Every racer has been blasting through the woods when you suddenly spot a photographer on the side of the track capturing the action. Well, one of the faces behind the lens is that of our Series Photographer, Ken Hill. While shooting photos is his main gig, there’s also more to the man behind the lens. We caught up with Ken to find out exactly what he’s all about.
GNCCRacing.com: How's it going today?
Ken Hill: Pretty good, the day started at 5am with some deer hunting, then onto roof repair, so it’s been a full day!
For those who don't know you, tell us a little about yourself.
I’m just a backwoods hick with some Nikon’s! (laughs) I’m a professional Photographer that specializes in nature, adventure and of course, off-road racing photography.Ã
How did you get started shooting photos at the races?
In 2002, I was racing myself and then started pitting for Harlen Foley. I bought a cheap digital camera and literally shot what I could from the pits. Back then I was still shooting film and it was expensive to just shoot for fun while I was working for him. We started posting the images online to help others see how fun ATV racing was and hopefully grow the sport. The pictures were crap but the racing action started getting folks into hare scrambles and GNCC events. My kids raced so soon I was shooting all day and uploading to ATVriders.com all night. It was a ton of fun.Ã
What did it take for you to start focusing on that as your full-time gig?
When Harlen got involved with the ownership of the website, he called and said I needed to ditch the cheapo digital I had and invest in better digital equipment, because he had an idea! That idea was for both of us to cover national events starting with the GNCC series and the ATVMX series. We were both working full time jobs and both had families so it was non-stop work 7 days a week. Harlen went full time first and I followed him in 2007 when I retired from my day job.Ã
How tough is it to break into that side of the industry and be able to shoot as your main job?
For us, it wasn’t that hard because we were creating our own form of race coverage and building a clientele base from day one. Once we both committed ourselves full time, it was do or die so we just hit the road and airways so that we covered every national series in the United States. The work was rewarding, still is, and I don’t think we could be this far down the road if we didn’t enjoy what we do. With our success and the economy starting to tank, the industry soon looked to us for a high majority of their needs and that opened up more opportunities for us to expand. The hard part is earning enough to keep going in a retracting economy and market.Ã
Of course, that's not all you do, right?
From March until November it is all I do, there isn’t time for much else. Shooting the events, traveling, writing reports and press releases just sucks the free time straight away from you! Once the racing is over, I start powder coating frames and parts to try and keep the lights on. I also do wood turning, game calls, wooden bowls, just about anything to keep afloat until the next season starts.Ã
Out of it all, which do you have the most fun with?
I'd be lying if I said anything other than shooting wildlife.Ã
This year you also started shooting the bikes, what was it like adjusting to that side of things?
It’s been tough for me. Everyone said it was no different but to me it’s much different. Not the starts so much, or the podium and pit stuff, but the racing itself.
What are the biggest differences in the two?
I think the way each approach and exit an obstacle during a race is the biggest difference. A C class quad rider can hit a corner and look like a Pro, where a Pro bike rider can hit a corner and look like he is out for a Sunday joy ride. Learning what terrain will provide me with action for a bike has been what I notice the most as being different, as well as the angles needed to make a bike pop. You find a spot that makes most bike racers look like a rockstar and you're golden, if not you get a gallery full of boring and this year has a bunch of both, but I will figure it out! Of course the hotspot I find is usually in the worst lighting. I need Barry Hawk to get better at killer spots in great light (laughs)Ã
What exactly makes the "perfect photo"?
Techy aspects aside, any image that draws emotion, to me is perfect. The same with telling a story or any capture that draws you in and makes you feel like you’re right there at that moment. Sometimes perfect is an out of focus pit shot posted on Twitter by a mom of her kid. When I see one of my images that makes me look into that moment and think or feel what is going on, yeah, that's perfect.
If you could give 1 piece of advice to every person out there shooting photos of racers, what would it be?
If they are serious about any photography, read, practice, take a course at a local college or find a photography club. A small amount of study can make them better for a lifetime and that's just the basics. You nail down the basics and you will be amazed at what you can do. I get asked a lot at the races about tips from people, and there just isn't time to help them the way I'd like. Keep the sun over a shoulder and hammer away!Ã
So with the winter break in full swing, what all are you doing to occupy your time?
Hunting! Deer season, then on to bear season and finally Waterfowl. I pretty much hunt and eat whatever doesn't get me first, so far, I'm undefeated (laughs)
When will you get back into the normal routine of being at races?
I usually just have review work in the off season so racing will crank back up for me at round 1 in Florida.Ã
You also get to shoot a lot of different races too.
Usually I do several of the EDT flat track races but this year I wanted to focus on the Racer Productions side of things so I didn’t do much else. I've done some mud races and hill climbs, if it’s moving I’ll go and shoot it!Ã
How much time do you think you spend on the road?
Typically it is the same as the racers to and from the events. I get a few rounds that overlap so I try and sneak off into the mountains and marshes to photograph wildlife so I get a few runs where I am gone for a week at a time.
Alright, before we wrap this up, who would you like to thank?
The good Lord and my family first off. And as you can tell from above, I give a lot of credit to my friend Harlen who has sacrificed more than myself to keep us out there over the years, I couldn't have done it without him. Everyone at Racer Productions for their help this season, especially Barry Hawk who just loves to send me to the furthest point of every track! David Smith from Raceday Pix and his family treat me like one of their own at the races. We all have a job to do and while it may not always be perfect, we are all family so thanking just one person wouldn't be right! Heck, Barry's mom feeds me, the racers and their people are always handing me water and snacks, I could sit here all day and thank people and I appreciate everything!