Once I started racing, I developed a newfound appreciation for photography. After an event, I’d excitedly hop online to look for as many photos and videos as I could find. These snapshots helped me relive the excitement and share it with friends and family. Photos of our cars, and coincidently, ourselves began covering our living room and office walls. I could look at those photos and be transported to the moments when they were captured. Seeing yourself doing what you love feels great, reminds you of your passion, and is confidence inspiring. Each day I look at all the photos around me and I am inspired to keep pursuing those passions.
My curiosity about the world of photography was piqued, but the gear seemed expensive and confusing to choose from. Hearing a photographer discuss aperture, focal length, and which lenses to choose made my brain freeze over much like when you try to explain car modifications to a non-car person. I was so busy racing and competing myself that I didn’t feel I had time to pick up and learn another skill. On race days, if I had a few free moments I’d quickly snap a phone photo and toss it on social media hoping the photographers got the good stuff. Though it was an art form that I had a deep appreciation for, I decided it wasn’t for me, and that I’d rather be in front of the lens than behind it.
Over a year ago, I began preparing for the Rebelle Rally. This event is technologically closed from the outside world. This meant I wouldn’t be able to shoot pictures with my phone and with so many competitors spread out across the desert I had no idea how many photos would be captured of the X5 I’d be competing with. My partner Calvin pointed out to me that If I wanted to get photos of my week-long adventure to share with friends, family, and most importantly my sponsors, that I would need to pick up a camera and start learning as part of my event preparation. To start me on my journey, he gifted me a Fuji X100F. The camera body is wrapped in vintage brown leather and its diminutive size means it tucks into my bag easily. After seeing so many bulky black cameras with massive lenses at race events my cute little camera seemed far less intimidating.
Calvin took me on a hike, knowing one of the few passions that rivals my love of motorsport is my love of nature. He figured that since I loved stopping every few steps to admire and identify plants that I might as well snap a few photos while I was there. I set the camera to “auto” and snap I did! I wanted to capture all the natural beauty around me. As we hiked out of the forest I hoped that the photos were at least good enough to help me identify a few of the plants and mushrooms I tried to capture. After being pleasantly surprised from seeing the results on my computer, I tucked my camera into my backpack excited to continue learning more.
I packed my camera with me everywhere and took photos as often as I could to practice for the Rebelle. Before I knew it, I was searching the library for books on photography and watching videos on YouTube to learn more. I began playing with the settings on the camera to test out different effects. Car shows and track days were great places to practice. At first, I was worried photography would be a distraction but instead I found myself even more engaged so that I could time my shots perfectly.
Some of my favorite photos combine the landscape with the cars, and rally provides no shortage of stunning scenery with cars in action. Even though the Rebelle schedule was action packed I couldn’t resist pulling over to capture the X5 in the vast desert scenery as often as I could. BMWs are growing in popularity in stage rally and when I hear a straight six barreling through the forest I get even more excited to capture it. Rally also presents a variety of dynamic landscapes and backgrounds. Gravel or dust slinging out from the tires adds even more drama to the photos. The conditions can also provide extra challenges for a photographer and learning to adapt or overcome also adds to the learning curve.
In the last year of shooting, I have captured so many memories. Aside from landscapes, my other specialty is candid photos of the crews and drivers. Since I am a driver myself, I have a personal connection with many of them and this eases their discomfort with being photographed. I love showing the world the people behind the wheels and wrenches. Standing trackside at GingerMan as cars drifted and raced just a few feet past the end of my lens was absolutely thrilling. I had to keep cleaning tire debris from my lens, my nose and eyes burned from tire smoke, but the rush of adrenaline and resulting shots made it worth it.
As much as I love being behind the wheel I have grown to love being behind a camera equally so. Capturing so many thrilling moments and splendid scenes makes me feel even more present and attentive to the little moments during an event. I notice the way the light reflects off the car accentuating its body lines or the way the lines on a driver’s face accentuate their smile. I have learned so much and my photography has grown and improved each time I pick up the camera. Each photo takes me back to the adventure that led to it and I’m so thankful for each snap of my shutter. —Kelsey Stephens