Capturing the moments of Dakar Rally: a daily battle against natural disasters and 12 frames per second
Dust, mountain breeze, lighting, rain and rivers making an unexpected appearance, deciding to change the landscape of the scorching ground and eliminating the pools of heat, trapped on the ground. Accepting the challenge to sleep in the most unexpected places, the topic and thought of food remaining the very last thing on the agenda- whenever and whatever, these are only the very few circumstances that not only the rally crew must endure and face, but also the photographers.
And when you try to deceive your own self into thinking and believing that this day cannot get any worse - Imagine this: when you have been driving through mountainous terrain, which kindly welcomes you with dizzying heights, steep cliffs, narrow lanes and hairpin turns – all in return to reach a small, local village or trying to ignite expectations for finding a close by petrol station, where you would be able to discover even the weakest internet signal... forget it, instead, we are faced with a punctured tire.
In Dakar, time is the most valuable currency out of them all, and it is advisable not to devalue it. The time is ticking away, but the show must go on. The only reasonable way to ensure that you capture the rally crew and its members in action – is starting the morning before dawn and one step ahead of everyone else, this might mean waking up as early as 5am or sometimes, on most occasions, arriving to the scene without having slept at all. The voyage begins with a 400-500km journey to the chosen destination, where you hope that in front of your eyes a ‘fire-fighter on wheels’ will rush pass you at unimaginable and hardly comprehensible speed. Additional 400-500km follows to yet another mundane rally hot-spot - a rally camp, bivouac. Here the car engines will be turned off for them to cool down. Before the morning dawns, they will start being reheated again.
Here, unique moments can be captured of the exhausted crew and the night life chores of mechanics, but all at the expense of your rest and sleep. There have been times when the mileage handle showed a lot less than 1000km on the dashboard, but time travelled through sinuous, serpentine mountain trails - slows down. Slowly and gloriously dissecting the Andes peaks- we felt 10 feet tall, trying not to devour the last reserves of oxygen that was available to us at 5km above sea level, in the meantime, aiming to safely reach our next stop. And how can one forget the breathtaking sunsets... I wanted to capture it all, everything that could be seen with a naked eye. All at the expense of the much needed periods of rest.
I will be honest - at times we did not know where to go or what road to take. We have been given a map of the main Dakar Rally artery by the event organisers, however, the actual location of it is only accessible by the organizers themselves or the photo-surgeons of the main participating teams. In the meantime, we kept guessing where to go next, using the publically published maps. These are the rules of the game.
In this way the organizers guarantee themselves a profit for the official photo bank and if you disagree with the rules- pay an additional cost and you will be guaranteed to see Dakar rally from an additional prism, a different angle, for example, enjoying views from above on a helicopter flight.
We had finally overcome all the obstacles and reached the racing stage, grabbed the required photography gear and started moving towards the epicentre of events.
Nikon D5 – a literal ‘cannon’, one of which I have been working with, at the moment, the most advanced, cutting edge technology in the sports photography industry. What makes it special, you may ask? 12 frames per second – every single shot telling an individual, unique story of Dakar Rally or of a person, caught in the process of it all.
Many hurdles will get in the way, restricting you from securing what could be your winning shot of the entire competition – dust, a pebble jumping right of the ground or simply a wave of splashing water from beneath the enraged tires – all aiming at the lens. You must stay alert all the time and be prepared for the unexpected. Relentlessly, because in photography as in any given branch of sport, a single second could make you a winner or a loser.
After last two stages of Dakar Rally photography I would like to present an example from an unedited shoot which contains all of the above mentioned obstacles: the water, the rocks, the sand – all working hard to conceal clear lens vision and cover it with dirt and other particles of the sand composition- from which only a minuscule percentage of photographs witness the daylight. And it is exactly those moments that in time, will tell a story, a Dakar story.