In the spring of 2012, Richard Dole was commissioned by Automobile Magazine to photograph some of the legendary figures in auto racing from the 1950s and 1960s. The “Generation of Heroes” project was published in the monthly magazine throughout the year, each issue contained a series of one-page profiles of the great drivers, engineers, mechanics and journalists who were part of the golden age of motor sport. The subjects not only included famous drivers like Mario Andretti, Sir Jackie Stewart, and Richard Petty, but also lesser known figures like mechanic and car builder Phil Remington, and motor sport photographer Jesse Alexander.
“The most critical factor in any portrait session is time,” says Dole. “The majority of these people are very active, even though their ages range from the early 70s to the mid 90s. I knew the amount of time they would allow themselves in front of the camera would be very limited. And it was. Most of the sessions last less than 10 minutes and a couple lasted less than 2 minutes.”
The next important factors were locations ranging from race shops, racetracks, private homes, conference rooms, and hotel suites. Dole could not scout locations in advance.
“The drill was simple – show up, quickly look around, set up, shoot and break down. My goal was to have two different lighting setups for each subject – one with a consistent white background and the other with an environmental look. The environmental portraits were the priority but on a few occasions it simply was not possible.”
“I used Profoto AcuteB2 600 AirS packs and heads on every shoot. They are light, easy to maneuver, quickly understood by assistants, and very, very reliable. I also used my Profoto my Pro-7b 1200 and Profoto D1 1000 Air on a few of the subjects. But the 600 AirS was the workhorse for this project.”
“The Profoto AcuteB2 600 AirS could handle any situation,” says Dole. Listed below are a few examples of the variables:
The Mario Andretti images were taken at the Mid-Ohio race rack. Mario only had 15 minutes at 11:00am immediately following a practice session. Mario was placed in the shade provided by a large tree and was standing on a 3-foot tall bench. One 600 AirS pack, one head shot through a medium softbox and underexposed the sky by 1.5 stops.
Five time winner of the Le Mans 24 Hours race, Derek Bell, was shot in the a ballroom at the Ritz Carlton Hotel on Amelia Island. He has just finished speaking to 3000 Porsche enthusiasts and the car – a Porsche 917 – could not be moved. The car was stationed against an unattractive stage with red drapes in the background. One Profoto AcuteB2 600 AirS pack, one head, and one large softbox, which was handheld by my assistant and feathered toward the front of the car to reduce spill on the background. I shot at a high shutter speed and an aperture of f/9. Derek was moved around the car to give the client a couple of different looks. The session was over in 10 minutes.
Drag racing legend Don Garlits was photographed at his race shop in Ocala, Florida. Garlits blocked off a couple of hours for the photo shoot so I did 3 different set ups. He was only in front of the camera for 15 minutes. I find I get best results when the subject in only in front of the camera when I am ready to shoot. I explained to Garlits I wanted to have 3 different set ups, but would only need him when I was ready to press the shutter. He was more than happy with this arrangement as it did not distract him from his main focus that day – rebuilding an old race egine. The shot used in Automobile has Garlits sitting in the skelton of a 1947 Ford Dirt Track Midget Racer. This car was the very first car Garlits ever worked on and raced. He had recently found the car and had begun restoring it. I wanted to show a bit of the race shop in the photo, but not let the background dominate the frame. I placed on large softbox on a boom above and slightly behind the car. It was set 2 or 3 stops below the main light. The main light was a Profoto AcuteB2 600 AirS pack and medium softbox positioned at the nose of the car. And another 600AirS pack and small softbox was just to the left of the camera. It was 3 stops below the main light.
“I’ provided lighting diagrams for the Derek Bell and Don Garlits shoots, as they range from the simplest to most complex of the lighting, “says Dole. “None of the lighting is what I would describe as complicated, though.”
The “Generation of Heroes” series just finished with the last set of portraits running in the December 2012 issue of Automobile. Dole is now working on his next racing theme project called “Racers” a series of portraits of drivers of every age, every skill level, and from every race series in the world of motor sports. He hopes to complete the project in 2014.
You can see more of his work on his website.
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