Hong Kong

5 Days in Hong Kong

I’ve always wanted to travel east, but as I don’t know anyone else who shares the same enthusiasm (and I’ve never been brave enough to go alone) I ended up going to the USA 12 times in the past decade or so! No complaints as we love the US and particularly New York, but an opportunity came up to go away for a few days alone, so rather than dwell on it I just booked flights and a hotel in Hong Kong with British Airways and decided to worry about actually doing it later.

Why Hong Kong? I’m anxious in new places at the best of times, so I figured somewhere with widespread English and that appeared to be easy to get around would be a good start. It was also, handily, pretty cheap compared to the other options I had looked at (Tokyo, Kyoto, Singapore), less than £700 for Saturday to Saturday with a pretty decent hotel (the City View). November/December is apparently a good time to go, with mild sunny conditions and no typhoons to worry about, so I booked for the end of November.

That good weather I mentioned? Nope! I arrived to some fairly biblical rain, oh and I forgot to bring a coat. After dropping my bags off at the hotel I headed out onto Nathan Road to find a coat (and tea bags!), probably the most surreal evening of my life as I wandered around trying to take everything in. After a few hours out, and soaked to the bone, I headed back to the hotel to reconsider my carefully planned week, the weather was not due to improve for several days and as it was to be cooler than expected I decided to research some walks…

Tung Chung to Tai O

I’d always planned to go to Tai O via the Ngong Ping 360 on my first day, but as the weather was kinda awful the cable car didn’t seem a wise idea. I happened to google ‘things to do on a rainy day in Hong Kong’ and a 15km trail walk to Tai O popped up. So, rather than take the easy option of the bus from Tung Chung to Tai O (around £1.80!) I thought I’d walk it instead. The walk took me 3 hours and was basically fool-proof once I’d followed the simple directions to the start of the trail from Tung Chung MTR station, as you could basically only go one way for 99% of it.

After walking through a lovely little village early on you head up into lush vegetation and it pretty much stays that way for the next 9 miles. The path vaguely hugs the coastline, with the Ngong Ping 360 high up to the left and Hong Kong International Airport just across the water to the right. The Ngong Ping 360 quickly heads off in another direction but you continue tracking the runway all the way to its end. The path is paved and in excellent condition for a good 7 miles or so, there is even the occasional well maintained public toilet seemingly in the middle of nowhere, quite the culture shock when even finding one in a major town is a challenge in the UK. I passed through a few small settlements, many which seem at least partially abandoned, but at least early on a Monday morning, few signs of life. The paved track eventually becomes an actual off-road trail and descends down to the coastline again as Tai O begins to appear in the distance.

So far, so good, but then the path abruptly ends with a large sign warning you to continue at your own risk due to the dangerous condition of the path (or something along those lines). The only alternative is a steep off-road trail heading inland. I tentatively continue pass the sign towards Tai O and discover a perfectly usable off-road trail all the way to the outskirts of Tai O, it’s a bit overgrown and narrow in places (so a fairly standard footpath in the UK) but never dangerous and still easy to follow, I guess they have much higher standards in Hong Kong!

Whilst it’s maybe not the most picturesque trail you’ll find in Hong Kong it was a fantastic introduction to getting out of the city for me and set the tone for the rest of my trip. After the first village (which is only a short walk from the extremely busy Tung Chung MTR station and bus terminal) all the way to arriving in Tai O I didn’t see a single person, which for my first morning in Hong Kong was a very strange experience.

As for Tai O itself, as I headed into the village I had an instant ‘should I really be here?’ feeling, not because I felt unwelcome but because it was so quiet and walking in from the trail you head down many narrow alleyways which are made up of the front and back of residential properties. It literally feels like you are walking through people’s homes. I reached the centre of the village itself which was just beginning to wake up and enjoyed many hours just taking it all in, it’s a fascinating place unlike anywhere I’ve ever visited. I did the standard tourist boat trip (which was fun, and cheap, it was so quiet there were only two of us on the boat) and then caught the bus back to Tung Chung in the early afternoon.

Victoria Peak

The iconic image from Victoria Peak was pretty much the reason I chose Hong Kong, so I couldn’t not visit despite the inevitable crowds. On the Monday the tram was closed, so I figured this might mean the peak was a bit quieter than usual (I’d seen the tram queues on previous days, they were intimidating!) I hopped on a bus from central an hour or so before sunset and enjoyed an amazing (if rather packed) trip up to the peak. The immediate area around the observation tower was rammed, but a minute in either direction the crowds tailed off significantly. I walked around 15 minutes down Lugard Road as I’d read that’s where I’d find the best views, it didn’t disappoint in that regard and was lovely and quiet. After a stop off in the Galleria to enjoy a toasted cheese sandwich at KALA Toast (which I can’t recommend enough) I thought it would be fun to walk back to Central via Old Peak Road. As unforgettable experiences go, walking down Old Peak Road in the dark on my own was up there. It’s comically steep to the point where I couldn’t help but run at times, it was also oddly serene, clearly nobody else thought it was a good idea. It was just 15 minutes before I was back in the heart of Central, so I felt my decision was justified given the bus queues were apparently 30-40 minutes to get back down.

Trip 2 was planned for a clear morning, I headed to the tram station at 8am to find nobody else there. The tram arrived and I hopped on with just the driver and two Madame Tussauds employees for company, which meant I had a prime seat at the front on the right hand side. I found myself pretty much alone at the peak aside from a few runners and dog walkers, I again headed down Lugard Road and enjoyed the most beautiful morning light before heading back down to Central on yet another almost empty tram. 

Whilst the tram is clearly a ‘must do’, if you are planning to head up twice I’d highly recommend the bus. The views are better and it’s far more entertaining. Hop on at the Central Bus Terminal rather than an intermediate stop though if you want to make sure you reach the peak in good time.

