Behind the Scenes: Photographing the MetLife Monster Energy Supercross Race

Behind the Scenes: Photographing the MetLife Monster Energy Supercross Race

I mostly shoot non-ball type of sports like surfing, sailing, skate, motocross, and of course, my favorite the Monster Energy Supercross series.

I often answer questions like what my day is like when I’m photographing a sport like Supercross. I get questions like how did you get photography credentials? Do you photograph from the stadium seats? Are you the only photographer? How long do you shoot? Read on, and I’ll try to answer these questions along with giving you a little insight as to what my day involves. A lot of what I do can be applied to covering local events too, so I’ll give a few tips along the way.

Preparation

First, for those who may not be familiar with what Supercross is, let me explain. Supercross is a version of motorcycle racing which is competed on dirt bikes on a dirt track. The races are held in major league sports stadiums like Petco Park in San Diego and Mercedes Stadium in Atlanta. The Monster Energy Supercross series is the world’s premier series and is held in 16 major cities across the United States each year. 

Second, let me take a moment and explain why I enjoy photographing the Supercross series so much. The excitement of a 50,000 person stadium, the opening ceremonies with fireworks and music to pump-up those 50,000 fans, and of course the great racing it’s easy to get excited. Except I’m working and even though it’s fun, it is a long day of work.

Supercross races are held on Saturdays, and this means I typically have one of two typical coverages. One is simply the day of the competition, and this is when I have other work or can’t get to the event city earlier than Friday evening. The more typical coverage is two days, which is what I did for the MetLife Stadium race next door to New York City and which is the basis for this article.

My coverage of the MetLife event, like all two-day coverage, started Friday morning around 11:00 AM. First stop is at the Industry Will Call office to pick up my photo vest. It’s always terrific to see the smiling faces at will call each week. Tip number 1: Always treat the people at the credential area with respect. If there is a problem with your credentials, it usually isn’t because of the people handing them out. Don’t get angry with the people handing out the credentials.

After picking up my credentials, my next stop is the event office. Here I pick up the event schedule for Saturday’s race. Even though most of the races follow the same event schedule down to the minute, there are occasionally changes, so also having the schedule guarantees I don’t miss something on race day. Next, I head for the photo den. This is the location the media photographers work out of on race day. Knowing where it is and ways to various parts of the stadium from the den is very important on race day, so scouting it out the day before is crucial to me. 

Friday is press day, and that means several top riders will be featured and available to the press. For me, this is a great time to get some types of images that I won’t be able to get on race day. I also will do a couple of interviews for my publisher, GateDrop.com. While I don’t consider myself a reporter, I’ve found that doing interviews has benefited my photography. First it provides a bonus to my publisher by getting them more content for the same price, and second, it has helped me to forge relationships with several of the racers, and I have to say the racers are some of the friendliest people I’ve met covering sports.

For example, the image below is of Josh Grant from a press day at Petco Park in 2018. I interviewed him that day, and when he saw me shooting track side, he threw this big whip for me to capture. Shooting on press day also gives me an opportunity to scout areas of the track I want to shoot on race day. This step is vital as on race day things are happening quickly, so having a game plan the day before is beneficial. Tip number 2: If you’re shooting local events, go to the event location sometime in advance and scout it out. Decide where the action is going to be, look for clean backgrounds, and anticipate where the sun will be.

After press, I’ll take a quick lap around the pits to get some images of the bikes, mechanics, and anything else that might be of interest. While I could do this on race day, I’ve found that the urgency of race day limits my time to get to the pits and the teams are focused on what they need to be doing. And while they are accommodating on race day, they would rather not have a photographer in their way. Tip number 3: Be respectful of the athletes and teams on the day of the event. They’re there to complete and need to focus on what they need to be doing. Don’t interfere by taking a photograph.

I’m done working at the stadium by about 4:00 PM. Usually, I’ll head to the hotel, make my selection of images at the hotel, and then send them along with the interview audio to my publisher. Then it’s time to check all my equipment for the next day. 

Race Day

Time to get my game face on for what will be around a 16 hour day. While the opening ceremonies don’t start till about 4:30pm there is still a lot of activity that needs to be covered such as racers track walk, first practice and of course qualifying races that will determine who makes the main show that evening. With social media nowadays, the publishers want all this content as it happens. I usually arrive at the stadium around 8:00am. This early arrival gives me time to unpack my gear and set up my spot in the photo den. If time permits I’ll go as high up in the stadium as I can to capture an overall image of the track.

10:15am: Track Walk

The walk is when the teams get a chance to scout the track. It’s a time for me to capture some images of the riders without all their gear. By getting some shots of the racers without their equipment, helps to give our stories a more personal tone. Tip number 4: Look for opportunities to tell more of the story than just the competition of the event.

