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

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. SeanG said on 25th April 2011, 4:25

    This article is spot on. I started shooting at Montreal back in 1993 and its been a lot of fun. Back then it was much more expensive too. Lots of film with bad images.

    My favorite image is one I captured back in the days of film. I bring this up only to suggest that a lot of money (and expensive equipment) isn’t needed to have a good time with F1/motorsport photography.

    Check flickr… There are lots of F1 photos and F1 groups/discussions.

  2. For Singapore GP, do manual focus and set it at a position where would you like to take the shot. Because the track is already well lit, no need to use a flash. Better get a walkabout ticket to so you can postion at different locations. The best place to get a shots are on Turns 8 & 14 (there’s an underpass so you switch easily). The cars are about 10-20 feet away. Good Luck! :)

  3. modusimg (@modusimg) said on 25th April 2011, 8:03

    First of all thanks Jamey for sharing these photog tips.
    Does anybody have tips/locations for shooting @ Monaco GP? I was in Malaysia for the F1 a few wks ago and i was quite surprised at the many different locations available to shoot from.

    Pics i took can be seen here:

    Friday Practice was access all areas, is this the same for Thurs practice at Monaco? Would be great if someone can share some info :)

  4. Steven (@modtl) said on 25th April 2011, 11:38

    I got my first digital SLR last year and here’s my results from Silverstone with it :D

  5. Steph said on 25th April 2011, 12:59

    2 great articles. I’ve been taking photos at races for over 10 years now but only with a bridge camera. At the moment I have a Panasonic DMC-FZ28. These articles have had me out in the garden over the last 2 days looking at the manual settings as I’ve only ever used the automatic settings before. My photos are here –

    As you can see I am by no means an expert but one thing regarding fences – depending on where you are you can get above the fences to get your shots. Also getting by a corner is easier to get good shots as the cars are much slower – Luffield at Silverstone is particularly good for that.

    I always tend to take most photos during practice and only a few during the race as you don’t want to miss what’s going on because you’re looking through a camera lens. Also it’s so much easier now with digital as you can snap away and just delete the rubbish ones later.

  6. Gary said on 25th April 2011, 15:09

    guys quick question; Jamey said you can go to the pit walk on thursday of a race weekend. does that require a special pass or ticket? or can you do that with a general admission pass?

  7. Jamey Price said on 25th April 2011, 16:00

    Most GPs give a free pit pass walkabout on Thursday afternoon with a 3 day ticket pass.

    Thats how I got the shots of Bruno and other drivers on my website. You will be hard pressed to get a shot of a big name driver but I walked right up to Bruno, Heikki and Jarno with no issues at all. The Ferrari boys were mobbed as I expected….

  8. jraybay-HamiltonMclarenfan said on 26th April 2011, 3:57

    wow thanks am going to canada this year, close action : D

  9. raymondu999 (@raymondu999) said on 27th April 2011, 13:33

    Hey guys. Normally I wouldn’t really buy an SLR (as I’m not really a photog fan/hobbyist) but I was lucky enough to win a 50D EOS in a lucky draw last year, with a kit lens ( 18-55 mm, f3.5-5.6) I’m going to the Singapore GP this year. Any tips on any lenses I should buy, or what settings I should use?

  10. docjkm said on 22nd July 2011, 17:19

    A couple words. Jamie- correct terminology and references MORE important with amateurs and newbies as those of us more experienced will understand what you’re *trying* to say. They won’t.

    Switch to servo autofocus, with focus set at center (or point anti travel direction with direct horiz pan – the ‘room to move point) and shooting burst mode when panning vital when learning, and yield goes way up.

    With a decent camera, RAW is not recommended, at least for this purpose. You will need to shoot a lot for decent yield and care space will factor, and additional write time will effect burst shooting on all but top cameras. Best JPEG setting Will suffice. For action. For crowd/atmosphere revert to RAW.

    Points about lens importance cannot be overemphasized. Budget equal funds for lens(s), at least as was spent on the camera. Use kit lens to put back on camera when you sell it to move up. You will see the difference immediately.

    Could add much more, but compliment the author (initial point not withstanding)

  11. David LaFleur said on 16th November 2012, 3:55

    Great article! I’ll use some of these tips at the Circuit of America race starting tomorrow. I hope BBQ sauce doesn’t jam my shutter button!!

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