Dragon’s Back

The Dragon’s Back trail was the only trail I’d really planned as a definite day outside of the city as it’s the main walk all the guide books suggest doing. I headed out early on the MTR to Shau Kei Wan Station and hopped on the number 9 bus which has a stop directly at the trail start. Apparently it’s a busy trail, but as I was to discover, not at 8am on a Tuesday! It’s an easy trail to follow, if you’re doing the short loop you can go either way when you reach the fork early on as it’s literally just one big circuit. As I had planned to do the long route I headed what would be anti-clockwise (a right turn at the fork which basically goes up and up!) along to Shek O peak. It’s quite an exposed route with lovely views but the trail itself isn’t too challenging, with lots of places to stop and take a breather along the way. As I descended back down there is a t-junction, left to head back to the start or right to continue on towards Big Wave Bay. I headed right and for a mile or so this was by far my favourite section of the whole trail, meandering through thick vegetation with frequent waterfalls and occasional views out over the water. Unfortunately that trail ends and turns in to what seems to be a service road before what feels like a never ending descent to Big Wave Bay.

I actually found both of the other trails I did on this trip far more interesting than this one and at least as accessible. Big Wave Bay itself was a major anti-climax (although to be fair I think the typhoon damage has knocked the life out of the place a bit), so after a brief break in a café I walked on to Shek O (not recommended, it’s just a long road with no pavement!) which had a much nicer beach and an interesting little village. After a brief look around the bus from Shek O took me straight back to MTR.

Lamma Island (Sok Kwu Wan Loop)

With the weather still damp and overcast I decided on a third day of walking, having already covered over 30 miles during the previous two days. A bit of research over breakfast dug up an interesting loop on the southern part of Lamma Island. A quick MTR trip down to Central and I was on the (infrequent) ferry to Sok Kwu Wan rather than the more popular starting point for Lamma Island walks of Yung Shue Wan. 40 minutes later the ferry dropped everyone, including what appeared to be a funeral procession, off at Sok Kwu Wan, an interesting little fishing village which as far as I can tell consisted of a row of seafood restaurants and nothing else. After walking through the village there is an obvious trail to the right that everyone who got off the ferry (including the funeral procession) headed for, but I was looking for a small, fairly well hidden set of steps to the left. The steps lead steeply up through what seemed to be an ad-hoc cemetery set amongst thick vegetation before opening out to a 3 way junction. Left and straight on were the beginning and end of the loop I was about to set off on, right led up to a nice viewpoint overlooking the ocean.

After a quick trip up to the viewpoint I headed left on the trail, which is basically a relentless climb towards what appeared to be a broadcasting tower in the distance, as with the other trails I had completed it was mostly paved and in excellent condition. At this point I hadn’t seen anyone since Sok Kwu Wan and when I reached the peak it was clear that nobody else was on the trail, as I could see all the ground I had already covered and the next mile or so of what was to come. After passing through a narrow passageway between the broadcast tower buildings it was steps pretty much all the way down to sea level, descending into lots of lush vegetation.

At this point the T-Junction caused me some confusion, as I discovered later that was mainly because both directions will eventually lead back to Sok Kwu Wan, so the signposts pointing left were also showing me my final destination. My notes said right, so I went right away from Mo Tat Wan and happened across another well maintained public loo in the middle of nowhere. The path eventually leads into Yung Shue Ha , which as far as I could tell was a completely abandoned beach village and fascinating to explore. The typhoon damage then did its best to throw me off track (literally) as the path around the beach was all but destroyed, but it eventually became obvious where I could head back inland (and through yet more abandoned settlements) for the steep climb up back to the fork in the path to complete the loop. 

Fortunately my walk finished half an hour before the next ferry, so I had a wander around the village before jumping back on the ferry, 40 minutes later I was back in the thick of it in Central.

Fish, Bird and Flower Markets

This trio of famous markets were just a 10 minute walk from my hotel, all 3 were unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. The goldfish market is a cluster of small shops spread around a cross-road that are literally packed floor to ceiling with goldfish and various other creatures suitable for aquariums. The shops themselves are just full of large tanks, but the fish are all out on display in their thousands, tightly packed in clear bags. There are then shops just selling pumps, or aquarium ornaments, or fish food. Just beyond the goldfish shops were a cluster of general pet and pet supply stores, as somebody from the UK it was pretty uncomfortable seeing cats and dogs for sale in shop windows, although I appreciate that’s just a cultural difference.

Next up, and on the way to the Bird Market, was the Flower Market. Much like the Goldfish Market this was essentially shop after shop after shop selling flowers, however it expanded across several streets (and onto the pavements) and must have been 100s of stores in total. After the bustle of the Flower Market (which was so, so busy) it was nice to escape into the relative tranquillity of the Bird Market. Like the other two areas this was essentially a cluster of shops selling birds, cages, feed and so on, but it was in a garden setting and was far more relaxed, it seemed to be more of a community than a marketplace. 

Man Mo Temple, Shi Lin Monastery and Nan Lian Garden

Man Mo Temple was a ‘must see’ in most guide books, and as the journey involved the Mid-Levels Escalators it seemed like a good opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. It was a hot day so I assumed the escalator would be a bit of welcome relief rather than trekking up a hill. Something the books didn’t tell me: the escalator switches direction every twenty minutes (or at least it did whilst I was there). Typically as I heading up the escalator was coming down, and when I was heading down the escalator was going up. Man Mo Temple itself was interesting and a nice quiet relief from the city, but it may have had more of an impact had I not already spent days in lovely quiet areas. It’s also really small, so it was only a 10 minute visit.

Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden were everything I’d hoped Man Mo Temple would be. It’s directly outside of Diamond Hill MTR station in a really built up area, but the moment you step in to the garden it feels like a different world and was a real highlight of my trip. The garden itself is stunning and easily worth spending an hour or so wandering around. No photography is allowed in the nunnery itself but you’ll have to take my word that it’s absolutely stunning.

Ngong Ping 360 & Tian Tan Buddha

My first planned day became my last, as the weather had finally improved. I booked a crystal cabin (which is a glass bottom cable car, a first for me) return via Klook and headed out to Tung Chung, arriving just before 9.30. I headed straight over to the Ngong Ping 360 where a queue was already forming (thankfully the Klook line was much shorter than the general entry line). After heading through the ticket check everyone merges together, but thankfully again the Crystal Cabin queue was much shorter than the general queue. By 10am I was heading towards Ngong Ping, looking down through glass at the trail I had followed on day one and enjoying the ride. The Buddha comes into view later on in the journey and it’s a pretty spectacular moment seeing the vast structure appear in the distance. 

