How To Capture The Celebration Photos

by Jun 24, 2024

Everything we do as motorsport photographers is to capture images that tell the story of the race (and the event). One of the biggest parts of that story is the celebration photos at the conclusion.

From a simple fist pump for setting the fastest time in qualifying to huge celebrations that come with a championship victory, capturing these images is a significant part of our job of documenting the race, the event, and the overall series.

That said, these celebrations come with their own unique set of challenges. Especially in the higher, more professional levels of motorsport. So, being prepared and having an idea of what to expect will help you anticipate and capture the best possible photos.

The Different Celebrations To Capture

The Different Celebrations To Capture

In Car Fist Pump

It’s subtle and often missed, but if you are paying attention, particularly with open-wheel race cars at the end of the race or qualifying, you might just be able to capture this in-car celebration.

Obviously, it depends on the driver’s personality and the extent of the achievement. First poles and wins are often more emotional. But by paying attention to the track commentary and knowing a little about the drivers you are photographing, you can capture this elation as it happens.

If you are going to try to capture this shot, aim shooting on the main straight, after the chequered flag. Use a long lens so you can get nice and tight with a high shutter speed (1/1000th or above) to ensure you bring out the emotion in the shot.

Burnout

A far more flamboyant display which is often reserved for big race wins and championship celebrations, the burnout is a uniquely motorsport celebration.

That said, there are often restrictions on when and where burnouts can take place, sometimes by teams but often by the series. If you are looking to capture burnout celebration photos, look at old race footage (highlights packages usually) to see where they usually take place. Otherwise, areas in front of the crowd that have extra sealed run-off areas are most likely spots for burnouts to take place.

Keep in mind that you will lose the car in the tyre smoke very quickly. So, take any tight photos of the car as it starts its burnout and then move to wider atmosphere shots that showcase the location and crowd as the smoke envelopes the car.

Everything about capturing these burnout images is going to be very reactive, so having two cameras with your settings preset will allow you to get a variety of photos as things happen quickly.

I’ve found the trick to good burnout photos is to have a slightly slower shutter speed (1/320th – 1/400th as a guide) to show some wheel rotation, but it’s still fast enough to freeze the action, which can be somewhat unpredictable.

Capturing The Celebration Photo - The Burn Out

Stop Area/Parc Ferme

If you want to guarantee that you’ll capture celebration photos, make sure you are in the stop area at the conclusion of the race (and sometimes qualifying).

That said, different series have different regulations about who can access this area and when, especially if it is in the pitlane. If you are unsure of what’s allowed, it’s best to ask ahead of time. There may be a particular pit garage or breezeway that you need to wait in until clearance is given to access the pit lane.

It is also likely there may be photographers with additional access. Typically, photographers working directly for the series or with special approval from the series will be allowed into the pitlane and fenced-off areas of the stop/parc ferme area to get their own photos. They will typically have a different photographer vest or accreditation that you may not notice, so don’t assume that because one photographer is doing something that is allowed for all.

With all of that in mind, this is where you are going to get the most emotion-filled celebration photos. However, they are also some of the hardest to capture.

People are inherently unpredictable, especially when celebrating. Depending on the personality of the driver and the nature of the win, they could jump up on top of the car, they could run off to celebrate with their crew, or do nothing at all. Taking these photos is very reactive, all whilst being jammed into a relatively tight space, shoulder to shoulder, with a bunch of other photographers all crammed in around you. All trying to get the same photos, making it quite hectic. However, understanding the nature of the driver will help you anticipate what is likely to happen.

Oh, and don’t forget about the second and third-place drivers as well.

The trick to these photos is to use a high shutter speed to ensure you capture the emotion as it plays out. Just remember that these stop areas in the pitlane often feature the harshest lighting conditions you will experience, depending on the layout of the track. You might find that everything is happening in dark shadowy areas of the lane with bright areas of the background. Make sure you compensate for this with your exposure settings and use a flash if required. I’ll often overexpose by one stop on the camera’s internal light metre to make sure the faces are properly exposed.

Podium

Capturing The Celebration Photo - Podium

It goes without saying that the podium is a prime location to capture celebration photos and is most predictable. That said, these celebrations are typically more subdued and formal than those in the stop/parc ferme area, at least for the trophy presentations.

However, this formality makes capturing celebration photos on the podium predictable and much easier. As the drivers are introduced to the podium, you can get each driver and they’ll typically give a thumbs up, wave, or some other emotive expression.

You’ll find the reactions during the trophy presentations are relatively subdued, at least by comparison, but once it’s time for the champagne spray, the drivers cut loose again. However, given the predictable nature of the podium, you can look out for little details and different aspects to photograph that others might miss. Maybe a close-up of the trophy or the reaction of the fans. All little things that will help tell the story through your photos.

Depending on where you are in relation to the podium, you might find yourself in the splash zone. It’s also not guaranteed that these celebrations will be contained to the podium. Drivers can and do run into the crowd to spray/share the champagne with their crew, depending on where and how the podium is set up. Again, just be reactive to what plays out in front of you.

Pro Tip: If you end up getting sprayed with champagne, make sure you clean off your camera gear as soon as you get back to the media centre. When it starts to dry, it gets quite sticky and becomes much harder to remove.

Keep in mind you don’t always need to shoot the podium directly front on either. Look for options to photograph it from amongst the crowd, off to the side or from above to try something different and mix up your shots.

Other Things To Keep In Mind Capturing Celebration Photos

Other Things To Keep In Mind Capturing Celebration Photos

Each Driver Is Different

The first thing you need to keep in mind is that each driver and every race is different.

Some drivers have more expressive personalities, while others are much more reserved. The more you photograph them, the more you will understand their own unique personalities. That said, each race is different as well. A driver will be much more emotive if it’s their first win or it’s an iconic race or venue. Knowing a little about the situation, either through preparation or by listening to the track commentary, will help you understand how the celebrations might play out.

Watch Out For TV Cameras

As a photographer, like it or not, TV cameras have priority. That is the golden rule of photography motorsport events, especially on the national and international stage.

Some TV crews are very good and will work with you, and if you try to stay out of their way, they will try to stay out of yours. Even politely asking you to move if required. Others will just push and shove and deliberately get in your way.

The more you work in the areas, the better you will be able to understand how the TV crews like to work and how you can both stay out of their way while still getting the shots you need.

If you are concerned by this, stand a little further back, use a long lens and work around them.

Championship

Celebrations will step up for the championship title decider. Especially if the championship is decided at the final race of the year.

As a general rule, championship winners will display much more emotion than a usual race winner. It’s the culmination of a full year of effort and that shows in the reaction from both the driver and the team.

You’ll also have many more elements to consider and include in your photos: the championship trophy, confetti, fireworks, team posters, special team shirts… So many other elements.

The trick to capturing great championship celebration photos is not to get too focused on one shot in particular. Watching, observing and reacting to what plays out in front of you is going to be key. That said in rapidly changing environments where there are lots of things at play, using features like back button focus will allow you the best chance of getting sharp photos.

Conclusion

Celebration photos are key to being able to tell the full story of a race weekend with your photos. Just keep in mind there are a lot of extra factors, as listed, that can play out in trying to get these shots. But with a little preparation and understanding of the context, you will give yourself options to be able to get the photos you need.

Rhys Vandersyde

Rhys Vandersyde

I've been working as a motorsport photographer in Australia since 2012, building up my business InSyde Media. I am very fortunate that I have been able to work at all sorts of motorsport events including Supercars, F1 and WRC all over Australia and New Zealand. Also, check out my personal website where I document my travels and a few other things.

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