4 Reasons Motorsport Photographers Deserve Your Respect.
Motorsport photographers are sometimes taken for granted because their photos look the same, but it does pose its own challenges.
I’ve been meaning to write this for about a year now, ever since I saw an Instagram post from a friend of mine @ardianpradana with a caption where he was ranting about how some people were taking motorsport photographers for granted saying that they just take the “same photos” over and over again.
It’s true, motorsport photographers are often taken for granted, as a lot of their photos often look the same, but being a motorsport photographer does pose its own challenges. If anything, motorsport photographers have it harder than others. Well, in some aspects, at least. So, now that I have time on my hands, these are four reasons why I think motorsport photographers deserve your respect:
1. Motorsport photographers get hot, or wet, but often both.
If you’re doing stills or beauty shoots, you can either rent a studio, a warehouse, or if you’re lucky, you can do it in your own garage, away from the striking heat and the humidity. If you’re doing rolling shots, while you and your camera are dangling from the media car, half of you would at least still be in the air-conditioned car in relative comfort.
Motorsport photographers however have no option but to stand in the weather come rain or shine at the side of the track and face whatever nature has to offer, all the while trying to capture good photos of the action.
What’s even worse is that if you’re based in Indonesia or other tropical countries, chances are you’re going to get wet no matter what. If it’s raining, well, you’re definitely getting wet. If it’s hot, thanks to the insane humidity you’re going to sweat like a pig running on a treadmill and you’ll end up wet anyway. Maybe I’m saying this because I sweat easily, but the point is, come rain or shine, either way you’re going to get wet. Sometimes it’s because of the rain, sometimes it’s because of your sweat. Sometimes because of both. Talk about being uncomfortable.
Not-so-pro tip: Always, and I do mean always bring a hat, a small towel, and a gargantuan bottle of water. Having a hat and a towel helps to protect your head and your neck from the weather, it will also help to wear sun screen so you don’t get sunburnt – which isn’t pleasant, trust me. Also, remember to hydrate, it’s easy to get caught up in the action and forgot to drink, having that gargantuan bottle of water will add to the weight you have to carry around the track, but you’ll thank yourself when you don’t have to walk a mile just to get drinking water. Speaking of walking…
2. 10,000 steps a day? Easy stuffs for a motorsport photographer.
It’s often recommended that you walk at least 10,000 steps a day, I don’t really know why but it’s just one of those things that’s often recommended, kind of like drinking eight glasses of water, whether the science is actually verified or not, I’m not so sure.
In any case, 10,000 steps is an easy target for motorsport photographers, not only they have to stand strong underneath the weather, they also have to walk around the track and move from one spot to another to capture the action. Maybe the track has a number of exciting corners, or maybe your current spot isn’t inspiring you to take better photos, one way or another you’re going to have to move to a different spot on the track.
Granted, a lot of the time you can either borrow a motorbike or use a small electric scooter to get around, but generally you still have to be quite a lot more active than a lot of other photographers. Not to say other kinds of photography isn’t physically demanding, but motorsport photography does tend to be more physical. The photographers probably get as much, if not more physical exercise than the drivers.
Not-so-pro tip: wear your most comfortable shoes. Really. I shouldn’t have to say this. You’ll thank yourself. Also, Nike Free RNs are great, or any of the caged adidas Ultra Boosts.
3. Motorsport photographers have to get incredibly creative at times.
It has to be said, documenting a race for a client is fairly straightforward: set the shutter speed to either 1/125 or 1/1000, adjust the aperture and ISO accordingly, and shoot the cars you need to shoot. And maybe grab some shots of the driver and the team pre and post-race, and you should be good. If your client is a team, then you only need to capture that team’s car. If your client is the organizer, then get a shot of all the cars and the ceremonial stuffs, and to be honest you’re done.
That is exactly why you have to think twice as hard on how to get amazing shots and attract clients. If your photos are exactly the same as the other average motorsport photographer, why do you think a client would hire you instead? Let alone pay you more money than anyone. An accomplished motorsport photographer needs to be extra creative, and this is the tricky bit.
If you’re doing stills and you’re not happy about the photos you’re getting, you have control over most of the aspect: don’t like the light? Use artificial lighting (flash, LED, what have you), or use a polarizer to help reduce reflections on the car, or maybe move to a different location that has better lighting.
