Meet WRC Photographer - Michael Vettas
Photo credit: Michael Vettas

Meet WRC Photographer – Michael Vettas

Michael Vettas

Meet Michael Vettas, the man behind many of Hayden Paddon’s WRC photos that have been featured on this site.  Michael was kind enough recently to answer some questions about being a WRC photographer, and has also very kindly supplied a gallery of awesome images to look at.

How did you get into Rally Photography?
I always followed the WRC and ARC, not religiously.  I watched the occasional Channel 10 coverage, but wasn’t obsessed with it like I am now.  I took up photography in early 2007 and started shooting sports; tennis, AFL, hockey, and motorsport. I knew the media manager of the Australian Rally Championship at the time.  She knew I was doing a lot of track photography, V8 Supercars, and state level championships, and suggested I see if the magazines I was working with (Fast Fours and Rotaries and Hot4s), were interested in publishing stories on the ARC.  They jumped at the chance, and that was 6 going on 7 years ago.  Now it’s my life, so you could say I fell into it.

Having travelled to many events around the world, which would be one of your top Rallies to be at?
As at the end of 2014, I would say Rally Argentina and ERC Azores.  To be honest though, every WRC event so far has been a favourite for different reasons.  Argentina, probably just because it’s Argentina.  The crazy, passionate fans who will walk for hours in the freezing cold just to get up close to the WRC machines, and just how many of them there are.  It really is crazy and overwhelming. I also had never been to South America and within 4 months of getting the opportunity to shoot the WRC internationally, I was in Buenos Aires on my way to Rally Argentina.  ERC Azores is up there as well, purely for how absolutely stunning the island of Sao Miguel in the Azores is.  I have never been anywhere so green and breath-taking, and the rally stages are just superb and the Portuguese people are just so friendly.

How challenging are the different environments (from the cold of Sweden, or dust from Australia) on your equipment?
I haven’t done an ice rally yet so I can’t really compare.  But to be honest, covering the ARC is a pretty good comparison to differing environments.  Going to Western Australia, and even Rally Australia where it hits 30+’C occasionally, to South Australia where it has been as cold as -2 and -3, both conditions offer their challenges on gear.  The heat has only been an issue once, where my camera shut down.  Thankfully it wasn’t during a rally.  In the cold the biggest issue is condensation, so I would often sit in the car with the aircon on cold just before I get out with my gear so the gear can acclimatize to the temperature.  Then when you get out, leave it out of the bag for a while before shooting.  The biggest issue is more on yourself, and physically, the big thing is just to be prepared.  Shooting in the heat can be draining, and in some instances having to walk 5-7km each way (I have done that a few times) with 20+kg on your back isn’t exactly comfortable, but it’s rewarding when you capture an amazing image.  Then being in the cold, you have to rug up and more often than not, the cold soon disappears so you have to strip back again or wear -2’C clothing in 20’C heat.

How important has social media become to a professional photographer?
It’s a daily routine now, just like getting up and showering and having breakfast.  My daily routine is while eating breakfast, I write a future blog entry and prepare images for Instagram and Google+.  It’s one of those things.  You just have to do it.  Make it part of your routine.  Facebook has lost a bit of its power and reach, but the rest are imperative.  It’s all about having a presence and slowly building an audience.  It’s really rewarding when you see your hits go up or followers increase.  At the moment, my big focus is on Instagram and seeing the hard work paying off and having people engage in conversation and talking about your work.

How did you get involved with WRC duo Hayden Paddon and John Kennard?
I had seen Hayden competing in Australia a few times.  I think the big moment was when he won the PWRC in 2011 and I had an entire article published just on his win with my images being published in Motorsport News, and then in 2013 he competed in a Skoda. When I found out about my plans for 2014  and then found out a Kiwi was competing, he was as good as an Aussie 😉  I honestly just emailed his team and expressed interest, then met them in Sardinia.  We chatted a bit more, and they hired me for Rally Australia.  They then decided to go the full season with me and my guys for 2015.  I am a big believer in persistence.  Not to the point of pestering, but to a point where a potential client has to take notice.  I wouldn’t be where I am today without persistence.

What is you favourite image of Hayden (so far) and why?
It’s probably my first shot of him in Sardinia during Shakedown.  I was talking to a colleague just before he came out, about his driving style, and I said he will really throw this car and well, the first corner and he was out more sideways then anyone else.  That’s probably the most memorable.  There is also a portrait I have of him through his little window (I don’t know the real name ahhaha) in deep thought.  You can see the pressure and strain on his face, and you can almost read his mind.

What are your favourite WRC images you’ve taken to date and why?
That’s tough, how about 3 🙂 There are 3 or 4 that stand out from 2014.
An image from Rallye de France.  This was taken during shakedown.  Most photographers love lines, and at the same time we hate clutter.  Well, I know I do.  So in motorsport, a way to remove clutter is either move positions, get down low, get up high, or slow shutter speed pan, and really slow shutter, like 1/50th and below. For me, images that stand out are the ones I have seen before I have taken them, and this was one.  The shakedown stage is held in the streets of Strasbourg in Germany.  For most of the course the cars travel over tram lines.  I was able to get to an elevated position and pan the cars as they drove past.  The lines on the road are created from the tram lines as well as the grass and footpath, they all flow in perfect symmetry, a pattern of sorts, well perfect straight lines, giving the feeling of speed. A friend of mine (he is a RedBull Photographer), likened the image to the style of shots you see in the Formula 1.  We don’t often get these sorts of lines, so to be able to create this was something special and standout for me.

