Sidepodcast // All for F1 and F1 for all

F1 photographers versus the democratisation of media // Taking pictures at the track is a career in flux

Published by Mr. C

The social networking site, Twitter, has done some great things for Formula 1. It has brought fans much closer to the sport than would otherwise have been possible, introduced us to new names behind the scenes and given insight into the personalities that keep F1 on the road.

One specific group of F1 insiders who previously were without a public voice, but who have quickly made good use of Twitter, are the motorsport photographers who spend their weekends treading the restricted areas of the circuits of the world. A unique collection of people, who enjoy a ringside seat at every event.

As an aside, I've always figured that if I had to work in F1, I'd take the job of photographer, if only because it must be one of the cushiest numbers in the paddock. These days, you can rent a suitable setup for a modest penny, and then spend the rest of the weekend sitting around looking at things. Couple that with an average of four days work a fortnight and who wouldn't want to be an F1 photographer?

Public image limited

Of late, those lucky enough to hold such positions have been using their new found means of expression to mark their territory. Recently we received a certain amount of grief from a professional in the field, over a piece covering the use of forward-thinking Creative Commons licensed images in F1. Apparently the appearance of someone willing to share some of their work (in return for due credit) spelt the end of many a hard fought career and would almost certainly result in children going hungry and houses being repossessed.

Since our initial piece, the forward-thinking photographer in question has received endless taunts and criticism via Twitter, which seem to be based solely in fear and misunderstanding.

In a second recent instance relating to self-preservation, another photographer took a Twitter user to task for what they considered to be an apparent breach of copyright. Sadly for the photographer in question, the incident only sought to highlight their own misunderstanding of some rather basic copyright laws and they have since been rather keen to sweep the incident under the carpet.

Again, it was a case of using Twitter to make a thinly veiled criticism, this time going further and ending with a threat.

Fear itself

The problem all photographers will face in the near future is the same one traditional journalists currently find themselves with. We have discussed at length changes occurring in print media, thanks to globalisation and the availability of free blogging, yet somehow photographers have been spared at least some of this immediate pain. F1 photographers have been shielded for two key reasons.

Firstly as FIA passholders those lucky enough to shoot F1 cars are entitled to stand on the far side of the catch-fence. No matter how good or cheap lenses become, the wannabe racing photog cannot easily overcome the 6ft chain link between themselves and the cars. Secondly there are the passes themselves. The FIA dish out a limited number of hallowed tabards to a limited number of people, and while great steps have been made to allow freelance journalists into the paddock, to the best of my knowledge the same thing isn't yet happening to the photography passes.

With any luck the FIA will also be forward thinking enough to do something about these current restrictions. At present, those fortunate enough to have hold of a pass may not necessarily be the best people for the job, they may have been there the longest and one can imagine why they might be keen to keep this particular door shut. Competition always improves the breed, but at the moment there doesn't appear to be a lot of competition able to get in.

The endless march of ever cheapening, ever improving technology is a hard thing to overcome. The number of people who can afford to play the professional game increases daily and that increases pressure on those with a stranglehold. Social networking may have provided an appreciation for the personalities that keep F1 on the road, but it also gives those interested in joining the fray a great insight into what they can expect to find if they get there. So far, the photographers appear to have bullying and paranoia down to a tee.