Rally Dakar - how is it for photographers?
The biggest, the most important, the event I love and hate the most at the same moment, that is the Dakar Rally. Almost no sleep, thousands of kilometers in the car, hours of waiting in the rainy, hot, cold, windy weather, standing in the dust, mud, sand, hours spent by editing, hours spent by trying to send the pictures with the really poor internet, thats all what the Dakar is about for us - photographers. It is probably even more than that, as it is not even only about the rally itself, but about the preparation during the whole year. I needed to buy a car, that I use only for the Dakar, every year I need to go to several events during the year, to keep the clients happy and to find new ones, need to find some sponsors to help me out with the trip and need to arrange as many media to co-operate with as I can, to keep the clients, sponsors and the organizers of the Dakar happy.Just to give you an idea as people have been asking me all the time about that. The costs are extremely high to go over there. It is usually around 3.500E per person to be accredited, it is 4.000E for the transport of the car (roundtrip France-Argentina), approx 1200-1500EUR for the flight tickets (depends on when you book it, where you fly from, where to, etc.), around 2000EUR for the fuel, then around 1500E for the entry fee of the car (including fees for the equipment you need to rent for the car - tripy, E-track) and then some hundreds for the hotels (at least at the beginning and the end, plus some hundreds for some refreshment and of course apart from hat you need to count the expenses for buying the car and for keeping the car in good condition.That is what I need to take care about.The shooting at the Dakar is about, as I mentioned above: driving enormous amount of kilometers every day. Actually the amount of kilometers would not be the worst if you could sleep normally, but try to imagine you drive every day around 700km and you sleep in average around 2 hours per day and there are some days you do not sleep at all. Another issue is that while you are driving you cant go over 110km/h even you are on the highway - thats what the regulation says.It is a bit tricky to find a good spot for shooting as we normally do not have so much information. You have a drawing of the stage, but it is such a dwaine that you cant read anything out of it except which bivouac the leg starts and which one it finishes. We do get some tips for photo spots from the organizers, but thats not so helpful either. It happened several times that once we drove to the gps coordinates that the info from the organizers says there was nothing, it was either wrong or there was nothing really interesting. Then there are some stages that might be a bit similar to the ones form the past years or you get some info form some locals. Most often we just drove from the start of the stage, following roadbook and we were driving until we had time and until we found something that we liked. It is usually a compromise of a good spot and where the spot is located as I always need to try to get out of the stage as soon as possible not being stuck until the last truck. Apart from the part that we are in the car, we usually stay around 5 hours, sometimes even more at the spot that we take pictures at. No matter if it is 5 or 45 degrees, if it is by the sea or 4.500 meters above the sea level, no matter if the sun is shining or it is raining. Then another part of the work comes - downloading, sorting and editing and sending the pictures. I shoot RAW and edit every single photo separately with no presets filters, but anyway, the editing does not take me more than 30-40 seconds per each photo. I usually do the editing while we are driving as I need to send the photos every day.The whole process ends with sending the photos. Thats the biggest problem as the internet is not really good in South America. I usually needed to send around 100-150MB of photos every single day. Once you are around big cities as Buenos Aires, Rosario, it works quite fast (either you use mobile connection or you just go to some petrol station, restaurant, hotel), once you are out of the big cities you are happy once you find Edge connection. I usually stayed all night up so I could send the photos, sometimes using the mobile connection, sometimes petrol stations/hotels/restaurants, in Bolivia we were using the connection from the organizers as it was good and for free (normally you need to pay huge amount of money to get a connection in the bivouac) and once I used a satellite from the team I was working for.
