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|| News Item: Posted 2009-06-25

In The Bag: Covering Racing at the Indianapolis Speedway
By AJ Mast

Photo by AJ Mast

Photo by AJ Mast

AJ's daily gear.
I am a gear minimalist, which is a contradiction to the large amount of gear I own. I want to have the right gear for whatever assignment comes when the phone rings, but I don't want to carry everything with me.

My goal is to have no more than what I need to do the assignment. So my daily kit, is simple:
• Canon 1d Mk II with a 70-200/2.8
• Canon 5d Mk II with a 16-35/2.8
• Extra battery for each and a couple of extra CF cards
• Canon 1.4 extender
• Cleaning cloth
The accessory items all get tossed in a Think Tank Photo Skin 50 and slung onto my shoulder.

That's it … that is my base kit.

Now when race day for the Indianapolis 500, the Brickyard 400 or the Moto GP race comes around, a few more items end up in the mix depending on my assignment for the day.

In the last few years my spot for the 500 limits my movement to a 3-foot-wide strip about a half-mile long on the front straightaway. I'm there for the duration of the race with no access to water, restroom or much of anything else.

So for the 500 I don a fire suit, fill a Camelback with water and stick a couple of cereal bars in by bag. My Skin 50 gets put on a Think Tank belt along with a couple of other pouches (for the likes of a Canon 28-70/2.8). I have a set of racing headphones and put on the FM radio broadcast of the race. A bright ball cap and some sunscreen complete the ensemble.

I like to have options while shooting, but still keep the load light. So for most of the day I keep my 1.4 extender on my 70-200 zoom. Backgrounds get real busy, and when cars are going 218 mph, it's hard to get real close.

So, some shallow depth of field and the ability to observe from afar are on the plus list. The little extra reach lets me fill the frame with someone on the pit wall or make a compressed shots of cars entering the pits. In the past I've used a 100-400 for this, but I don't use it enough to be comfortable with the push-pull zoom (and I did not have one available to me this year).

During pre-race and post-race I like to shoot wide. A wide lens and a frame filled with a good moment are beautiful. So the 5d Mk II with the 16-35mm is my go-to gear. I also don't like to be a jerk; drivers deserve their personal space and don't need me sticking a 14mm under their nose three minutes before the biggest day of their career. So the 16-35 lets me give them that space and still fill my frame.

Photo by AJ Mast

Photo by AJ Mast
I have people say something like "5d is not much of a sports camera" to me with an alarming degree of regularity. To which I reply, "Speed Graphic was not much of a sports camera either, but people still made great photos with them."

For 2009 I tried something new, and it failed miserably.

I got a second 5d Mk II, replacing my 1d Mk II for the day and put Canon WFT-E4 transmitters on both. I then fired up a Cradlepoint PHS300 battery powered mobile Wi-Fi router, and had USB dongles for both AT&T and Verizon, along with two extra batteries.

The idea was to transmit tagged photos during the race to the editors. It worked pretty well during the Carb Day trial, and reasonably well on race day morning. But by the time 270,000 fans got in their seats, the cell networks were just to overwhelmed to handle the data. They moved so slow transfers timed out, even DNS resolutions were flaky at best.

There were concerns going in that this might happen, but we thought it was worth a try. Much was learned in the failure, and I have a new plan hatching for 2010.

During the dozen or so days before the race I have done zoom exposures and super-slow pans during practice. In the past I have done camera on a stick, and remotes and packed the gear in for that. But visually I lean in the direction of documentary photojournalism, so on race day, for me, it is about nothing more then compelling story telling moments and visuals. I don't want to worry or mess with gear; I just want to take the photographs that tell the story.

When it comes to the Brickyard 400 and the Moto GP race, I get to ditch the fire suit and pack a 600 or 800, but other than that the rest is pretty much the same.

(AJ Mast is an independent photographer based in Indianapolis. His work can be seen at

Related Links:
AJ's member page

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