If you have never visited the Le Mans Classic, and if you have even the slightest interest in cars or motorsport, add it to your list of things to do before you die – there is simply nothing else like it.
Held every other year in early July, at the same 13.6km circuit as the better-known “24 Heures du Mans” annual endurance race, no other car-related event I have attended comes close to touching all of the senses and creating that sense of palpable excitement that often eludes us as adults – and provides so many amazing photo opportunities, in one place.
In the last 18 months I have discovered the simple enjoyment of shooting with a Leica M, and have also made a more concerted effort to think about what and how I want to shoot. Photography for me is a hobby. My real job is as the CEO of a media company, Apptitude Media, but we do happen to publish the British Journal of Photography so I have daily inspiration in the office. We also publish the world’s first magazine designed for the iPhone, fltr, which champions smartphone photography. My own editorial team has banned me from sneaking my own pictures into the magazines, so I was delighted to be invited to contribute to the Leica Meet blog!
This was to be my third time at the Classic, and remembering that the circuit and accessible areas are vast, we figured bikes would be a good idea, and managed to insert fold-ups in to our relatively limited luggage areas, which were well worth sacrificing other things (like lenses and tripods) for.
Last time in Le Mans I lugged a large Lowepro rucksack with my trusty Nikon DLSR and about 8 prime lenses, a flashgun and tripod…and no room for a bike. All change this time – I carried a small, understated Domke messenger-style bag, containing three important cameras with almost no accessories – and, most importantly, I had a plan.
I packed my recently acquired M240 with 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Aspherical FLE lens, to document the action and the interesting people I knew I would find there from past experience. I set up my camera to be completely manual as I enjoy the challenge of picturing the end result and finding the right settings to suit each situation. I always set the camera to DNG quality for post-processing and find it useful to set the film mode to b&w (no filter) which I find helps test light and contrast, in particular as this event lends itself to black and white images.
Having never had any training or studied the ‘rules’ of composition, I am slowly finding my style and at the moment I am favouring shooting with a black and white slightly grainy feel in mind, wide open most of the time, and cropping to 16:9, all of which was in my mind as I was taking pictures. I only updated the firmware this week and was delighted to see that crop lines have been introduced, so with the EVF or in LV I can set the lines to 16:9 and it takes the guess work out of the equation…one less thing to worry about!
I also had my iPhone to capture fun things to share immediately with friends who were not able to join us, and I bought a Go Pro Hero 3 the week before I left, with the plan of mounting it to the cars for the journey, and catching some super-wide angle action at the event.
As with the main Le Mans race, the Classic is 24 hours of racing, but divided in to six separate period races, ranging from the 1920’s to the 1970’s. It is only open to cars that have the provenance of having actually raced at Le Mans in their period and when they race, they really race – including the classic start where the drivers stand on the opposite side of the track and have to run to their car, jump in and hope it starts.
This is where I did miss having a longer lens, and since getting back I have acquired a 135mm lens and an EVF, which I am looking forward to playing with. Fortunately the detail in the M240 files is superb and Lightroom 5 made light work of cropping in to the subject where ‘feet zooming’ was not possible.
Le Mans on an event weekend is a bit like the most expensive car park in the world, with incredible cars parked all around the circuit, often organized by the owners clubs, so it is easy to lose hours without even looking at the racing.
This blog contains a small selection of pictures taken over the 48 hours we were in Le Mans, around the circuit and of the racing. Most of my night-time shots were shot wide open at ISO 3200 and I didn’t have to worry too much about lighting…the M240 just sucks in whatever is available. Oh, and I added grain to get the slightly filmic effect I wanted – the low light capabilities of this camera and lens combination are outstanding.
The most challenging photos I attempted were motion shots of the racing at night. It was very dark and even wide open with ISO set to 3200 I needed to shoot at around 1/30. I wanted to create a background blur with the main subject in focus, and I did not manage to achieve this…it is, of course, entirely possible that mild inebriation assisted the failure. But…I actually really like the effect of slight blur on the cars – they were going really, really fast and I think this imperfect picture actually captures the moment better than the way I was attempting to, or at least that is what I have convinced myself.
The paddocks are open access, which means you can photograph the engineers, drivers and these amazing classic machines up close. The pits and pit lane are, obviously, closed for authorized personnel, but more about that later…
The ‘cars’ and ‘cameras’ referenced in the title of this blog post are obvious. The ‘confidence’ is there because I wanted to talk a little about how important being confident is when it comes to shooting who or what you want to.
From the several Leica Meet events I have attended in the last year, my own confidence has grown ten-fold. I no longer feel conspicuous or strange when wanting to capture a moment or an interesting face. Most importantly – and it could be the copious amount of wine consumed over dinner which helped – we decided to just walk over to the well guarded access gates to the pits, and see what happened. On the way there I remember saying to my partner in crime, Mike, “just look confident”, and we waltzed straight past security, through the gate, in to the pits, and in to the heart of the action.
Forget sitting in the grandstands, this was racing going on right before our eyes and, at night, in the rain, it was like watching theatre unfold before us – I think I caught some of the best shots I ever have, and I felt that childlike excitement whilst I was doing it. Forever-type memories, and all because of having a little bit of confidence.
Unfortunately my battery gave up the ghost while we were in the pits…a lesson very firmly learned.
All in all a terrific weekend, and a rare opportunity to indulge in my two passions. I am already looking in to booking my trip for Classic Le Mans 2016, maybe we could do a Leica Meet there??!
by Marc Hartog