Photographing a drivers school

Yesterday I was the official photographer for the last drivers school of 2021 at Shelsley Walsh hillclimb. So what does a typical day for the photographer entail?

Yesterdays group start-line shot
  • 08.30: Arrive at the venue for the obligatory sausage sandwich for breakfast.
  • 09.00: Whilst the drivers have their classroom briefing I check the settings on both camera bodies (each has a different focal length lens on to save swapping lenses during the day, thus reducing the ingress of dust onto the sensors) and synchronise the time settings on both.
  • 09.30: Group shot under the start-line banner (includes chasing around for any ‘stragglers’).
  • 09.45: Static car shots under the famous ‘Shelsley Sheds’ whilst the drivers ‘walk the hill’.
  • 10.30: Shots of each of the (usually 30) drivers on their first run. I choose to take them leaving the start line with the starting banner above them.
  • 11.00: Shots of each driver on their second run. I move the ‘Kennel’ for a three-quarter shot with the timber-framed cottage in the background.
  • 11.30: The drivers have a de-brief from each of the 4 tutors who have been witnessing the runs from various spots up the hill. I use the time to get some candid shots as they receive the good (or bad!) critique.
  • 12.00: Shots of each driver as they take their third run. I walk up to a viewing area between ‘Kennel and ‘Crossing’ to get a slightly elevated corner shot.
  • 12.30: Shots of each driver as they take their fourth run. I walk further up to ‘Crossing’ for another elevated corner shot but this time with the lower part of the hill, and the countryside, in the background to set the scene.
  • 13.00: Whilst the drivers get their second de-brief I refuel with lunch from the Courtyard Restaurant.
  • 13.45: Shots of each driver as they take their fifth, and then sixth, run. By this time (and with a full stomach) I have walked up the hill (or got a lift) to take shots at ‘Lower Ess’ bend. I always try and take one set head-on and the other side-on as they round the bend with a lower shutter speed and panning to get some motion blur.
  • 14.45: The drivers get their final de-brief. This is now a time of waiting followed by a very short walk to my next spot.
  • 15.15: Shots of the drivers seventh run. I take these from halfway between ‘Bottom Ess’ and ‘Top Ess’ to get a head-on shot as they go around the tight and steep left-hand corner.
  • 15.45: The final run and I take these as they suddenly appear around ‘Top Ess’ in-between the embankments (some of the cars are that quiet I’m often unaware that they are arriving). This shot shows how relatively narrow it is at this point and how there is little room for error.
  • Depending on the conduct on the day there may be time for an extra run. I’ll just choose a nearby spot to take another set (yesterday I chose to take a rear-view shot as the cars went up the final straight with the finish line flag in the distance).
  • 16.30: Tea and cake in the Courtyard and photographs of ‘Best Novice’, ‘Most Improved’, and ‘Driver of the Day’.
  • 17.00: The 45 minute drive home (at least I won’t need any dinner when I get there).
  • 19.00: After downloading the memory cards from the two camera bodies into Lightroom I start the task of going through 300+ images from the day. This is mainly sorting out any duds – I tend to do very little post-processing preferring to get them correct in-camera (it saves an awful lot of time!).
  • Some time later (often the next day): Place the shots of each car in their own folder ready for sending to the driver (At this point you realise how many cars look the same in a thumbnail image, particularly yesterday when there were 9 Porsches entered!)
  • Transfer the folders to Dropbox and then send an individual link to each driver via email so that they can download their own set. The photographs are all free-issue as part of the Shelsley Walsh drivers school experience.
  • Important task: Send my invoice to the venue.
  • Wait to receive any ‘thank you’ e-mails from the drivers (always nice to get!).
  • Job done.

If you want to drive your car up Shelsley Walsh under expert tuition find out more here.

I forgot to mention it was also a glorious day

Shelsley Walsh Drivers School

Two or three times a year I have the honour of being Official Photographer at the Shelsley Walsh drivers school. Here, 30 or so drivers turn up in their own cars (some under their own steam, some on trailers) so that they can be taught the best way to traverse up the steep hill. The aim is to learn the correct lines to take for each corner which should, in a competition, lead to a faster ascent. For some it was their first time, for others they had been many times before – but all entrants get at least 8 runs up the hill with a debrief from 4 instructors every two runs.

My job is to take photographs throughout the day – a group shot on the start line, at as many different locations on the hill as possible, and finally the small presentation at the end.

It’s a long day. After the obligatory group shots under the start-line banner the 4 groups have a walk up the hill and back being briefed on the best line for each corner. Then, for me, there is about an hour of photography with a car going past every 30 seconds or so. After their two runs there is then a 40 minute lull whilst the drivers are debriefed on their actual lines – and then it repeats itself 3 more times (with an hours break for a cooked lunch). At the end of the day there are 3 presentations and it’s home for tea.

But it’s not over for me. I then have to check through, on average, 400 photographs and then sort them into a collection for each driver so that I can e-mail them a Dropbox link to their courtesy photographs from the day. This is usually another 4-5 hours – and you’ll be surprised how many cars look very similar when you are trying to sort them out, and that’s not including the dual-drives when two drivers share the same car!

But it’s a great day and I often get very complimentary e-mails back from the drivers after receiving their photographs.