11:15am: First Qualifying Round

Now is the first time for me to see all the riders on the track. Qualifying is broken into different groups depending on the racer’s overall standings. I’ll concentrate on the “A” qualifying, and some of the “B” qualifying as this is where the top riders will be riding. Only shooting the “A” and “B” qualifying also gives me time to run back to the photo den during the “C” qualifying. During the “C” qualifying I’m once again doing my selects and uploading to my publisher. For doing my selects and captioning, I use Photo Mechanics. Photo Mechanics is the gold standard for sports photographers. One thing that always surprises me is how fast the internet connections are, even with a room full of photographers uploading images at the same time. 

1:15pm: Second Qualifying Round

I use this round of qualifying to get different looking images if possible. I try to capture an image that may be a little different or perhaps a little artistic. Tip number 5: Once you have the shots you need, start looking for something different. 

2:30pm: First Break

This is the first real break of the day. I use this time to do a few more selects, perhaps some post-processing of a few images. The photo den is a busy place at this time, not only with photo work but lots of discussion of who’s going to win in the main event. Now it’s time to fuel up with some stadium food before the rest of the event starts at 4:30pm.

4:30pm Show Time 

Usually, opening ceremonies are at 6:30pm, but the MetLife event is an earlier start time, and the daylight conditions make me work a bit harder to find unique images.

5:00pm Race Time

For the next three hours, it is all out shooting and uploading images whenever I can in the few minutes between races. This is editorial photography so I need to be watching the racing and understanding what’s happening. I’ve developed a few strategies for locating the leaders on the track. One way is to listen to the crowd behind me because as the leader gets closer, the fan noise increases. And if I hear the entire stadium explode, I know something major is going on, so I start scanning to find what it is.

Each race has its own rhythm to them. I need to capture the start and the finish of course, along with the podium shot of the top three finishers. These are the must-have shots. Then I need to watch of any close battles between different riders, so my editor has images that support his article. Then I need to have some photos that provide the human side of Supercross.

8:00pm: Racing is Finished

 The racing may have finished, but my day has not. I still have the post-race press conference to cover with more photos and several interviews. After the press conference, it is back to the photo den for more downloading, selecting, captioning, and finally uploading to my editor, which usually takes another hour or two.

10:00pm: Heading Home 

Because I live only 3 hours from New York City, I decide to drive home after the event to save a few bucks instead of spending another night in a hotel. If this were a more traditional Supercross event night, it would be around 1:00am as I’m heading out the door. 

So that’s my typical long day covering a Supercross event. If the event wasn’t so exciting to cover and to watch it would be a very long day.

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11 Comments

Rod Kestel's picture

Wow, what an exhausting day, must be a labour of love as much as anything. In that first photo you're about to cop a face full of mud.

Do you use flash? Doesn't appear so. Night time lighting would be fairly dim I imagine, even with stadium lights. Or maybe there's protocols about distracting riders.

Douglas Turney's picture

I have to admit I do love it. Motocross and photography since I was about 13 years old. Knowing the timing of the start saved me from a face full of mud. This is my health tracker record from the race. I've done over 10 miles at other races.

Rod Kestel's picture

Crikey that is a punishing schedule. But you're doing something with passion so you're a lucky man.

I know too many people struggling to get through the day. Life is short, and you don't get a practice run.

Douglas Turney's picture

Typically I don't use flash. The stadium lights are usually enough (just barely though). I will use flash for the podium shots and perhaps a few shots prior to the start of the race. For racing, it is usually no flash and a bumped up ISO setting so I can get a high enough shutter speed.

John Fore III's picture

Great read! It's always nice to read any sports related articles on this site.

Douglas Turney's picture

Thank you. You should be seeing a few more sports base articles from me in the next couple of weeks.

Christian Berens's picture

Good stuff Douglas! and good follow on instagram
I'm hoping to get credentials for the STL SX (glad it's coming back)
If not i'll still say hey! :D

Douglas Turney's picture

Thanks. I'm also glad to see it coming back to St Louis. If I recall correctly lighting there is a bit difficult. With so many venues it's hard to remember each one. So another tip for everyone is to go back and look at previous images from the place you're going to be shooting and see what settings you used then.

vid vorsic's picture

Not bad :D My record of walking distance was 31 kilometers in a day on a saturday fp3 and qualy. 2018 f1 Azerbaijan GP since all of the photo spots are closed down behind fences, on rooftops,... when you get to some spots and want to change to another you need to walk through the city, then you get to the airport like security (army and police) to get back in, put all of your gear through the x-ray,pass the dogs.. shoot some photos, and allover again the same process while changing places... Sick working experience there

Douglas Turney's picture

31 km is a sick amount of walking. I hate when you have to keep going in and out of security to cover an event. I have to laugh when the riders and bikes also have to go through security.

vid vorsic's picture

Yeah, but that was one off. It's a bit complicated there but more or less one off.