Some of my readers asked me to write a behind the scenes post about photographing Formula1 at race track Hungaroring dolgozni. Well what could I write about it?
33-35 degrees Celsius in shadow, 47-50 degrees on the asphalt, 3 days of free practices, qualifiers and race. 4.4 km of race track with lots of walking, some running and even more waiting, some times a bit of hustling. All of them with a long lens and a few cameras hanging on our shoulders. This is how a Formula1 race goes for us photographers.
Larger agencies work with 3-5 photographers to spread them better around the track and divide the work among them. This gives them more chance to get the best shots and increases the possibility of catching an accident to happen in front of one of them. This also allows them to get a bigger variety of images in front of their subscribers.
Smaller agencies and newspapers have less (usually only one or two) photographers to do the same amount of work. If you are working alone it is much harder to be at the same time in the Padock where celebrities can pop up and also catch drivers preparing for the race. Even harder to be at the same time out on the race track and the viewer stands too not to mention sorting out, captioning, editing and transmitting the photos.
Work starts in the morning for most photographers as tabloid papers just like as much as sports papers are interested in the portraits and drivers arriving to the race track. Some of them are more interested if they arrive with a girlfriend, what clothes they are wearing or what type of car, maybe a motorcycle they are driving. Photographers have to be there and take photos of them. We also have to capture them walking in the padock, playing football or preparing for the race. Also when someone visits and maybe kisses the hand of Bernie Eccleston, the all mighty grandfather of Formula-1.
We have to photogtraph autograph signings, press conferences, statements, the parade before the race and possibly everything the drivers or other important figures of F1 do before, during or after the race.
Those who have the possibility and whenever they can have to take photos of preparations and work in the pit lane including tyre replacements and other action shots just like the drivers sitting in their cars, ready for start and all sorts of other feature shots.
(This possibility is from now on more limited than before, that doesn’t help to provide a complete and colorful reportage of the events. On the other hand at least photographers have less work to do just to see something good in it too.)
The most obvious part of photogtraphing Formula1 is taking photos of the race itself. But from where and how? On the inner side of the almost 4.5 km long race track there is a service road. It helps us photographers to walk around with shuttle buses. On the outside of most of the track there is a less well maintained pathway to walk. However if you get stuck on the outside of the track, you have to stay there until the end of the race as the track has no pedestrian crossings on it. People are allowed to step on the track only after the race is over so this is a move well worth to consider twice when to do it. Mostly during the race only those go to the other side who have another photographer present too. This way one of them can stay on the outside while the other can return for the awards ceremony.
Start is mostly photographed from the tower in the first corner. This is the high point where most of the start straight is visible. But this tower has a rather small capacity. Most of the time there are more photographers willing to go there than there is space for them. Agencies with a special status can also reserve their places with stickers a day before. This way no other can take their places. Those with less privileges have to spend there about an hour before the race starts to get a better place than the late comers – and they some times still have to fight with the others to keep their well earned positions.
Then everyone photographs the race from the tower or from other places around the first corner as long as they want. Then the long walk around the track starts to find new and ideal or almost ideal positions around the track. In theory one has 70 laps or 120 minutes of the race to take every possible photo we want to take. This of course means either the photographer stays in one position all the race to take photos of what happen in front of him – and misses everything happening in other parts of the track.
Or he may wander around the track and take photos of different positions to take various pictures of the same cars from different angles with different backgrounds and different ways. Whichever he chooses there is alwas a risk of loosing the other option and things happening in other parts of the race track. Someone standing by the race track sees only what happens on the segment in front of him. If there is no screen or loudspeaker in the near he can possibly have no clue at all how the race is going, who is on the lead and what happens on other parts of the track. We usually ask the drivers of the shuttle buses to get any insight on the status of the race – in cases when they are listening to the radio or follow the events in other ways. Otherwise they at the wheel of the bus know as few of the game as the photographers themselves.
It is important to finish your lap around the track in time.
For most photographers it is mandatory to miss some of the last laps of the race. They have to queue at the entrance to the pit lane. This is where we can get to the after race parc ferme positions and to the location of the awards ceremony to photograph the winners arriving and celebrating. This is where the biggest hassles happen. Not only among photographers but also with team technicians, other team members and some of their guests also hassle to get a better view of the celebrations. While photographers only concentrate to take the best photos of the winners, friends, families, fans and guests try to do the same with their smaller cameras and mobile phones or just try to congratulate the winners.
It is much easier to take the pictures of the awards ceremony and the big champagne opening as it happens on a podium a few meters higher. Winners are less blocked by the people cheering for them, however some waving hands or some times even flags can ruin a picture quite a lot. Then there is the traditional press conference thet allows photographers to take some portraits. During this time most of the photographers run to edit and transmit their pictures. Then after all pictures are sent they pack all their gears and move out of the press conference. What is not an overstatement as for the multi day, very intensive work like photographing Formula One requires a lot of gears both on the photography end of the task, but also on the computer gear side and even with clothing and surviving for three days.
All this of course is a subject to change due to the weather. This weekend we had terribly hot weather. Even heat allert was issued in the city. Our work however would be almost the same if rain or snow falls. We would still have to spend our days in the open and it is also not impossible we would end up more wet than we did now. Pictures however can be much more interesting if there is rain and we aren’t only soaked by our sweat.
On Hungaroring I (until this post was written in 2013) never photographerd a race in rain. Two years before we only had a rain shower until we queued at the positions for the tower oppisite the start straight. We all got soaked wet, but by the time the race started all the track was completely dry and rain had no trace on our pictures just on our clothes. Last year during the free practice we had a small rain, but I could not take any pictures of it. By the time I got to the race track from the pit lane the rain was also gone and the track dried up. I could see the last sprays of water caused by a car, but I had no chance to take a decent picture of it.
Basically these all sum up to the conclusion of many of us barely can wait on the first day the race weekend to end. Of course the mean time we all try to enjoy it as much as we can and we also try to take the best photos possible.