Here’s what it takes to photograph Pikes Peak International Hill Climb

Larry Chen

Motorsports photography is complicated. Not only are your subjects moving at the takeoff speed of a 737, but photographers are usually kept outside of safety barriers or fences that create narrow windows to point lenses through. Add in weather conditions, and it’s reasonable to believe any motorsports photog is a person who enjoys a never-ending challenge. One such person is Larry Chen, and the proof of it is his documentation of what it takes to photograph the Pike Peak International Hill Climb.

Pike’s Peak takes all the difficult parts of motorsports photography and dials them up to 11. Each car only drives past you once, so you’d better get the shot. Oh, you want to change spots and get a different angle? Well that means a hike. At 8000 feet or more of elevation, good luck catching your breath after hustling from one spot to the other in the short time between the cars rocketing up the mountain. The whole process is documented in an hour-long video Chen recently posted to YouTube, and we promise it’s worth the watch to get the behind the scenes look at what it takes to get the phenomenal images.

One of the biggest challenges is the timing, which brings weather into the picture too. Both the practice and race days start at dawn, and that means Chen and his crew need to be up and in place before that first car leaves the starting line. Add in the desire to photograph the pits and preparation of the teams, and suddenly the alarm clock is set for an hour when partiers are being kicked out of the bars. That early arrival time is cold at elevation, so Chen and the crew layer up with clothing an an attempt to stay warm while standing without overheating when they need to hustle around from spot to spot. The higher up the mountain, the colder it gets—in addition to the thinner air that saps a person’s energy if  you aren’t prepared.

Any racer that has attempted Pike’s Peak will tell you it is an incredible challenge, and all the stars have to align for a team to get a good, clean, fast run up the mountain. In the grand scheme, if one race team ends up signing off early it doesn’t mean much, but Chen and his team are the official photographers, so failure or mediocre images are simply unacceptable, and that means preparing for anything and putting in the extra work to get every shot possible.

Just by watching the video, it’s easy to see why it takes years to to get this good and why Chen is the official photographer of Pikes Peak.

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