Ngong Ping itself was probably the most disappointing element of my entire trip. Imagine a fake town in a theme park with the buildings full of gift shops, Starbucks, Subway etc. The views from the top of the Buddha were pretty spectacular and Po Lin Monastery was worth a look around (although nowhere near as spectacular as Chi Lun Nunnery), but within an hour I was back at the cable car stop ready to head back.

The best bit about heading back so early? Nobody else doing so! I jumped on the first Crystal Cabin that appeared and journeyed back to Tung Chung in my own private cabin, something that would cost an eye watering if booked specifically. My decision to start the day early was further justified when I arrived back at Tung Chung to see massive queues waiting to board the cable cars. The round trip was less than 3 hours in total and although it felt like something I needed to tick off the list, I wouldn’t rush back to do it again.

Tsim Sha Tsui

For a city break I spent remarkably little time in the built up city areas, it was full-on even in ways extremely busy areas of Manhattan don’t come close to, so I found it was best in small doses. That said, I was based in Tsim Sha Tsui right off of Nathan Road, so it was hard to avoid at times! The waterfront is the obvious focal point and a really nice place to spend an evening. There are lots of big open pedestrian areas so it never felt too crowded, and it goes without saying that it’s great for photography.

So, a city break that turned into an amazing walking holiday. The weather forced my hand a bit but for the best I think, the city was incredibly overwhelming so I think 5 days of that would have been too much. As it happens Hong Kong is also one of the most accessible places in the world to hit a variety of trails via public transport.

In terms of practicalities, everything was so straightforward I didn’t really give it any thought after the first day. The MTR (subway) is insanely efficient and easy to follow, right down to lights on the maps showing where you are and where you can interchange to at each stop (simple yet so clever). It was also cheap enough that I never priced up each journey, I just put £60 or so on an Octopus card at the start of the trip and used that for all transport (including buses and ferries) and never gave it any thought. The people are also polite to a fault, and somehow despite the crowds and everyone being buried in their phone screens everything is just so efficient. Coming back into London after was a culture shock!

Would I go back and do more? Absolutely.

The full gallery of images can be found here: https://chrisharrisonphotography.pixieset.com/g/hongkong/

Festival of Speed 2018

I’ve been attending the Festival of Speed since 2007, all of them on the Friday since I was hooked in by free Friday tickets that used to be given away in the Sunday Times (a lot has changed since then!) It’s now most definitely not free, but still, in my view, worth every single penny.

The Friday used to be a relatively low key ‘enthusiasts day’, most of the headline cars still went up the hill but usually driven by test/reserve drivers. I distinctly remember a number of the road cars passing me on through Chichester early in the morning, and those that were already in position could be covered up until lunch time. It’s now a full-on Festival of Speed day with air displays, many of the headline drivers and everything in full swing. Interestingly the Thursday (which used to be the Moving Motorshow) is now experiencing the same ‘feature creep’ with more and more activity being added to the hill and elsewhere each year, I’m seriously considering the Thursday next year (or Thursday and Friday) to try and recapture that slightly more relaxed feel.

As always I followed my tried and tested plan of arriving in the car park just before it opens at 6:30am (which does mean a 4am start for me). The roads are quiet, the car parks are quiet and the entry queues are non-existent. It does mean waiting for 20 minutes or so until the gates open, but helpfully the security team pre-checked our bags whilst we waited, which meant we could walk straight through dead on 7:00am. The pay-off for arriving so early? The paddocks are empty, and I do mean empty…

With so few people around you can enjoy the vast paddock areas remarkably efficiently. I don’t bother with the manufacturer stands on the other side of the hill, so can usually see everything in the paddocks within 2 hours. That leaves me with the rest of the day to enjoy the action on the hill. The downside of being early? Many of the teams/crews are a bit more relaxed about taking the covers off cars, particularly in the supercar paddock now that they don’t run up the hill until later. Less than half were uncovered as I wandered through first thing.

I pick pretty much the same spot on the hill every year (at least since they closed off the area I used to watch from) for the first run through, which is basically the last section of hill climb before you head into the forest rally stage. It stays relatively quiet here all day, you can easily pop off to the loo or go and grab some food and still find a space at the front when you return. The one issue (well, apart from the lack of nearby facilities) is that you’ve got to be on the ball when spectating or photographing. There are no TV screens and very limited commentary coverage, and vehicles appear out of the wooded area at quite a pace.

After the first complete run through I headed slowly back down the hill to play around with different angles. I was surprised at how much room was available this year, pretty much all the way down to the start line there were spaces at the front, something I’ve not experienced at FoS.

Viewing locations on the house side of the hill are extremely limited, despite a walkway ascending well beyond the paddock there is nothing but a crossing point (with no viewing) at the end of it. Considering it can take well over an hour between crossing openings it’s fair to say there were more than a few hot, bothered and fed up people stood waiting to cross whilst not being able to see anything. I did manage to find one tiny bit of space where I could fire away some shots (on tip toes!) but other than that, it’s a fruitless exercise looking for locations on that side (cars passing right to left as they go up the hill).

Over 10 hours done, I headed out at around 5.30pm. Amazingly I drove straight out and somehow avoided any major congestion around Chichester, so all in all a very smooth day for such a large event

Kit List:

  • Sony a7RII
  • Sony a7
  • Sony  Zeiss FE 55mm 1.8
  • Sony FE 24-240mm f3.5-6.3 OSS
  • Sony FE 100-400mm 4.5-5.6 G

RIAT Guide

Before the Event

Programmes aren’t cheap (around £12), but they are the only official way to get a full flying schedule. The App and/or the mini-guide (handed out at the event) give you a few key timings and the commentary team will usually announce the next hour or so occasionally, but if you want a full listing for free it’s worth having a look around airshow forums on the Thursday or Friday, as kind souls usually post up the full schedule.

RIAT operates a set-price menu for common items available at the various food stands, but even so that doesn’t mean they’re cheap. You can take along your own food and drink (a cool bag is a wise investment), camping chairs and the usual British ‘summertime’ essentials such as rainproofs and sunscreen are of course recommended, and often end up being used during the same day.

Arriving

As per my Goodwood Festival of Speed guide, I’m going to be extolling the virtues of an early start here, in fact it’s even more crucial at RIAT if you want a relaxed day.

