Say Cheese! F1 Photography Exposed
Published 30th September 2009 - Written by Adam Le Feuvre
Picture this! Ever wondered how F1 photographers get such awesome photos from grands prix, or how you could be an F1 photographer? Wonder no more – The Badger has managed to catch up with one of F1’s official photographers, ask a few questions and find out more about being an international motorsport photographer… Please welcome Martin Trenkler to the Sett…
Born in Northern Slovakia (former Czechoslovakia) Martin is a thoroughly nice gentleman who now photographs F1 for Formula One Management (FOM). It’s the sort of job that doesn’t just land on your lap, so how the devil did he get there? In brief, he picked up his first camera at the age of 16 and began to enjoy the art of taking photographs. By the age of 18 his passion for F1 landed him a job working for a national f1 magazine as a journalist and photograher. He obviously had a talent, because after only 12 months he found himself being an accredited photographer, taking photos at F1 grands prix.
After hard work studying journalism at university he left to pursue his dream of working in F1 and this determination paid off, because he started working with none other than Rainer Schlegelmilch – the legendary F1 photographer. This valuable experience gained allowed Martin to setup his own agency, selling articles and photos magazines in the Czech and Slovak republics.
Since 2004 he’s been working for FOM, so he’s responsible for some of the stunning official F1 images you see on various websites and publications. His work stands out from other F1 photographers with some of his shots being much more than just the Ferrari going around a corner, but before we look at his work – the Badger asked him some questions to gain an insight into how you can become an F1 photographer…
F1 Badger: I’ve only got a Kodak disposable but want to take some good Formula 1 photos – exactly what makes a ‘good’ f1 photo?
Martin Trenkler: A good F1 photograph has to tell a story. It shouldn’t be easily overlooked, it has to have a depth of information. Naturally the technical side is as well important, good composition and good exposure are essential. Having said that sometimes you get a shot which is technically not brilliant but the story it tells is far more important than that. A good photograph persuades you to take a longer look at it.
F1B: The pictures I got back from Snappy Snaps don’t look too good – can you help by letting us know the techniques used for f1 photos
MT: Everyone has their own look at things, their own vision of what they are looking for in F1 and their favourite techniques and equipment. That’s why all of us have different looking images. Also, a photograph taken is just a raw material, it needs its treatment in computer to get the most out of it. It’s not cheating, this is the story of photography since its beginning. Myself I prefer vivid pictures with clear undisturbing background. I like to use a telephoto lens and opened aparture a lot, to emphasize my subject within its surroundings. I love portraits too. A good medium telephoto lens or a zoom with opened aparture, correct light, background and person’s expression, especially in the eyes, are the things I’m looking at when taking portraits. Try and experiment also with longer exposure times while taking action shots – follow the cars and expose them at 1/100 down to 1/15 of a second.
F1B: I’ve got a friend with a camera, he loves taking photos and loves F1 – how should he go about becoming an F1 photographer?
MT: That’s hard, and now harder than ever. Major agencies who employ a lot of young photographers have their vacancies since a long time filled with good snappers and freelancing means finding enough clients to survive all the costs. Equally the accreditation procedure, which is to be found at www.fia.com, is very strict. Working for a good magazine is a chance and applying at photo agencies, then going through their learning periods in, i.e. smaller formulae is the usual route. You really really really have to want to do this hard job to get there. Once you are here it is a never ending fight to hold on in the dramatically unstable and ever weaker market. It may sound depressive but illusions are not good when you bid to be in a rough world of Formula One. I say – try really hard and give it all your time, efforts and money! A good shot is rewarding and worth the trouble.
F1B: Ok, so I’ve been to the race, but the pictures I took from the grandstands make the cars look like MicroMachines, I need to get closer! How does one go about getting passes for taking ‘inside’ shots
MT: As I said the passes are granted by the F1’s governing body – the FIA and the whole procedure is on their official web site. Basically you need to work for a serious publication or an already accredited agency to get the „Holy Grail“ – the pit-pass and a photographer’s tabard. Rather than trying to shoot behind the fence as a spectator, try and get a pass for your local motor sport event, which should be a lot easier, and get as close as you can get. Within the rules of course! Prepare a portfolio of your best shots and always consult with a professional photographer what you’re doing good and wrong.
F1B: This is great Martin, but I gather my £5.99 Kodak disposable isn’t up to the job of capturing F1, so what’s the best equipment I should get…on a budget!?
MT: Equipment is the most expensive thing in the whole photography and you need some 10,000 pounds to buy the very basic stuff – let’s say a Canon EOS 1D/Ds or 5D Mk II camera, which is cheaper, then 70-200 mm lens, or 135 mm, 16-35 mm lens and a 300 or 500 mm lens. With this equipment you are fully able to do the kind of shots we in F1 do. Basically you want a medium telephoto lens for portraits and some action, a wide angle lens for proper documentation of situations, a long telephoto lens for any action and a good camera. You may want to get also a 1,4 converter to get even closer with the long lens (the circuits have huge run-off areas) and a flash for creative photography.
Besides all this photography talk, we quized Martin with some more personal questions to help you, our readers understand who these lucky folk are, at the races taking photos for a living…. When asked about his mode of transport, the instant reaction was “Ferrari!” but, after taking a moment to consider the options he settled for a Mitsubishi Evo, purely because it’s fun to drive along alpine roads. When driving said car he’ll have anything from Abba, to Keane, to J.S. Bach, to Sting on the stereo – quite an eclectic taste! His favourite day of the week is a Sunday, after a race and his top nosh is always Italian, he can’t get enough of his pasta dishes. Aren’t we devils for details here at Badger – it’s very important to gain this exclusive insight into one of F1’s creative minds!
So there we have it – it may not be cheap and it’s going to take years of practice and experience to enable you to get to the level of being an accredited FOM photographer, but it’s not impossible and with the passion and determination you could find yourself out of the office and travelling to the races. Good luck!
Some of Martin’s work from China 2009 (and his clever self-portrait!):