Sidepodcast - All for F1 and F1 for all

Fast photography - A review of the trouble taking F1 pictures

Published by Christine

This post is part an occasional series from Sidepodcast, giving you a behind the scenes look at podcasting, specifically in the Formula 1 genre. We want to share the pitfalls, the problems, and the triumphs that go into making the show what it is. As this is a joint effort, to provide you with both sides of the story, I will be writing in plain text, whilst the geeky one will add his two cents in italics.

David Coulthard at Autosport International 2006

The above picture looks pretty good, right? David Coulthard isn't exactly hard on the eye, it's in focus, it's framed nicely by the crowd of people and the Autosport backdrop. Generally, it's fair to say that's a good photograph. Not perfect, not outstanding, but good. We don't claim to be professional photographers, but we do like to snap a good shot, and the above is a prime example of that.

It wasn't always this way.

David Coulthard at Autosport International 2005

That picture is truly awful. It was taken in 2005, with the first digital camera we owned. It was small, it wasn't designed for heavy use, and as you can see by the blurry DC, it wasn't really designed for close up's either. Immediately after taking the above, we elbowed our way to the front of another crowd of people, this time lining his route from the signing podium out of the public eye. When his time was up, he strode over towards us, spotted me trying to take his picture, paused, smiled and went on his way.

I stamped my foot, swore a little bit, and threw the camera on the floor in disgust. It couldn't cope with a moving object, even one that was paused for a second or two. It wouldn't even take the shot, it just refused anything that was even slightly blurred. And yet it was fine taking the ridiculous mess above.

The very next time we were in town, we bought a new, better camera.

Thus the header pic for this post, taken at Autosport International 2006, was taken, without any swearing whatsoever.

If I were being picky, I'd say that the focus on the top picture is a little soft and the woman in the Honda hat is the devil. It is without question a darn sight better than the second picture though, and I do prefer it when there's no swearing involved.

So, now we have a camera that takes a good picture indoors, works with people even if they're moving, has scope to add whatever lens you want, and is generally a trusty little thing. Not so little, actually, it gets heavy after a long day dragging it around in search of F1 cars. But I imagine any decent camera would be the same.

For the technically inclined, the camera is a Canon 350D, which was purchased during the height of it's popularity but has since been somewhat superseded.

As I understand it the lens is often as important, if not more important than the body and for that we used to have a Tamron 70-300mm. Sadly, it disagreed with Britain's idea of a summer and broke during the Silverstone GP weekend. It's since been replaced by a similar model made by Sigma.

Blurry Photograph at Silverstone 2007

The next step in our discovery of just what it takes to be a Formula 1 photographer, was to turn up at an actual Grand Prix and see what we could get out of there. Let me tell you something that should be obvious but needs reiterating in this context - those cars are fast! Forget about a single driver walking in a straight line towards you, stopping and smiling. Try snapping a picture of an F1 car approaching a corner at high speed. It takes some practice and we are absolutely by no means perfect, but after Silverstone testing for a couple of days, and then three whole days of the Grand Prix, we managed to capture some decent shots.

This is what I believe to be 'hit and miss' photography. Memory cards are cheap and have huge capacities, so keep pointing and clicking in the hope that something good comes out of it.

In years gone by we'd have wasted hundreds of rolls of film, luckily technology caught up in time to save our backsides.

Toyota at Silverstone 2007

Brendan often comments about the number of pictures of pretty girls there are on our site, compared to the number of cars. But look at this:

Pretty Girls at Autosport International

They are standing still, posing, looking beautiful, just waiting for you to take their picture. In fact, the whole reason they are there is for you to take their photograph.

The one problem we do have with the booth girls is the artificial lighting used at some of these venues. You can see it in the picture above, the girls all look a bit too orange. We need to work on that some more this year methinks.

We're always learning, and we always want to get better. With F1 cars, I imagine, it's always going to be an uphill struggle, but it's definitely fun trying.

Part of the problem we have is that photography isn't the main thing that we do, but the results do enhance the site considerably.

It is the basis of endless debates in the Sidepodcast household, whether or not official glass made by Canon is worth the additional expense (in most cases, twice the equivalent price). If anyone has any experience in this area, especially relating to taking pictures of fast cars, we'd love to hear about it.