Point your Satnav at GL7 4EG and follow the appropriate coloured route in once you reach the yellow AA signs. The car parks open at 6am but the actual event gates do not open until 7:30. That said, it’s wise to arrive early if possible. Arrive at 6:30 and you’ll pretty much drive straight in, arrive at 8:30 and you can probably look forward to a 2 hour wait, particularly frustrating when the air display has started and you’re stuck in your car. The car parks are huge and featureless, so it’s crucial to note your zone via the flags dotted around the car park and any other landmarks that may help. Even then, expect to spend 5 minutes looking for your car.

Entry / Finding a Spot

If you want a spot at the front of the crowd line you realistically need to be in the entry queues ready for the 7:30 opening, and don’t plan on trying to venture too far from your entry zone (the runway is 2 miles long!) However it’s worth pointing out that 95% of the action takes place well above your head and is therefore visible to all regardless of how close or far you are from the front. Large sections of the crowd line are sectioned off for the various premium areas, particularly the nearer you get to the middle, but either end of the runway has vast open areas.

Static Display

As the air display doesn’t start until 10am we normally have at least two hours to kill once we’re settled in place. Thankfully there is plenty to see and do including over a mile of static aircraft to view. There are buses that take you to different zones, but we usually take it in turns to have a look around (one of us staying with our chairs and looking after our gear) and we easily walk the entire static display and back within an hour each.

Everything is coned/roped off and there are thousands of people looking around, so creative photography options can be quite limited. But as always if you think on your feet a bit you can capture something a little beyond the average record shot.

If you’re visiting on your own it’s fine to leave your spot ‘reserved’ with your chair whilst you have a look around the static display or pop to the loo, I’ve done this several times and many others do it. It goes without saying that leaving bags unattended is not the wisest of ideas.

Flying Display

The flying display starts at 10am and usually goes right through to at least 6pm without any real break. In terms of equipment, ideally you want at least 300mm on a crop body to get reasonably close, but 400mm or even 500mm is better.

I’m no expert with aviation photography so I keep things simple and basically just point and shoot, concentrating on composition and letting the camera sort out the technicalities. Continuous AF (Group AF on the D750 worked incredibly well), shutter priority, a fast shutter speed for jets (1/1000), and a significantly slower shutter speed (usually 1/160th ish)  for helicopters and props to ensure some prop blur worked for me.  

Goodwood 76MM

I last attended the Members’ Meeting back in 2015 (#73MM), it was incredible. Imagine the Festival of Speed in full flow but with loads more room and less than half the people there…that’s the Members’ Meeting. Imagine more McLaren F1 GTRs than you are ever going to see again in your life, all lined up in the paddock with almost nobody surrounding them – Members’ Meeting. Imagine 90% of the circuit being completely devoid of spectators, despite ultra-rare racing cars battling wheel to wheel with plenty of famous racing drivers filling the grids – Members’ Meeting.

The downside? It’s in March and it’s usually very cold out around the exposed airfield circuit. This year took that to another level though, as you can see from the photo above. With a feels like of -10, strong winds and heavy snow it was quite an experience.

Rewinding a bit, I packed my Sony a7RII, Sony FE 55mm 1.8, 85mm 1.8 and the 100-400mm G Master. I’ve never shot a single frame of action with the Sony so I was looking forward to seeing how it would perform. The 100-400mm was on hire from the good folk at LensesForHire so it would be my first experience of that too.

The first bit of fun for the day? The car park. March + grass parking rarely works too well but most cars seemed to get in ok. From then on I had a few hours to explore the paddock before the track action was due to begin. Unlike the Festival of Speed you really have room to breathe in the paddock and the people are generally far more civilised.

I then braved the elements and headed out into the open. I found some nice angles out around the circuit and due to it being so cold I rarely bumped into anyone, unlike the Festival of Speed I could shoot from wherever I liked. Goodwood is strange in that it has zero conventional debris fencing, instead it’s a combination of raised banks and low fences. It looks great and is fantastic for spectating, but does limit the number of really low angles available. After an hour or so the snow arrived, a light flurry at first but then turning into a fairly decent blizzard. Remarkably the track action carried on largely to schedule, giving me the opportunity to shoot through the snow for the first time.

The a7RII and 100-400mm held up really well considering the conditions. Between the wind and feeling colder than I ever have before it was pretty challenging. AF would regularly lock onto the wall of snow coming down rather than the vehicle, but once it gained a lock it would rarely let go. As expected the batteries really took a hammering. Shooting motorsport you can usually squeeze 3-4 times the CIPA rating out of a mirrorless battery, but not so much when it’s that cold. I went through 4 full batteries within 1600 shots, yet on a warm day that would be two at most.

Next up was the paddock as I was really keen to get some snow shots whilst it was still coming down. This was my favourite part of the day, everywhere I looked there were unique scenes to shoot, I would guess a once in a lifetime experience.

I called it a day very early, heading off at 12:30 after 5 hours of shooting. Although the weather was due to improve at Goodwood we had an amber warning at home for later in the afternoon. As I had to get back that day I didn’t want to risk it (a good choice, as it happened, as we were snowed in later that evening). I missed the Group 5 stuff, but cheered up as soon as I started working through the photos as I realised I had a wonderful record of a unique few hours at Goodwood…

London

I’m not the biggest fan of London, but living in Wiltshire it can quite difficult to scratch the ‘big city photography’ itch I often get when I look back at my New York photos and so on. As it’s only a 90 minute train journey away I try and head over at least once per year to shoot for a few hours, usually in winter so I get more time shooting when the sun goes down.

I’ve rarely strayed from the obvious touristy stuff and even after just a few hours it’s nice to come home (I’m obviously a country bumpkin!), but I’ve always been pleased with the photos I’ve come back with…

Festival of Speed Guide

I like having big international events within a few hours’ drive to go and photograph, but I’m not a fan of sitting in traffic or wrestling through massive crowds. You might think one has to come with the other, but there are ways of minimising the stress (and costs) at most big events, and it’s no different with the FoS.

Choosing a day

Thursday

Now the first day proper of the Festival of Speed; the Thursday is evolving every year but currently sees most of the road and rally cars on the hill throughout the day. It's a reduced timetable with a focus on manufacturer cars rather than the race cars, but a fantastic day if you want to wander around with smaller crowds and take in the vast static elements of the Festival.

