Born in Oxfordshire, England, rallycross photographer Tom Banks first started shooting motor sport as a boy while spectating on rallies with his father. Over a decade ago, he began spectating at and photographing British Rallycross Championship events at Lydden Hill and supplied images to IMG at the launch of the new era for rallycross at Santa Pod in late 2012. Since, he has worked for World Championship teams and highly respected photography agencies, and for 2015 is the official World Championship photographer. Tom sat down with Hal Ridge to explain a working weekend.
There’s no doubt that rallycross is one of the most spectacular sports to photograph. There are so many things that you can capture that you can’t in other motor sports. You have all the features of a rally; dirt, stones, sideways cars, wheels in the air but with multiple cars on track at the same time, big crowds and contact. You get great access and the drivers are very relaxed and outgoing. It’s quite a young paddock, the drivers understand what you’re trying to do and tend to give you what you need. And drivers like Petter Solberg make the job easy; he will enter the shot and perform for you.
I get a lot of jokes from my colleagues about ‘more grass than car’ in some of my images, but I try to go and stand back into the outfield to get a different shot. People look and wonder what the hell I’m doing but by winding the shutter speed right down and you can get a sharp rallycross car with a blurry foreground and background. Some don’t like it, but if others look at my photos and wonder how or where I’ve achieved them, then I think I’ve done a good job.
My favourite parts of the weekend are the times when you will get a more unique image. In early Sunday warm-up I find there’s a different aspect, you can use the low sun or cloud cover. A favourite part of the World RX weekend is the pre-grid before the semi-finals. The drivers are relaxed, and there’s great access. The thing I love about it is that the more you do it, the more that you see the trends in each driver and their own way of preparing for the huge crescendo at the end of the event. The focus and tension that you can capture in a driver’s eyes that close to the start is amazing. It’s just one of those moments in the weekend when everyone is buzzing and it’s a great moment to be able to capture.
If you’re going to a brand new track, there’s not much you can really do in advance to prepare. I like this challenge – it often makes me more creative. You have the opportunity to hunt for new locations, which is rewarding. Preparing for a track I’ve been to before, I do look through my photos from previous years and see what was good, what I’d like to recreate or improve. But the main thing is to always do something new.
The main lens I have bolted onto a body at all times is a 70-200 2.8, it captures a bit of everything, a portrait, a pack shot, a close up detail. Although I use one, I’m not so keen on the really long lenses. It might get you one shot that is absolutely nailed, but it’s too easy to get locked into shooting the same thing over and over again. My favourite lens is probably the wide angle, 16-35mm, it pushes you to try and capture something different and to think wide. There are a lot of opportunities to capture photographs where the car isn’t the main subject; with an amazing sky, huge crowd or stunning scenery. I try to use the surroundings as much as possible, and often shoot at as low a shutter speed as I can to capture the speed.
The tracks with lots of undulations are great to photograph. Holjes in Sweden is the obvious one, but Montalegre in Portugal is a favourite of mine. It’s quite unique looking over the countryside but with big crowds and the cars get very sideways on the sandy loose. Every track gives you an opportunity but those are my favourites.
Even though it’s not a rally where you only see the car once, you still only see the car four times in a race. That makes getting the shots you need a challenge. If you’re going for the more creative shots, which you’re not always going to nail, then it can be hard. If you look at a top F1 photographer’s gallery, they will often be full of that kind of photo, but they see the cars so much more often. It’s a challenge in rallycross but makes it even more rewarding when you get a shot you and the client is pleased with.
Below is an example of Banks’ work with three of his favourite photographs:
“All of the drivers are great to shoot in the semi-final pre-grid – my favourite time of the weekend, but Timmy Hansen is always incredibly focused and it really defines the moment and what the 12 drivers are about to do. Here he is at Lydden Hill in 2015.”
“Solberg sideways in the first corner at Holjes is my favourite shot of 2014. It just spells rallycross: Sweden, Solberg, wheels in the air, sideways and around the outside of four others. An Amazing moment to capture.”
“I love shooting these kind of ‘arty farty’ shots, they are a challenge to photograph and produce a very different image. This is Andreas Bakkerud panned at 1/15th of a second along the colourful F1 grandstands at the Istanbul Park in Turkey.”
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