The Craft of Shooting Auto Racing

Cinematographer Chris Ortenburger is no stranger to racing. It was, after all, the reason he began shooting in the first place. “I am a former racer myself who once had dreams of making it to the top levels of motorsport as a driver,” he said. “I knew having video of myself as a driver that looked professional would give me a marketing advantage, so that naturally meant learning the vocabulary and characteristics to better ask for the footage I needed.”

It wasn’t long after that when other drivers began asking him to shoot them in action as well. With that, a new career was born.

From his beginnings as a driver looking for good footage of himself, Ortenburger has evolved to the big leagues of racing, automotive and action sports, and now with his company <em>Flying Lap Media</em>, he works with clients such as GT World Challenge America, Fanatec, BMW North America, CrowdStrike Racing and International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) to name a few. He recently shot footage at the Rolex 24 At Daytona as well as the season opener for the NTT IndyCar Series in St. Petersburg, Florida.

What’s most critical for Ortenburger’s kit, in addition to high quality, is portability, and he concluded, “My workflow means traveling with my equipment, and I always carry it on the airplane. That forces me to be selective in what I bring to any given shoot. I would never say gear doesn’t matter, but for me it’s simply an amplifier to the general thought or vision you are bringing to life. The real power and value in something even as simple as the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K, which I shoot with a lot, is hard to comprehend. My two cents worth of advice on gear, though, would be to use whatever camera you choose honestly, wisely and with heartfelt passion. The rest will sort itself out naturally.”

In the modern media world, Ortenburger is faced with multiple deliverables, and keeping aware of what you need to shoot for different platforms is a key element to his success. “Love or hate vertical video content, it’s here to stay. Much of the paid work we do requires creating vertical content for daily social delivery, followed by a horizontal, more historically cinematic version at the end. Previously, this created a conundrum around how to capture the footage.” For this reason, Ortenburger recently tested out the Blackmagic Cinema Camera 6K as a full frame sensor option to his kit.  “The open gate option gives tremendous flexibility in using a single shot for a variety of aspect ratios. We can get a full frame image and then crop in post to the desired size, whereas before we had to shoot the same clip twice, once in portrait and once in landscape.”

Flying Lap Media has become a key player in action sports cinematography, with its unique focus on both the sport as well as the humanity behind it. With the manic pace of a race weekend at any level, Ortenburger finds he must react quickly in any situation. “Everything we shoot at a race is ‘run and gun,’ which means we’re always relying on natural light. Often we have to carry our gear on our backs for the entire day. So, the lightweight form factor of smaller cinema cameras is ideal for a long day of filming. This style of filmmaking can perhaps be best summed up by being able to quickly adapt and change to whatever is unfolding in front of you.”

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