Friday – Sunday

The event used to be run with Friday as the ‘enthusiasts day’, which was all about the cars rather than the stars, with Saturday and Sunday being the main event days when the F1 drivers etc would show up. Friday has morphed into a full-on day now, but it’s still by far the best option if you want to experience everything FoS has to offer without it being quite so busy.

Technically the main hill climb event is a competition with a final shootout on the Sunday, but in reality (particularly if you’re not near a PA or screen) it’s a bunch of cars hooning up the hill all weekend, which is fine by me.

Before the Event

If you’re on a budget visit the Goodwood website and note down the schedule for the day or download the app. You’ve immediately saved yourself £10+ on a (bulky) programme. I personally also take my own lunch and water, which saves a small fortune on the day. There are no specific restrictions on taking food and drink into the event but bear in mind that with the enhanced security checks required these days you may need to empty your bags at the gate. Drinking water taps are located near the loos, so I'd recommend taking a bottle and topping up throughout the day.

Arriving

If you’re driving aim your satnav at PO18 0PX and follow the yellow AA signs once you get near. There are a number of car parks depending on which direction you arrive from, just be sure to remember the car park letter and location of your car (there are markers dotted around) before you head over to the event itself.

Car Parks open at 6:30 (in reality a bit earlier) with the actual event gates opening at 7am. I always aim to arrive in the car park for 6:30 and have always driven straight in, there is very rarely any traffic at all to worry about at this time. I then stroll over to the entrance gate ready for opening. Queues are usually very small at 6:30-6:45 but start to build a little towards 7am.

The Static Displays

7am in the paddock is a revelation if you’ve only ever experienced it in the day or have seen pictures of crowds as far as the eye can see. I gradually head through the Supercar and First Glance paddocks, then across to the Cartier Style Et Lux lawn, past the central feature and then up to the F1 and Motorcycle paddocks (which also contain all the other cars competing in the hill climb). As it’s fairly quiet you can work through all of that in a couple of hours quite comfortably. What you won’t get is the fun of large batches of those cars firing up and heading to the start line, but I tend to experience a bit of that on the way back down in the afternoon.

At this point the first batch of cars is usually hitting the hill, so I head for the top, but you can detour through the main manufacturer stands on your way up if you like.

The Hill Climb

The hill gets quieter the further you climb, with that in mind I go straight to the top! If you plan to do the same make sure you head up with the hillclimb on your left (i.e. the side with the manufacturer displays, not the paddocks), crossing via the bridge near the central feature. You can no longer get very far at all up the hill on the paddock side and the foot crossings are unreliable at best (hour long waits are not uncommon).

I always position myself in the very last open section. Much like the paddocks at 7am it’s amazing how relaxing and quiet it can be up there. The area is sparsely populated during much of the day and it’s never difficult to get a spot at the rope. The only peaks are when the F1 cars take to the hill and when the supercar batch is running.

Vehicles are separated into 5 or 6 batches (Americana, Pre War, Supercars etc) and these are repeated in the afternoon, so if you don’t want to see everything again you can make the short walk onto the Rally Stage or head back down into the madness.

Photography

You really don’t need a long lens to make the most of Goodwood, if anything you’ll want to make sure you can go wide enough for the hill. I took a 200-500mm in 2016 (on a full frame body), 200mm was way, way too long for standard panning shots on the hill so I reverted to my 85mm prime. A 70-200 or similar is perfect.

Cars often appear out of the shadows and if they’re pressing on will be gone before you can even lift your camera up, so it pays to be prepared. Race cars are generally loud enough to hear coming, but with rally cars and off-roaders in the background it’s not always as obvious as it seems. It’s surprisingly easy to miss the supercars during their run, they follow each other fairly closely, don’t hang around and relatively speaking aren’t particularly loud.

A batch concludes with support vehicles and a safety car (usually the Mercedes F1 or DTM safety car), after a short break they will then come back down the hill (slowly, in theory) to return to the paddock, again concluding with the support vehicles and safety car. You therefore get two bites at the cherry, once when they’re attacking the hill proper, and once when they’re heading back down.

My favoured location at the top of the hill is so good because you get a nice clean background for panning on the way up, and a lovely angle of the cars coming back down the hill out of the trees. If you’re quick and have a zoom lens you can capture cars twice on the way up, the second time a rear view when they enter the final corner.

Leaving

As with any big event, leaving early or late is usually the best option. On Thursday and Friday event traffic isn't usually an issue, but the general commuter traffic is. Chichester and the many roundabouts on the bypass are a nightmare to navigate between 4pm and 6pm, so that's best avoided if it all possible. It's a little known tip that you can hang around pretty late should you still have the energy, the advertised closing time is usually around 7.30pm, but there are so many pit crew and staff wandering around that you're not going to be asked to leave until pretty late into the evening.

Accommodation

As soon as the dates are announced local accommodation fills up; as the event draws closer you will need to look further and further afield to find anywhere to stay. It’s worth bearing in mind that Goodwood usually announce the date provisionally at first and do not confirm until the Formula One calendar is set in stone. For the 2017 event, for example, the provisional date subsequently clashed with the revised F1 calendar, it was immediately clear which weekend FoS was likely to move to but a little while before they announced it; this opens up a small window of opportunity to speculatively book some (hopefully refundable) accommodation.

Other than that, hotels around Portsmouth tend to have availability right up to the event itself. It’s a bit of a drive (45 minutes or so) but if you’re travelling from the other end of the country or something it’s a pretty good option. I managed to book a nice little hotel with breakfast for £70 just two weeks before the event this year.

Fuji X Motorsport Guide

I’m not a professional motorsport photographer (not the best way to start a guide, is it?!), I’m barely even an enthusiastic amateur anymore due to my wedding photography business and a 2 year old taking up most of my time. However, I have got experience on my side and my rather sporadic motorsport work these days still seems to be really well received. Amateur motorsport photography was where it all started for me 15 years ago and for a good 10 years or so I was attending upwards of 20 events per year. These days I have to be a little more selective, I’m lucky to get to 2 or 3 events…just enough to illustrate this guide with recent examples.


It’s also worth saying straight away that every single photo you see here has been taken from a public position; I have no special access so it’s through or over fences and limited elbow room for me. What you see here is perfectly achievable by anyone with a bog standard ticket to a motorsport event and some Fuji gear.

