How to take great pictures at F1 races: Part 2

Guest article

Ferrari flag, Italian Grand Prix, Monza, 2010

Ferrari flag, Italian Grand Prix, Monza, 2010

In the final part of his guide to F1 photography, Jamey Price shows how to take distinctive and original pictures at F1 races.

Why do we love motorsport? For me it?s the colour and flair, the movement and details, combined with the pressure to nail the photo and have it published on the world stage for all to see.

I honed my skills as a sports photographer with horse racing photography. Believe it or not, horse racing is very similar to shooting motorsport. It?s fast-paced. It?s intense.

You get few chances to get the photo and you have to be ready for anything. That sounds a bit like motorsport, doesn?t it?

No credentials? No problem

The problem that most fans will encounter when shooting motorsport is the access. Formula One in particular puts fans as far away as possible while still trying to give you a spectacle.

It?s a sad fact that getting great shots at newer tracks like Turkey and Korea will be much more difficult than shooting somewhere like Monaco, Monza or somewhere where you are much closer to the action.

The other problem you?ll encounter will be the very high debris fences that protect you from an out of control F1 car. Fortunately there are ways to overcome both of these problems and still get great images.

Plan your weekend

Sauber, Monza, 2010

Sauber, Monza, 2010

But just because you?ve not got the credentials to shoot beside the Formula 1 snappers does not mean you can?t get great images from the weekend.

Start on Thursday during the pit walk. Make it your mission to cover the Grand Prix like you have credentials. Tell a story.

See someone painted from head to toe in McLaren silver? Take a photo of them. See what you can do with trying to capture the atmosphere around you.

I will stress this over and over and it is something I make a point of telling myself every time I pick up the camera but look for details. The beauty in life, and motorsport, is the details.

Once practice gets rolling on Friday switch gears and start trying to be creative. If you have a general admission pass, walk around during the Formula BMW, Porsche Supercup or GP2/GP3 races and look for where the best spots to shoot are.

Often the best thing you can do is put your camera down for five minutes and use your eyes.

At a Formula 1 race, everyone has a camera and thinks they?re a photographer. So you can either follow those amateurs around and shoot what they shoot and get the same kind of images or you can use your feet and your head and find something different.

A lot of people hope to be professional photographers and believe me, you will not stand out in the crowd if you come home with images that everyone else has. This is your time to show how you see the world and it had better be different from every other guy with a nice DSLR standing by the fence.

Getting fences out of your pictures

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, Monza, 2010

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, Monza, 2010

Speaking of fences, those debris fences will ruin your photos. Fortunately there are ways of tricking your camera into thinking the fence is not there.

Your eye does the same thing. For a moment take your finger and place it at arms length away from your face. Now look at it. Your finger and all that?s around it and in the background are more or less in focus.

Now bring your finger to the tip of your nose and look past it. You barely even notice your finger any more – as if it has disappeared.

You can do the same thing with your camera. The debris fence is your finger. Move yourself as close as you can to the fence and zoom as far in with your lens as possible and lower the aperture as much as you can and suddenly the fence is almost non-existent. Cool, huh?

The moment you start standing farther away from the fence or use a higher aperture stop, the fence will come back into the photo. So make sure you?re right up along the fence, shooting with a higher shutter speed and a low aperture and you can get some great images trackside that make it look like there?s no fence at all.

Use the conditions

Fans, Italian Grand Prix, Monza, 2010

Fans, Italian Grand Prix, Monza, 2010

As a photographer, you should always use what you are given with conditions, maximize it and compensate with creativity.

If you?re stuck at the top of a grandstand a hundred yards from the cars driving by, use that to your advantage. Instead of zooming in as far as you can trying to see Fernando?s eyes as he passes the start finish line, zoom out and try a panning shot to get lots of motion and colour.

As a standard I like using a slower shutter speed to get the feel of motion if the cars I?m shooting are running parallel to my position.

Shooting a car from the side at 1/2500 of a second and F5.6 will generally not be anything to write home about. That same image at 1/60 of a second will be a completely different one. It will be bordering on abstract with the amount of motion you capture. Find the balance and what looks good to you.

A car that is driving straight toward you will be much harder to pan with than the one you just shot that was parallel to you. In this situation, up your shutter speed again to freeze it in its tracks.

The rule of thirds

Jenson Button, McLaren, Monza, 2010

Jenson Button, McLaren, Monza, 2010

Something professional photographers will talk a lot about and use frequently is the rule of thirds. Imagine your viewfinder. It is generally a rectangle with the two longest sides on the top and bottom.

