The 24 Hours of Le Mans. What an awesome event to cover. I arrived the Saturday beforehand to cover all the events in the week leading up to the race. There were 2 days of scrutineering, 2 days of practice & qualifying, pit walks and the driver’s parade. And if you’re still standing after all that, a 24 hour endurance race awaits you. Awesome indeed.
Many talented writers have already reported the details and happenings of the race, so I don’t need to repeat any of it. I will say that I’ll probably remember the week in Le Mans mostly by the frustrating weather conditions, the tragic passing of Allan Simonsen, and the overall fatigue of endurance photography.
Ironically, it’s not so easy to remember all the work done throughout the week. Everything blurs together. No time to “stop and smell the roses” along the way… Lots of pictures to take, sort through, edit, caption, and upload. Plus all the time to get around from place to place adds up, all contributing to very little sleep. And all that lack of sleep makes it even harder to remember the little details.
This is not an endurance race just for the drivers and their teams, it’s an endurance race for everyone involved. As a photographer who covered the race, I can try to provide some sense of what endurance photography really means from my perspective through the data I collected throughout the week. It’s basically my telemetry data.
Some datapoints are easy to get like the like the weight of my gear (41lbs fully loaded backpack, 60lbs suitcase). But what about literally “my telemetry” data, like time spent sleeping, taking pictures, or editing pictures? Or total physical activity per day etc? For this I wore a Nike activity band (digital bracelet) all week long and gathered a plethora of data.
Let’s start with an obvious question: how many pictures did I take? For the whole trip I took 20,805… that’s 498.2 GB worth of data. In the end, I posted 1,181 pictures online. So that’s about 5.7% to actually see the light of day. There were plenty of other good pictures, but choosing the best and most diverse pictures each day is a key step for two reasons: it’s less work for me to edit and better for the viewer to see the best of the best.
Each day had different activities, so how many pictures were taken per day? The following chart breaks it down.
Sunday and Monday were scrutineering, lots of standing around with limited ‘action shots’. Tuesday was the ‘quiet day’ with only pit walk and 90th anniversary re-enactment. Wednesday was the first day with some actual moving automobiles (finally!) with a long practice session followed by the first qualification session. Thursday was more practice and qualifying (shorter than Wednesday’s). Friday was the driver’s parade. Then the race, basically think of Saturday and Sunday as one long day…
Some of these shooting sessions were longer than others; so how many hours spent taking pictures each day? I can approximate this by looking at the file timestamps from the camera and adding up all the ‘sessions’ from each day.
Even on the heaviest days, I was only behind the camera for just over 6 hours… there are so many other things that need to get done in a day that take up time.
The next metric is time spent editing pictures. I ‘grade’ the quality of every photo, looking for the best ones. Those that ‘pass’ need to be edited, captioned, and uploaded. I just call the whole process “editing”… it’s basically the time spent behind the computer paying for all those pictures taken. It’s a little harder to estimate just how much time is spent editing… I have to use the activity band to piece it back together. This chart shows time editing and shooting together.
Editing obviously takes a lot of time… roughly speaking for every 1 hour of shooting I spent about 1.7 hours of editing.
The next question is how much sleep did I get throughout the week? Under normal conditions, a reasonable target would be 6 hours per night. But Le Mans is no normal week, so given all that extra activity, 8 hours of sleep per night would be much nicer. Instead, I got just under 4 hours per night on average during the week… far from either 6 or 8 hours per night. Every day was quite different though… leading up to an all-nighter at the end. Here is time sleeping added to our chart.
This chart accounts for the hours sleeping in a real bed, that’s why the race Sunday shows as 0. I did nod off at my computer while editing on a couple occasions, but for minutes, not hours. And Monday the 24th needs very little explanation… making up for lost time.
Since these still don’t sum to 24 hours, It’s quite obvious time was being spent somewhere else. Most days were like this: shower, get dressed, quick breakfast, get to the track, get to desk, edit, eat lunch while editing, get to point A to shoot, shoot, get to point B, shoot, back to media center, edit more, put on firesuit, shoot pits, take off firesuit, edit, get to point C, …, eventually pack up and leave track, go to dinner, quick shower, edit till I pass out. So the rest of the time per day is spent mostly on getting around and typical human stuff. As the week went on, each of these things took a little more time as energy was in short supply.
So just how much energy was spent throughout the week? Nike has a metric called “NikeFuel”, which is supposed to encompass normal locomotion and other activity. It’s hard to say exactly what this metric means, but it’s basically physical energy consumed. Given I wasn’t literally ‘running’ anywhere, this is mostly coming from lots of walking around. On a really sedentary day this score could be around 500, a normal semi-active day that does not include any exercise is around 1,000, and a day above 2,000 usually requires explicit exercise of some kind. My average per day at Le Mans was 2,638. The next chart is my Nike Fuel for the week.
The max score came during the race, no surprise there. It’s pretty crazy to think if the two race days should be added together (which would result in 7,477).
The other nice thing about wearing an activity band is you can see activity details per hour, showing how you accumulate Fuel throughout the day. Here is the chart for the first day of the race (Saturday).
That time on the left in red where nothing is happening is called sleep… most days get to have some of that. The peaks are when I was moving from point to point and the valleys are stationary shooting or editing. Next is the chart from the race conclusion on Sunday.
No real sleep during the race… Just nodded off while editing here and there. Later in the day I took the bracelet off entirely while I was editing as it just got in the way.
I originally planned to write down something each day of the trip to fill in the gaps that I’d inevitably forget. I wrote a lot on the flights to Paris but then exactly 0 words written during entire week… never found the time. What a bummer. I did force myself to write something short while sitting at the airport before boarding my flight home. This is what I had to say.
“The simple reality as I sit here about to board my flight is I feel exhausted. That one word means so much… true exhaustion, running on E, zapped. I can hardly lift my backpack anymore, every step feels like torture… I haven’t had a full nights sleep in 7 days and it takes its toll. This is endurance photography and when you cross the finish line all you feel is pain. I wonder “why the hell do I do this” and “I must be crazy, I’m going to go through this again next year… wait, what!?”. A constant headache and haze pours over me… mental exhaustion is no fun either.
But then I think about the race. The adrenaline. The excitement. Now the pain subsides and the glory of battle starts to shine though… Images flood into my mind, snapshots of time where teams of people execute amazing tasks in the midst of chaos. Drivers piloting their cars 200 miles per hour, their very lives hanging on the line. Hundreds of thousands of fans in attendance with countless more watching at home, captivated by everything. Beautiful scenery mixed with nasty, unpredictable and tricky weather conditions. All of these experiences I capture with my camera… but falling so very short of the actual feeling of these moments. It seems almost impossible to capture on film how awesome this place is… yet I tried. This is the task I came to do and I did it. The pain is worth it. I will recover and I’m certain not too long from now I’ll dream of coming back.”
“Top Gear” episodes always conclude with a bomb-shell… So here is mine: Film is free, but, time is the real commodity of endurance photography.
Dedicated to the memory of Allan Simonsen. Also, major thanks to Eric Gilbert for everything!!