Fuji X-T1 & Fujinon 50-140mm @ 140mm. 1/60, f11, ISO100

Gear

Camera Body

Fuji X was never taken seriously as a sports system until the X-T1 arrived (and for many, not even then) but it has slowly been growing a following. Fundamentally there is no reason why you can’t shoot motorsport with any Fuji X kit (or indeed any system, it wasn’t that long ago that all sport was shot with manual focus), but on a practical level and considering basic expectations these days, it’s best to consider one of the following options…

  • X-T1/X-T10 - The X-T1 and X-T10 essentially share the same internals, image quality is identical but you’re giving up some external controls, weather sealing and a bigger viewfinder by choosing the X-T10 over the X-T1. The X-T10 is a perfectly usable sports camera (as you can see from many of the samples here) but some may find it a little small for the bigger telephoto lenses and it won’t take the same abuse as an X-T1.  

Both are very good cameras perfectly capable of excellent motorsport photography with a competent operator. Viewfinder blackout is at the manageable end of the scale, AF is very solid and if you like to mash the shutter they both fire away at a decent rate.  

  • X-T2/X-T20 - Like the X-T1/X-T10 relationship, the X-T20 is the smaller sibling of the X-T2 but will give you exactly the same output from the new 24mp sensor. The X-T2 gains a joystick and dual card slots this time around, but also the option of the Booster Grip which I’ve found to really useful for motorsport photography

Both cameras are faster and more powerful than their predecessors and effectively on a par with a decent DSLR.

Any of the above 4 are perfectly capable cameras that are unlikely to limit the average enthusiastic motorsport shooter in any way.

Fuji X-T10 & Fujinon 100-400mm @ 100mm. 1/15, f5.6, ISO200

  • A quick note about the XE/X-Pro Range

I’m not covering these cameras in great detail simply because the ergonomics are questionable for a long lens, however they balance pretty well with the 50-230mm and 55-200mm.  That’s not to say they’re not capable (they are, particularly the X-E2S and X-Pro2), just not ideal if you’re looking to buy with motorsport in mind. If you already have one of them though, go for it. 

Fuji X-E1 & Fuji 55-200mm @ 141mm. 1/100, f11, ISO200

Lens Choices


It’s difficult to go wrong here. Fuji make excellent glass so just pick whatever suits your budget and jump in. A longer affordable lens would be nice (such as a 70-300) but the 4 existing lenses are all so good it's hard to complain.

  • Fuji 50-230mm

It would be easy to be dismissive of the cheap plastic lens that gets bundled in with some camera kits. However, this one is a great little lens capable of excellent results. It’s a remarkably sharp little thing and for day to day photography the OIS is fantastic. If you’re starting out or on a tight budget I’d highly recommend it. 

Fuji X-T10 & Fuji XC 50-230mm @ 63mm. 1/20, f22, ISO200

  • Fuji 55-200mm

The mid-range option and a very solid choice if the ‘big two’ are out of reach. I started with this lens (it was the first tele option) and don’t have a bad word to say about it. It’s really well built and AF speed is excellent. A world away from the cheap 55-200s found in other systems.

Fuji X-E1 & Fuji 55-200mm @ 156mm. 1/60, f16, ISO100

  • Fuji 50-140mm

Fuji’s equivalent to the workhorse 70-200 2.8s beloved by pros. Unsurprisingly Fuji nailed this one, it’s well built, super-fast and as sharp as you’d ever need. 

Fuji X-T1 & Fujinon 50-140mm @ 140mm. 1/60, f13, ISO100

  • Fuji 100-400mm

The beast. You’d never call it light or compact but it’s not excessive either, I’ve used one on the diminutive X-T10 extensively with no issues. AF is seriously impressive, I wasn’t expecting it to be up to the standard of the 50-140mm 2.8 but it’s just about there.

Fuji X-T10 & Fujinon 100-400mm @ 400mm. 1/60, f5.6, ISO200

Settings


I set up the X-T2 as follows, obviously as with all of this guide it is just a guide so feel free to try, tweak or completely ignore the following. Clearly there are many more settings than this, but if I haven’t mentioned them they are either left at default or entirely personal preference (i.e. JPEG/RAW etc). The vast majority of settings are relevant to all Fuji bodies, so I set up my X-T10 in the same way, the major difference being the AF-C custom settings found on the X-T2 but not on any other model.

Lens

  • Aperture: A (Auto)
  • IS: Off

Not much to cover here except to say that if your lens has IS (all the telephoto lenses do), switch it off. This can be done on the lens if it has a switch, or in the camera menu (IS Mode). Panning and IS aren’t really compatible as the whole idea of IS is to try and combat camera movement.

Dials

  • ISO: L (100)
  • Metering: Multi
  • Focus Mode: C (Continuous / AF-C)
  • Aperture: Auto
  • Shutter Speed: Variable (generally anywhere between 1/15 and 1/200)

I’m not a machine gunner so opt for the CL Drive Mode (set at 3fps) on the X-T2, obviously this can be adjusted to suit your style. ISO is generally left as low as possible when I’m panning, 1/60 etc in bright sunshine means I’m not normally requiring anything else. In most circumstances I let the camera figure out Aperture and just concentrate on the shutter speed. Metering is simply personal preference and occasionally adjusted to suit.

Function Buttons

Aside from shutter speed there are very few things I adjust on the fly once I’m set up for motorsport so I just leave the Fn buttons as per my preferred day to day settings. On the X-T2 one button is assigned to AF-C Custom Settings as I occasionally need to adjust those.  

Menus

  • AF Mode: Single Point
  • AF-C Custom Setting: 1, General
  • Release/Focus Priority (AF-C): Release
  • Shutter Type: Mechanical
  • S Mode: Off 

I’ve been a single point AF shooter since day one, clever tracking options are improving all the time but I’ve not found them necessary for large contrasty subjects like cars. The 3x3 zone AF mode on the X-T2 does seem to work well enough so feel free to try it out, you may prefer it if you’re not used to smoothly tracking objects in the frame as it does a great job of keeping locked on to subjects.
Mechanical Shutter (rather than Electronic Shutter) is really important unless you want distorted images, and choose the ‘Release’ AF-C Priority option otherwise you may be frustrated by your camera refusing to allow you to shoot at a critical moment (it doesn’t always confirm focus lock when panning).
That’s it, nothing particularly technical or clever, just a few tweaks to optimise performance and minimise frustration.

