Bonneville is unique. I don’t think there is any other motorsport location anywhere in the world that sees such a drastic change in light conditions within the space of just a few short hours. With that in mind, I wanted to take you guys through an early morning on the Salt.
In order to get a good head start on the sunrise Keith and I woke up at 5:00am every morning. Standing on the Salt and facing the paddock you can see a slight glow where the sun will peek out.
If you turn around you can see a long line of cars following each other’s light trails as they inch their way towards the paddock.
It’s unusually quiet around this time. Maybe the salt is acting as a natural sound deadening, but your speech seems to have less impact. Other early risers like us were getting some photo shoots in.
I tried my best to stay near our rental car as there is a real danger with vehicles coming from all directions. This truck whizzed by me at considerable speed.
In the pits cars are left overnight just waiting to be bathed with intense sunlight.
Slowly fans returned to their encampments to reclaim their viewing spots.
You find some cars parked on the starting grid with hopes of running first thing in the morning.
It’s 6:30am and the light is very blue. Each click of my shutter is muffled by the salt. It sounded like I was shooting my camera while it was wrapped in a big heavy jacket.
Color starts to come out of the sky and it’s evident that the sun is about to make a grand appearance.
Around 6:45am the officials scramble to get to the starting line. At 7:00am the first vehicle will be taking off.
Not a moment later the sun appears, and it’s right now that you want to have a car ready to photograph. In this case I was lucky, as we pre-arranged a shoot with this ’50 Mercury the night before.
Apart from the endless backdrop, Bonneville is an interesting location in that ‘golden hour’ does not happen during sunset. That’s not just because the sun dips below a mountain range and sets at around 8:45pm, but also because everyone gets kicked off the salt at 8:00pm sharp. So the best way to shoot in nice soft light is to get up early and brave those eye crusties.
When I was done with my shoot I laid flat on my stomach waiting for cars to pass by hoping that I would not get run over. At this point I would be happy with anything entering my frame as the light was just getting better and better by the second.
Off in the distance I saw a truck coming and braced myself. I snapped a few frames and this was the result.
Pretty soon the sun was too intense to shoot into. This was my last sunrise shot of the day.
It’s just past 7:00am and the first few cars have already made their runs. The faster teams can arrive late, because if you go over 300mph you can jump the queue once per event.
Pretty soon all four courses were filled with eager drivers and teams spanning many different classes.
This was the best time to get some shots of these cars out of the paddock. It was also a good time to chat it up with the owners to see which teams feel like being featured.
I’m sure it is always hard for the drivers to see where they are going as the sideways light just pierces directly into their visors.
Which is why there were are many umbrella guys walking around the starting line.
At around 8:00am it was a complete whiteout. Good luck trying to shoot in automatic exposure mode from here on out!
Dogs on the Salt need sunglasses too. I can only imagine how uncomfortable it is for our four-legged friends if they are blinded by the glare that bounces off the ground surface.
Whether you’re in a 1000hp muscle car…
… or on the back of a 100cc motorcycle, you have to deal with the same conditions. What amazes me is how wet the salt stays, even though temperatures soar in the daytime. It just traps moisture. Or maybe it sucks it out of the air?
The first teams to go are the ones that had a record-breaking run the day before. They need to back-up their run with another the very next morning.
Since the conditions are favorable to run in the morning, it is the perfect time to match or beat the speed you achieved the day before.
Around this time is really the limit of when I could shoot a car feature, otherwise there would be no detail at all in the salt. It’s just too bright.
Keith befriended one of the guys from the Rollin’ Bones Car Club, and we shot one of their ’34 Ford three windows. Full feature coming soon.
With our stomachs grumbling for breakfast we made one more stop before calling it a morning. We headed for the finish line where the cars come to a halt and the drivers get out of their toasty race cars.
If you’re not careful you will end up with heat stroke, so thick, fire-proof race suits are removed as soon as drivers get the chance.
Then they have a long wait, baking in the sun, for their tow vehicle to arrive.
Or in some cases, drivers will just drive their race cars back to the paddock.
Our normal routine was to shoot all morning, get breakfast, sort through photos and come back out to catch the afternoon racing and the sunset. From a photography perspective, it’s the best way to get the most out of Bonneville.
