6.5 Things I Learned as a Privateer Photographer at The Ranch

The Slaw has been in the industry for a LONG TIME—over 15 or so years in fact. And before the Boomer jokes begin, I was young when I started, so get the f out with Boomer stuff. Anyway, I always get questions about how to get started in the industry. It’s pretty simple: work your ass off, make connections, work even more, and produce good shit. Rinse and repeat. One person that stuck out to us at Loretta Lynn’s this year was Jeff Simpson. He was full on privateer status and was straight crushing content: photos, videos, etc. So, we asked him to write about his experiences. And he crushed that. Give Jeff a follow on YouTube and IG to support him.

Wholly sh*t we made it! With hell week now a full week behind us and elbow deep in editing I wanted to share some of my thoughts, experiences and advice to those looking to break into the moto industry as a photographer/videographer as I myself am trying to do the same. Let’s crack some Claws™ and dig in.

1. This Sh*t Isn’t for Everyone

If dodging teens in golf carts ripping around looking to lose their virginity while you are playing literal frogger with your life savings strapped to your back doesn’t sound fun, Loretta’s isn’t for you. Yes, I know, that sounds about as cliché as it gets, but it’s the truth! It is some damn hard work as a photo/video bro (or woman) running around the infield of The Ranch in the infamous heat and humidity from the first to the last gate drop. Look toward the team managers tower at any point of the week and find one of us passed out in the sliver of shade it provides.

Mix in running to the media tent (thank you MX Sports/Monster) to grab a drink and a quick seat on the ever glorious moto off or running through the pits to AirDrop content to clients there are a TON of miles logged (50+), and for me unfortunately it was all by foot. Once the last moto has concluded the mad rush back to the campsite begins to get content dialed in for release the following morning. The usual race day at The Ranch is as follows:

5:30am – Alarm goes off.
6:30-7:00am – Arrive at track.
7:30am – First gate drop.
1:00pm – Intermission, grab food, drink, AirDrop content, edit photos, ice ankle in river, psych yourself back up for the second half of the day.
1:30pm – Start running around again
6:00pm – Last gate drop
7:30pm – Leave track
7:45pm-1:30am: Offload memory cards, take shower, slam some Claws™ and edit until you either pass out from said Claws or just sheer exhaustion.
5:30am – Start all over again.

It’s not for the faint of heart but would we really have it any other way? Nah.

2. It Isn’t Free.

Coming to the Ranch this year I had some work lined up but nothing that was willing to pay any actual expenses. I was on the hook for everything. Yes, including the $258 to park at the track all week. I chose to stay off site at the KOA off of I-40 which proved to be a tale of two sides.

The Good:
-Cheaper rates with decent amenities and of course the ever-needed electrical hook up for tent AC.
-Getting away from all of the riff raff that makes Loretta’s the experience what it is.
-Not having to dodge kids in their parents RZR all weekend.

The Bad:
-Sleeping in a tent for nine nights.
-Not getting the full Loretta’s experience with said riff raff.
-Missing out on those baller early morning shots the Vurb boys captured as the fog was lifting from the hills of Hurricane Mills.
-In general just missing out on all the little things happening pre and post-race.

Next year I will be making an effort to stay at the track.

Cost Breakdown:
Camping:  $277
Parking:    $258
Fuel:           $125
Rentals:      $555
Food/Misc: $225

Approx total: $1440 out of pocket.

Now I am fully aware racers and parents attending this race are dropping a whole lot more than that, but for the privateer photog, it’s not cheap! Plus, the wear and tear on thousands of dollars worth of camera equipment.

Remember that next time you screenshot your local photographers’ photos off of his website because you didn’t want to pay the $5 for the download while racing a $12k dirt bike with a $500 helmet and $600 pair of boots on. Pay the couple bucks, it goes a long way.

Jeff sleep in this for nine days!
Jeff’s set up for the week.

3. The Equipment

This part isn’t quite relatable for most people, especially if you are not into photo or video but humor me for a little bit, I’ll bring it full circle back to moto terms.

DO NOT SKIMP ON YOUR EQUIPMENT THIS WEEK! There I said it, all caps even. Bring your whole set up with you! Do racers show up with half of their gear to The Ranch?! Didn’t think so. This week is not the time to be coming to The Ranch half-cocked, it’s full send or stay home.

As noted earlier I did sleep in a tent all nine nights.

Now you may be wondering, you said don’t skimp so why are you sleeping in a tent? Thankfully the tent choice was by design. I used a 12-person Instant Tent from Sam’s Club which allowed more than enough room for a full editing station (photo below), air mattress, gear bag, cooler for the Claws™, and the air conditioner. I always had the idea in my head of bringing my entire editing setup with me on the road and the 10 days of LL was the perfect experiment—it was just like being home! It worked out better than I would have even thought and helped the workflow out significantly versus editing all week on a 13” MacBook Pro.

As far as actual equipment goes, the list is as follows.

-Sony A7III Main.
-Sony A6600 for back up.
-GoPro Hero 8 Black.

Just like a bringing a backup bike, if shit goes sideways in practice and you brought one bike, your week is f*cked. I’ve shot on the A7III quite a bit and is an absolute balling on a budget dream camera, just ask Tommy Tenders. The A6600 is no slouch in its own right, although a crop sensor camera it packs a punch for both photo and video. Never go on any big trip without a backup camera of some sort.

-G Master 70-200mm f/2.8.
-G Master 18-105mm f/4.
-Sony FE 50mm f/1.8.

Just like your Lit Kit™ Setup, I try not to show up with just one lens. Having a variety of focal lengths at your disposal is always a plus. I have found these three to be a good mix without spending gobs and gobs of money.

-DJI Mavic Air 2.

