Saturday, January 08, 2011

In conversation with MotoGP lensman, Martin Heath

"Trying to shoot hungover, with a 130db racebike invading your eardrums, is not a good idea," says Martin Heath, who travels the world shooting MotoGP pics. Below is a small selection of his work...
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Martin Heath, who’s been a professional photographer since 1998, specialises in our most favourite sport in the world – MotoGP. For the last three years, Martin has been travelling to every single MotoGP race around the globe to shoot pics, and his list of clients includes many leading motorcycle publications worldwide.

Martin, who’s now about 30 years old, got started with cameras when he was just nine years old. ‘Always been quite arty and creative at school, so rather than become a painter or sculptor etc., I got into photography. As a kid, I thought it was way cooler to have a gadget than a paintbrush or a pencil,’ he says.

We thought anyone who travels the world shooting pics in the high-speed, high-stakes world of MotoGP would definitely have some interesting tales to tell. So we caught up with Martin for a brief chat. Here are some excerpts from what he had to say:

On how he got started with shooting motorcycle racing pics

Started with British Superbikes back in 2000. Then started attending the odd MotoGP race, starting with the British GP and Donington Park from 2002. From there, mainly all the European MotoGPs, and then for the last three years, every MotoGP race. Why bikes? Because I was born into a family of motorcycles. My Dad had two when I was born and I remember going to Brands Hatch when I was four or five years old, in his sidecar.

On the unique challenges of shooting pics in MotoGP

Very little can be controlled and 95% of the time you are shooting with what’s given, i.e., a set time, place, weather etc. So, generally, you have to deliver – you can't go back and just redo it all like working in a studio.

On the photographic equipment he uses to shoot his pics

All Canon EOS1D mk2n bodies, as I still believe that for what I do it's the best body Canon have made. 500/4 IS USM is the main workhorse lens, along with 70-200/2.8 IS mk1, but looking at upgrading to the new mk2. 16-35/2.8, 14/2.8 and x1.4mk2 converter. Also use a 15/2.8 fisheye. Canon flashes, 580ex.

On the experience of travelling to every MotoGP race every year

I do every MotoGP race in a year – eighteen. And between March and November, I probably spend more time in the paddock at a racetrack than anywhere else. It’s like my second family, so it's always good to catch up with everyone.

On the best and the worst tracks for shooting pics

For atmosphere, the best tracks are those with the biggest crowds on race days, so Mugello (Italy) for the Rossi factor. Next year will be off the chart as he's on a Ducati now! And Spain – Jerez and Valencia. Shooting wise, Mugello and Jerez are high up there as my favourites, but also probably Phillip Island in Australia (we go there in their springtime, so it can be freezing!), because the air is so pure and unpolluted there, it gives a really nice, crisp, saturated image.

The worst are probably Silverstone and Indianapolis, just because of the lack of access and how far the track is away from where you shoot from.

Best experiences? Probably being there when Rossi won his first race for Yamaha at Welkom, in South Africa, in 2004. Also, any Rossi victory at Mugello!

On what’s the best place for having a wild time, and what place has the hottest women and the best food, parties etc!

I'd imagine most of the fans get the ‘wild time' rather than us, who work there! Trying to shoot hungover, with a 130db racebike invading your eardrums, is not a good idea! Best food? Italy, without question! Women? Spain, Italy and USA. Parties? Only really have one big organised party for the whole paddock, after the last race at Valencia, which starts at midnight and runs to about seven in the morning. With a free bar. That can get interesting! Dullest? Hmm..., not very fair but probably Qatar, as there is generally an alcohol ban, there is no crowd there and the food is not great.

On which racers are the most cooperative and fun to shoot with

Usually the most cooperative rider is the one that has been told you are shooting them by their team or sponsors! But the easiest and friendliest are ones that you probably have the best relationship with. Nicky Hayden is great and he’s always funny and amusing to be around. And all the Brits, so Cal Crutchlow, Scott Redding, Bradley Smith, Danny Webb and Danny Kent. There are some prima donnas, but my lips are sealed – I will have to work with them again after they read this!

On whether sports photography is a good way to make tons of money

No, it's definitely not a good way to make tons of money! Nobody who works regularly at MotoGP is ‘rich,’ and that includes most of the riders! However, I have no real regrets apart from the fact I would have liked to have started earlier.

On whether he loves bikes

Yes, the majority of people that work full time at MotoGP, I would say have a real passion for it. You need to! That's the main perk! It's not always as glamorous as it sounds though. I started riding bikes at five. Did some trials riding and motocross, then started roadracing at 16. I did a few years racing production 250s, but ran out of money pretty quickly. Now I prefer to go motocross or enduro. In fact I've just got back from spending new years, riding Suzuki's 2011 RMZ250 and RMX450 dirtbikes, and I would like to get a new trials bike this year.

On what’s the fastest he’s ever ridden

On a bike, I've been up to about 240km/h, but I'm not telling whether that was street or track!

On his favourite MotoGP title contender for 2011

My head says Casey Stoner on the Honda. I was there at Valencia at the end of last year, when Casey was just completely drifting the RCV through the long left that leads into the last corner, after only about six or seven laps on that Honda. My heart says Rossi on the Ducati, because it will be the final piece of the jigsaw for his amazing MotoGP career. But I also think Lorenzo will be as tough or tougher defending his crown, and Ben Spies will win races. But ultimately it will boil down to consistency and who avoids injury. On paper, it could be the most exciting season since we moved to MotoGP!

We thank Martin for taking the time to speak to Faster and Faster, and we wish him all the best for his MotoGP photography. For more about the man and his work, please visit Martin’s website here and his Facebook page here

Andrew Wheeler owns the copyright to Martin Heath's photograph (used on top)


Update: Limited Edition VR46 MotoGP Prints available

Martin Heath is now releasing a series of limited prints in the run-up to the lights going out for the start of the 2011 MotoGP season.

First up in the series is this double-whammy of stunning shots of Valentino Rossi during his last season on a Yamaha. One print is from Laguna Seca’s Rainey Curve, with Rossi and his M1 draped in the special one-off Fiat 500 ‘Fans Faces’ livery. The second crystal clear image hails from Phillip Island, showing Rossi’s commitment as he peels into the infamous Lukey Hieghts.

Available as large format A3 (11.5”x16.5”) prints on either gloss or museum etching quality paper, using Canon pro inks and Canon pro paper. The VR46 prints will be limited to just 46 copies worldwide, so don’t hang around and get your order in sharpish!

Price: Gloss $110 inc p&p, Museum etching $130 inc p&p
Size: 11.5”x16.5”
t: +44 (0)7977 596 164
f: Martin Heath

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