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So, You Want to be an F1 Photographer – Part 3 – A Lap of Silverstone

So, You Want to be an F1 Photographer – Part 3 – A Lap of Silverstone

This third and final part of a 3-part blog takes a lap around Silverstone highlighting the best photographic and viewing spots that can be visited with a general admission ticket providing use is made of Friday’s free access to the grandstands. It starts and ends on the main straight but may be done in any order as convenient and hopefully any changes since last year will be for the benefit rather than to the detriment of photographic opportunities.

The main stand opposite the pits is very popular but provides limited photographic opportunity. Cars are worked on inside their garages, drivers only make fleeting appearances in the open and unless seated up high at the back photographs will be through fences in front of the stand and along the pit wall. However, a few general pit lane views and scenes showing the pit building and complex are always worth taking.

The first bend is a great place from which to watch the start of the race but again provides limited photographic opportunities. The general admission area is some distance from the track with viewing through the fence. A wider view from the high seats at the back of the stand is possible although from further away.

The stands at the new infield complex through Farm, Village and the Arena can provide a good view of the cars but the large run-off areas make it a featureless, un-photogenic part of the circuit. The best place to capture the nature of this section of track is from the Becketts stand which we will get to later.

Towards the end of the Wellington Straight the banking on the elevated road leading to the bridge that crosses the track provides a good view looking down on to the braking zone for Brooklands and into the Luffield complex. This is a prime overtaking spot and can provide both a good panoramic shot as well as action shots as cars brake for the bend with the Brooklands hospitality suite as an interesting background reference. It wouldn’t be a bad spot to watch the grand prix from with a general admission ticket.

Spectators can get close to the track between Brooklands and Luffield but the best area for photography is the general admission terrace between the two Luffield corners. Standing at the back allows you to shoot over the top of the fence. A long focal length lens will capture the cars in different attitudes entering, on the apex of, or exiting the first Luffield bend. A wider angle lens will show the cars against some interesting background features such as the scoreboard and the classic Silverstone shot used quite often in professional publications showing several cars in the complex with the Brooklands and BRDC hospitality suites in the background capped, with a bit of luck, with a dramatic British summertime cloud formation. This scene appeared as a spread over pages 46 and 47 in last year’s programme. Move around the terracing to vary your shooting position.

Woodcote will give you another perspective of the Luffield complex. The general admission area is too low but from the stand you will be above the fence and can get a head-on shot of the cars in the second Luffield bend with the colourful flags of the ‘F1 Village’ in the background. A wider angle lens will capture a general view of the complex with scoreboard.

The national pits straight is a fast straight between Woodcote and Copse, not particularly interesting but if this is where you are watching and photographing from try to get as high as you can in the stand and use a slow shutter speed panning technique to hide the fence.

Copse was until last year the first bend which made it a prime location. There is a small grass general admission area (behind the ‘photographers’ bunker’) between the terracing and beneath the stands from where you can capture the cars head on all the way along the straight and into Copse Corner. In this location you are low down, eye level with the cars, which makes the photograph more dramatic. Because of the large run-off area the fence is relatively close compared to the track so use the longest lens and fastest shutter speed possible to keep the fence out of focus.

Follow the track until you get to the Maggotts/Becketts complex. Stand a while and watch as the cars go into the first right hander after the left hand kink at Maggotts to experience at close quarters the sheer speed at which modern Formula One cars can change direction.

For photographs you need to be up in the Becketts stand. From here not only can you can get a panorama of the complex for general views and some slow shutter speed pan shots but also a view across the track of the new infield section. If you are in the right seat you can see 5 sections of track criss-crossing in front of you with the first bend (Abbey) the most distant and Becketts the nearest. Try to capture the view from this part of the circuit with a shot that has a car on each section of track at the same time. Use a fast shutter speed and compose the picture with all the sections of the track in the frame. When a car flashes by through Becketts in the foreground from right to left, press the shutter and do not pan. You cannot possibly compose the position of the cars in your picture but eventually and with some luck, particularly towards the end of a session when many cars are on track, you may have 4 or 5 cars in your shot pointing in different directions on different sections of track. This stand now offers one of the best views of the circuit and is very popular so you will need to get in early.

The path that runs alongside Hangar Straight can make a good location from which to photograph the drivers’ parade due to its proximity to the track and in the right place the drivers’ heads are above the top of the fence. Some fairly interesting photographs can be obtained from the Hangar Straight stand – general views across the circuit with plenty of sky, slow shutter speed pan shots and a rear view shot of the cars going through Stowe.

Even the high seats of the stands at Stowe do not clear the fence but a view of Hangar straight is possible. Past the stands there is a section of general admission banking with a view above the fence of the cars exiting Stowe and a long lens will capture a backdrop of (Northamptonshire?) countryside depicting the rural location of the circuit.

Both The Vale general admission and stand are not particularly good photographically as they are below the level of the fence and with the re-siting of the F1 paddock now have a very messy background of sponsors’ stands and marquees. This is an area for slow shutter speed pan shots to show the cars streaking between blurred fore and backgrounds

Between the Vale and Club stands there is a small general admission area where the cars turn left off Vale, head toward you and then turn right into Club. It is possible to shoot over the fence and is a popular location for enthusiast photographers. Use the longest lens possible to get head on shots and a wider angle for pan shots of the cars going into Club. A wide angle shot will show the ‘Wing’ in the background. This area is lower and closer to the track than the first uncovered Club stand and is therefore better for photography.

The new final bend covered Club stand provides a good view looking up the pit straight and some of the pit lane with a profile of the ‘Wing’ to your right and main stand to your left. Take shots at different focal lengths to vary the view and try different exposures to silhouette the angular outline of ‘the Wing’ and capture the sky and cloud formations.

There is a general admission area just after the final bend between the stands across from the podium. The fence will intrude on action shots but as the podium is further away by using the longest lens possible some decent, albeit distant, podium shots are possible.

The Club, International Pits Straight and Abbey (first corner) stands are very popular viewing locations but offer only limited photographic possibilities. It may be an idea to visit these stands as a group during GP2 or GP3 sessions when less full to take some general views.

Try taking some general shots that will reflect Silverstone’s very British atmosphere such as the garden party style picnics on plastic tables and chairs and its Pimm’s bars. Good reference shots could include the large photographic display of previous British Grand Prix winners on the roundabout outside the main entrance gate and also the word ‘Silverstone’ in the glass panelling under the jagged edge of the ‘Wing’ roof.

And a final thought on the subject of motor racing photography. As a consequence of the circuits becoming similar in design with the ever increasing restrictions on access to both working photographers and paying spectators, the resulting photographs all took on a similar appearance – long focus shots of cars and drivers snapped at sponsor or media controlled appearances. More recently, the creative possibilities opened up by digital photography with modern equipment capable of capturing images at exceptionally slow shutter speeds has enabled the sport to be portrayed in a more artistic way. Affordable equipment capable of producing exhibition quality images is now available to every aspiring photographer. It’s the imagination and physical effort that is put in to obtain the photograph that will make the difference.