Like running a pair of Tech 7’s, there better boots out there but why spend all of the budget in that category when these work just as well for a fraction of the price. This is the best drone for the money, hands down. Half the price of the Mavic 2 Pro but can squeeze out similar quality content.

-DJI Ronin S.

You may not always end up using it but when those situations arise and it’s called up, it always delivers as promised.

-Macbook Pro 13” 2020.

I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about this thing. I purchased it right when it dropped a couple months ago and honestly haven’t been that impressed. I will forever be waiting for that one update to come through that will change my mind. Kinda like Suzuki still running a kickstart, the potential is there but something continues to be missing.

As a racer you never show up to The Ranch with nothing less than the best your budget would allow for, the crazy people running around the infield all week are on the same program. Which brings me to my next topic.

Photo: Jeff Simpson

4. Content Creator > Camera Equipment

This one is short and sweet. Much like the bike vs. rider debate, producing good content doesn’t always lie in the equipment, it is almost always the person steering the ship. Walking around the infield you will see a bit of everything, from sub $1,000 camera set ups to the full factory rigs Wes runs around with and everything in between. Personally, I LOVE seeing that. Seeing the different levels of progression going on from the first timers to the wily veterans is what makes photo/video so rad as an industry. We all started somewhere! Don’t ever think just because you don’t have the hottest, newest shit means your videos or photos won’t turn out, do the absolute best with what you have and you will be surprised.

Photo: Jeff Simpson

5. Stop Hating. We All Have a Place

Another short and sweet topic. As Slaw Dog said last week “F*** you if you are hating!”. Something I learned early on in this game is that everyone has a style and every style has a place. I know there are some people who have seen my stuff and weren’t fans. That’s totally fine with me, it should be fine with you too as a content creator. Not all of us can appease everybody so don’t take it to heart if someone starts talking shit. Embrace it, send them toward someone’s content who you think they might actually enjoy. We are all here trying to eat the same pie, don’t be a dick.

Photo: Jeff Simpson

6. Put Yourself Out There!

This is probably the biggest takeaway all week. I wouldn’t be sitting here a few Claws™ deep typing this out had I not done this myself. As content creators we have to stop talking about the send it life and actually start sending it. Sending that shit to anyone and everyone. From your local car detail shop (my first paid gig) to actual commercial accounts, SEND IT! For me the best learning was on the set, be it a motocross track or a local business.

If you haven’t yet, go back and listen to the Racer X podcast Wes did with Jason Weigandt and Kevin Kelly. They take a deep dive into the start of MX Sports Center in ‘05 which helped birth vurbmoto, Moto Spy, Weege’s commentating career, DMXS Radio, etc. That happened all on a promise Wes made without knowing how to actually pull it off in the moment. That is what being a content creator is all about, getting your shot (see what I did there). You have to put yourself out there, more than likely way over your head, and make shit happen! Yes, we all fumble at times, shoot I fumbled something while at The Ranch last week, but I made some adjustments on the fly and made the most of it and bounced right the f*ck back. (Nothing like a $2,400 Lens locking up 30 minutes prior practice on Monday.)

Now more than ever companies want/need photographers and videographers to promote their companies but don’t know where to even start looking for a “budget friendly option”. Slide in them DM’s! I have seen your work out there moto industry photogs; y’all can use a camera proper, do some side work at some in-between race weekends. Shit offer a free photo session or one min Instagram length video clip as a risk free option. You will be surprised at the amount of work you can get from it, and hey if not, you gained some commercial experience to bring to the next client or the track.

I know this is getting a little serious for a 6.5 Things article but at the end of the day we all just want to make a living using our cameras.

Ok, back to the fun stuff!

Photo: Jeff Simpson

6.5. The Ranch is as Advertised.

Wholly sh*t! That about all you can say some nights around The Ranch, especially as the week comes to a close and peoples give a f*ck has dropped off the face of the Earth. At one point I found myself bounced out of a golf cart somewhere between turn 1 and 2 on the track at the end of the week. There may or may not be a tow strap hooked to a picnic table somewhere on the property (don’t ask, we had big plans, ok!) The amount of golf carts with what seems like 12-year old’s driving around is staggering. Keep that head on a swivel, son!

The sport is on the kale smoothie diet, healthy AF. With the furthest people parking three miles from the track you could say the sport is healthier than it’s been in a while. Now that could be the COVID-19 lockdown talking but man there were a lot of people there this year! Several moments throughout the weekend I looked around in awe at the amount of money it takes to get to The Ranch. Motorhomes, campers, trucks, dirtbikes, traveling to the Regionals, I mean hell the list really never ends. What other sport in a time like this is still running as well as it ever has? I couldn’t come up with any.

The magic that is Loretta’s Lynn’s Dude Ranch. Growing up we always heard about that “magic” but until you’ve experienced it, you really don’t have a clue. There is just something about that place that makes shit happen. Making new friends, meeting new people, gaining new clients, life changing rides on the track throughout the week, we could go on for days. It’s that magic that keeps each and every one of us busting our asses through the Areas and Regionals to get to The Ranch each and every year. Yes, a lot of the privateer photogs hit all of the same races you do every year. So next time you see us walking around in our media vest eight hours deep at the track, say hi!

Fun stats from the week that was:
-Miles Driven From MI: 1650 miles around trip
-Cinnabon’s Eaten: 6ish
-Claws™ Consumed: ~36.
-Batteries Cycled: 22
-Video Clips Taken: 1147
-Photos Taken: 578. It was a video heavy week.
-# of AC Lines in the Jetta That Failed: 1
-Stress Fractured Ankles: 1
-Memory Card Total: Approx 700gb.
-The price of being back at The Ranch in 2020: Priceless.

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Written by Slaw Dog

Just a dog trying to find my special bun.

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