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Photography Secret: How to Take Crash Pics

At the last track day I covered as a photographer I was approached by four different riders all asking me a variation of the same question. Did you get my crash? First off, I tell every rider in the morning meeting that if they are planning to do anything spectacular that they need to tell me in advance before they do it. That way I can make sure to be there to capture the moment.

Crashing usually falls under the category of spectacular, so I asked all those that inquired about their battles with gravity why they didn't come talk to me before they hit the track, and eventually the deck?

Can't blame Honda for this one

This is good for a "dad joke chuckle", and allows for me to keep hustling to the comfort of some air conditioning and a sandwich without breaking my stride.

Here's the thing. Three out of the four told me that they were for sure going to crash at some point in the day, only they didn't do it verbally.

Call it Photographers' Intuition, Track Telepathy, or Crash-Fu, if you watch enough people go through the same corners enough times you tend to pick up on who is a candidate for a crash sequence.

Some clues include:

  • The rider is approaching a corner 20mph faster than everyone else.

  • The rider increases lean angle when they see the photographer, but they don't adjust body position, or the converse - The rider is off the bike like Stallone on the poster for the movie Cliffhanger, but the bike was leaned over further when it was in the paddock on the side stand.

  • The "knee drag double-dab". This is when a rider thinks they are close enough to dragging knee that they can just try to pogo themselves into scuffing a puck.

  • The "elbow drag double dab". See above, but add 30mph and 20 degrees of lean angle.

See bullet point 1 above

When you reach expert level you can often pick out who is going to get a ride in from an instructor even before the track goes green. Are you on the phone in the riders meeting, are you wearing leathers that are more duct tape than cowhide, or are you rev-bombing approaching and/or leaving tech? If so, I have my eye on you. At the last track day I called a crasher before they even went through the registration line.

Here is the tricky bit... Even with all signs pointing to a rider entering a low earth orbit, currently as a human, I can only be in one corner at a time. Even if I have a second photographer out there, we are still only really covering 2/15ths of a track like Thunderhill.

Also, not everyone shows signs of crashing. Sometimes riders with hundreds of crash free laps get caught up in an oil spill or have a lapse of concentration.

Capturing a crash sequence is harder than it seems, but since I promised to share my secret in the title, here is how to get epic crash pics, in one easy step. Be in the right place at the right time, while someone else is in the wrong place at the wrong time.

That's it. I hope you enjoyed my Ted Talk.


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