How To Keep Safe While Taking Photos at Motorsport Events
Highlight reels demonstrate the risk associated with the sport and for photographer’s safety is paramount due to the areas accessed adding emphasis to the extra responsibilities to do the job in the safest way possible. This not only for our own safety, but to allow future photographers the same access we’ve been granted.
Every incident has consequences and for us photographers it always seems to be losing access to great photo spots.
So, what can you do to keep safe at motorsport events?
Here are my best tips and advice for a good safe day working as a photographer at the track.
Pay attention to the photographer brief.
This might not be the case at every track/venue around the world (unfortunately I have not been to every track out there), but a lot of tracks will conduct some sort of photographer safety brief. Be it a formal meeting or a simple piece of paper a track map and some notes.
WRC is particularly good at this with a meeting and a full suite of notes.
If it’s a track that you’ve never visited before, or one that you haven’t been to in quite some time, please pay attention to this. You’ll get very important information, especially about areas that you aren’t allowed to take photos from.
If there is a designated “No-Go Zone” it’s probably for a good reason and the last thing you need to be doing is arguing with an official about where you are and aren’t allowed to stand.
It’s also worth keeping any track map/notes in your pocket so if you are pulled up by an official and you are in the right spot, you can show them (without being argumentative, they are volunteers after all).
Always keep a safety barrier between you and the action.
This one should be common sense, but more than once I’ve had to pull up a first timer (or at least someone with limited experience), who has put themselves in a precarious situation.
For circuit racing this is immediately obvious. It’s usually the concrete, armco or earth bank barriers around the circuit. If there isn’t one of these between you and the cars, you are absolutely in the wrong place.
In other types of motorsports like rallying, off road or hillclimb events this isn’t always possible, but you should always try to have some sort of natural barrier between and the oncoming cars.
These style of non-track specific motorsport events, it’s really important to never position yourself on the outside of an exit of a corner. In the event that something goes wrong (which as we discussed previously is the spectator appeal or motorsport, so it does happen), this is the most likely place for a car to go off. Ideally, you should position yourself on the inside of the corner.
If you are unsure of where a safe place to stand, watch to see what other more experienced photographers are doing. If no one is using a particular area, it’s probably for good reason and if you are really unsure, ask another photographer to give you some tips about safe places to stand.
Pro Tip: Professional motorsport photographers will often be quite protective of their favourite/best shooting spots around different venues, but if you ask them about some safe places to shoot from you might get some insider tips on good places to shoot at different circuits.
This is just a fancy name for using your senses to be aware of what is going on around you.
It can be very easy to focus down the barrel of your lens and miss what is going on much closer (or further away) to you. Especially if you are using a long zoom lens like a 400mm or 600mm.
If I’m not pushing the shutter button at that very second, I’ll usually be looking over the top of my lens to see what is going on at the time. It’s also a great way to be able to react to crashes and other high action moments out on track.
Use your other senses to understand what might be happening as well is also important. The screeching of tyres is always a dead giveaway that someone has lost control even just for a split second. While the unmistakable sound of two cars colliding is also a fairly solid indicator.
Other sounds that could indicate an issue could be cars running over ripple strips, kicking up gravel, the change of engine note, or even the response of the crowd.
You’ll often see me at the track with earphones in, but I’m not jamming out to tunes. Instead, I’ll have the track commentary dialled in so I know what is happening around the circuit.
A very useful tool in being able to tell the story of a race photographically, but also to understand if and when something has happened on the circuit, a car leaking fluid, an incident etc.
Always have an escape plan.
In the event that something goes wrong, where do you go?
It’s worth having a think about when you arrive somewhere you haven’t shot from before.
Some places it will be quite easy to duck behind a wall, there could also be plenty of open space behind you to move so it’ll be easy to workout.
Other places where spectator fences are close to the barriers, or in the tight confines of street circuits it might warrant a few extra seconds of consideration.
Another thing to keep in mind, is that a lot of the barriers around circuits move, armco and temporary concrete barriers in particular, so make sure that you account for this also.
Give yourself a bit of a buffer and not be hard up against the fence.
All in all, in being a motorsport photographer there are risks that we need to accept, it’s part of the nature and the thrill of the sport, but these are risks that can be mitigated.
At the end of the day, it’s hard enough to maintain the access to great photo spots around circuits that we do have, with safety gurus easily able to prove how dangerous where we are able to stand is.
The last thing we need to give them any more reasons to make our lives harder.
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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.