BIG skies, that’s what Silverstone is all about for me.
Every race track that Formula 1’s travelling circus visits during the nine-month, multi-country global tour represents a different challenge for the photographers covering the sport.
Albert Park, Marina Bay, Monaco, Monza, Suzuka and Sepang – I could go on! – all test the creative lensman’s ability to show, in as positive and artistic a way as possible, the fantastic diversity of circuit layout, geographical topography, rural or urban location, spring, summer or autumn weather, and day, dusk or evening light. So having a pre-race plan is more than simply a good idea.
Before every new F1 season I take a long, hard and creatively critical look at my work from the season past. Reviewing what I did right and where I went wrong, I more often than not have a good idea of many of the pictures I’d like to take during the year ahead. ‘Fail to prepare, prepare to fail’ is, after all, a maxim we’d all be wise to follow...
Some circuits, obviously, work really well for photography. I particularly enjoy the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, the wonderfully majestic Italian Grand Prix venue at Monza, and the greatest race track in the F1 world, Japan’s Suzuka circuit. Occasionally, upon arriving at a new race location, one is pleasantly surprised by the photographic tableau on offer. I really didn’t expect Sochi’s Olympic Park track to be as superb to shoot as it turned out to be.
Of course there are a few tracks that, perhaps, one doesn’t look forward to working at quite as much as the others. You won’t, for example, find many F1 snappers unhappy that we’re not going to Hockenheim this year. Personally I find something to like in all the race tracks I’m fortunate to visit, and, hell, if the others don’t like a track, then that’s probably good for me…
The home of the British Grand Prix, Silverstone, is one of the circuits that won’t be topping any ‘favourite’ list any time soon. The wide open expanse of the World War II bomber base doesn’t really lend itself to impactful photography, especially since the windswept place seems to have a climate all of its own. Still, the nature of the location can make for some good pictures, so let’s think on and rise to the challenge.
If you’re going to be carrying a camera in Northamptonshire this year then why not make a plan? Think in advance about the pictures you’d like to be enjoying come Sunday night; a little pre-shoot plotting will make all the difference.
Sure, you’ll likely be behind ugly wire fences, frustrated that the cars are hundreds of yards in the distance, but don’t despair, one can use the obstacles in one’s way as creative tools so as to produce more interesting shots.
Use a (very) slow shutter speed and pan with the cars as they pass. The high-speed motion of the F1 machines will blur the fence and any crowd in the foreground into a wonderful creative and colourful distortion, accentuating the speed of the cars. Use a wide-angle lens so as to get the big Silverstone cloud-filled skies working for you. Be aware of the twisting nature of some sections of the track. The impressive Becketts complex of corners, snake-like in its shape, can work very well in pictures.
While I know it’s tempting to think only of the F1 cars, why not include in your plan some studies of the crowd, the people watching around you, the enthusiastically fluttering flags, team apparel worn by the fans, pictures of the event as a whole all adding to a successful day’s shoot.
Do as many of the above as you can and I guarantee you’ll enjoy your picture selection way more than untold digital files full of ‘cars-parked-on-a-corner’ shots that are so easy to achieve yet so unrewarding to review.
Effectively photographing a Formula 1 grand prix really is the sum of all its parts. At every race weekend during the F1 year I do nothing more than what I’ve described, so who knows – maybe sometime very soon we’ll be standing next to each other, panning through an ugly wire fence, making the most of what’s on offer.