AF-C Custom Settings (X-T2)


Specific to the X-T2 are custom AF-C settings that are designed to tweak the AF system dependent on what you’re shooting. I’ll admit I was fairly dismissive of the concept at first as I’ve never felt the need to delve into complex AF options before, but they really do work. 

  • Set 1 Multi Purpose

This is the default setting and works perfectly well for general panning and head-on shots. If you’re ever in any doubt just leave it on this setting

  • Set 2 Ignore Objects and Continue to Track Subject

This is pretty clever, basically once you’ve locked on to a subject it will do its best to ignore everything else. I did my best to trick the system by tracking and shooting a fast moving car through a large crowd of people and was amazed at how well it held up.

Fuji X-T2 & Fujinon 100-400mm @ 100mm. 1/20, f18, ISO100

  • Set 4 Suddenly Appearing Subject

At the Festival of Speed there are a number of locations where vehicles suddenly appear from behind walls or from obscured areas, something I rarely come across at big wide open circuits. Quickly locking and shooting subjects in these situations is pretty tough for operator and equipment. This setting tweaks the AF system to lock on as quickly as possible. Compared to the Ignore Objects setting it’s hard to gauge how effective this is over and above the basic default setting, but I had no trouble gaining quick locks on cars and bikes suddenly appearing at speed, so it appears to be doing the job.

Fuji X-T2 & Fujinon 100-400mm @ 400mm. 1/2000, f5.6, ISO640

Technique

Side-on Pan


1. Ensure you’re comfortable and well balanced with steady footing. Ideally you want your feet spread comfortably apart with your body facing the point at which you want to capture the photo
2. Firmly hold the camera with your right hand, for anything other than the smallest of lenses I highly recommend gripping the lens rather than the camera with your left hand
3. Track the car through the viewfinder at the earliest possible opportunity
4. Hold the shutter release down half-way to initiate focus
5. Continue to smoothly track the car with the button half-pressed, the camera will continue to refocus
6. Fully press the shutter release at the point where you want to capture the car
7. Continue to track the car in a smooth movement
The most important thing is to ‘follow through’, there should be no pause or abrupt end once you have taken the shot, continue to pan smoothly and you are more likely to get the shot. If you have a viewfinder I highly recommend using it over the LCD, it’s inherently more stable and smooth to pan with the camera pressed against your eye rather than at arm’s length through the LCD.

Fuji X-T10 & Fujinon 100-400mm @ 107mm. 1/60, f20, ISO200

Head-on / Rear Shots


This one’s simple to explain, just choose shutter priority mode and select the fastest shutter speed you can, you will need a shutter speed of at least 1/400; depending on light conditions this may require increasing ISO. Fire away, no panning or any particular technique is needed, the shutter speed will be more than fast enough to freeze the car.

Fuji X-T2 & Fujinon 100-400mm @ 400mm. 1/2500, f5.6, ISO640

General Tips


A few general tips to consider, these aren’t rules by any stretch of the imagination, but they may help initially…


1. Get Down Low
Whilst it isn’t always easy, a shot from a low angle is generally recommended over a shot where the car roof is visible. 

Fuji X-T1 & Fujinon 55-200mm @ 141mm. 1/320, f5, ISO1600

2. Use Space
Leaving more space in front of the car than behind will generally give you a more appealing composition.

Fuji X-T10 & Fujinon 100-400mm @ 100mm. 1/15th, f14, ISO200

3. Avoid Cluttered Backgrounds
The aim of a motorsport photograph is often to capture a particular vehicle, as a general rule anything to take your eye away from that is not good for the final image. Try to avoid shooting from positions where marshals (in their hi-viz gear) or unsightly scenery are visible in the background. If that’s not possible, blur it out by panning at a relatively slow shutter speed.

Fuji X-T2 & Fujinon 100-400mm @ 100mm. 1/30, f10, ISO200

4. Try a Monopod
Some photographers find that monopods make motorsport photography more difficult, however they do significantly stabilize your lens which is important for both panning and standard shots. When panning it removes nearly all vertical movement, this is one of the major factors in ensuring a nice sharp panning shot.


5. Be Prepared
Expect the unexpected, and know how to adjust your camera quickly to capture moments that may require completely different to those that you are using. The X-T2 has a lock on the shutter speed dial, I always leave this unlocked so I can quickly adjust it to suit different situations.

Fuji X-T1 & Fujinon 50-140mm @ 50mm. 1/3500, f2.8, ISO400

6. Go Wide
It's easy to fall into a trap of thinking you need to shoot as close as possible, always looking for extra reach. Sometimes it's nice to look at the bigger picture and go wide. If you have a wide angle lens, use it, you may be pleasantly surprised by the results.

Fuji X-T1 & Fujinon 16mm f1.4. 1/30, f16, ISO200

7. Go Mad
The most important advice I can offer is to go a bit mad, particularly once you are reasonably competent with the basics of motorsport photography. Whilst it is good to get some ‘record’ shots saved, I find that my best images actually come after I’ve got a few standard safe shots and then decide to experiment and do something a bit silly, in many ways this helps you to develop as you are pushing your abilities to the limit.

Fuji X-T2 & Fujinon 100-400mm @ 100mm. 1/20th, f18, ISO100

FAQs

  • What accessories do you recommend?
  1. Batteries – You’ll probably find you’re able to squeeze far more photos out of a single battery when shooting intensively for a day of motorsport than you would otherwise for day to day photography. That said, it’s still handy to have a spare or two. As a rough guide I comfortably get 1200+ photos out of a single battery in the X-T10, X-T1 and X-T2.
  2. Rain Cover – Even with a weather resistant body and lens I always feel much happier with a rain cover to hand, especially during the ‘Great British Summer’. Op/Tech produce disposable transparent sleeves that are only £5 for two, alternatively I use a Storm Jacket, which seems expensive at £40 but mine has lasted 9 years and still works perfectly.
  3. Monopod – This is a very personal choice. I used one for an event and hated it, but others swear by them. 

As always if you’re spending a whole day outside in the Great British countryside (circuits are invariably in exposed locations), good shoes, layers, waterproof coat etc are all good to have.

