Full Speed Ahead: Indycar Long Beach Photographer James Law and the Leica S, SL and M (Typ 240)

Physically and mentally draining, IndyCar racing is one of those exhilarating sports that will make you jump off your seat at every curve, pit stop, or unfortunate flying-car-incident. The 1.9-mile, 12-turn circuit is filled with excitement and high-speed racing. James Law shared the images captured with his Leica SL, Leica M ( Typ 240) and Leica S (Typ 007) while documenting the pit, and the almost ritualistic ambience set by racer James Hinchcliffe.

Please share your experience of documenting James Hinchcliffe’s behind the scenes preparation.

Working with IndyCar and James Hinchcliffe was a really cool experience – he’s a great dude and to be a part of his journey after coming back from the big crash last year was very special. I’m big into cars, the racing heritage and it’s always been an adventure I wanted to jump into and finally got a chance to get down at Long Beach Grand Prix.

Some of the images depict the rituals James has, listening to music, rope-jumping, etc. How was your approach when immersing yourself with him and shooting these moments of concentration and focus?

In my approach I find it important to get to know the subject before diving into a situation like this, to find a level of trust and understanding really helps that these special moments are overshadowed with surprise or having to readjust. I find that works, but also being really really ninja-like.

Throughout your career, you’ve done sports and action photography, sometimes with very raw and eye-opening shots (like in kickboxing); what’s your creative goal when documenting these moments and what drives you in this specific photography genre?

The goal for me is to tell the story of what is happening and to try to convey who this person is, how they are connected to their environment, and to offer a look into a world that many haven’t seen; I’ve worked with artists, fighters, celebrities, musicians, artists and most recently, race car drivers during very big moments. Creatively, to honor the journey of my subject while using the tools that I have at my fingertips is my main focus. The story that unfolds, and the hustle I put in, adds to variety and creativity of the shots. What drove me, and will always drive me to this type of shooting is having the privilege to accompany someone on their journey during a pivotal moment in their career or life, and the fact that I try to only shoot what I’m interested in and passionate about. Racing and a good comeback story was more than enough for me to take this assignment.

About that story, James Hinchcliffe had a severe, near-fatal experience a year ago, surely, this IndyCar occasion must have been very encouraging and motivating for him personally. This energy can be felt throughout the images you took, did you feel this as well? 

I tried my best to do it justice. The energy was a wave and I was just holding on – with so many moving parts within the racing team and the entire IndyCar Grand Prix itself, it took a lot just to not get run over by a speeding open wheel car in the pit lane or stepping in the wrong spot during the race. I really got in the groove when I was following James down the track as he approached his car moments before the race began. You could almost see James transform into a different beast as we drew nearer to his black and gold machine.

You took most of the images with the Leica SL, with a very detailed and pixel-perfect definition of the moments. How was the performance of the camera during the shoot?

The SL was my preferred camera on this shoot, while the Leica S (Typ 007) hung over my shoulder for various shots. I bounced between the pit lane and several high speed turns during the race and experimented with a few high speed action shots, and other wide shots where I dragged the shutter and the SL handled like a dream. The SL’s fast acquisition of the race car traveling at over 140mph through a combination of turns allowed me to capture sharp shots every single time I pressed the shutter.

Comparing with the Leica M ( Typ 240) and the Leica S, which was also used for some of the images, how do you compare them with the SL? What was the decision for using these cameras as well?

Picking the right tool for the right job is crucial for me, and I needed to feel out the type of encounters I was going to have as the race-day progressed. I shot the race with the SL almost exclusively, while I used the SL and Leica M for the behind the scenes and in-between moments. I used the Leica S for a portrait series I did with James pre and post race. The speed of the SL matched the speed of the race almost perfectly, the M gave me the opportunity to have agility and finesse in very close encounters while I bounced between the SL on the 24-90mm lens for the rest of the behind the scenes shots.

Certainly, not all shooting conditions are optimal, whether it’s light availability or other circumstances. What’s your go-to equipment which you might consider the most versatile to have with you all the time?

My most versatile piece of equipment is the one that can do nearly everything with ease, in any type of shooting condition. I need low light capabilities, fast lenses, high megapixel count, fast frame per second, option for beautiful video and the SL does it all.

You’ve done some Leica workshops, focusing mainly on sports photography. Can you share with us a few tips or recommended settings for this type of photography?

The most fun moment to relive is the moment when the IndyCar comes around the corner at triple digit speed. Using a continuous APS-C mode with tracking engaged I was catching moments I never had in the past. I made sure that my ISO was in the right place to allow me a shutter speed of around of 1/2000 of a second with the aperture at f/4.0.

Will you be working on more IndyCar races with James Hinchcliffe?

James, his team and his crew all loved the shots and we’re planning on some further adventures soon.

Lastly, is there anything else you’d like to add or share with our readers? Maybe more projects in the pipeline?

I’m always so thankful of the people at Leica who have put in the hard work and care that not only make their cameras and lenses so special, but also the interaction, support and care they put into their projects and relationships with people like me, it means a lot. I also want to thank Night Light for being with me during the shoot, he was out there shooting photos right next to me getting awesome images.

I’ve recently done a big campaign for Reebok and Conor McGregor where I used the Leica S, shot Usher’s newest album cover and singles, and will be putting together a book with my friend Daniel Arsham. I’ve got a plan to shoot out in Rio for the Olympics… crossing my fingers for that one.

Thanks James!

To know more about James Law’s work, please visit his official website and follow him on Instagram and Twitter.

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