I’ve Spent Fifty Years Photographing Motorsport In Every Medium
Photography by Stuart Adams
Photography has been a lifelong passion of mine. With my father being a professional before me, I was never far from a camera growing up, and spent many hours in traditional black and white darkrooms, learning about contrast, dodging, and burning. Along the way I trained as a commercial artist, and ran my graphic design agency for the last 30 years. I recently retired in 2014, which has given me all the time I need to focus on photography, and with the new creative freedom to work on my own projects and not somebody else’s for a change!
Motorsport was always the other great interest of mine, and I’ve followed it in various forms for more than 50 years. I grew up only a few miles from Brands Hatch, and I remember fondly my first visits there in the 1960s, in particular the Wednesdays of free practice for Formula One teams. I would watch them testing their current and in-development cars, driven by names like Clark, Hill, Stewart, Surtees, Rindt, all in the midst of their canonization. It was just me and a handful, a pinch, of other spectators. It was a great introduction, unforgettable.
It’s not a surprise then that I was hooked on racing in the 1970s—F1, F5000, Group 2 saloon cars, BOAC Sports Car races, etc., etc. Little did I know back then that I would watch these same cars some 40 years later at Brands, Goodwood, and other top historic circuits. The cars may not have changed much, but the way I shoot them definitely has.
With my father acting as mentor of sorts, I shadowed him in the darkroom often, and during the ’60s and ’70s, I would shoot either in 35mm format SLR, or 120 format using a Rolleiflex. The 35mm was always Nikon, and now I only use Nikon bodies and lenses. Call me loyal! In the ‘80s my growing family and graphic design business had taken over my time as I made the transition from commercial artist to graphic designer. All my client work went from traditional drawing boards to all being produced on a Mac, and it was a massive shift back then with some steep learning curves.
It was the late ‘80s, and the time when traditional photography was giving way to digital. The world of photography started its slow transition, and it was some years before the two were formats were offering comparable quality. I started using the new stuff as it kept improving, and with the very strong reemergence of historic motorsport, I now had an ideal platform to combine my passions for photography and racing. The sport is a total attack on the senses even while spectating, and this is what I try to convey through my work: an attempt to draw the viewer in by capturing action from unique viewpoints, or by panning and using selective focus points to convey the power and speed.
Today, I use full frame cameras with the highest possible pixel count, as my work is focused on the details most of the time. I mostly use fixed focal length lenses, with a few zoom lenses when the subject and conditions dictate. All of my contrast and saturation processing through Lightroom now, a big move from the darkroom all those years ago. I never use Photoshop or any of the effects though, as I want the creativity of my photography to rest in how I took the shot in the moment, where lighting and composition are the basic core visual ingredients rather than over-manipulation in post.
There is something lost with digital compared to film, though whichever you prefer it is undeniable that digital offers far more flexibility. With one camera and a memory card I can shoot in all kinds of styles, and I often switch between color and black and white for instance. Since I began by shooting black and white, this medium is still a personal favorite of mine, and fitting for the times when I’m shooting cars that were shot that way in period.
I have included a selection of my work, which I think represents my current take on historic motorsport. Most of my work is of cars in motion, aimed at freezing those moments of “maximum attack,” but I’ve also included a few static shots in the mix. I hope you find some of them interesting! If you’d like to see more check out my website or Instagram account.