It was 17 years ago that I attended my first Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona. Up until that time, the only motorsports event I’d attended was an historic racing meet that I had been given tickets to. All of the professors at the college I was attending (Daytona Beach Community College) knew I was a petrol-head, so when an elective course in ‘Motorsports Photography’ opened up I was the first person they enrolled. That 2001 race I shot entirely on film, not because I wanted to but because that’s all there was. Digital hadn’t yet hit the quality mark that would push film out.
This past Christmas when my wife bought me tickets and camping passes to the Rolex 24, I knew I had to shoot film again. It’s been only about three years ago that I got back into the medium after a more than 10 year break. I had to take along my trusty Nikon F100, but only used one lens, the 50mm 1.8. I loaded the F100 with a roll of Kodak Tri-X black and white film. The other camera I took along was a relatively untested thrift store find Olympus XA that I loaded with a roll of 20-year-old Kodak Ektachrome color reversal (slide) film.
The race itself was an exercise in patience to photograph. In my day to day work I shoot strictly digital except for the odd job where my client requests film. I had photographed a couple of other motorsport events on film but they were drag races during the day and a couple car shows at night with no moving cars. For these night images I wanted to be sure to keep my exposure above 1/60th of a second so I could hand hold the camera and not get shaky images. Since I couldn’t look on the back of the camera to check the amount of blur, I only tried panning for a couple of night shots. One image in particular was a 2-second exposure from high in the grandstands. I knew it would be really blurry but I actually liked the streaks of light; it kind of reminded me of the craziness of a 24-hour race. I would imagine at some point in time this is what the crew or drivers must have felt like.
Since the infield parking lots are one of my favorite parts of the race, I tried to photograph many of the cars that parked there during the event. Porsche always has a large number of great cars in its ‘Porsche Corral’. You definitely see the odd Ferrari and Lamborghini too, but since the new NSX was just released Acura had a great display just outside the front gate of about 10 new cars as well as a hand full of original NSXs.
The results out of the F100 were perfectly predictable with nice contrast and grain. What I didn’t expect was the results from the XA. I had a local film friend cross-process the film since the age of the film was going to make the color funky anyway. To my surprise most of the frames had a light leak from bad light seals in the little rangefinder. I was kind of bummed at first, but this is the unpredictability of film. With digital I would have known instantly what the frames looked like, whereas these results took me two weeks to see. Before I could even think about repairing the camera I had many people tell me not to touch it.
If you’ve ever thought about shooting film I highly recommend it – especially if you’ve only ever shot digital. Thrift store-find cameras are some of the coolest, and if you’ve got a Nikon or Canon DSLR, chances are if you find either brand film SLR your lenses will work on it. There are tons of places that still sell film and there are many small companies who are manufacturing new film stocks. If you want to get really adventurous you can develop your black and white film at home. Just remember, with film the ‘spray and pray’ method is quite expensive so you’ll want to be sure your exposure and framing are exactly like you want it before you fire the shutter.