Great shots from the Red Bull Air Race: Chris Owens

Published On October 5, 2016 » 2241 Views» By admin » Blogs, IMS, Photography, Red Bull Air Race

Chris Owens, a staff photographer for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Verizon IndyCar Series, was on hand over the weekend to photograph planes – not cars – at the Red Bull Air Race. Here are his thoughts and favorite shots from the weekend.

More great shots from the Red Bull Air Race: Chris Jones

We’ve so much motorsports at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – Indy cars on the oval and the road course, stock cars, motorcycles. I went into the Air Race with the thought process that it would be like shooting anything else. Then when we got into it, that was not the case.

A lot of it is just the access; photographing it isn’t like a car race – there’s a wall that can stop the car from getting to you. Here, all fans and personnel have to be so far from the flight path that it’s a challenge to get nice, close-up pictures of the airplanes. And normally with race cars, you have a good idea of where they’re going. Drivers within 30 minutes have got the line, the perfect way to get around the course. Here, we noticed that every pilot went through the pylons a little differently. It kind of made it a little difficult to come up with a pattern, a flight behavior.

And we needed huge lenses to be able to take pictures. On the race cars, 200- to 500-millimeter lenses are what we usually use, for this we found that we were using the 600- and 800-millimeter lenses with extension tubes to make them 1200-millimeter. Being creative, we like to try to take the artistics, the blurry photos, show things that are moving fast. It was incredibly difficult with airplanes, but also rewarding. Everybody came back with a handful of good photos.

All of our access for photography was over with the fans, but I really thought it would be good to show all the fans because we had a good turnout. Who cares about a photo with blue sky? I wanted to show the speed that they’re moving and how many people came. So I went to the roof of the Pagoda, that puts you on eye level with the plane. It’s neat to be pretty even with one.

Sometimes it’s about the background more than the subject. This one has the Pagoda and the Breitling checkered pylons. There’s so much going on around the photo, it adds an artistic frame.


I was trying to show how close those guys came to the pylons, then in doing that I realized that once again, if you shoot slow-shutter photos, you can still be able to tell.

We think of being so far from downtown, at least I do. This photo shows anyone who travels to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that we’re really close to downtown. And we had those monster lenses that made downtown closer.

Most people own a car and know the simple mechanics of it, but when I look at this airplane engine, I have no idea how it’s set up. That just intrigued me. If you’re a GM mechanic, there’s a billion of those cars out on the road. But how many guys are professional race plane mechanics?

The cockpit is such a small, confined area. I didn’t have the access to be in the plane, but this is what it looks like from the front, like an inverted fantasy shot. I wish I could be looking out from the propeller instead of into the propeller. It’s a photo of any great athlete or artist’s tool, like taking a picture of a musician’s guitar or a mechanic’s tools.


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