Career Insight - Patrick Gosling - Motorsport Photographer

An image of Patrick Gosling Patrick started his career as a junior in a photography department servicing a number of different publications covering such diverse subjects as gardening, fishing, steam trains and many more. There was one subject though that Patrick began to specialise in very quickly, motorcycles. Within 6 years Patrick was working for himself and travelling to all of the races on the grand prix calendar. In our interview Patrick tells us how he progressed to become a specialist working with many of the motorsport World's leading sponsers and motoring brands.

How did your photography interest begin?
Whilst at school we had an option to learn photography and darkroom technique one afternoon a week, this was an alternative to CCF (Combined Cadet Force) or ‘Granny Bashing’. I’d had enough of CCF so took the option. (Interestingly, having shot full bore 303 cal. rifle for the school shooting team, seemed to give me an instant ability to work steady with really long lenses.)

You were in your teens when you started in the photographic World. What got you your break as a trainee?
I left school after my O Levels and went to Lincoln College of Art to do a 2 Year foundation course in General Art & Design, the course had a small amount of photography, but not enough to keep me there for 2 years. After completing the first year, I saw an advert in our local paper looking for a Junior Photographer/Darkroom Technician at EMAP National Publications in Peterborough (Now Bauer Media) – One of the country’s largest magazine publishers. I joined them in September 1981 aged 17.

Nissan Nismo Your early career was all about covering general subjects such as gardens and trains. How did you move in to specialising in motorcycles?
The EMAP photographic department I joined looked after the needs of a dozen or-so magazines, varied titles such as Garden News, Steam Railway, Horse & Pony, Trout & Salmon, Motorcycle Mechanics, Dirt Bike Rider and Fleet News. My role early on was to process the B&W films shot by the journalists who did their own photographs to illustrate their stories. This was one of the most valuable lessons I ever learnt. Working with terribly under or over exposed negs, trying to salvage a print worthy of publication taught me everything about the importance of getting it right in camera. The 2 absolute basics which ultimately make a shot worth keeping, exposure and focus. Remember this is years before Photoshop could help drag a poorly exposed shot back from the brink of disaster. If they got it wrong in camera, it was down to me, or the supremely talented career darkroom technicians who taught me so much, who had to try to save the story.

How did you move to specialist agent Zooom?
The EMAP photographic department was pared down two years after I started, I had just been made a staff photographer and given a company Ford Cortina 1.3L. I was offered the chance to freelance for all the publications I was previously staffing for, and bearing in mind I was being paid £80 a week but being charged out at £80 a day, it was an easy decision. I began freelancing mainly for EMAP's motorcycle titles and covered my first motorcycle Grand Prix on a commission form Motor Cycle News in 1985. In 1986 I bought a VW camper and travelled to all the European races that season for MCN, shooting B&W neg film and handing over the exposed rolls to the MCN journalist who’d fly them home on Sunday after the race. In 1987 I embarked on my first full season of the Grand Prix championships, and travelled for the first time to all the long-haul races, Japan, Australia, USA, Brazil and so on.

At the start of 1988 I was asked by Suzukl to work with their sponsor Pepsi. At this point I realised I needed to learn how to manage a sponsors’ needs rather than an editorial clients’. Zooom Photographic were a well regarded Formula One agency based in Fulham whit the infrastructure to handle the mass printing and slide duplication required to service a sponsor like Pepsi. I approached the Directors of Zooom and we did a deal where I joined them and brought the Pepsi business along. Me doing the photography and the agency handling the production and distribution.

Patrick's bike shot Can you compare working at a specialist agency to your earlier career?
Working as part of a big agency gave me access to the work of all the other photographers working on different aspects of motorsport. We’d all fly home from races on Sunday night, drop off our dozens of rolls of Fuji Velvia for the overnight E6 shift to process. Monday morning was spent hunched over massive light-boxes, all of us making our selection; cutting out the individual killer transparencies and mounting and captioning the best. We’d then arrange out selection over the light-box, around 250 transparencies and we’d all look at each-other’s work and critique. This was an incredibly valuable experience. We all learned and grew.

