It’s easy to think you can’t shoot decent photos at a Formula 1 race unless you’re a pro with a huge white lens, an expensive camera and a press pass … oh don’t forget the neon vest. Well it’s true that there will always be someone with a better vantage point and a better perspective than you, but don’t let that stop you from taking photographs on race day!
I let the pros shoot cars alone on track, I’ll shoot the fans!
The biggest lesson I’ve learned is what I can’t shoot at a Formula 1 race. As I said, I’ll never be at the ideal spot track side with my orange vest and 600mm on my 1Dx, so I gave up on that almost instantly. Instead, I do what they can’t, wander around the track to look and photograph some of the people at the race. The people make the race, and by showcasing them instead of detached car photos, people will get a much better sense of the event’s vibe! Can a car smile? No, but humans are great at it! They also like to wear funny clothing, and in general, act crazy. It’s a great photographic opportunity that is largely missed by official photographers. Remember you are documenting the race, and you can’t do that without showing the fans.
Put people people in your shot
I always get General Admission tickets when I go to an F1 race, it’s cheaper and I’ve found that it’s quite fun. Because I’m always around other people, I’ve started to see how much they create the day at the track, so let them be in your shot. They give perspective, showing the fans gives the entire event more context. It’s the people in your pictures that will give the emotion and frame the emotion of that exact moment.
Think about it, if someone asks you “So what was it like?” can you show them a photograph of a car isolated on the track and say “It felt like this!” What would that feeling be exactly….? You mean it felt like being a little animal stuck in the middle of the track about to be run over? When you show people, you should’t have to explain the feelings and mood of the moment, the picture should say it all.
You can still get really great car shots as a fan
I’m talking a lot about NOT taking photos of the cars, but that’s obviously one of the big reasons you came to the Formula 1 race in the first place. Well you don’t need special access, or expensive equipment to get nice photos of the cars. But since most of us aren’t VIPs we’ll have to use our legs to get close, instead a 600mm! Get your ass out on the track and walk walk WALK. There are killer locations around every single track I’ve been to, but you have to search them out!
The shot of Lewis Hamilton below was taken with my Nex7 and the Sony f1.8 50mm prime, standing at Parabolica in Monza using Shutter Priority. Shot at 1/250th of a second, I panned with him to keep the car in focus while the background blurs. My method is simply to walk around till I find a perfect location, then I do some pan tests changing my shutter speed till I get the level of motion blur I like with a speed of pan I can do consistently. Then, the only thing left to do is to take a LOT of pictures. Another quick tip, you don’t have to make the car fill the entire frame to make it the focal point of the image. I really like the look of the Lotus at speed around Catalunya, even though the Lotus is tiny it’s the obvious focal point -and the negative space looks cool anyway!
LOCATION, LOCation, location, finding the good spots
So every track has great locations, how the hell do you find them? One word, INTERNET. Get on Google Maps and on internet forums and ask about the race you will be attending. Unless you’re going to a first annual Formula 1 race, odds are a few million people have visited the track before you and can help you find that secret location or moment.
When at Monza, you MUST know where to go so that you are in good position to get under the podium at the finish, the same goes for Silverstone. The pit walk in Monaco is on Thursday, which is different than other races. And how would you know about the amazing BBQ grill outside the turn 5 gates at Cataluña unless someone told you. Ok, that last one has nothing to do with photography, but the idea is the same. Research before you go and you’ll be rewarded with quality shots of unique moments!
Equipment does matter, but not like you think
Unfortunately, you probably won’t get that many amazing photos using your iPhone so equipment does come into play. But as I said, 99.8% of the photos on my website were taken with 1 camera/lens combination. A Nex7 and the Sony f1.8 50mm prime lens, an ultra-affordable combination. That is it…close ups, long shots, cars at speed…you name it and I have used that combination to take it. The key is the moment you are trying to capture, being in the right place at the right time. Any camera is capable of a great shot under the right conditions. Any of the readily available Nikon, Canon, Sony, Olympus or Fuji cameras can take STELLAR shots. So don’t let your lack of a Canon 1dX and 600mm stop you, get out there and find that moment! You can do it!
So, about that Spanish BBQ
Well there are a few ways to get inside the track at Cataluña, but I recommend entering via the turn 5 entrance. I believe it’s where I’ve had to go in order to pick up my tickets for the race, and that’s how I found that BBQ. It’s F****** AMAZING, sweet baby Jesus. I’ve never seen a BBQ like it, my Texan friends need to take note. Make sure you find it and load up for your day at the track!
GET OUT THERE AND SHOOT
Thanks for reading and I hope that I’ve inspired you to get out there and shoot. Don’t let anything stop you from getting the images you see in your mind! You can get great shots at races, even as a fan. Are there any tips you have? Anything you’ve learned that help you get creative in your shooting? Join the conversation in the comments below!