Fast Cars on Slow Film – Justin Westbrook Shoots Daytona

Fast Cars on Slow Film – Justin Westbrook Shoots Daytona

1700 1109 Justin Westbrook

Full disclosure: Porsche paid for flights, food and boarding after inviting me to drive the 2020 Porsche Taycan electric car from Georgia to Florida for Jalopnik, the website I write for full time. It was mostly to show off how stopping to charge “fast-charge-capable” electric vehicles isn’t the end of the world that everybody makes it out to be. I mostly just wanted to drive the cool, new car I’d been writing about for two years.

The tail-end of that trip included a weekend at the Rolex 24, an endurance race at Daytona International Speedway featuring multiple classes of cars driving on track at the same time, for a 24 hour period starting at around 2 p.m. on Saturday. The drivers get to swap out and take a break; the spectators camp out in midfield and get drunk.

Knowing I had no commitments to cover the actual race for work, I found myself planning what I’d do for 24 hours with press access to just about anywhere I wanted to go. I decided to shoot film.

When I travel for work, I usually try bring one of my film cameras along with my digital gear. It pushes me to get out of my hotel and go explore on the short one or two-night trips that I take about once a month. It’s a great way to slow down, soak up a little piece of wherever I am, and pass the time when I have very little of it. And then a few days after I get home, getting the scans and prints back brings that sense of relief and surprise, and enables me to relive the trip all over again.

This time I packed my (olive) Voigtlander Bessa R2 with my Voigtlander 35mm f2.5 and Leitz 90mm F4 lenses, plus six rolls of film – a mix of Fujicolor 200, and Kodak Pro-Image 100. I wasn’t sure a rangefinder was the best idea for shooting moving cars at a long distance, but my 90mm lens is the longest I’ve got, and at the range I knew I’d be at, I figured I’d be locked at infinity focus just about all the time anyway.

I knew many of my automotive media friends would be there, but as cute as they all are, I wanted to try my hand at some “motorsports” photography and focus on the cars. Over the last year or so I’ve found myself pushing film for a high-contrast look that makes the colors pop, as I am very lazy and do not often bother to edit the scans I get back from the lab unless they look absolutely horrible. By this point, I know what pushing Pro-Image one stop will get me (something I experimented with after reading an excellent Casual Photophile write-up a few months ago). As luck would have it, it was a beautiful weekend in Daytona. The temperature hovered in the low 60s, and the sun stayed bright – perfect conditions to capture some contrast.

Day one began with me walking through the team garages (something anyone can do) and focusing more on the characters and less on the cars – the crowds were difficult to ignore through the lens. After a quick lap around the track in a BMW M5 (the Porsche I was supposed to drive “ran into some issues”), I had a chance to walk through the lineup of racers an hour before the flag waved.

I knew everyone would be excited over the new Chevrolet Corvette C8R racecar, the first-ever mid-engine Corvette endurance racer. Thank god they painted one of them yellow. The other was silver. The blankets you see on the front of the car are there to keep the engine warm before the race. While the engine is actually located behind the driver (hence the label “mid-engine”), the radiator still sits ahead of the driver, so the blankies stay on the nose.

Basic rules of coverage dictated I get a group shot of all the cars lined up, and I found myself drawn to the engineering teams seeking refuge in the little bit of shade up against the wall. After the start of the race, I switched to my 90mm and tried my hand at some panning shots, again focusing on the Corvettes and the Porsches, as they were the loudest and easiest to hear coming.

I have no idea what my settings were, and for that I am sorry. I do not take notes. It is very much a run-and-gun operation with me. I followed the in-camera meter with ISO set at 200. I know I also tried to keep the shutter speed low and aperture high. Higher aperture would offer increased depth-of-field and help keep the cars in focus at distance, and the slower shutter speed would make the background speed-blurring effect more pronounced. All that’s left is getting my aim right.

As sunset drew near, my friends and I walked out to mid-field, where I finished my first roll of Pro-Image 100 with some shots of the cars zooming by at ground level through a fence that picked up the sinking sun’s golden light beautifully. Next I loaded the highest-ISO color film I’d packed, the Fujicolor 200, and also pushed it one stop metering at 400. I got a couple of shots of some guy in an incredible Marlboro jacket in front of a matching Porsche, and then we headed back to the stands.

The Fujicolor rendered a great shot of the sunset sky, one clear panning shot and half-a-dozen blurry ones (as my shutter speed was falling hopelessly lower and lower). Then I walked across the street to my hotel and got a great six hours of sleep. The cars kept racing.

I didn’t make it back to the track until around 11 a.m. the next day, just a few hours before the race ended. I made my way down to the paddock – only teams and media allowed during the race – where the cars pull in for driver swaps and pit stops. I finished off the pushed Fujicolor on many sleepy racing men and one great mustache, and loaded up with more Pro-Image 100, again pushed one stop.

I stood at the exit of pit lane, which brought me much closer to the track itself and at ground level with the cars, where I could get the slower-moving cars heading back out as well as the fast-moving cars across the fancy grass as they passed the start-finish line. I finished the race in the Porsche suite as their cars secured second and third in their class, and then I headed home. For what it’s worth, these rolls were X-rayed twice; once on the way out, once on the way back. I have no idea if it had any impact on the final images.

Considering I’m mostly motorsports illiterate and possibly one of the laziest film photographers with a pulse, my three rolls came back full of frames I was very happy with. And that’s often the case for me – I don’t end up taking very many photos, but I end up liking many of the ones that I took. Every time I reflect on my experience shooting film, I never seem to remember caring all too much about each frame in the moments they were captured. And every time I surprise myself.

Maybe I have low standards for my own photos. But it’s this sensation of surprising myself that keeps a film camera in my bag, and it’s hauling that additional weight in the bag that always ends up being the final motivating force for me to get off my ass and go out and shoot. I never regret it. Well, I do have one regret, actually, and it’s that I took exactly zero film photos of the Taycan. I’ve provided a digital photo to make up for it.

You can see more from Justin via his Instagram and Twitter accounts, and on Jalopnik.

[Editor’s Note – While editing this article for publication, I was singing this song in my mind the entire time. Enjoy.]

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Justin Westbrook

Justin Westbrook has spent the last four and a half years writing about cars and car culture on Jalopnik.com, where he’s also part of a secret alliance with a select few at the site who secretly publish film photographs in articles that have nothing to do with film photography in a vain attempt to justify their expensive hobby.

All stories by:Justin Westbrook
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Justin Westbrook

Justin Westbrook has spent the last four and a half years writing about cars and car culture on Jalopnik.com, where he’s also part of a secret alliance with a select few at the site who secretly publish film photographs in articles that have nothing to do with film photography in a vain attempt to justify their expensive hobby.

All stories by:Justin Westbrook