Now imagine two vertical lines spaced evenly from left to right and another two lines horizontally. It will make a grid with nine boxes in your viewfinder.

The rule of thirds basically says that an image will be more compelling and interesting if you place the subject on the far left or right vertical line instead of smack dab in the middle of the frame. Many DSLR?s now ship with the ability to display grid boxes in your viewfinder so you don?t have to imagine the lines are there.

Once you?ve got into a rhythm with your camera and you?re feeling good about the images you?re making, step back and try something new. The worst thing you can do is come home with a thousand versions of the same picture.

Get a different angle if you can. Your legs are the best thing that you have at your disposal to making a great image. Don?t forget to keep looking around you for an interesting fan, angle, car, tree, whatever.

Use the light. Be it flat and boring from a dull cloudy day, or gorgeous sunlight like those afternoon races produce. And practice, practice, practice.

Got any of your own tips for taking great pictures at F1 races? Share them in the comments.

Read the first part of this article: How to take great pictures at F1 races: Part 1

Jamey’s equipment for the above photographs included a Nikon D700 full frame professional camera body with 70-200mm f2.8 vibration reduction telephoto lens, 14-24mm f2.8 wide angle lens and 2x teleconverter. The pictures were taken without FIA credentials.

Jamey Price is a professional freelance sports photojournalist based in Charlotte, North Carolina. His work has appeared in F1 Racing Magazine, The Racing Post and many sporting websites. More of Jamey?s work can be seen at www.jameypricephoto.com

This is a guest article by Jamey Price. If you want to write a guest article for F1 Fanatic you can find all the information you need here.

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Images ?? Jamey Price

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45 comments on How to take great pictures at F1 races: Part 2

  1. Tomcat173 said on 24th April 2011, 9:59

    Thanks for the article Jamie! It was very timely given I’ve just picked up a Canon 450D and want to get stuck into some motorsport photography.

  2. vickyy (@vickyy) said on 24th April 2011, 10:19

    The main picture of Ferrari flag depicts like a angry panther.. I have never been so overwhelmed by such photography

  3. SoLiDG (@solidg) said on 24th April 2011, 10:28

    Nice article.
    For those who wants to make pictures a good tip is to go to SPA!
    With a general admission ticket you can get to great places without fances.

    I have a Canon 400D for years, and the best thing I did was buy a nice lens, like mentioned here. I went for a 70-300 IS USM. It’s not a proffesional lense but very nice :)

    The only thing in Belgium is you need to play around with lighting as one minute there is sun, the next it’s cloudy :D

    • macahan said on 25th April 2011, 17:11

      Agree both articles are good and have very good info in them. As a amateur tog serious about what I do and loving motorsport there wasn’t anything I didn’t know already but I’m a tog because I’m more creative with pictures then words so nice to see a good write up.

      A couple of things I would like to add here, the camera is not what makes the picture, it’s the photog tat makes them. You can get very good pictures with a lower end camera if you know how to use the equipment. I think in the first article it was mentioned (maybe I recall wrong) is learn your camera inside out. Pickup the manual and read it cover to cover, learn to do adjustments to the camera without having to really think about it. Start up a Project 365 (one picture a day for a year, can be everyday happenings and things around you, the key is practice with the camera every day, check out mostly365.com for more info).

      If you have a DSLR and want better equipment instead of looking at upgrading the camera look at getting good glass. If you stay within the same camera brand you can when time comes to upgrade the camera always use the same lenses.
      Good glass is very expensive, dump the kit lenses and upgrade your glass FIRST.
      You can start with a entry camera such as the Nikon D5100, once you have a good set of lenses, tripod and monopod well then it might be time to upgrade your camera.

      Things to look for with good glass is how fast the lens is (the F-stop). You want a lens that can do f/2.8 through the entire range. The holy trinity is 14-24mm f/2.8, 24-70mm f/2.8, 70-200 f/2.8. Then on top go with a 400mm f/2.8.

      One thing that I don’t recall reading in article 1 or saw in this one, when doing panning photos give the car somewhere to go. If the car is moving from right to left put the car on the right side of the frame so you have track infront of the car, this adds to it. With background blur and space for the car to “go somewhere” you give a real sense of motion. To add even further to the feel of speed give a slight tilt to the camera.

