Finding the formula for motorsport success
Motorsports photographer Andrew Hone talks to CPN writer Mark Alexander about panning shots, the demands of shooting F1 and finding a replacement for his stolen go-to lens...
Refining your skills as a photographer can take a lifetime. In fact, most photographers admit the process never really ends with new equipment and an assortment of techniques providing a never-ending bounty of possibilities. Distilling just a few of these into your photographic trick bag can be a lifelong ambition.
Andrew Hone, a motorsports photographer who covers F1 for LAT Images as a freelancer and previously for Getty Images, has done just that and more, carving out a career based around his ability to freeze action while also creating artistic, almost abstract sports imagery. Add to that telling portraits and an uncanny knack of picking out the smallest detail of a speeding racing car, and you can see why Hone’s instinctive flair and range of skills come into their own on race day.
“I started going to a local race track when my friends first started to drive,” he says. “I was 15 at the time. I’ve always enjoyed things that go fast - planes, cars whatever. If it is noisy, it’s perfect.”
His passion for speed went hand-in-hand with his love of photography and he landed a transformative role as a picture editor in 2006 for German agency XPB when he was just 17. “Looking through other people’s pictures was a fantastic way of finding your own style,” he explains. “You pick out what you like and what you don’t like, and you combine that into your own vision as a photographer.”
Being a conduit between the image takers and the fee-paying clients gave Hone a front-row seat into the world of motorsports photography. It was a rarefied position that any aspiring shooter would crave. “It’s not a step back being a picture editor,” he continues. “It’s a brilliant way to learn your craft through other people’s work. You won’t notice it while you’re doing it, but you take on a huge amount of information. For instance, if I was working on a picture, I could ask where the shot was taken and how it was done. I was able to build up a database of information. It was like going to university.”
An eye for a picture
Hone’s editing days certainly provided a privileged view of the industry he loved and a fertile learning ground. What appealed most was the diversity of shots that passed by his desk. “The body of work produced by the agency photographers and the different techniques they used was amazing. There are a lot of jobs in one.”
Like any graduate worth his salt, Hone eagerly absorbed information and emerged from his editorial role with a firm grasp of the shots that worked in F1. A meeting with Canon Ambassador Frits van Eldik developed into a friendship with Frits imparting valuable trackside advice that certainly helped Hone get to where he is today. Now, his portfolio is awash with an eclectic marriage of styles and looks than span phenomenal action shots and key moments caught with clarity and precision.
With his student days behind him, Hone sports a bulging kitbag of cameras and lenses most notably featuring a pair of Canon EOS-1D X DSLRs which, he says, are the best cameras he has ever used. “They’re bullet-proof, and so reliable.”
A Canon man through and through, he started shooting with an EOS 400D and gradually progressed through the ranks, with the biggest step-change arriving when he retired a pair of EOS-1D Mark IVs in favour of his prized 1D Xs. “That was quite a difference,” he says. “It was the sharpness that stood out and the AF was unbelievable. On top of that, I have never had a problem with them. They just go on and on. I think I’ve reached 300,000 actuations with one of the shutters, and it shows no signs of giving up.”
Perhaps as important for a busy motorsports photographer are the customisation features on the 1D X range. As Hone explains, these preferences can be used to tailor the camera to specific shooting conditions which can be invaluable when you have to move from a bright, trackside spot to a busy, dark garage with celebrity portraits on your mind.
“You can customise a lot of the buttons to do a lot of things – you can have settings for different scenarios which can make the jump that bit easier,” he says. “When you’re running from the end of a session to the next job, if you can minimise the time taken to change things on your camera, that gives you piece of mind you can actually do the job in the allocated time.”
He continues: “Going from the track to a garage, I would have to change the ISO settings, the shutter speed and the aperture all manually. Sometimes you don’t have time for that, but with the custom functions, you can set it up all in advance. In a low-light scenario in a garage, I can press a button and the camera is ready.”
