Tuesday, July 22, 2014


THIS BLOG IS SUPPOSED TO BE ABOUT MY OLD WORK, but I am still, defying the odds, a working photographer, and this weekend provided an example of the sort of work I do, sporadically.

The Honda Indy has been running here in Toronto for almost thirty years, but I only started shooting it three years ago, after I "came out" as a motorsports fan after years of pretending I was a timid urbanite who broke out in a rash at the smell of gasoline. Thanks to blogTO I was able to get accreditation and thanks to my wife I've been able to take three days to cover the event, slathered in sun screen and walking the track until my feet blister.

At work, this weekend

Over the course of the three days, with two cameras around my neck, I came home and downloaded 1,850 frames onto my computer. This isn't everything I shot over the course of the weekend; I edit as I shoot, deleting images from the cameras as I work, trashing the obviously blurred, poorly-composed or dull shots as I go. Ultimately I probably shot well over 2,000 frames.

If I'd admitted to my love of auto racing earlier in my career, I probably wouldn't have been able to do this. At 36 shots per roll, I would have gone through over 50 rolls of film in three days just to bring around 1,850 frames home. Ten or fifteen years ago I would probably have put black and white in one camera and colour in the other, but assuming I shot colour the whole weekend, just filling my bag with enough film at the current cost of Fujicolor Pro 400H at $12 a roll would have set me back at least Can$612.00 before taxes.

Audi v Ferrari: Pirelli World Challenge

At $8/roll to develop colour negative film at Toronto Image Works, it would cost me a further $408.00 before taxes, and that doesn't include scanning or making prints, never mind the time spent bent over a lightbox scrutinizing negatives for something printable. This would have been a thousand dollar weekend if I had been shooting the same way I do now, and well beyond my budget, then or now.

Wandering the photographers annex to the media centre at Indy, I buttonholed some of the veterans shooting the race and asked them how many rolls of film they'd have shot in a similar weekend. One guy said between 50 and a hundred, but added that he was starting an agency at the time and needed as much choice as possible.

Yellow flag at Turn 10.

Another said around twenty, tops, while two other photographers said they'd make due with between five and seven rolls, mixed black and white and colour, but that by the third day photographers could be seen scrounging and begging for rolls, and the enterprising ones would run a lucrative sideline selling film at a mark-up.

Everyone said that they shot very differently back then, squeezing out shots after carefully focusing and framing where today they'll keep their finger on the shutter and bang off long strings of frames in a row. Nobody could edit on the fly, and you didn't know what you had until you got it back from the lab.

Mike Conway wins race two.

Going by simple numbers, it's hard to deny that it's easier - and cheaper - to shoot something like a auto race weekend today, but as with all technological revolutions, there's been a trade-off. The seasoned veteran with the motorsport photo agency told me that the press room has grown in the last few years, as the cost of gear has dropped and overhead has virtually disappeared.

The result is that near-amateurs with decent digital gear have been able to talk their way into gigs that well-equipped pros once relied on, mostly by offering to do the work for a fraction of the price - or for nothing at all. Since it's a given that most people can't tell mediocre work from the really good stuff, "good enough" rules the day and nobody makes a living any more. The agency pro scanned the room, packed with photographers, and said that maybe six or seven of them actually make a living doing this.

Tony Kanaan, Mike Conway and Will Power on Victory Lane.

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