K images shot in total. Most jobs are one-and-done. I seldom get to revisit a location or reshoot the same subject. This assignment challenged me to improve on the work from the previous race. It forced me to explore, choose the best spots on the track, look for new subjects, and to really dial in my equipment.

A few highlights:


Best quote overheard on the track: “I had his lunch money coming into turn 8 but then…uh…uh…”

The biggest challenge was the workflow. Although the series isn’t broadcast or covered by motorsports news outlets, Simraceway did a very cool thing for the drivers. They published an online race report after each race with an image gallery of highlights from the day’s events. We edited in semi real time using Lightroom on (2) machines synced to a central drive. Thanks to Nils, images were getting cataloged, sorted, and backed up throughout the day. However since there was a hard deadline for the race report, 5hr energy drinks and chocolate peanut butter cups were our best friends after the race as we processed the top selects well past midnight.

Best audio to listen to during late night edits: Comedian Lewis Black

There were (5) weekends of races between April and August. We tweaked the workflow after each race. We got faster, more efficient, more streamlined, but we were never “fast.” There is nothing fast about editing several thousand images and individually processing three hundred of the top selects. It can only be fast, if you don’t care or if you sacrifice control. When you are inspired by your subject, there is never enough time. The 2014 series may be over, but the assignment has turned into the next project. Now I have the task of narrowing the entire race series down to 50-70 of the best images. A few more 5hr energy drinks, late nights, and podcasts until the finish line.

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Jay Watson
San Francisco Bay Area based lifestyle and people photographer Jay Watson shoots editorial, apparel, automotive, corporate, and sports subjects for commercial clients. Published in over 70 magazines.

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