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How to Take Great Photos of Race Car Drivers, and other Celebrities.
Written by "F-Stop"
Managing Director, Vector Trust / Australia
Original member of the team.

     You donít have to be paparazzi to take great photos of your favorite race car driver, TV/Movie star or any other celebrity. In fact, The most common request I get from race fans is not for action photos, but for a "nice" photo of their favorite driver. Pictures of the cars are easy. Most racing teams and sponsors merchandize the race cars image broadly to get the sponsor logos seen by the widest possible audience. That leaves the drivers only seen on TV interviews or in magazine articles. Even the giveaway pictures from fan clubs focus on the cars. There is nothing wrong with this. The teams need sponsor revenues to race and win. The teams make promises to those sponsors, one of which is to make sure all the promotional items include the product logos. For the average fan, It then becomes difficult to get "a real picture" of Rubens Barachello, Wayne Taylor, Ron Fellows, Colin McRae, Mark Martin, John Force or Steve Kinser.
This is NOT John Force      Magazines have pretty women on the cover to temp you into reading more. The headline of this article says ...and other celebrities. This photo of Ms. Hurley is my cover shot.
Here are some tips, tricks and suggestions to help you accomplish your goal of a great celebrity photo.

     Before we can take a picture we must find our victim, er... I mean subject. I make this joke on purpose because celebrities of all types vary in their willingness to tolerate photographers. The difference between what Iíll suggest here, and the outlaw paparazzi you hear about occasionally, is that you will be attending open public events. These pre-scheduled appearance are at times and places your victim, er... I mean subject has agreed in advance to appear. With this in mind, here are five basic rules I hope you will adhere to.
Number 1     Take your photos in public areas of the event. Some celebrities schedule autograph signings at shopping malls, store openings, or car dealerships. Others are more restrictive, but appear at local movie premieres or charity fund raisers. Donít sneak around, or appear be a "stalker". Itís just silly, rude and may get you arrested.
That brings me to:
Number 2      What ever the event, Be polite, Be gracious and say "Thank You." Race car drivers, TV stars and Presidential candidates are real people with feelings You will get photos with a nice smile, if they arenít afraid of some idiot in the front row with a camera. Yes, I mean you, so lets talk about:
Number 3    Respect the rules announced at the event. If the promoter says, No Still or Video cameras in the Opera House, Donít sneak one in under your coat. I know itístempting. Youíll want to try. Just Donít do it. Iíll talk about "Plan B" in a moment.
Number 4    Stop taking pictures, if and when you are asked. Donít ruin the event for everyone else by breaking the rules and causing the "show" to come to a complete stop. Remember, the reason you want the picture is because you like this person and are a fan. If thatís not why you are there, leave. The crowd will thank you.
And finally, a word about propriety.
No! I won't tell you -Who she was- and I don't have the film, Remember. I just couldn't resist the opportunity to tease you. Number 5     Donít take embarrassing pictures. As in Number 4 above, If you are a fan, Do you really want a picture of your favorite star, with spinach in his teeth? or falling on the ground after tripping in her high heels? NO. The most glamourous portrait photos I ever made were of a female TV star. Here's how it happened. I had just put a new roll of film in my camera, while waiting outside the building. The third shot on the roll ( by accident ) was her tripping and falling, while getting into her limo. It was terrible. She skinned her knee, The skirt flew up over her head, and her famous butt was in the air. She heard the click as she fell, and looked up to see me there. Why was it the greatest portrait? Because I ran to help her up, then without a word, opened my camera and gave her the roll of film. She invited me into the limo, said "thanks" and posed for six nice pictures back in the hotel lobby. Those photos never sold, but I hope I made the next polite photographers job easier. Be sure to read the comment below about posting your pictures on the internet too.
  We've discussed the rules. Lets go take some pictures!

