Profile – Andrew Hall
Andrew Hall has done the hard yards when it comes to motorsports photography – including 15 Le Mans 24-hour races – so it’s pretty significant when he decides to dump his D-SLR kit for Fujifilm’s X Mount mirrorless system. He explains why to Alison Stieven-Taylor.
Motorsports photographer Andrew Hall has seen plenty of changes during his 30 years behind the camera, but he’s now enthusiastically embracing another one – ditching his D-SLRs for a mirrorless camera system.
Motorsports can be gruelling, and not only for the drivers and crews. Sydney-based photographer Andrew Hall knows only too well what it’s like to stay awake for 41 hours while covering the famous Le Mans endurance race in France, or to weather the sand storms and blistering desert heat in Bahrain. But despite the times when he’s been unable to see because of pelting rain or conversely from the sweat running down his face, he wouldn’t change his job for anything.
Over 30 years, Andrew Hall has carved an enviable career as one of the world’s top guns when it comes to shooting “… anything with a throttle”. He first shot the Le Mans 24-hour endurance race in 2001. It’s been staged on a terrifyingly fast street circuit near the French town of the same name since 1923. This year marked Andrew’s 15th trip to Le Mans, so there’s no surprise when he says that it’s his favourite motorsports event.
Today the race draws a crowd of around 225,000 and Hall says it is more like a festival with the event running over a week in June, and the 24-hour race for sports cars being the highlight.
“It’s hard to explain… there’s something about hearing 150,000 people on the main straight in front of the grandstand singing the French national anthem – I’m getting goose bumps just talking about it! It’s an event that has no equal and it gives the photographers so many opportunities. Every year I’ve shot something different and that’s the aim… you don’t want to go to the same spots all the time. Each year there
I try to get it right in camera as much as I can, and that goes back to the old days when you were shooting on transparency film, which was a real discipline.
are different clients and different briefs which makes it a challenge”.
For the first two years he shot Le Mans with film before switching to digital and, while he says digital has made it possible for him to capture shots he couldn’t get before, it’s also dramatically impacted the way he works.
“When I first went to Le Mans there were no crucial deadlines. Editors knew that you had to process the films and send the slides by courier. There was no workflow,” he laughs. “You’d go out and shoot, come back to the media centre, have a coffee, charge batteries, make sure everything was clean on your cameras and go out again. Now it’s completely different.”
Hall explains that these days he is shooting for a lot of Websites and editors want images immediately. As soon as the flag drops his ’phone starts ringing with requests for pictures.
“Now I come in from a practice session, download, caption and send the images off as quickly as possible. The advantage is that by the time I get on a plane to come home, my work is done. I’m thankful for that and for onboard WiFi too. I did a 24-hour race in January in Florida. Flying back to LA, I uploaded all my stuff to FTP and sent it so, when I landed, the job was done.”
Shooting on digital is “quite liberating” says Hall. “I experiment a lot more because digital is not costing you like film did so there’s the opportunity for greater variety. Another advantage you have with digital is you can see what you’re getting right away and if the shot doesn’t work you can make adjustments, or move a few feet to the left or right. I shoot completely differently with digital, and take more risk because I can”.
While digital imaging may spell creative freedom, Hall doesn’t subscribe to the digital trend of taking far more images than you need, which ultimately means more work in post-production.
“In motor sports we have what we call ‘the pray and spray’ where you switch it to autofocus, continuous high-speed drive and the minute the car is in the frame. it’s brrrrrrrrrrrr [think machine gun fire]. I still shoot like I’m shooting film, so it’s wait,
wait, wait... and then maybe I take just one or two frames and keep panning, then wait for the next frame. Otherwise you’ve got to edit all of that,” he says rolling his eyes. “You know people say ‘Oh, I got 2000 shots’, and I’m like, ‘ Well yeah, but you still have to download, go through them all and make a selection, so why don’t you just wait? I try to get it right in camera as much as I can, and that goes back to the old days when you were shooting on transparency film, which was a real discipline.”
“I’ve embraced digital technology, but it’s taken me a long while to get out of that film mentality that you can’t change the ISO. As the tech has got better, I’m shooting stuff at ISO 1000, but there’s a little voice in the back of my head saying you shouldn’t be doing this,” he laughs. “That’s the legacy from 25 years of shooting film.”
My clients don’t care what I shoot with, as long as I get the shots. I try not to be too evangelical, but with the quality of the image and the usability and reliability, the X-T2 really is bulletproof.
Legitimate alternative In 2016 Andrew Hall shot Le Mans for Ford which was celebrating the 50th anniversary of its famous 1-2-3 finish with the GT40 back in 1966. For Andrew it was the first time he’d shot the event on a mirrorless camera system rather than D-SLRs, taking along the Fujifilm X-T2, then in pre-release testing. In fact, he only took Fujifilm X Series gear with him – an indication of how confident he is in the company’s mirrorless system.
He says that the versatility and reliability of the X-T2 has won him over, and he is particularly impressed with the performance of the 100-400mm telezoom (equivalent to 150-600mm) which he says is now his “go to” motorsport lens because of its combination of focal range, size and optical performance.
“Fujifilm has made huge strides to become a legitimate alternative [to a D-SLR]. Even after doing this job for 30 years, I still look at the back of the X-T2 and shake my head and think that’s not possible. The stuff that is in digital cameras was science fiction 20 years ago. I’m in the unique position to see it develop and to grow, and appreciate where we came from with film.”
Andrew Hall is one of a group of motorsports specialists which is working closely with Fujifilm on the X Mount mirrorless system. In 2015 he spent two days at Fujifilm’s headquarters in Japan working with technical experts improving the performance of the autofocus on the 100-400mm telezoom. Accompanied by “…a fleet of autofocus technicians”, he spent a day at the Fuji International Speedway, covering a sports car event and providing feedback after each session.
“Fujifilm actually want to know what we like and what we’re unhappy with. We’re very honest with them. When I went to Bahrain later that year, Fujifilm gave me a new lens to test. It was chalk and cheese, and the development was amazing. They are not afraid to make changes middesign based on our feedback. For me, this promotes loyalty and confidence because you know that the feedback you are giving is being taken onboard.”
Twenty-sixteen marked the third time Hall shot Australia’s international sports car endurance race, the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour. This time his client was Bentley, and he shot with the Fujifilm X-T1.
He observes, “My clients don’t care what I shoot with, as long as I get the shots. I’ve used the X Series in the snow and in the middle of Bahrain in the desert. This year I also shot the Daytona 24 hour race on the X-T1. It was pouring with rain and I got caught out and didn’t have any covers. It says the X-T1 is weather resistant and I couldn’t have gotten it wetter if I’d dumped it into a bucket of water, but it kept running!”
In conclusion Hall says, “The X-T2 is even more advanced. For Fujifilm to produce a camera like this is very impressive. I try not to be too evangelical, but with the quality of the image and the usability and reliability, the X-T2 really is bulletproof”.