The BMW Performance Center, South Carolina

Football is described as a game of inches. Car photography is no different. There I was on the back of an X5, my camera just inches from the ground, perched high. It won’t work if I move it an inch to my left or right. If I move it too high, the aggressive angles that make an M car more frightening will be lost. The subject of my lens is three angry M cars driven by professional drivers from BMW Performance Driving School. This adds to the high stakes of the game. My walkie-talkie allows me to position them wherever I want on the school’s track. They are asked to move in inches, not feet. Tuck the M3 in between your legs. You can space out the M8 just a bit. Everything is in the composition.

Small measures are my buffer zone. Time is my enemy. The rising sun is my enemy. The clear blue sky of South Carolina means that I must get this shot before it gets too bright.

Because I only have one shot to go before I need the cars to move, I shoot them fast. It’s hard not to be amazed at how Matt Mullins and Derek Leonard position their cars precisely where I want them. The lighting is just right, the cars are aligned and then I am able to grab this moment.

You are invited to join me for a day at work.

Have you ever sat down to play a session of Gran Turismo on your PlayStation? As the action starts, you might find it most comfortable to drive from the cockpit view. It’s the view everyone is most accustomed to from driving in the real world.

But not me. The camera was always set up to view the exterior of my car. If I couldn’t see the curvy sheet of metal reflecting sunlight around Turn Three, it wasn’t much fun.

Since then, I have made my career from imagining this. It wasn’t only video games. My parents and I dragged them to all the car dealerships I could locate, grabbing brochures from each one until our bedroom was full. Although I enjoy driving on the road as well as track, my favorite thing about a car is photographing it.

You might know that I am a huge BMW fan. I enjoy shooting shiny metal but it means even more to me when the Ultimate Driving Machine is before my eyes. I was inspired to join the BMW Performance Center.

Keep track of the time

From the moment I got behind the wheel of my first BMW M3 over 10 years ago, I knew that simply driving it on the street wouldn’t suffice. So I took the car to many HPDE events and loved every minute of it. But it’s not a cheap hobby, and that’s where the Performance Driving School (PDS) comes in. You get to learn on a BMW just like yours from pros who know the cars best, all while not worrying about tires or fuel.

It seemed like the right place to combine all my love.

Both Early and Late

Photographing isn’t glamorous. I often chase light. This means I am at the track at 6 AM for sunrise with a cup of coffee in my hand. The weather has been unseasonably warm for May. It was 90 degrees on this day. Yet, I have a huge smile on my face.

The polished concrete from the wet skid pad is our starting point. Please turn on the sprinklers. Matt, Derek, and Laura know me well enough to understand what I am looking for. We discuss how the cars move and our hands go around as though each one had an S58 engine. Anthony Purcell, Halcyon’s videographer, joins us at the track edge. I then radio for the drivers to begin drifting on the skid pad.

It’s a dramatic image: 3 of BMW’s latest M cars slide around and splash water on me as the purple sunrise turns orange, then golden yellow. We move around in multiple positions, and each time the drivers drift on command within a few feet of each other.

These guys are amazing. They can hit the mark every day with their rear tires if I put a quarter of a dollar on the track. This doesn’t mean I won’t make mistakes.

Drama: Putting the M in Them

After our slip n’ slide moment, we hop in for some rollers, which are shots taken from a moving car. We need to up the drama on these, and nothing is as dramatic as a big smoky drift around a tight turn.

We have X5s provided by the School, which make excellent camera cars. I can keep up with the car as it accelerates, but they are big enough for me to feel as comfortable as possible. The clamshell hatch allows me to reach the rear of the vehicle, but not too far.

This shot is by far the most difficult. Instructors need to be confident enough to drift, however, we are limited in our speed. The moon, stars and the moon are my constant requests. I then work with the drivers to determine what is possible. We decide on a rolling start. The X5 line up along a straightaway, which connects with a turn. The letter U is represented by a line at the bottom.

An M car, driven by the X5, will accelerate to the right and then drift along the straight. Perfect timing is key. We also need good lighting, plenty of smoke and great lighting. You don’t have to believe that M-cars are so quiet. Just sit in front of one and watch it go full throttle. This is both exciting and frightening.

You might think that I can do this all in one go and then tell everybody to get a cup of coffee. You will need to try it multiple times. There are so many variables and they change all the time. All are patient. It seems like everybody is having fun.

Take a walk around

After going for our flying V formation I described at the beginning of this story, the drivers go to work. That is, it’s class time, and school is in session. For me, that means class coverage, and I become a fly on the wall.

It is fascinating to see students grow from being timid at the beginning of the day and become more confident throughout their days. The cones are cut. Driver lines are not observed. The corners are left unfinished. However, everyone gains steadily with the progression of classes.

Go Out on the Town

We continue our good roll work on various cars as the evening draws in, but this night is a treat. For a photo shoot, we’ll be taking a G80 M3 in special livery to Greenville. You remember that I stated I would not drive the cars if given the choice. I’m able to enjoy both, so I love the opportunity to drive my favourite BMW.

The car’s unique paint scheme draws many eyes. It is also a conversation starter, as people notice it parked on busy streets. This is a “brochure” moment – it was the first time I had ever made an image I have been thinking about for a while. It took me years to create this image.

This is it!

Hopefully I’ve broken the stereotype of the director sitting in his chair yelling “Cut!” over and over. I couldn’t stand on the sidelines and just choreograph the action, I have to be in it. I want everyone to feel the passion I have for the subject, and it’s why I shoot cars exclusively. In between takes, I talk with the video guys about the builds they have going on, or what racing projects the instructors might be participating in.

Because, at the end, I am just like them and maybe you, too. I want to be around cars every day.

Story by MachinesWithSouls

Publiated at Wed. 28 July 2021, 17:27.03 +0000

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