From the stands
Guest writer Ben Packer took note of the tips on taking pictures published here earlier this year, bought himself a new camera and set off for Silverstone.
How did he get on? Find out below.
This year’s British Grand Prix was not only my first Formula 1 race – but also my first major sporting event since being bitten by the photography bug.
Having been a long-time admirer of F1 photography, I decided to make the most of my three-day ticket to Silverstone and plunge head-first into the world of photography.
I purchased a Panasonic Lumix G10, a micro four-thirds camera (a camera which shares many of the traits of a full SLR but has a digital viewfinder rather than an optical one) and a 45-200mm telephoto zoom lens with a combined cost of around £600.
I then spent the four months leading up to the race reading every piece of material I could find on motor sport photography and practising my technique at every opportunity. In particular, I must have read Jamey Price’s excellent article “How to take great pictures at F1 races” on F1 Fanatic five or six times before setting off from London for Silverstone.
Despite being a complete novice and lacking the hugely expensive equipment used by the professionals and access beyond the usual spectator areas, I was able to put some of Jamey’s tips into practice. Here’s what I learned:
Nail the shutter speed
Whether you want to capture a car in perfect clarity as it takes the apex of a corner or want to shoot a stunning panning shot where the car is in focus but the background blurred, the key setting you will need to adjust is the same – the shutter speed.
The shutter speed available in any given situation is affected by the ambient lighting, the aperture selected and the ISO. See Jamey’s article for a full explanation.
I found it helps to discover what shutter speed is quick enough to “freeze” the action early on. That way, you can quickly react to any on track action that occurs in front of you without having to experiment with numerous snaps at different shutter speeds.
For example, I found that a shutter speed of 1/1300th of a second was fast enough to capture most cars coming out of Luffield during Free Practice 1 so, when Perez spun his Sauber exiting the corner, I was able to react quickly and take a snap of him before he’d returned to the racing line.
Sit at a slow-speed corner
Though watching the qualifying session at the fast right-hander of Abbey was absolutely thrilling, capturing decent pictures there proved to be extremely difficult.
Sitting at a slower corner produced better results – though that’s easier said than done at a high speed track like Silverstone.
Vale was the best spot I came across – the photographs I took there during Friday’s wet second practice session are among my favourites from the weekend. Luffield, the scene of Alonso’s off-road excursion in Q1, is also a good spot for this.
Practice during the support races
As I was less concerned about my photographs of the support races, I found myself experimenting a lot more with shutter speeds, apertures and the angle of the camera during these sessions.
The results were that many of my best pictures came from the GP2 and Porsche races. And many of the things I tried that worked I was able to repeat during the F1 sessions.
Make the most of any rain
A wet circuit instantly enhances the drama and impact of your photos – the spray thrown up by the cars, the tracks left by the wheels and the mirror-like sheen of the surface all combine to create striking images.
To ensure you make the most of the opportunities presented by rain you need to either sit in a covered grandstand or invest in a rain guard for your camera. These can be picked up quite cheaply or even fashioned out of a plastic bag.
Also, make sure you fit a lens hood. This usually serves the purpose of preventing glare from the sun, but it also performs admirably at preventing Silverstone’s horizontal rain in from making contact with your lens.
Be prepared for a low hit-rate
I found that my success rate in getting shots where the subject was in focus and not obscured by any pillars, flags, caps, fences or marshals was fairly low. Be prepared for this and make sure you take a memory card with plenty of space.
This low hit rate can be quite frustrating – I took what was very nearly a great shot of Vettel closing on Hamilton on the old pits straight, only for a pillar and a speaker to ruin the picture!
However, when you do get one right, it is incredibly satisfying – such as when I was lucky enough to capture Vettel in the middle of passing Massa a few laps later.
Capture atmosphere as well as action
This is definitely one area which I need to improve upon next year. Of the thousands of pictures I took over the course of the weekend, only 15 or 20 are not of cars.
There are plenty of images in my head I wished I’d captured now – the sea of McLaren rocket red in our grandstand on the Sunday, the Ferrari fanatic lugging round a huge Alonso banner in the driving rain on race morning and other scenes that made the weekend for me but which I haven’t got any photographs of.
Don’t feel you need to photograph every moment
That said, I would definitely recommend that you don’t try and photograph every key moment of the race. After all, you’ve paid to be there to see the action live so you don’t want to watch all of it through a viewfinder.
It’s a case of finding a balance – I’m pleased to have photographs of Hamilton closing on Alonso through Woodcote but am very glad I watched the actual pass at Copse away from the camera. That spine-tingling moment where Hamilton put all four wheels beyond the dry line onto the wet surface to pass Alonso into one of the fastest corners on the calendar is a memory to savour.
Finally, just to add that if you have any thoughts of getting involved in photography, I’d say go for it. Whilst it can seem quite an intimidating and complex world at first, it really is a hobby you will constantly improve at and find increasingly rewarding.
Formula 1 really lends itself to creating stunning images and the pictures you take at a Grand Prix will serve as great mementoes of the weekend for years to come. I’m already looking forward to capturing even better photos at next year’s race!
This is a guest article by Ben Packer. If you want to write a guest article for F1 Fanatic you can find all the information you need here.
Want to learn more about taking pictures of F1 cars? Read Jamey’s article here:
Ben’s not the only F1 Fanatic reader who’s been using Jamey’s tips. Check out these great photographs Alan Maryniuk took at the Canadian Grand Prix.
From the stands
- F1 still struggling to gain a foothold in India
- Why the Hungarian Grand Prix is a must-see race
- Why the Spanish GP was better in person than on TV
- Watching Brazil’s spellbinding F1 season finale
- Silverstone fans’ mixed views on the rain-hit weekend
- Nigel’s memories from the last 37 British Grands Prix
- F1 Fanatics meet up in Melbourne
- Watching at the Paddock Club, Parabolica and podium at Monza
- In the Paddock Club and in the stands at Spa
- Steven’s 51 F1 race visits in 25 years
Images © Ben Packer