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Photographing F1 Events – The British Grand Prix 2012

OK I’ll admit I’m an F1 nurd. I’m a subscriber to F1 magazine for my sins and I’ll even read it cover to cover every month. What do I like best about it? You probably guessed – the photographs. Artistic, poetic and spontaneous. Views that us petrol heads could only dream about but like 125,000 other people watching, my camera position is always going to be limited.

Michael-Shcumacher F1 event photographer

Admittedly, I purchased tickets in a grandstand that I knew would give me a view over the top of the catch fencing. Roaming tickets can provide some very spectacular views of the racing but these are usually obscured for photographic purposes by the safety barriers and fencing. So there I am, sat in the grandstand feeling a right wally with my Nikon D4 while all around me have their compacts (including my wife). The perks of a professional photographer at such an event maybe, I was able to shoot at 11 frames per second. The vertical strutts supporting the roof at the front of the stand were quite a hinderence but the ability to fire off so many frames so quickly enabled me to pick shots from between the intrusive strutts.

It was always my intention to experiment with slow shutter speeds to induce lots of blur as well as faster shutter speeds to freeze the car, but always retaining some form of movement and blur. As the cars were coming across me right to left at about 175 mph, I reckoned a 1/250 of a second shutter speed with a hand held 300mm lens was a pretty slow shutter speed under the circumstances and panning with the cars was tricky however, this did yeald some nice blurred action photos. I then doubled the shutter speed to 1/500 to sharpen up the cars and reduce the shake and movement of the telephoto lens. Whilst in everyday use 1/500 is quite fast, for this type of high speed movement it’s actually not that quick for high speed action photography. Setting the focus manually on a set point of the track once I had learned their racing lines and then panning very smoothly with the cars, I was able to override the problems autofocus would have had with the stands roof supports breaking the view of the track and hence fooling the autofocus.

I haven’t included pictures from my wife’s pictures in the gallery. Not because I don’t love her dearly (love you babe if you’re reading this), but she simply didn’t have the right tools for the job. A compact camera, whilst many steps up from a phone camera, is too limiting for such extreme shooting. The shutter lag (the time taken for the shutter to activate after the button has been pressed is far too long, auto focus would simply not be able to cope and the frame burst modes that most compacts have now are just not quick enough. As most people with point-and-shoot cameras will tend to leave their cameras on full auto as did my wife, there is no chance. All her pictures were totally void of cars during the racing but she did manage to capture some nice stand photos and some silhouetted hair-dos (only kidding darling they were great – really they were).

If you ever go to such an event I recommend a DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) like the old 35mm cameras, a 200-300mm telephoto lens, fast shutter speeds but not so fast all the movement is frozen as well, and the fastest drive mode your camera can provide. To see a few more of my pictures from the British Grand Prix (and GP2) gallery click here

Simon Lane