Darren Beatty is an avid rider and accomplished motorsports photographer. Here we find out a little bit more about his life and the intricacies of shooting at the race track.
Q: Did you go to school to study photography?
A: I went to Central Washington University and studied in Communication Studies. Photography just happened to be part of the curriculum and I took it. Besides two photography classes that I enjoyed and whizzed through, that’s all of my background. In my opinion it is a necessity to learn the basics. Everyone says there are photography rules, but I tell folks, “there are no rules there are guidelines to make the photo appealing.”
Q: How long have you been a photographer?
A: I’ve been shooting since 2005. I picked up my first trackday contract in 2008 with NESBA.
Q: Where do you live?
A: Home for me is Buckley, WA where I live with my fiance Leslie and 2 dogs on a half acre at the end of main street. I’ve always wanted a detached shop, and now I have place to work on my 2 wheeled machines, and store the rest in a non crowded space! Very happy about that.
Q: Why take photos of motorcycles?
A: One day after the end to my 2008 race season, I realized I couldn’t afford my time nor pocketbook to balance a day job, roadracing, control riding, and shooting for NESBA. I decided I loved dirtbiking as well, and with street riding to boot, I decided to stop racing and control riding for any organization. I guess it came down to time and effort, and the idea that I could either spend a couple hundred bucks or earn a couple hundred!
Q: Do you ride/race as well?
A: I’ve been riding dirt since the age of 3. I started on a Suzuki quad and then went to a PW50. I’ve owned nearly 30 motorcycles in my life and I’m 31 years old. I’ve raced with Supermoto USA, WMRRA, and as a kid through events put on by Cascade Motorcycle Club among others (I was too young to remember!)
Q: How is taking action shots of riding/racing different than other types of photography?
A: Constant variables of moving objects, loud noises, possible distractions, weight of gear, dehydration, and the fact that the clock is not on the photog but on the race direction. When it’s go time, it’s go time. It’s easy to take photos of one plane coming in, or one animal moving at the zoo. I explain it like this, “take photos of 30 starlings coming your way, and capture (clearly) 25 of the 30 as they pass, each time.” Trackdays can actually be more difficult physically on the back/shoulders, because there are no breaks if it’s a busy day. 40 bikes on track spread out, means there are always 3-4 bikes in a given section, all the time. Races are more difficult because of the 25% (or more) increase in speed and of course, they’re all bunched together.
Q: Do you have a favourite circuit to shoot?
A: My favorite track to take photos at would be Miller Motorsports Park in Utah. Not far behind is The Ridge Motorsports Park in Shelton, WA. The worst track for photography without a doubt was Daytona Int’l Raceway. Very cut and dry, boring photos. Boring track. Horrible access, and everyone is grumpy in Florida!
Q: What series do you currently shoot?
A: In the Spring and Summer I’m the official photographer for Washington Motorcycle Roadracing Association, Mike Sullivan Race School, MotoFit Group Trackdays, and I occasionally shoot Mickey Fay’s Flat Track series on clay, in Puyallup WA at night.
Q: Camera gear is pretty heavy, is it quite physical to spend the day at the track shooting?
A: I lose on average 5lb of water weight in a given track weekend. Whether it’s bright and cloudy, or hot and sunny. Track photography is probably 10x more physical than anyone can imagine. Try holding 12lbs (no tripod, no monopod, handheld) in front of your face for approximately 45 seconds of every minute, for about 6-7 hours on a day. On top of that, walk about 5 miles or more if you dont have a pit bike, and add in about 200 lunges (down on 1 knee). I hate to admit this, but I have perminant scar tissue on my left shoulderblade area from photography. I should have started using a monopod from the beginning.
Q: Do you make friends with the riders you photograph? What is the social life around the track?
A: I’ve ridden or raced alongside many of the riders still racing, or instructing. It is like an extended family and I feel honored and blessed that they take the time to support my work. I know that most people appreciate me being out there, but of course, being thanked for your work with a “thank you” or a purchase is always a great feeling. I always have made it a point to stay humble, work hard, and be thankful for every purchase whether it’s a single photo or a season pass purchase.
Q: Tell us about a favourite photo of yours? What makes it so special.
A: I have been asked this question many times before. I’ve shot nearly half of a million photos. I’ve taken so many photos that it actually has become a blur at some times. Some of my favorite work was not motorcycle related. My Mt rainier photo of a lenticular type swirl cloud at sunset, is one of my favorites. Photo of my pup, Moto, that is the most clicked photo ever on google, if you request “airdale lab mix” as a dog breed…. small personal photos like this. I’m highly critical of my own personal work. I have a couple hundred photos that I’ve taken that I really really like. But I only have under 50 that I love. Ones with personal attachment. Family/friends/roadtrips etc.
Q: If you could give one piece of advice to budding photographers what would it be?
A: Respect the profession. Start at step A, and work to Z. There are no shortcuts in life. Work hard, take hundreds of photos a week. They’ll get .1% better, every time. Do NOT give away work. Respect yourself, your gear, your passion, your investment, your “time-in” at the track, on the computer, your fellow photographers, and simply make a sale. I’ve turned away free photo requests from absolutely every level of motorsport. Be it magazines, WSBK team, AMA riders, AMA pro flattrack, and local. Theres nothing more that I would like, then to see someone loving/using/posting/printing my photos. But I treat a WMRRA novice with the same price structure as a WSBK team. It makes it easier for me, and I feel overall, people respect that.
Q: If you could shoot one event what would it be?
A: One thing I have to say in this interview, is I’ve achieved all I’ve wanted to achieve, in motorsports photography. I believe I’m the only motorsports photographer from the northwest to have shot with credentials for WMRRA, AMA Pro Supercross, AMA Pro Roadracing, WSBK, MotoGP, and worked for a print magazine in the same time period. Not many things I’m proud of but that’s one of them! I’ve shot all levels of motorsport, and I love local the most. I’m outgoing, but the travel, expenses, time away from home/family/dogs, my own bed… I like being local. The WMRRA family has always been my extended family, and I appreciate their support! Second part to your question, the only thing left I’d love to shoot? I’d love to take photos of the original, and only real “road race” left in the world. The NW200 in Ireland. Having my family name from the Irish north, and the NW200 being on the north coast of the country, it’s only fitting that before I die, I visit there! That would be amazing.
Q: Other hobbies?
A: Throughout your years, you find you need to have balance. Balance in hard work, balance at home, and balance in play time. If the lights are on, food is on the table, and bills are paid, I’d rather enjoy my free time, than make a buck. This has changed throughout my life, but for now, I love riding as much as I did when I was 3. I love my vintage bikes, love dirtbiking, and cruising on my VFR750 on road. Life must have balance!!
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