sports, racing, history

When it's Better to be Lucky than Good

While we’d all like to think that we, as sports photographers, have a sort of sixth sense about what’s about to happen on the field of play and where we need to be to get the great shot and that we have all the skills to capture the moment, the fact is that quite often it’s far better to be lucky than good at what we do.

I was at Darlington Raceway photographing the Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 in March of 2003. As the laps wound down it became apparent that it was going to be a shootout between the cars of Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch. The laps go quickly at Darlington and with just a few laps remaining, the two drivers were pounding on each other trying to gain an advantage. I took up a spot on pit road, directly across from the finish line and waited for the checkered flag shot.

As it became more and more evident that this could be one of the great finishes, with tow cars side-by-side at the end, I was forced to face my dilemma: My Canon 1D, which fired off 8 frames a second had bee in for repairs for a week or so, and on this day I was using a Canon 5D, a great, full frame camera, but it only fired 3 frames a second!

Normally, in a situation like this, I would just track the cars as they raced to the line and hold the shutter button down, most likely getting a frame with the cars pretty close to the finish line. But I knew that shooting at just 3 frames a second, the cars could be no where near the flag if I just held the shutter down.

Of course, things happen quickly at a race track and the race will come to end whether you’re ready for it or not. I spent a few laps trying to get a feel for shooting a single frame with the cars right on the line and was not having much luck. I looked up and realized that as the cars raced past this time, the white flag was waving: just one lap to go and the checkered flag would fly, ready or not!

As the two cars drove through turns 3 and 4 ready for the final charge to the line, I still was not really sure what my plan was. I looked up, and in a cloud of smoke the drivers were slamming into each other as they race off the final turn. It was too much for me: I raised my camera and and pointed it at the racers as they sped toward the line, holding the shutter button down.

The slow motor drive chugged along at 3 frames per second, “clunka-clunka-clunka-clunka”.

The checkered flag flew, the race was over, and I started miserably toward victory lane, sure that I had missed the shot. I looked at the back of the camera and scrolled through the photos. I couldn’t believe my eyes: I had one frame with the cars directly on the line at the checkered flag.

As far as anyone else knew, I was the photographic hero who got the shot, but I knew better. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good!


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