Fast lenses for fast subjects
In front of his cameras, Hone has a number of options including a selection of fast, prime lenses and a couple of zooms, including the EF16-35mm f/4L IS USM which comes into its own in the hustle and bustle of the pits. Out on the track, he generally goes long, as you would expect, with his go-to lens being an EF500mm f/4L IS II USM. “You need a longer lens for the race track,” he says. “I would rather be on a slightly shorter lens and be able to go further with an extender, than to be on a 600mm and not be able to go back.”
But there is one piece of equipment that has proved invaluable, and it isn't a lens. It’s the WFT-E6 Wireless File Transmitter. “I can’t begin to tell you how useful the WFT-E6 is for our work,” Hone reveals. “This is actually now an essential part of our gear at the race track; client demands for images on social media is paramount and we transmit as we are shooting, sending back hundreds of images straight from the camera back to the picture desk every day.”
Unfortunately, Hone’s prized telephoto was stolen from the media centre at the Italian Grand Prix last season and he has been trying to work out his options ever since. “I am borrowing a 500mm lens from a friend and Canon kindly lent me an EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM with the built-in extender, which is fantastic. That took me aback. I absolutely love it. What a great lens. I really enjoy having the options.”
The upgraded 500mm also made an impression. “They might look the same, but they are different animals,” Hone says. “The new version is so sharp. That is the main thing; its sharpness, and the AF is brilliant.”
Hone has some serious decisions to make regarding a replacement lens for his old 500mm, but whether he goes for the flexibility of the 200-400mm or the outright sharpness of the newer EF500mm f/4L IS II USM, of upmost importance to him will be how the lens operates in the field. “When you’re track-side with a monopod, a lot of it is getting into a rhythm - being comfortable with your equipment. It’s all about movement and balance.”
Hone is a master of the panning shot where photographers follow the movement of a car through a chicane or a sweeping bend often selecting a slower shutter speed to blur the rest of the frame. It is an eye-grabbing technique that conveys speed, power and movement like no other.
Tenacity and technique
“Those shots are my favourite aspect of motorsports photography because you can really show racing cars for what they are, which is fast,” he says. “To get the best results, I try to take as much weight off my shoulders in terms of equipment. We wear photographers’ vests and jackets, which can hold quite a few lenses. When they’re loaded up, they can weigh about 15 kilos, and that’s on top of your long lens. So I try to get myself as comfortable as possible and practice the panning movement without any cars, just to get that rhythm – bringing the camera round again and again – so by the time the cars come round the circuit, you’re ready. You’ve got your feet in the right place and you’re balanced. You’re more likely to get consistent shots if your mind and body are in the right place.”
Shooting between 1/3sec to 1/50sec to blur the backgrounds, Hone says you have to feel a connection to the car to get the shot. “You almost have to pretend that the lens is attached to the car and you are moving with it. Like there is a rod going straight through the camera to the car. If you keep yourself synced with the car, your panning technique will deliver great results every time.”
For tighter shots, Hone likes to focus in on the detail. “I try to shoot as wide as possible,” he says. “With the tighter stuff, I like the focus to be on the car only. However if there is an interesting background, you can maybe go to f/6.3 or f/7, but that’s just a style thing. It’s what you like. You’re trying to emphasise what’s happening with the car and the driver.”
And for all those aspiring motorsports photographers with a thirst for engine oil and exhaust fumes, Hone has some clear and simple advice. “Shoot what you love. It gives you that extra five percent and it’s the difference between good and great images. You have to have a passion for what you do.”
Andrew Hone’s Formula One kitbag
|2x EOS-1D X|
|EF16-35mm f/4L IS USM|
|EF40mm f/2.8 STM|
|EF50mm f/1.4 USM|
|EF85mm f/1.2L USM|
|EF135mm f/2L USM|
|EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM|
|EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXTENDER 1.4x|
|EF1.4x Extender II|
|WFT-E6 Wireless File Transmitter|
Biography: Andrew Hone
© Dan Istitene/Getty Images
Andrew Hone has been photographing motorsport for over a decade. As a freelance photographer covering F1 for the likes of LAT Images and Getty Images, he travels the world from race track to race track capturing the spectacle and excitement of motorsport’s flagship events. Although he started his career as photo editor, Hone has established himself as a trackside photographer with his pictures being regularly used by motorsports magazines and sponsors alike.