British Grand Prix: Photography

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Getting the picture

Probably one of the least photogenic locations in England, Silverstone will nevertheless accommodate more photographers per square metre for the 72 hours of British Grand Prix weekend than anywhere else in the country. For this is an event which, more than any other, brings out the photographer in all of us. The problem is how to get the results that make it worthwhile lugging the camera around and clicking away all day. Part of the group which owns Motor Sport and its weekly sister newspaper Motoring News is London Art Technical (LAT), which supplies both publications, as well as very many others, with most of their photographs from motor sporting events all around the world.

As chief photographer, it is Steven Tee’s job to cover all the Grands Prix, plus any other events which he can fit into his busy schedule: the Birmingham Superprix, for example, or a Group C race in Australia. Though the envy of many with its constant globe-trotting, it is in fact a job which requires enormous commitment, a diluted family life, the strength to carry 20kg of camera equipment around the circuit, and a cast-iron stomach — especially when visiting some of the less westernised countries which host major races.

As with some drivers, a track inspection the day before first practice is a requirement Steven finds essential, though his view of the corners and likely overtaking places is conditioned by very different motives.

New circuits, such as Phoenix this year, require special consideration because all the professionals are searching for that special vantage point, if they find it they will try and keep it close to their chest for as long as possible. “A bike ride around the track two or three times is all I require to make a mental note of the most promising places, taking into consideration the position of the sun both in the morning and in the afternoon and whether a spot is too far out on a limb to be easily reached during the race. If it is, then practice shots only will have to do,” says Tee.

Requirements imposed on all the mainstream photographers consist of start shots, profiles of cars going from left to right as well as from right to left (which might necessitate crossing the track at some circuits), and finish and podium pictures. The end of any race is followed by a dash to the car park to speed to the airport and return home on the earliest flight possible, to deposit the films with the laboratories whose overnight processing ensures that colour transparencies are available at 8am on the Monday morning for Motoring News‘ front page. Photographs from longer distance events, especially those in America where time differentials dictate that Friday’s practice shots are sent back to London as soon as possible, are airfreighted back by Rapid Movements Ltd, which has representatives at all the Grands Prix since it also looks after the shipping of all the competing cars from country to country.

I would expect to take thirty rolls of colour film and fifteen black-and-white at an average Grand Prix,” says Tee, “but for Silverstone I take extra to cover the support races. It’s a circuit where 500mm lenses are important for the professionals, but 70mm to 200mm zoom lenses can also produce satisfactory photographs. Using products such as 100ASA Ektachrome for transparencies or Kodachrome for prints, shutterspeed at Silverstone will usually be 1/500th, although it can be less for a pan shot.

“The best place for taking photographs at Silverstone is the new chicane, because here the cars are at their slowest and you can get closest to them. There is also a background of spectators, and the chance that a car might spin.” Spectators in the grandstands at Copse have the best vantage point for a start shot, and it is here that many photographers flock at the start of the race if they are not selected for a place in the tower above the straight. The scope for photographs is otherwise limited on the outside of the circuit, with distance and fencing to be overcome. If, however, you are able to get inside the circuit by use of a paddock transfer, the inner apexes of corners prove good points for panning shots. There is also the opportunity for detail shots of the Formula Three and touring cars.

Pit walkabouts offer the public an opportunity for snapping away at the Formula One machinery, but it must be said that teams often work on their cars behind closed doors and these occasions can be disappointing. During the last couple of years, however, Nigel Mansell has made himself available to the fans in the Silverstone pitlane on Sunday morning, much to his credit.

Atmosphere shots are easier to get. A walk amongst the stalls behind the main straight should present a number of opportunities, whether it be of youngsters dressed in overalls or pretty girls giving away cigarette publicity leaflets.

Silverstone presents a rare occasion for the enthusiast to photograph current Grand Prix cars, but it would be unwise to expect the opportunity to take first-class photographs which the professional lensmen enjoy, WPK

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