The Le Mans racing action started at three o’clock today so our first task on reaching the circuit was to find a good spot from where to see the opening laps. The circuit at Le Mans is much longer than most – around eight and a half miles – so you can’t easily reach every corner during the race. We found this the hard way as we tried to find the Porsche Curves – the spot that had been recommended by a friend.
We finally succeeded after walking for miles and there was still space on the banking when we arrived an hour or so before the start. Actually photographing the cars as they hurtled through the curves for the first time was a non-starter, as I found myself surrounded by taller people holding up smartphones to capture the moment. Instead I soaked up the atmosphere and revelled in the raucous sounds of the engines. With patience though, the crowds cleared a little and I was able to catch a little of the action in later laps.
After a couple of hours we moved on, walking around the perimeter of the circuit and reentering near the final chicane. This proved to be a surprisingly good vantage point. In common with many modern circuits, much of Le Mans is encased in very high catch fencing – designed to stop any debris reaching the crowd in the event of an accident. One can often shoot through wire fencing, given a long lens and a wide aperture. Frustratingly though we found ourselves just a little too far from the fence to make that work. Here though I was just able to blur the fence and get a good sightline of the cars by standing on tiptoe. As they braked into the chicane I could use the compression effect of my longish lens to make the racing look really close.
From the chicane we continued along and found a spot on the concrete terracing by the start/finish line. The sound here was absolutely deafening, with every engine note amplified by the concrete stands on either side of the straight. Thank goodness we’d both come armed with earplugs!
Yet again the fencing was just too far away to capture any on track action, so I contented myself with watching both the cars and the people. With such a riot of colour on show I decided against my usual monochrome street photography style – sometimes the colour just can’t be thrown away!
Our plan for the evening was to meander towards Tertre Rouge to capture some sunset shots of the racing. On the way we found a bar with an upstairs terrace which gave a good view over the fencing so we stopped there and shot for a while, looking back towards the startline.
While we had a clear view of the track I also tried my hand at some slower speed panning shots as the cars raced past us. Inevitably there were lots of failures, but I had some success at 1/160th of a second, capturing some blur in the background.
Walking over the iconic Dunlop Bridge we found a good spot by climbing up some banking. From here we could get right up to the fence and shoot through it – success at last! By now the light was beginning to fade and the potential drama of night racing was becoming evident. Shooting the cars as they rounded the bends here I tried to be alert to cars arriving in groups to capture a sense of racing action. I also noticed how their headlights reflected on the other cars and the track.
Finally we reached Tertre Rouge, stopping at a couple of viewing points there. Looking back towards the Dunlop Bridge, we even had a little sunset colour. I spent some time at the first viewpoint using the curves in the track to create some depth and leading lines, again looking for groups of cars, rather than just single vehicles.
At our final stop of the night I once again spent some time planning with the cars as their raced into the night with their lights ablaze. Content that we’d caught some of the Le Mans night time magic we then headed for the tram back to Chateau Chanteloup for a little sleep before returning in the morning to catch up with the overnight action…..
15 June 2019