Shutter Speeding

If you were to draw up a list of glam jobs you’d like to have, chances are the categories rock god, movie star and product tester at a brewery and pie shop would probably come near the top of the list. However, we're willing to bet that for quite a few race fans, the job of F1 photographer would come fairly close to those dream gigs.

After all, how cool would that be? And how easy? Hang out in the garages, knock about with all the drivers, take a few pics and then head off to the pool at your five-star hotel. How much more glamorous can you get?

Well, the truth is somewhat different. As Getty Images photographer and F1 modfather-in-chief Mark 'Tommo' Thompson explains, recording the grand prix exploits of Infiniti Red Bull Racing, and the other teams, is a 24/7 mission, though it is one sprinkled with some truly incredible moments.

All photos in the above gallery taken by our friends at Getty Images and Vladimir Rys.
Thanks to: Mark Thompson, Clive Mason, Clive Rose, Paul Gilham and Vladimir Rys. Great photos guys.

What time do you arrive at the track in the morning and what time do you leave?
We usually leave the hotel at 7am. We get some breakfast, usually from Red Bull Racing's fantastic catering crew at the Energy Station. We usually finish up for the day between 6pm and 7pm. The average day is approximately 12 hours.

Give us a brief outline of your working day.
On a Thursday we do the FIA press conference with the drivers and generally look after any sponsor requests with the drivers, as this then leaves them the rest of the weekend to concentrate on the track action.
Friday would start with me working in the garage for the first practice session, as the drivers tend to be out of the car more, chilling out and talking with the crew. This is a good chance to capture pictures that are more relaxed and informal. Half way through the session, my editor, Ker, will collect my memory cards and start uploading the images to the Getty Images site and also the Red Bull brand and media site. About half an hour after that, I'll head out into the pit lane and shoot other drivers and general action. Then it's back to the media centre to have a quick look at what I've shot before grabbing a quick lunch. After that I'll head out onto the track to shoot car action in the second practice session.

Do you spend a lot of time seeking out new location to shoot from?
There are certain areas where we're allowed to shoot from but we would walk the track on the Thursday to see if there have been any changes, like new fences or track changes from previous years.

What part of the track do you feel produces the best photographs?
It varies from venue to venue. For instance, Monaco is incredible for pictures, because of the backdrop and because of how close you can get, whereas Silverstone is dreadful because the vantage points just aren't that great. Saying that, I particularly like the start of a race, from doing the grid with all the chaos that ensues there to heading rapidly to the first corner and then waiting for those 22 cars to come screaming towards you at nearly 200mph. You've got to have your wits about you and not miss anything, as if there is a crash it can all be over incredibly quickly and that's obviously the shot that everyone will be looking for.

How many photographs do you think you take on average per race?
In days before digital we would probably have shot about 100 rolls of film over a race weekend, however, with digital I think it's more. It's still important to not just blast away at the shutter button though.

How many different cameras do you normally use and what other equipment is crucial to your work?
I use three cameras: two Canon EOS1DX cameras for general stuff and an EOS5 for remote shots like pit stops.

What is your favourite lens and why?
Long lenses are critical in motorsport, as some of the tracks have very large run-off areas. My longest lens is a Canon 600mm f4. My favourite lens is the Canon 200 f2 as it can really isolate the subject.

Location and weather conditions seem to be a crucial aspect to a successful picture. How do you handle these unpredictable factors?
As for the weather, you just have to roll with it. At certain places, such as Spa or Malaysia, you are almost guaranteed rain at some point over the weekend. I always carry my smaller lenses in a waterproof camera bag and then carry my special vortex waterproof covers in a small backpack. However it's very awkward to shoot with these on the cameras.

How much editing do you do at the track? What kind of tools do you use for post-production?
As for the editing, that's done by our editor Ker, who will go through our stuff and pick out the best pictures or the most newsworthy one. With our cameras you can tag a frame and this will show up when it's downloaded to the computer. Then it's just a very basic bit of Photoshop to the picture. It's Getty policy that nothing can be removed or added to our pictures, so cropping or darkening or lightening aspects are basically the only things we will do.

What inspired you to get into sports photography?
I was inspired to become a sports photographer simply because I love sport and especially motor racing. Also it's very challenging and requires an element of quick response and focus.

What is your favourite track to work at and why?
My favourite track is Monaco, as it presents some in incredible opportunities to get close to the cars and use different lenses than at a normal circuit. It's also one of the hardest races to cover, as you have to get around on foot. At most permanent circuit races you have to walk a lot but there are usually shuttles going around. At Monaco last year on race day alone I covered six miles with all my kit, up steep hills, thousands of steps! I was knackered.

How important is it for a photographer to "connect" with the drivers and race teams?
I believe it's very important to get on well with the team you work for, especially the mechanics who work in the garage. Inevitably you're going to get in their way at some point and they can be under enormous pressure sometimes to get the car out on the track, so it's good to be on good terms! I know nearly all of the Red Bull Racing crew by name and they really make you feel part of the team. Driver relations are critical because if they don't like you, you're stuffed! Fortunately, I get on well with all the Red Bull guys and they trust me. They're also really cool, unlike some other drivers I've worked with over the years who shall remain nameless. When you're working with world-class sportsmen you develop a feeling as to when it's a good time to shoot and also when it's time to hang back and not be seen. Oh, one other thing. It's best to not leave a camera left unattended in the garage as one particular driver fancies himself as a bit of a snapper! I think we all know who that is! (He's not that bad either.)

What's the one thing you know now that you wish you'd known before becoming a photographer?
The one thing I wish I had known is that everyone thinks we earn a fortune but sadly that's not the case!

What makes a good picture stand out from the average?
What makes one picture stand out from the rest is a hard question to answer, as what I think is great picture might not be great at all in someone's else's eyes. However, for me if you take a picture and your colleagues and other photographers you respect like it, then that's a real buzz.

And finally... it's Red Bull's 10th year this year: do you have a best moment with the team?
My best moment with the team has to be when Seb won his first world championship in Abu Dhabi. It was incredible to witness the emotion of the team. Some of the guys had never won anything in years of working in F1 and to see them in tears was very moving, and the following three days were just a mad blur, from the party to then getting on a plane and heading to Austria, then back to the UK to the factory. I didn't sleep for 48 hours and my hangover lasted a week!