The background is dull? Again, move to a different shoot location. Shots still look a bit dull? Maybe you should alter the angles of your photos or position the car in a different way. Does your rolling shots look uninspired? Lower your shutter speeds for a more dramatic looking shot, as well as lowering your camera and zooming out to add more drama than a Venezuelan soap opera.
With motorsport photography it’s a bit more complicated than that. You see, while motorsport photography is fairly straightforward, if you’re not happy with the photos you’re going to have to think really hard about your shots, since you have no control over the lighting, the cars that are racing, or almost any aspect really. Just because your photos aren’t great you can’t exactly radio the drivers to come closer to the walls or have a little bump with the other drivers. Unless you’re the team principal, then maybe you can. But be prepared to get banned from racing.
Because of the lack of control over the subject, motorsport photographers have to be extra creative: maybe lower the shutter speeds and zoom out for a more dramatic looking shot, or break the rule a bit and go a little over the barriers to get better shots, or maybe depend on the colors and tones to create more dramatic looking shots.
While being able to capture and document all the events during the day – be it for the team or the organizers – usually does the trick and that’s what they need anyway, being creative with your shots and creating out of the box photos is how you attract clients (which applies to other photography as well, to be fair) but the lack of control means that motorsport photographers have to think twice as hard.
Also, shameless plug, here are some tips from my experience on how to attract clients and get your photography career started.
Not-so-pro tip: utilize your surroundings, include the pit crew in your photos to give your photos a more human touch, or take in the scenery as well in your photos, especially if it’s a beautiful race track like Mugello, the Red Bull Ring, and yes, I do believe Sentul in Indonesia is actually pretty beautiful as well. Also, try out spots that people aren’t taking photos from. Photos of the race cars are usually enough for the clients, but unique photos will make your portfolio stand out.
4. No rest for the weary. Or for the motorsport photographers.
In my experience, if you’re doing stills or rolling shots you can take a rest when needed, provided you’re not racing against the sun or high rent bills when you’re in a rented location. Again, as long as certain aspects are in your control, you can take a rest. However, motorsport photographers have no option but to be ready at all times during race day, pre-race prep? Got to take photos. Race? Obviously. Post-race ceremonies? Well if you’re client is up there you definitely need to take photos.
When I went to the F1 Singapore Grand Prix last year, George Russell made contact with Daniel Ricciardo resulting in a puncture for Russell and as a result spark was flying everywhere and made quite the view. After I captured photos of the front pack, I took a look at my photos only to realize moments later Russell’s Williams passed by with sparks flying everywhere and it was too late for me to capture any photos, even with a puncture those cars still goes faster than my MINI. It could’ve been a spectacular photo, but I missed the moment.
Motorsport photographers have no option but to be ready at all times, at least when the race is ongoing, otherwise they might lose an important moment that could be an amazing photo. Of course, once you’ve captured all the photos you need (i.e.photos of your client’s car, pit crew, etc.) you can take a rest, job’s done. But if you’re truly passionate about photography, there’s going to be that nagging feeling when you miss a moment because you’re resting. You will always want to capture the important moments no matter what, it’s just a photographer’s instinct.
Not-so-pro tip: don’t check your photos until the end of the race, have confidence in your skills and let your camera do the work. Only check whether or not you got the exposure and white balance right, other than that, leave it for after the race.
Bonus not-so-pro tip: use two camera bodies with two different focal length if possible, so one should be a tele with a minimum focal length of 200mm (at the longest end) and the other one should be a standard zoom such as a 24-70mm, that way no matter the situation you can easily switch between focal lengths depending on what you need without having to actually switch the lenses. Saves a lot of time, and less possibility of dust getting in your sensor.
That’s about it, my four reasons why motorsport photographers deserve your respect. Actually, all photographers deserve your respect. We spend years perfecting our art, making sure we capture those important moments in the most beautiful way possible, so you should respect the blood, sweat, and tears we’ve put into that. You can give a Nikon D5 to any person but that don’t make them a photographer, but give a cheap Nikon D3100 to a photographer and they can still create art with that.
All photos are taken by me unless stated otherwise. Please contact me should you want to use my photos for commercial purposes, or credit me for personal uses.