  • JPEG or RAW?

After several hundred thousand images and a fair bit of toing and froing in the early days, I found no practical benefit to shooting motorsport in RAW. It’s usually slower, both in terms of the shooting experience (buffer, image review etc) and the editing process due to the larger files; and it’s unlikely that you are going to be taking advantage of the extra flexibility RAW gives you anyway. As a bonus Fuji JPEG colours are generally really nice straight out of the camera, often better than I could have processed the RAW file anyway.

  • Why do you recommend Single Shot?

I get asked this a lot. Say you were learning to shoot a gun and the teacher gave you an automatic rifle, you fire off 100 rounds and one hits the bullseye, the other 99 are way off, most aren’t even on the target. The teacher gives you a certificate saying you’re a competent marksman (you did hit the bullseye, after all). Would you say you’ve learned anything?
Panning in full banzai 14fps mode is no different. Slowing things down and concentrating on one shot will give you a good idea of what works and what doesn’t; it helps you learn from your mistakes (e.g. ‘should I be panning slower, or faster?’)

  • Why should I switch off Image Stabilisation?

IS/VR systems are designed to compensate for movements you make whilst taking photos, but when we’re shooting motorsport we are intentionally moving to track cars, so the IS systems are then working against you. Some systems do allow you to set stabilisation on just the horizontal plane, which in theory may help with conventional panning, but in my experience it’s best just to switch it all off.

  • Which circuit is best for photography?

To keep costs down it makes sense to visit your nearest circuit, particularly if you want to visit regularly. Silverstone and Rockingham are generally regarded as two of the most restrictive circuits to the public, but most other UK circuits have a decent number of angles available to spectators. 

It’s also worth investigating events like hill climbing, motocross or rallying, all of which are far less restrictive and generally ‘fence free’ so you’re likely to find yourself much closer to the action.

  • How can I get a media pass?

The clue is in the name of the pass. If you’re working for a media organisation you can apply for a pass for the event you’re covering (even with media credentials some events are more restrictive than others). The overall standard of your work does not necessarily have a significant bearing on this, opportunities are normally down to hard work, perseverance and getting to know the right people.
Hopefully my images (all taken from public positions) show what’s possible without needing special access.

  • What events are best for practising motorsport photography?

Don’t expect to turn up at 10am on the Saturday of a GP weekend at Silverstone and find lots of places to take photos. However, Castle Combe on a chilly Saturday trackday in March? You’ll have the circuit to yourself. Fortunately here in the UK we have lots of venues and hundreds of events, many of them free. Look at the calendar for your local circuit, there are often car club days, sprints and smaller events which are cheap or free and rarely attract crowds.
Generally speaking, for bigger two day events the Saturday (Qualifying) day is much quieter (and cheaper). If you really want to photograph at popular International events (such as WEC or F1) go along on the Friday practice day, which again is cheaper and quieter. 

  • Can I find a list of all motorsport events in my area?

www.racedates.com list a huge number of events, however it’s always worth visiting circuit websites directly to confirm dates/times.

Fuji X-T1 & Fujinon 50-140mm @ 50mm. 1/10, f22, ISO100

Imber Village

Imber village has been uninhabited since 1943 and has been out of bounds to the general public ever since. The MOD do however open the village and surrounding access roads for a few days several times per year, this is usually over the Easter bank holiday weekend, August bank holiday weekend and between Christmas and New Year. The vast majority of the village has been replaced by building shells for military training, but the church is still there and is open and manned by volunteers occasionally during accessible periods. Loads more info can be found here.

I visited during the Easter bank holiday weekend, a family trip in the morning and then an evening visit on my own later that day. On a nice day it’s a busy place with loads of people wandering around, but it’s not exactly what I’d call a family day out. There are refreshments available from the church when it’s open, but there are no loos or any other facilities. It’s also worth bearing in mind there is zero phone reception for a good mile or two in any direction, try not to break down!

Aside from the church none of the buildings are accessible and strictly speaking you should never leave the road when wandering around, unfortunately loads of people ignore this and treat it as a bit of a theme park. As a place to photograph it’s really interesting, the lengthy access roads across the plain offer up plenty of opportunities with completely untouched landscapes (the occasional destroyed tank aside) that can be photographed from the roadside. My evening trip was extremely eerie with nobody at all around, you quickly realise how lost you’d be without any phone reception whatsoever.

New York City

I think we may be on our 9th or 10th trip to New York City, so it’s fair to say we like it. The majority of our trips have been in February and we’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy beautiful clear blue skies nearly every day we’ve spent there (probably around 40 days in total). To balance that out we did once get stuck (literally) on the runway in the snow at Heathrow for several hours before they eventually shut the airport, so that trip never happened.

My early trips were ‘pre-photography’ so I had a disposable or primitive digital camera at best, but from around 2008 onwards and the arrival of my first DSLR I’ve taken many of my favourite photographs ever taken in New York…

Ski Chalet Photography

An unexpected (but very welcome) last minute commission to photograph this stunning chalet high up in the French Alps. The chalet was still under construction and fully occupied by those working on the final details, so it was a challenging but hugely rewarding 48 hours...

Dismaland

I was one of the fortunate few to get a pre-booked ticket for Dismaland, and as luck would have it my allocated day coincided with a beautiful day in Weston-Super-Mare.

As with every popular event I attend it paid to arrive nice and early. I was close enough to the front of the queue to be within the first 100 or so people in, which meant I could explore the ‘installation’ whilst it was relatively quiet. The alternative was to arrive later, queue for twice as long in blazing sunshine, then battle the crowds inside…no thanks.

The ‘theme park’ itself was as bizarre, amusing and disturbing as you might expect and great fun to photograph. The attention to detail was pretty incredible...

Wildlife Heritage Foundation

The Wildlife Heritage Foundation (perhaps more commonly known as the Big Cat Sanctuary) is situated near Smarden in Kent. They are dedicated to the captive breeding of endangered big cats. You can find out more about the WHF and what they do on their website. The sanctuary is not open to the public, but during the year they offer a limited number of 10 person, 4 person and individual photographic workshops, I opted for the 4 person workshop as a nice balance between the cost of the individual workshop and the less personal nature of the 10 person workshop (where non photographing guests are also welcome).

As you can see from the photos, access is amazing...