When I flew to France to shoot the 2018 24 Hours of Le Mans, it was more than just a work assignment; it was a life goal. Less than two years ago, I decided to quit a much more lucrative career to pursue my passion, rather than just sporadically doing photography as a paying hobby. It was a big risk, but now I’ve completed the bucket list, and I keep wondering one thing: what’s next for me?

Plenty of times in the past week, there has been mention of my photography bucket list. I never really talk about my career publicly, as I push myself hard, and judge my own work harshly.

I knew if I was going to do photography full-time, there was no other way to go but all-in. In making that transition, I had to truly accomplish something if I wanted to feel like it was all worth it.

And having done Le Mans, now, I find myself looking back on my work and how I got to that point.

I Got A Taste

When I first started motorsports photography five years ago, I was lucky to get thrown a credential by a good friend to shoot a race at Circuit of The Americas. I was quickly hooked, and wanted to do it more. My work schedule gave me some flexibility, so I decided I could work my client times out to where I’d be able to pop off to COTA when a big race came to Austin.

That wasn’t enough. I had dabbled enough, and I wanted to go pro. This is no easy feat. It takes a ton of hustle, an understanding that you’re out there pushing in a space where there are thousands of others doing a much better job than you for way bigger clients, and that you’re going to be stepping on some toes at first.

If I wanted to truly compare, I had to bust my ass, take on bigger challenges, and establish some goals. A simple list at first: Cover F1, MotoGP, and WEC. See if you learn a bit. Then came the first few shots and assignments I wanted.

I was lucky to have friends at Red Bull, and they give me my first big stage. They have plenty of photographers at their disposal, but they saw some potential.

“Who else can I shoot for?”

I picked up a client through a friend at a local magazine. They hooked me up with credential assignment letters, I fed them some shots, and I pushed my skill set. I didn’t think I was good enough to start billing yet, but a few of my clients disagreed. Go do more. Push some boundaries. Learn something.

Then I bugged a friend at Red Bull, and asked how they took on shooters. The process is complicated, but they said they’d try me out... on the biggest stage in their book: F1. I had attended a few races, but never thought I’d see the day when I’d have that coveted FIA credential around my neck. I thought I made some ground that week. Covered a ton of shots, got some good feedback, and knew I had to get better.

Maybe Try More

With one F1 race under my belt, I knew I had to shoot more series. I wanted to get tested to change things up. New cars (and bikes) mean new challenges. Then there was MotoGP, followed IMSA, WEC, and a few track days.

Friends In High-ish Places

Patrick and I had briefly met through former Jalopnik editor Matt Hardigree, and then got to know each other a bit more at his wedding. Jalopnik was always a big deal to me, and I wanted to shoot for the site. After we did burnouts on PG’s wedding day, he asked if I’d like to do some work. I jumped at the chance.

We did a couple reviews of some damn fun cars, and I tried out shooting a couple races. By far, this relationship would prove to be the biggest opener of doors for my career, and I stepped my game up once again.

Patrick and I had beers together on a regular basis, and over one of those $1 white trash cans nights at Black Sheep Lodge, I told him I wanted to start accomplishing something.

The Bucket List Begins

Many would do unspeakable things to get the access I had already been granted, but I wasn’t going to settle. I wanted to cover the biggest races on the planet, and get the full access to shoot everywhere.

Trackside, garages, pit lane, you name it. 24-hour stuff? Yeah. Bigger, better reviews? Those too. Here’s the spread of shots I always wanted to take.

Now What Do I Do?

Completing the list, by finishing up Le Mans leaves me wondering what the hell to do next. I’ve transitioned away from doing as much racing coverage in 2018 as I have in the past few years, putting an emphasis on fast car reviews, and I’ve loved that move. Am I going to stop covering racing? I don’t know yet. Maybe.

What people don’t see is the less-than-glamorous life of spending long stopovers in airport terminals, waiting for shuttles to get to the track and around it, eating really horrible for you food because that’s what you get in the media center, having luggage lost and found, breaking bones, tearing ligaments, and doing more damage to my body than I could have ever imagined. This job is not for the weak. I don’t recommend it to many.

I have been insanely fortunate to do this job for this long, and I have Jalopnik to thank for pushing my career to higher levels than I ever imagined. What the future holds is definitely uncertain, but I am open to suggestions.

Below you’ll see the spread of shots I always wanted to take.

shoot pit lane during an F1 race weekend
Capture a driver winning the F1 championship. Bonus: Snap the moment he was congratulated by another champion.
night time pit stop fuel spray
The Indy 500 Milk Shot. This one almost didn’t happen.
Photo: Kurt Bradley; story embedded
cockpit of an F1 driver getting ready to go
Singer Feature, Summer 2017
Top of the X Games Big Air ramp. Also: I’m afraid of heights.
MotoGP race winner doing a wheelie as he crosses the line.
Get an intimate shot of Lewis, just before he gets in the car for a race. This is a moment few get to themselves.
F1 pit stop from above, during a race.
Cool car review, snapped on Lower Grand in LA.
Fireworks during the 24 Hours of Daytona
Flame-spitting race car. This is much harder than you think it is to pull off.
Get hired by a manufacturer to shoot their supercar.
Shoot retired Ferrari F1 cars that still made the good noises.
Get Out And Drive with Magnus Walker, on the Angeles Crest Highway
Do an epic road trip in a Porsche 911. This one got a big upgrade, by driving a GT3 from London to Le Mans and back. Thanks, Porsche GB!
Officially cover the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Finally. Bonus points for seeing Porsche win both their classes

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About the author

Kurt Bradley

Sub-Par Photographer and Reasonably Quick Test Driver