      To be prepared when arriving at a grandprix weekend, go out practicing panning. Go to a intersection and take pictures of the cars going through, once you start getting things to work at slower speeds with distance then get closer and move to place with higher speed. Obviously you might not get a chance to practice on cars going at 200+kmph but more then likely the closest you get at a grandprix is 50-100m. If you can pan and get clear pictures of a car doing 100+kmph from 20-25m you can do the same on a car going 200+ at 50m.

      Final words, SHOT RAW!!! Preserve as much as possible of the picture to allow you to adjust and make eye poping images in post processing. If you shoot JPEG your post processing adjustments gets limited but just keep in mind you can’t recover a bad image in post so you want them as good as possible in the camera then enhance them in post…

      I SHOT RAW!

      • sketchyterry (@sketchyterry) said on 25th April 2011, 23:10

        In some ways disagree shooting RAW for Motorsport. This is because they take up so much more room on your card. I have a 8gb card and at Brands Hatch for the BTCC i almost filled it with JPEG’s, shooting on RAW i would have got only a 3rd of the amount of shots. However when i shoot over stuff (mainly do landscape) then yes, I always shoot RAW but at motorsport i wouldnt bother.

        • macahan said on 26th April 2011, 0:42

          Storage is cheap. But yes there are many that shoot jpeg when shooting sport because of the amount of shoots taken but also because some cameras are not writing RAW files fast enough and start lagging on rapid firing. I prefer RAW because then I got better control in post and I rather loose on card containing 1/3 of my images then that one single card with all my images (I have had cards go bad so even I try not spread the “love” between multiple cards).

  4. DavidS (@davids) said on 24th April 2011, 10:34

    Great article, really goes in depth into specific issues, skills and techniques used in motorsport photography.

  5. Dingle Dell said on 24th April 2011, 10:49

    Great great great! Is there a part 3? I wanna see the insights of the equipment and everything of the photographer. Besides, is there any way to press ‘Like’? :D

  6. HaworthUK (@haworthuk) said on 24th April 2011, 11:18

    I was wondering if it’s possible for an amateur to get access to the pro photographer areas? what do you have to do to get in?

  7. Tarquin Tardybrush said on 24th April 2011, 12:56

    For excellent access on a 5 or 10 euro entrance fee go to the Jerez tests. There were pretty good vantage points all over the circuit this year especially when Alonso was there because they had to open up much more of the circuit. However, the FIA has clamped down on paddock access in recent years. It is now virtually impossible to get into the paddock unless you have a contact high up in a team or pay 200 to 300 euros A DAY for guided limited access. As for press credentials…..no chance.

  8. sato113 (@sato113) said on 24th April 2011, 13:27

    nice article! didn’t know photogrpahy was so complex. :D

    take your finger and place it at arms length away from your face. Now look at it. Your finger and all that’s around it and in the background are more or less in focus.

    when i do this, my finger is in focus but everything else definately isn’t!

    • Dont look at you finger. Look past it.

      Rephrase. Go outside and place your finger at arms length. Everything plus your finger is in focus (ie you will see the catch fence and cars at the track. Nothing special. Very distracting)

      No bring your finger to the tip of your nose and look past it at whats infront of you. Your finger disappears. (ie no catch fence in your photo!)

      Long story short, go to apertures like f2.8 or f4 and you will see very little catch fence. THe photo of Alonso in the post above was taken through catch fences with a 400mm at f5.6……

  9. MattB said on 24th April 2011, 14:53

    V good article! I have been in into photography for years now and will be covering my third GP this year (as a complete amateur).

    One really good bit of advice that I would give is to get to know your focus settings on the camera. I use a base level SLR and would add this IMPORTANT advice:

    1. Set your focus to “servo” focus – that way your lens should refocus with the moving car, to ensure a clean shot
    2. Set your focus to “single spot” rather than general. This will allow the camera to focus much quicker.

    Also, whilst you (probably) can’t afford to buy a very expensive lens, you can rent them for a fraction of the cost. You do need to arrange this well before the event, and rented lenses always arrive in an immaculate condition in sturdy flight cases.

    Happy snapping, and remember, shoot RAW!

    Matt

  10. Patrickl said on 24th April 2011, 17:49

    I didn’t find it that easy to shoot through a fence even when standing close. A big part of you eyes not “seeing” the fence is that your brain sort of ignores it. In a picture you will still see a blurry line going through.

    Focussing is rather difficult too. Especially when panning on slower shutter speeds I do think you need a good autofocus.

    The only way I got it to work was to focus on where I would shoot the car and then click when the car passed through the spot I had focussed on.