And the next day we would do it all over again…
Photos by Larry Chen
So rad! love all the pictures, what are the chances of seeing a desktop of image #12 down from the top? thanks man!
Larry .. Great photos !!! How fun was that up there... I was there with Chuck and Annie 180SX S13 ... That was my 1st trip there and I am for sure going every chance I get.. For those of you that have not been you should go at least once.... Props Larry .. Again some great Shots you took.
its cool to see my old bosses getting exposure here...Ken and Keith of the Rolling Bones build some awesome stuff...Im really glad I was part of the team when I was...Poteets 34 was one of the last cars I worked on while there. It was far from done when I left.
In the photo of the "truck wizzing by you" what/how did you capture it like that? is it a lapse or what? very cool.. i would like to know
some of the most beautiful photos I've ever seen. I love the salt flats. Need a desktop wallpaper of #12. Love the firey sun in that shot! Amazing work!
Fantastic shots Larry....Tell me that's not a Fiat X19 that has been stretched to hell and back! Gotta love Bonneville, the ultimate "run what ya brung" event!
Wow, some epics shots Larry! I love the lighting on the second to last one especially, but the variety in the desktops sums it all up perfectly! P.S. I hope you smuggled that dog back - it's just too damn cool!
They surely perform a very valuable service, but "umbrella guy" just doesn't have the same ring to it as umbrella girl :(
Was that a Fiat x1/9 streamliner???
You're right, the salt is pulling in moisture from the air. That's why salt is traditionally used to combat snow and ice on roads and stairs
you are the man! sick shots , who shoots in auto exposure anyways..shooting at sunrise and sunset really challenges you as a photographer since the light is changing every second .
Nice story Larry!
One thing I learned from this trip is how fast a good photographer will move as the sun rises or sets. Larry was always watching the sun out of the corner of his eye and would literally sprint into position to get his capture at the precise moment he wanted it. If you look at the Merc pics you can see how the sun peeked out between the horizon and the cloud layer then disappeared again. You only have seconds to work sometimes.
great pictures LC. besides the great racing. I've heard that the new all time speed is now 436mph. Besting the 20 year record of 410mph.
Photography at it's best! I think some photo advice by Larry Chen would be widely appreciated, next to Paddy's great articles.
You really need to write up about the difficulties and techniques of shooting here. When I read about how leaving your camera in auto exposure would be troublesome, it really made me wonder..Amazing photos!
After seeing the cars last week I'll say they are at the top of the game right now for traditional hot rods. Ken has an amazing eye for style and proportion. Lucky you to get to work for them!
@86starion It's a long exposure using a tripod. Use shutter priority and experiment to get a photo like this. The glow off the salt is really cool in this pic.
@Csihany Yeah, there was no shadows, Just a faint blue light coming from the horizon.
@gliebau Yes, it was really well done. The owner is a cool dude too, can't wait to write this feature.
@gliebau Yes, we were very happy with it. I think you will like the full feature as well.
@CzarNicholas I'd wear them!
@ComJive Incorrect, salt is used because it lowers the freezing point of water, keeping it liquid until past -5°C.
@AlanPeterson1 I heard that too, but I was not sure if they were able to back it up the next day. I will follow up on the results.
@ZZ Well the main point is to try not to underexpose everything. Since there is so much available light, you almost have to always shoot two stops over, sometimes more. It depends on what time of day it is, and at high noon, it's almost impossible as digital cameras don't have that kind of dynamic range yet.
@RodChong Oh my god, our Lord RodBot is here! Kneel before His Photographyness!
@KeithCharvonia It was awesome..I left the shop back in 07 and moved back to CT to focus on other priorities...Ill be back in the hot rod game eventually, this time with my own shop. Stance, proportion and style are 3 of the most important items a car must contain... too many people dont know when to stop...and grossly over do it
@Larry Chen all early cars were like that...Ford had the least amount...take a look at the early Chevy bodys...the sheet metal is actually nailed to the wood frame haha
@Bradders yep, it was those silica dessicates they put in shoes i was thinking of
not sure why i mixed them up
@RodChong But you make them jump trough hoops :)