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As the Photographer for Motorsports and Vermont SportsCar, Lars Gange Shoots to Thrill

It’s true that photographer Lars Gange has a leg up over many others in his field. He owns all the latest premium gear. He has privileged access to Motorsports events and has been part of the team at Vermont SportsCar since 1996 and with Subaru Rally Team USA (SRT USA) since 2001. A devoted Subaru owner, he drives the 2015 WRX. He enjoys the freedom to travel all over the world and speaks multiple languages. Oh, and he has a helicopter. All in all, it’s a pretty sweet situation for a shooter with an appetite for adventure. But none of those advantages – all hard-won, by the way – would matter if the man himself weren’t a fearless talent willing to go to incredible lengths to capture his images. As his elder colleague Ansel Adams once observed, “The single most important component of a camera is the 12 inches behind it!” And it is the mind of Lars Gange – his restless creativity, tactical thinking, and intuitive knack for snatching dazzling compositions out of the full-tilt freneticism of rally racing – that makes his work so memorable.

Lars Gange
Lars Gange's Subaru WRX

A great photo represents a rare intersection of elements: light, opportunity, position, luck, reflexes, and an understanding of how to frame the world so as to direct the eye of the viewer to the telling detail that reveals the essence of the story. The intensity in the eyes of a driver, the transient taillight glow sketched in the air of a night stage, the brief instant of clarity glimpsed between roiling billows of road dust as a rally car takes to the air – Gange captures these moments as few others can. Gange agreed to allow us to show off some of his work for this story, along with behind-the-scenes details about how he captured these images in the wild. We don’t want to tell you that after reading this story you’ll be able to duplicate his efforts, but you’re bound to learn something that will increase your odds of success as a photographer. Enjoy the ride.

Out of the Dust

Event: X Games 14 – Home Depot Center Los Angeles
Equipment: Nikon D2X camera, AF-S Nikkor 200-400mm f/4 VR lens set to 340mm f/5.0 @ 1/2500 second

Lars Gange: “I wanted a head-on jump shot, but X Games used to be extremely difficult to shoot. Years ago professional photographers were not allowed to shoot from the stands. So, unless you knew you had guaranteed access, the standard move would be to put your camera away and stand near but not at your spot. The trick is to pretend you don’t know what is happening until the last second, then pull out your camera, get into position, and take your shot before anyone can tell you to leave. I even remember turning my shirt inside out to better blend in as a spectator!”

Gange’s Pro Tip

“Sometimes it’s better to beg forgiveness afterwards than to ask permission beforehand.”

Perfect Timing

Event: Oregon Trail Rally, Gilhouley stage
Equipment: Nikon D4 camera, AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 lens set to 17mm f/5 @ 1/4000 second

Lars Gange: “This stage [Gilhouley] is about 5 miles long and located 11 miles south of Hood River, Oregon. The #75 of David Higgins and Craig Drew was due in about five minutes. Total panic! Park, dump excess weight from bag, and sprint. You never know if they will start on time, so you have to try. The 0.7-mile distance was possible in five minutes. I heard the cars in the distance as I was nearing the spot. I shot up the embankment, dropped my bag, and grabbed the camera. The car was seconds away as I cranked up the shutter speed, aimed, and shot just in time – and then the car was gone.” 

Gange’s Pro Tip

“Identify and plan your location in advance. Note the wind direction, where the dust will follow and know whether you have to cross the stage road prior to the stage start.”

Check out our Rally Guide for tips on where to go for your next rally.

The Night Stage

Rally in the 100 Acre Wood

Event: Rally in the 100 Acre Wood 
Equipment: Nikon D2X camera, AF-S Nikkor 80-200mm f/2.8 lens set to 130mm f/10 @ 13 seconds

Lars Gange: “On this night stage, I thought it was cool seeing the cars disappear into the forest. I was lined up with a twisty section of the stage and wanted to see what I could capture. I didn’t have a tripod so any 15-plus-second exposure would be difficult. I took several test shots to get my f/stop and ISO settings adjusted, and then leaned the camera against a tree to aid stability. I held my breath as the next car came through, opened the shutter, and waited for the camera to close. Blurry! I refocused and tried again – many times. Everything was moving just enough to result in a poor photo. I kept trying and finally got the one.”

