Motorcycle Racing – the story behind the pictures

by Michael Watson

Since the age of 16 I’ve had a passion for motorcycle racing. It started when I first started riding and continued until health problems stopped the bike riding in its tracks. For those who don’t do motor sport, motorcycle racing is amazing. The excitement, sound and the accessibility of the riders in the pits adds up to a great weekend (although I don’t do pit pictures). Unfortunately we don’t have any decent tracks round here for photos so I visit Oulton Park near Manchester, Knockhill north of Edinburgh (excellent) and a single trip to Silverstone. I must admit it would be so much easier if I lived near a decent track.

That said, each trip has the same meticulous planning, Silverstone being a good example. Get Google Earth. Walk the track, check the angles you want and angle of the sun at times of day. Drive down the evening before practice. Set up the tent, party a bit (not too much) then get up early. Dash to the gates and be the first one in. Coffee (lots) bacon butties (lots) then walk the track, difficult with a ton of gear in a big plastic tool box.

Get to your chosen spot on practice day. Get the camera set up, shutter speed for that corner and class (all corners and classes have different speeds), set the auto focus then wait. As the bikes approach start panning lowering the shutter speed and adjusting the exposure compensation until you start to get it right and the effect looks good. If it’s raining try other speeds for rooster tail effect. You will lose loads of shots shooting slow but with practice you get better. Then it’s off to your next corner when there’s a break.

The only real advantage is that the bikes come round 20 or so times so you get loads of chances. Another problem is that as you’re not pro you don’t get the best angles or access, especially for group racing shots so you take what you can and it makes it more of a challenge shooting over, under or through fences. As the day ends, you’re very tired, very wet or sweaty so the best way to overcome this is a shower, more bacon and a hearty spot of post racing alcohol consumption. There are always people to natter to and have a beer with – even Nikon owners (joke). Then it’s up the next day and do the same again and the next day ditto. It is a lot of graft but as with any photos you love, it’s worth it and bike racing is my passion, more so than wildlife or landscapes. Then it’s get home and download to Lightroom and Bobs your uncle. Oh and don’t forget to buy a programme if you don’t know who’s who.

Give it a go, try a local track such as Croft or maybe a little further a field, a day at say East Fortune in Southern Scotland. A great day, top racing and a good place to practice or get some top shots.

And if you go the following year, take a print and the riders might sign it. I wonder if Rossi will sign mine?

Michael Watson

April 2016

   Luca Scassa Oulton Park

   Pictured: Luca Scassa Oulton Park

Motorcycle Racing by Michael Watson is also published in Members Galleries 2016, along with more of his superb pictures here

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