The second and third images were from Rallye de Espana (Rally Spain).  They both happened without much planning – just one of those ‘moment’ type images that just presents itself. The first one was during the SSS on the streets of Salou.  It was late afternoon and I could see the image before I even took it. Salou is right on the water and it was late afternoon golden light, the cars where coming around a hairpin, but I couldn’t get to it, I was blocked by a 2m high fence, I knew the shot I wanted so pre-focused, stuck the camera over the fence and fired, basically its a silhouette with palm tress, a sliding car, beautiful golden light, and with people in the background.  It’s just the image I had envisaged that just shows off Salou and the event perfectly for me. The third was also in Spain.  I had made plans to shoot a particular corner but because of traffic and the police who wouldn’t let accredited tabard media through (even though we were meant to be allowed in), I had to give away the spot.  My backup was the end of the same stage.  It was more of a scenic type shot showing off the area.  There was an old building with trees around it and some vineyards, and well, it was my last resort.  The only thing at the time I really thought I had going for the shot was that the light would be pretty good.  It was still early, and the sun would be low and would give off a great early morning colour.  Little did I know that the medical helicopter would land practically right on top of me, and I was able to use the chopper in a number of shots while it was on the ground.  It wasn’t an action shot, but it was just a unique shot and nobody else was there to get it 😉 Bonus! 🙂

There is also one more that’s worth noting which was also in Spain during shakedown in early morning light.  I was warned by another photographer where the sun would come up and to stick around a certain area, and I am glad I did.  The sun peeked over the horizon and through bushes creating golden rays as the cars drove the stage, not to mention the silhouette that was created of the crowd lining the stage.  Yet another image that I envisaged before I captured it.

To most of us it sounds like a dream job, travelling the world, taking images of the WRC.  What is the biggest downside to this lifestyle?
It is a dream job.  It’s super rewarding and I am getting to do two things I love most in the world, shooting, well three, shooting, shooting the WRC and the best drivers on the planet, and travelling.  Of course the downsides are quite major.  Most importantly is being away from family, and two is the expense.  It’s not cheap covering the WRC – especially from Australia.  This year I will be away pretty much the entire months of May, June, July and August, then again in September and October, and then again in November and December.  I am home for about 3 full weeks from the beginning of May till close to the end of December.  I have a very understanding partner and we just try and make the most of the time we have together when I am around.  Fingers crossed this year she will come with me at the end of the year for a bit of a holiday after the last rally in Wales.  In terms of the expenses, well as an example, covering 2 rounds which is essentially one trip to Europe, just the rally expenses are as high as $6500, so when you do the math, this year I am covering 7 overseas rounds and it isn’t cheap.  Luckily for me I am working with some great companies and great people who make it all possible.

Some of Michael's gear from last year
Some of Michael’s gear from last year

How much kit do you carry into the stages?
It all depends really, each rally is different.  I am known for taking way too much stuff, but generally it’s 2 camera bodies, 3 lenses and maybe up to 5, and a few other bits and pieces, flashes, pocket wizards, tripod.

What’s the one bit of kit you can’’t do without and why?
Funnily enough nowadays it’s probably my iPhone.  There are some apps on there that are extremely helpful, things like Sun Seeker, Photo Pills and The Photographers Ephemeris, which all help with positions of the sun at certain times of the day.  It’s all about the perfect light, so having the ability to know pretty accurately where the sun position will be at what times makes a lot of difference when you are planning your positions.  Other than that, probably my Leatherman, which has helped.  Ahh … let’s just say sometimes trees get in the way 😉

What else are you involved in other than the WRC?
I cover the ARC and have done for 6 years now.  I am the official photographer for most of the teams now, and outside that, I cover the local AFL league in Sydney which I have been involved in since I started photography. I also shoot a lot of adventure fitness sports for a few companies in Sydney – things like the Tough Mudders and Spartan Series.  And when I can, I shoot Mountain Bike racing.  I love Mountain Bike events.  I liken them to rallying but just on a smaller scale and on two wheels.  I wish I had more time to shoot more Mountain Bike events.

With so much travelling and photography, what do you like to do to relax?
Believe it or not photography is relaxing for me!  I have gone back to my roots and am shooting a lot of landscapes again.  There is nothing like getting up at 5am to shoot a sunrise.  I am also an Olympus Australia Ambassador, so love using my OM-D EM1 to shoot landscapes and travetorial (I just made that up hahah) photography.  Other than that, spending quality time with Brenda (my partner), and well, I am obsessed with YouTube.  It’s such a time waster, but I can just numb out and have a laugh.

Take a moment to have a good look at these awesome images Michael has sent in:

Don’t forget to check out the other cool images Michael takes on his website :

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