Gange’s Pro Tip

“In winter, especially at night while using a flash, hold your breath while taking the shot, otherwise your exhale vapor may be visible in the photo. And remember to bring your tripod.”

Hero Shot

Event: Lake Superior Performance Rally
Equipment: Nikon D3 camera, AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 lens, 14mm f/7.1 @ 1/160 second

Lars Gange: “Shooting rally fans of all ages interacting with the SRT USA drivers is important but also challenging. You want the photo to be interesting and also have everyone look good. It’s hard to plan since everything is in slow, unpredictable motion. The solution involves taking lots of photos and using a variety of angles. This super-wide 14mm lens combined with a low angle made Travis stand out from the crowd while still showing the whole scene.”

Gange’s Pro Tip

"Try shooting without looking through the camera in order to achieve unique angles that would otherwise be impossible."

The Will to Win

Event: X Games 14 (2008)
Equipment: Nikon D2X camera, AF-S Nikkor 80-200 mm f/2.8, 110 mm f/2.8 @ 1/160 second

Lars Gange: “Ken Block and co-driver Alex Gelsomino were lining up in their Subaru WRX STI for a qualifying heat race at the Home Depot Center stadium. As drivers get ready to start a race, they get extremely focused and intense. I wanted to capture this and used a long lens to shoot through the partially open side window.”

Gange’s Pro Tip

“Use a long lens to unobtrusively capture subjects in unguarded moments.”

Remote Control

Event: 100 Acre Wood Rally, Cattle Guard Jump
Equipment: Nikon D2X camera, Nikkor 24mm f/2.8 lens, f/4 @ 1/3200 second, DX high-speed crop mode
Lars Gange: “I wanted a unique angle of the classic cattle guard jump. I was reasonably confident the rally car would clear the camera, so I decided to embed my old D2X in the road. I poked a hole in the dirt with a tire wrench, and positioned the camera where the car should pass directly over it – I hoped. Due to the extremely short window to capture this photo, I switched the camera into high-speed crop mode boosting the frame rate to 8 frames per second. I ran an extension release cord and then recruited a local spectator to help trigger the frame. I needed to shoot the jump from another angle and simply instructed my ‘assistant’ to press the remote release when the car was precisely at the cattle guard. It worked great!”

Gange’s Pro Tip

“A GoPro or similar camera would work just as well here. I recommend placing the device in a safe location off to the side of the course. Don’t step onto the course! Make sure the placement has an unobstructed view.”

Three Out of Four Ain’t Bad

Event: Oregon Trail Rally
Equipment: Nikon D4, Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 II, 130 mm f/4.5 @ 1/3200 second

Lars Gange: “A classic jump on the Rally America circuit, this location is about 10 miles outside of Dufur, Oregon. If the weather is clear, you can frame Mount Baker, located in Washington State, into the image. However, this being a repeat stage from previous years, I wanted to do something drastically different. I took a chance that Higgins and Drew would launch their WRX STI, making for a unique side shot. Not only did this happen as planned, but they did it while driving on three tires and one Method rim! I nailed the photo and the flat tire was an added bonus.”

Gange’s Pro Tip

“Try different angles and take a variety of shots, including framing the background and getting tight on the car. Use the safety vehicles as practice, but note that the first cars through the stage are the fastest, so be ready.”

Insider’s View

Event: Rally in the 100 Acre Wood
Equipment: Nikon D2X, Nikon 10.5mm DX Fisheye, f/22 @ 1/4 second
Lars Gange: “I was determined to try out my suction-cup camera mount. I reached for a much older Nikon D2X and installed a 10.5mm DX fisheye lens. This was a bit of an experiment, but I knew I wanted to blur the road, while keeping the hood and logo sharp, and hopefully get some cool light effects. I tried a few settings and ended up around 1/4-of-a-second shutter speed and put the camera on time-lapse mode. I then directed SRT USA technician Shaun Jacobs to drive up the road – gently! The setting sun and flare made for an amazing photo. It was exactly what I had envisioned.”

Gange’s Pro Tip

“Set the camera to time-lapse mode to take a photo every second or at whatever time interval you desire.”

As these photographs attest, finding the unforgettable view is what Lars Gange does best.