Baptiste was born in 1992 and has been into motorsports since he was four years old. He started with karting then eventually made it onto two wheels with motocross! Not long after he got a camera for Christmas he started shooting his motorsports adventures with his friends. At first he was shooting almost everything as a hobby but soon enough he discovered that petrol was flowing in his veins. He decided that he wanted to make his dreams come true and dedicate his life to photography! He joined the King of Europe Drifting Championship (now known as DriftKings International) media crew and started to expand his knowledge and style. His primary goal was to tell stories to the viewers and make them want to come to drifting events!
Words and images by Baptiste Billardello
Drifting - some say it’s a verb, but car guys would say it’s a smoking activity! Without a doubt, with 24 worldwide events and its multinational driver lineup, DriftKings International is one of the largest drifting championships.
Sit back and buckle up as I bring you with me, and the media crew, to the experience that was last year's race.
Welcome to Serres, Greece, a small town far from all the tourist sites of Greece and roughly a one-hour drive from Thessaloniki, which is the biggest town in the area. As soon as you arrive in the suburbs of Serres you can immediately tell that it’s not a huge city. But this small town has the one thing that every car enthusiast craves - a racetrack.
As a motorsports photographer, location is key, as it can affect photos dramatically, from making a shot look casual, with no interest, to completely epic! Serres Raceway is one of those places where everything is in synergy and highly skilled drivers from around the world are surrounded by perfect scenery. Unlike most tracks, this is one that offers an unlimited amount of locations to shoot from. This is what we call an open door, as it allows us to be extremely creative with our shots through numerous different styles and angles. In one word, Heaven!
I joined the actual media team around the middle of the 2018 season. The crew was composed of an official videographer and a photographer. Both of whom are ultra creative petrolheads who have been following the championship for five years now. They have been 100% dedicated to providing the best content to the viewers in order to provide a lifelike experience to those who are unfortunate enough to not be able to attend.
The biggest challenge we, as motorsports photographers and videographers, have is being exposed to many hostile environments, as well as difficult conditions during an event. Many times we must walk long distances and sometimes crawl around to find those amazing vantage points. Running to grab those unexpected sick shots is not out of the question and we must always be prepared to move.
Just imagine yourself carrying all your gear through the late Greek summer, with temperatures around 40°C. You are between the blistering sun and the tarmac, which is reflecting heat directly on you. There is usually no wind to provide relief except the wind created by the drift cars passing by in an instant, creating mass amounts of smoke and flinging rubber, rocks, dust, and debris as they careen towards you. They disappear as quickly as they arrive and you are grateful for the brief moment you had with them. All this is happening while you are watching the incoming threatening weather descend upon the track with the thought of, “this is going to turn into utter chaos"!
Even with the already tough conditions, I am always searching for a place to take unique shots, whether that place that is simply overlooked or just not known. Sometimes that means crawling on boiling hot tarmac or through overgrown vegetation. I will sacrifice my own comfort rather than miss an opportunity for what could be the best shot of the weekend. One of my crew members even took a bite from an insect which made his leg swell to twice the size over the course of the weekend. This did not deter him from continuing, after seeking treatment.
f-stop has done what many other camera bag companies have failed to do - make both my back and gear happy! The f-stop Tilopa pack that I chose compromises nothing between gear protection and personal comfort. Its ultra-customizable Internal Camera Units (ICUs) allow you to conveniently arrange your gear while retaining comfort with supportive, yet soft shoulder straps. The ICU system allows you to safely pack an extensive range of gear with the largest ICU or to maximize cargo space with a smaller ICU. The choice is yours, depending on the shooting location, since it is sometimes necessary to have space for food, water, and even medical supplies.
Even though this pack might seem huge at first glance, it is small enough to be claimed as a carry-on bag, believe it or not. It is the perfect pack for traveling photographers and videographers who do not want to sacrifice equipment safety.
The days of having the pre- and post-flight stress of wondering if your gear will arrive and will it be in one piece and wondering if you can risk running or crawling without damaging your gear are definitely over! For now, I’m the only f-stop gear user in the crew, but I am confident that it won’t take long for each of my colleagues to upgrade to f-stop gear!
Late Friday afternoon, before the race weekend, provided a breathtaking scenic backdrop that I was not quite expecting, which made for the best moment of the adventure. We had arrived early in the morning to scout out some key shooting locations that would provide the best angles, and while doing so, discovered that there would be some training at the end of the day. The smoke pouring off the tails of the drift cars and mingling with the colorful rays of the setting sun made for an epic golden hour!
I am a huge fan of the golden hour in street photography due to the ease of shooting during the perfect lighting. When it comes to motorsports, though, it creates a challenge as you must plan out your position perfectly. You can’t change the track layout, so you either have to rush into position or be there waiting for this precise moment. Planning accordingly is key as you may have to cross the track or walk a long distance to get that perfect backdrop.
When you nail that perfect spot though, and sit there like a sniper waiting for that perfect moment when the drift cars come into focus, your end result is a perfect synergy of drift cars and bellowing smoke turning from white to yellow to orange in the classic Serres golden-hour light. What a pleasure it is to work there!
One tip that I have always used, since I first started photography seven years ago, is to never upgrade your gear until you have mastered the gear you already own. I think that a lot of my colleagues would agree with me; however, I chose to purchase a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with multiple lenses. This gear is nothing short of epic. This set up helps increase my “WOW” shot ratio and functions exceedingly well in difficult conditions. The event in Greece was a testament to that, with the hot temperatures combined with dust and smoke. A consumer camera would have struggled to obtain good shots.
What happens when you put camera-addicted petrolheads and drift cars in the same amazing location for a weekend? You end up with a solid team that will scour the track for the best angles of the event and provide this content to the unfortunate fans who were unable to attend the event. My specific role in the team is to take photos, simple and concise, but it’s way more than that to me. Each photo adds to the story of the event through my eyes and then through my camera lens, which portrays the feelings that I had at the exact moment the shutter opened and snapped shut.
Now that I am part of the DriftKings media crew, I will continue providing awe-inspiring content throughout the 2019 season. Not only that, but I will also be following a French rookie driver by the name of Mathieu Bareyt throughout this year’s DriftKings Championship and the French Drifting Championship. Last, but not least, I will be stepping up my game with classic car photography and reaching out to private clients, as well as companies, for commissioned work.