    Usually the spots on the inside of a corner tend to have much lower fences.

    For instance, I took this one with only a 85mm lens in Monza (although because the sensor is smaller it compares to a 127mm lens). Think it was in Variante Ascari.
    Pedro De La Rosa – Monza 2005

    Problem back then was that on the friday mostly the test drivers were doing the laps.

    BTW I always do take boring pictures :) I mostly want a picture of every car so I can remember what it looked like. It’s nice to compare the cars over the years.

    Last time I went to a race (Superleague Formula 2010) I used a 180mm telemacro lens. I know it’s not the best choice, but on manual focus it worked quite well. The only problem was that it was too big. I was too close (on the main grandstand) to get the whole car in the frame if it was right in front of me:
    Too close …

    So I had to shoot it a bit further back.
    Karthikeyan in Superleague Formula

    Thinking about it, I have always been too cheap to buy a lens just for f1 :) I use a portrait lens and a macro lens. How lame is that? LOL.

    • Patrick,

      The problem with shooting through a fence and panning is that you have to have an aperture to compensate for the shutter being open for longer. That aperture then starts seeing the fence.

      Shooting through the fence ONLY works when you are very close to the fence and when you are shooting at high shutter speeds. Panning does not work with fences. You will see the “lines.”

      I did an exacty article on shooting through fences on my blog. Might be worth a look. The photo attached with that post was shot through a chain link fence….

      • Patrickl said on 25th April 2011, 8:34

        To be honest I only tried that a long time ago since these days every track has a double row of fences. You can stand close to the first, but the other one is still a bit further away.

        But indeed if you find a spot where you don’t need to pan (and with only a single fence) then it’s probably easier.

      • Jamey,

        You could have added that the darkening (not to mention beautifying) effect of adding a polarising filter to the lens would help allow you to run with a longer shutter speed whilst still shooting with the aperture wide open, minimising the fence by reducing the depth of field. Basically, if on a sunny day you can’t set a low enough ISO to shoot wide open, add a polariser or Neutral Density (ND) filter.

        I find that even if you get horizontal lines from panning through a fence, with a smooth pan and a longer shutter, you can get quite a dramatic sense of speed, as if the picture has go faster stripes…

        It’s worth underlining that making the fence invisible is only going to be possible with an SLR, as non-interchangeable lens (and video) cameras have sensors far too small to create such a shallow depth of field.

        Incidentally, your use of terminology is sometimes awry. I don’t like this ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ aperture. Opening and closing would be clearer. Then yesterday you said the lower the number, the more depth of field, which is the wrong way round.

        Anyway, I too love the Ferrari flag shot. Nice work. And thanks for writing the guide.

        • Again, the terminology was for people that don’t get the finer details of cameras. You and I get it but most don’t. Im not writing for the pros. Im writing so everyone can get something out of it.

          Yes, could have been clarified that I was talking in basic terms, but didn’t think it needed to be.

  11. Love that Jenson pic. Would make a fab wallpaper in higher res.

  12. K. Chandra Shekhar said on 24th April 2011, 21:09

    All these years have been watching F1 on tv and would be attending an F1 race for the first time(Indian GP). I would like to take my Canon DSLR (with 70-200mm) along to the Indian GP. Is it ok or else should I take some permission beforehand. Please help with the regulations Keith.

  13. Boost (@boost) said on 24th April 2011, 21:27

    One more thing to add to your equipment to instantly make photography less painfull:

    Monopod – pretty cheap, holds the weight, keeps your camera more steady, easier to move between spots than a tri-pod…

    Manfrotto is a brand I would recommend in this case but there are a few cheaper alternatives.

  14. With any kind of photography practice is very very important – not only so that you can get good shots but also so that you can spend time enjoying the event rather than staring through the camera the whole time.

    You are probably not going to many F1 races so how do you practice? Simple – go to as many circuit days as you can. Could be track days, local races, smaller events (GP2 etc), motobike races etc. If there isn’t a track near you, if you have a highway near you try standing at a safe vantage point and practice your panning shots.

  15. Mark Young (@terry-fabulous) said on 25th April 2011, 2:23

    Fabulous stuff Jamey

    Thanks for sharing with us Mate

    I spoke with a bloke at Melbourne last year who explained how he was shooting through the debris fence. Unfortunately since I had drunk seven beers at that point I just remember that he had a great beard and was really friendly.

    Hence my enthusiasm at your article!

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