This year`s Dakar was a bit different and honestly I do not have the best feeling from this year`s edition. It is a mixture of the facts that the stages were not tough enough, at least the parts I have been to, the weather did not help either, lot of stages with the pretty much same landscape, canceling and shortening the stages while I was actually out there waiting for hours - for nothing, that was frustrating. It was definitely not the most photogenic Dakar for me. The first leg was cancelled and I was waiting there in heavy rain for around two hours for nothing. The only thing that happened was that my camera got wet and stopped working, so an “awesome” beginning for me The other stages were pretty much the same, anywhere we came there was a water crossing. Normally a water crossing is perfect for shooting, but once you have it every single day it is no longer so spectacular. The first stages were more less WRC, gravel roads, with many water crossings and some mud (especially the second leg where lots of the cars got stuck for several minutes).It started to be more interesting around Jujuy. Not that the roads would be different, but at least there was some nice background.Another stage - crossing to Bolivia. Probably the best stage in terms of photos for me. I left my brother in the short fesh-fesh part and drove further to try to find something. I did no have so much time, so I was driving for 15 minutes, until I arrived to the part of the stage where nothing interesting was, except lots of fans around the track. As there was no other option I stayed over there, taking pictures with the fans, flags, food, etc. Definitely a shooting I enjoyed the most during the whole rally.After several hours of driving we finally reached Uyuni in the evening. There were two roads to Uyuni, one for assistance, tarmac one, through Potosi, which was like 250-300km longer than the other one. That one was destroyed gravel road through the mountains. We wanted to take the shorter one, but miss the junction where we should have gone left, so at the end we took the tarmac road. The problem is that the speed limit in Bolivia was set to 80 km/h - an awesome gift form the organizers to keep us on the road for more hours. The Uyuni - Uyuni stage was finally the most demanding since the start of the rally. We almost did not get to the track, as you need to arrive to the start of the stage latest 1 hour before the first bike. We arrived like 55 minutes before, wanted to drive only several kilometers, but they did not want to let us go. After 15 minutes when I talked to every single person at the start (actually to one, as all the others did not speak english, french only) and they let us go. There were thousands of military guys at the first 500 meters, but once we passed first kilometer there was no one standing by the stage. Unfortunately we were surprised by a huge number of locals, driving buses or normal cars in the sandy tracks, getting stuck, blocking the road and that was happening like 30 minutes before the start of the stage. At the end we went to some kind of mud/water crossing and later on drove back to the bivouac to be able to catch the first bikes coming back and take some portraits. Driving back to Argentina was the worst days in terms of hours spent in the car. We left the bivouac in Uyuni at midnight and arrived to Salta the other day at 2 am. More than 1000km, some problems at the border crossing, fortunately we were among the first ones who were passing. It was not only an advantage for the border, but for some river crossings as well. There were heavy rain after we passed and several cars got stuck on the road because of the water, so we were quite lucky we left the bivouac so early. This time we took the shorter road throughout the mountains. Driving 200km for five hours. At the end the stage was shortened for the bikes, so we saw only a half of them. Rest Day. We slept until 9 or 10 am, but afterwards it was not so much about resting. I was taking and editing some pictures all day long and my brother was repairing the car, as there were some problems with the turbo. We needed to clean up the car a bit as well as all was wet from the days before while it was raining. Salta - Belén. We knew exactly where we wanted to go - the red canyon - the place you need to go for. As there were many photographers I was trying to get some different angle and climbed up a bit. Belén - Belén. The most difficult and demanding stage for the competitors. As we did not want some gravel roads again we went like 40 kms before the end - in the dunes. To finally have some different pictures. It was like 45 degrees and we were sitting there in the desert for like 4 hours and only first 10 bikes past. After all we got some news (not from the organizers, but we needed to use the satellite phone to call someone in the bivouac), that the stage was stopped at the CP2, that was around 80 kms in front of us. So we spent several hours there for nothing. We could have just walked out of the bivouac and see them passing over there, but as we wanted to have some sand pictures we did not get almost anything.Fiambala. Thats like the red canyon. If they pass through the white dunes in Fiambala you just need to be there. Really nice day for shooting, except the fact the competitors were quite late and at the end there was a small sand storm coming. Once again a night with no sleeping at all. As the shooting is not only about the action shots we went to the start and I must have taken some portraits shots as well.Honestly we were to tired to go somewhere deep in the stage, trying to find some awesome place, waiting there for hours. We drove through the stage form he start for like 40 kms, but there was nothing interesting except some water crossings - yep, again. And as it was really easy to get out of there we decided to stay there. Last day. I always prefer to go to the finish of the stage, rather than the podium, as the real emotions are at the finish line. I do not know what I was thinking or why I forgot about how it is every single year, but once again, the organizers did not let us to get near to the riders, drivers while they were arriving (with the riders it was a bit easier, as there was a big mess, when they were arriving almost all together). So we needed to stand behind several tv guys and some photographers who were allowed to get close and we could only take pictures on Peterhansel, Nasser, etc with the back of the other guys standing in front of us. Once we were done there, we drove 400km (did not really get it) to the podium and took some photos over there as well.
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