At what point did you decide to work for yourself?
For the next few years, with Zooom, as well as motorcycle racing, I covered the World Sportscar Championship with Silk Cut Jaguar, British Touring Cars, European Formula 3000 and Formula One. In 1992 I decided to leave Zooom and return to concentrating on Motorcycles, but carried on working from their Fulham offices, taking advantage of their processing and production facilities. During that time I approached my biggest competitor in bike photography, David Goldman, and suggested we form an agency. There was limited clients and the obvious solution to us competing was to join forces. In 1993 Gold&Goose was formed and over the next 9 years we covered Grand Prix, World Superbikes, British Superbikes and worked for most manufacturers covering new model launches all over the World. One year, my wife reminds me, I was away working 42 weekends.

How does that compare to working as an employee?
The main issue I had with being employed was the need to go into an office even on days when there was nothing to do. Being paid to sit around twiddling my thumbs didn’t compute, I was so used to the don’t work don’t earn mentality, I felt much more comfortable being my own motivator.

Ron Dennis of McLaren Is self-employment/freelancing in the creative industries for everyone?
There’s no doubt there is a fear that in quiet periods you begin to believe you’ll never work again. I still have weeks when there are no bookings and little on the horizon, but this always passes. I now practice reassuring myself by looking at the year as a whole, and generally year on year things are better than the previous year. Luckily I now run a small agency with a fantastic team of freelance photographers who take on additional work I can’t fit in, and support me on big launch events and race weekends. This takes the pressure off me and allows us to develop relationships with a more varied client base, and run multiple commissions at the same time.

"Under promise and over deliver and never screw-up!" What are the critical skills for specialising in motor vehicles and motorsport?
I’m still asked regularly if I enjoy motorsport, of course I do and I have always felt that I’m in a privileged position to be the eyes of those not fortunate enough to attend the races in person. You have to understand how to work a race weekend, ensuring you cover all aspects of your client's brief. For example, making sure you have enough material from practice and qualifying that if your team have a disaster and crash out on the first lap, there are still assets to tell a story. The biggest skill for any photographer is learning to look. Look at the frame as a whole, isolate what’s important and make sure there are no distractions. Make your shots have impact. Either by composition, or strong technique. You are there on merit and your images should be better, more creative and tell better stories that anyone else’s.

Please describe a typical week for you.
There is no routine and very few weeks are the same. If I’m covering a race championship, this season I’m working in the Blancpain GT Series with Nissan and McLaren, I travel to the race on Thursday, shoot Friday Saturday and Sunday then fly home Sunday night having processed all the images and delivered them to the client immediately post-race. Speed of delivery is vital as most clients are looking to distribute their stories via social media platforms almost as live. Once back in the UK, I’ll work on the admin side of running the agency, estimating, invoicing and paying my freelance team. Hopefully there’ll be a shoot mid-week to keep me off the sofa!

Heikki Kovalainen How do you deal with the constant travelling?
Even after all these years I still love the travel. I love flying off and arriving somewhere I’ve been to many times before, I get a buzz out of knowing the best routes to and from the circuits, getting to a track I’ve shot at many times before and challenging myself to find that new shot, or try to find a shot someone else found which I missed last time… Worst part of the travel is the return journey from airport to home, it’s never fast enough.

There must be a lot of competition for your kind of work. How do you keep in front of the queue?
I’m baffled myself. All I can think is that of my many mantras the most important has always been – Under promise and over deliver and never screw-up!

Being self-employed can mean always being on the hunt for new business. How do you deal with this?
I hope this doesn’t sound arrogant, but I have never actively searched for new business. I really believe that if you are professional the work will find you. I would never try to compete on price, as you should earn business on merit and never by being cheap. If you loose a client you have to accept that things change and you shouldn’t beat yourself up, unless you lost the work by letting yourself down.

You make video available to your clients, do you enjoy filming?
I don’t do video but commission video production on behalf of some clients as another aspect of the agency.

What do you see in the future for commercial photographers and filmmakers?
Personally I don’t imagine much will change, there’s still a need to skilled experienced photographers to come in and work quickly and accurately. The equipment evolves, and the way you work may change, but there’s no substitute for being able to see the picture and executing the brief.

What was the best business advice you were ever given?
Under promise and over deliver…but most importantly never screw-up.

Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to shoot fast moving vehicles for a living?
It’s a very difficult business to break into. Two main hurdles are affording the equipment and getting accreditation from the sporting organisers to allow you to practice your craft. Practice is crucial as is studying other pictures. Honestly my advice would be create a simple but striking folio of pictures, create your own style, rather than carbon copying everyone else, and try to find a mentor or agency who’ll give you a chance, perhaps as a digital tech.

All images © Patrick Gosling and used with permission.

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