Veteran Getty photographer Chris Graythen details new routine as NASCAR returns to action May 17 following coronavirus shutdown.
When Getty’s Chris Graythen returns to work at Darlington Raceway on May 17 everything will be different for the 15 year veteran of NASCAR photography. With sports like the UFC and now NASCAR slowly return to action, it means big changes will have to be made with the way photographers cover their sports, Graythen’s return to live NASCAR events is no different.
“Things will be different for a while and you know we’re learning to work with a mask on and learning how not to fog up the camera and learning how to, you know, just operate what’s right in front of my eyes is going to be, I think, a challenge. One of my favorite things is really wide angle close up photography and trying to put the viewers as close to the subject as possible. And that’s not something that we can do right now. So I’m already sort of trying to limit my lens choices, use a little bit longer lens to keep myself from just getting in and getting that picture. Like I’m used to doing.”
Even though things will be different it’s a welcome change if it means people can begin getting back to work with live sports returning.
“Trust me, everyone that works it in this industry is really looking forward to getting back at it,” he said. “You know we’ve been lucky on the NASCAR side of things that we’ve had the Esports racing that they’ve been doing on a weekly basis. And so in some ways for the last couple of weeks, I’ve been photographing that through the computer. And they’re getting about a million views a week on that, which is good. And so I’ve kind of been able to keep some of the creative ideas flowing on that by shooting the in the computer. But once you get back onto the track and once you get back out there, it’s, it’s going to be a very welcome feeling.”
Graythen says he wasn’t a motorsports fan before he began covering the sport but couldn’t help to fall in love with it over the last decade.
“I kind of fell in love with motorsport honestly,” he said. “Motorsports is very pretty, very photographic. It’s colorful. It’s fun. And like MMA, it’s an experience. It’s the environment and the noise and there’s so much to it that you know only live sports bring and especially motorsports because it’s so loud and the smells and you know everything that you get there.”
It’s those moments that as fans, we cherish. With no fans in attendance, it will be even more important for the photographers to capture those things.
“Photography is is vitally important as you know, without having the fans. They’re trying to bring, not just the imagery that they see on TV because we want to capture the wrecks and we want to capture the highlights in the moments, in the pretty pictures. I mean Darlington, the first race, is known for its sunsets. We also want to be able to bring those little moments and there’s little things that only we as photographers can see and bring those to the people that can’t be there.”
Some of the key moments that Graythen loves photographing, such as victory lane, will look different this time around and no one really knows exactly what will happen yet.
“We love the action and we love everything that goes on in the race. It’s either just before the race and we’re talking just minutes before the race sort of between the anthem and when the race starts because that’s the only moment that the driver has kinda to themselves and their family and you know those are great to capture or after victory lane is done because victory lane is very much a process in NASCAR.”
The potential loss of those key moments won’t stop Graythen from finding something else to bring to the fans.
“We’re still looking for the little things that make these guys human and make these guys the personalities that they are.”
There is, of course, the very real fear of the COVID-19 pandemic which is still very much active in the United States. Just last week an athlete and two coaches contracted the virus while competing at UFC 249 in Jacksonville, FL. Also, last month famed sports photographer Anthony Causi died from coronavirus after returning home from covering Spring Training. This is a fear that Graythen has faced already as he’s been working through the near-nationwide shutdown.
“I’ve been at this for 15 years,” he said. “And for me, I started off my career in New Orleans doing news and doing hurricane coverage, and that is a completely different situation, but again, it’s very dangerous. And I think I learned a lot. Take the proper precautions. Don’t put yourself in danger for a picture. Know your limits and that’s kept me safe for now. I don’t have any reservations about going. I think NASCAR’s doing a good job getting us prepared and keeping people safe. For the last couple of weeks outside of the Esports, I’ve been shooting news the entire time. So I’ve been covering protests news coverage for seven weeks now.”
NASCAR returns with the NASCAR Cup Series Race at Darlington Raceway on May 17 and May 20.
You can find Graythen’s work on Getty.com or on his Instagram.