Back to school

You may remember my Photographing a drivers school and School report blog posts from last September where I described the typical day of a photographer at the Shelsley Walsh drivers school. Well yesterday I was there again covering another drivers school with pretty much perfect photography weather – fine, warm but with cloud cover to reduce reflections and blown highlights.

© John Hallett Photography

I used the same format and basically started the day at the bottom of the hill and worked my way up. With 35 drivers entered that means 35 shots at each location (or 70 if I double-shoot with both camera bodies holding different focal-length lenses) and so the images soon start to stack up throughout the day. At the back of my mind is the nagging thought of having to sit in front of a computer sorting them all out – especially when you have drivers ‘dual-driving’ the same car (of which there were 5 yesterday). Keeping the shots in order is therefore so important, as is synchronising the time on both camera bodies beforehand.

© John Hallett Photography

As a motorsport photographer you take it for granted that you can hear a car coming towards you. When you know the venue well you can even tell where exactly that car is; by the engine note altering at gear changes, whether the engine is accelerating, working to get up a hill or slowing down for a corner. The human brain can decipher all of this information so that you can be ready with your camera pointing at exactly the right point as the car enters your field of view.

Except when the car is electric.

One of the guests had brought a Tesla which (explaining just in case you have been living in a cave for the past few years) has no internal combustion engine and is powered purely by battery. Apart from a bit of road noise from the tyres it is virtually silent. This means it appears without warning and I was caught napping several times during the day. As more and more electric cars enter the motorsport arena photographers will need to develop a sixth sense.

Damn – even with plenty of time to prepare I still managed to miss the shot of this electric Tesla Model S || © John Hallett Photography
A nice, noisy Lotus Evora 400 allowed me ample opportunity to capture it || © John Hallett Photography

My motorsport season looms

Just into the new year and I’ve already had a reminder from the Vintage Sports-Car Club to register my media interests for the forthcoming season. Together with my other accreditation at Loton Park, Shelsley Walsh & Prescott it means that my motorsport calendar is already full (in fact it may need some thinning out).

Let’s hope that none of the days are as wet as the one below:

Nearing the end

As soon as events have the word ‘finale’ in their title you know that the end is nigh. And so it was at Shelsley Walsh yesterday with their last competition event of the 2021 hillclimbing season. Unfortunately it wasn’t the most exciting entry list although there were a number of classic cars from the 1960’s which always appeal to me (probably because I grew up with them!) Here’s a few shots of them:

School report

Although the main purpose of the photographer at a drivers school is to capture images of the cars progressing up the hill it is also important to get some others shots to encapsulate the mood of the day. Here are a few from last Tuesdays Drivers School at Shelsley Walsh:

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

HSA website image use

Once again the British Hillclimb and Sprint website has used four of my images to supplement their review of the recent Championship Challenge hill climb at Shelsley Walsh: See it here.

Just like buses

Yes, just like buses, you wait for a hill record to be beaten and it happens three times in as many minutes. The hill record at Shelsley Walsh has stood since 2008 when Martin Groves set a time of 22.58s. Yesterday, during the morning top 12 run-off Wallace Menzies broke it first with a run of 22.55s, then Sean Gould followed with an ever faster time of 22.37s. The final contender, Alex Summers, had all the pressure and although achieving a great time had to settle for second place with a run of 22.52s.

Not to be outdone, the ladies record was also broken. In the second and final run-off Nicola Menzies achieved a time of 24.70s taking the 24.73s record set by Sue Young in 2007.

This was a day that many hill climb enthusiasts will remember for some time.

A busy few weeks ahead

At the start of the year I was really questioning how much motorsport photography I wanted to to do this year – but here I am with busy weekends up until the second week of October. So what’s happening in the short-term? This weekend sees me at Shelsley Walsh for another round of the British Hillclimb Championship (and I’ve already been booked to take photographs of the event for Speedscene magazine). The following weekend sees me at Mallory Park with the Vintage Sports-Car Club, and the weekend after I’ll be heading down to Prescott for the annual visit of the Vintage Hot Rod Association. Here’s a shot from last years event:

Bromyard Speed Festival

A number of years ago the Bromyard Speed Festival came into existence as a not-for-profit Community Interest Company were the proceeds are used to fund future events with any surplus going to local charities. Originally it was run in the town of Bromyard, Herefordshire but was only planned to run every two years due to the administration of shutting down the town centre to allow the vehicles to parade. Covid has put paid to this over the past couple of years and so the event has moved to Shelsley Walsh in the interim.

So yesterday I was one of the volunteer photographers who spent the day on the hill photographing the various entrants of cars and bikes, which had an age range from 1923 to 2019. It wasn’t a competition (no timed runs) but just a showcase of interesting vehicles. It all went very smoothly and was a great day out.

The images from all the photographers will shortly be available for sale (proceeds to the charity) here.

Andrew Bennet on a 1983 Yamaha YZR500 Kenny Rogers Replica

Dry/wet/dry/wet

On 4th July (Independence Day in the US) I made my way to Shelsley Walsh for the annual visit by the Vintage Sports-Car Club (VSCC). Covid restrictions had been partially lifted meaning spectators could attend – albeit in their own ‘bubble’. Fortunately I bumped into fellow photographer Dennis Wood on arrival and he kindly gave me a lift up the hill in his car saving me a strenuous climb first thing in the morning.

To say that the weather was changeable would be an understatement – it was dry, then wet, then dry, then…. you get the drift. It made for some entertaining photographs though, you always get some nice plumes of spray from the cars that have no wheel arches.

Mike James in a 1935 Riley 12/4 Sprite Replica