Nice idea, good plan, bad photo! Oh well. Two trys still won't make this a good photo!      Getting great photos at any public event, including the race track, requires planning ahead and some persistence. If you know the picture you want, and can see it in your mindís eye, you are ahead of the game. Professional photographers visit the race track hours or days before the action starts, just to find the best views. That idea works for any event. By planning ahead, You can learn where to be for the "great shot". Everyone knows the red carpet routine at a movie premiere. The stars exit the limo and walk a pre-set path into the theatre. Get there early and find your position. Are you taking wedding photos? Is the Mayor presenting an award? The same technique applys. If you know the schedule and the floorplan, youíll know where to be for the great picture. At the same time, try to imagine a Plan B too. Because sometimes we all guess wrong. Hereís an example.
The Bentley EXP Speed 8 LMGTP is placed on the grid before the race. This series of photos illustrates an error I corrected by planning ahead. The 2001 24 Hours of Le Mans race was the first appearance of the Team Bentley automobiles in 70 years. I was trying to find something new. My thought was to get a photo of the car below the winnerís podium, before the race started. How do I do that? Ask the team, Please, can you roll the car over here for me? Even my press credential wasnít going to make that happen. These guys are trying to win a race, but.... wait. Before the race starts the cars are all rolled out onto the starting grid, which is just under the podium. Hello! Thatís a plan. I walked down to view the shot in advance. It looked good. All I needed to do was wait. Sure enough, at the proper time the cars were taken from the pit lane to the starting grid. The were pushed right past where I was waiting. You see the results. The picture I saw in my head was great. The reality was terrible. I couldnít get a wide, clean view, and the vertical shot Iíd hoped for with the empty podium in the background was a waste. Hereís where my advanced planning helped. Because I had envisioned the complete roll-out process, from beginning to end, I was still ready for the third shot you see. By the way, I was standing in the exact same spot for all three photos. If you were a magazine editor, which photo would you buy? Being spontaneous is good, but planning and knowledge of the event schedule will increase the odds of getting the best photos possible.

2002 Hawaiian Tropic Girls in the standard pose for fans at Sebring 2002. I like brunettes.      Donít be afraid to get up close to your subject. In photographic terms, this does not always mean moving your feet. A zoom lens is a great tool for any photographer. If you are shooting a 35mm SLR camera ( and you should be ) save your pennies and buy the best zoom lens you can afford. The lens used for these photos of the Hawaiian Tropic girls is a professional quality 80-200mm lens with 2.8 speed. It costs over usd$600, but a similar consumer-grade 70-200mm lens with 5.6 speed can be purchased for about usd$100. Any serious amateur can afford the appropriate tools. In this situation, Iíve added the usual photo most fans will take. This is a particularly bad photo because of the crowd shadows on the girl's shoes and the fans wandering around in the background. As a photographer, these are not things you can change or fix. Group photos of these girls appear in newspapers, and magazines worldwide, but not from this situation. Is it the best photo possible? Photography is not about right or wrong, but capturing memories and telling a story. Which photo will help you remember how pretty the girls were?. Filling the viewfinder with a single subject can make all the difference.

     Another great place to get close to race car drivers and other celebrities is at "book tour" stops, autograph signing appearances, grand openings, charity fund raisers and other high media events. This is when the racers, professional sports players, TV/movie stars, even the most camera-shy celebrity is available to the average fan. Itís also a time when your subject knows you are there with your camera. Eric van de Poole / Driver of the Team Bentley EXP Speed 8 LMGTP at the 2001 24 Hours of Le Mans. Copyrights reserved by They will be making an effort to look good and have a smile on their face. A long lens on your camera will probably come in handy too. Everyone in attendance will want the celebrities attention. Why donít you take a different route. Stand back from the crowd. get your camera ready and take your shot between the posed smiles for the photographers up front. Taking great photos in these situations doesnít require the "press pass" you dream of either. Oh sure, It would be nice to have that privledged access, but donít believe you canít overcome this obstacle. The photo on the left is of Eric van de Poole, driver of the Bentley EXP "Speed 8" LMGTP at the 2001 24 Hours of Le Mans race in France. He was available to the fans at a nearby town, for an autograph session. I was following Team Bentley all through the race weekend. At this publicity event, I used no special passes or privledge to get either of these photos. My real goal was to photograph the crowds. Look closely at the edges of the left side picture. Do you see the blue jacket of a fanís shoulder on the right side? You can also see the face and camera of a guy in the second row crowding into my picture from the left. The photo on the right is from 1/5 of a second later. A quick zoom in.... and Click! Itís a much better picture, one that any fan could have taken, and many did. By the way, this photo was used in several German media client articles about the race. They chose this shot instead of the official Team Bentley portrait. Now, all we need to do is convince Eric to put on a red T-shirt and tight, white shorts. Thatís a photo any novice photographer could sell to the photo/news agencies.
FYI - the logo is splashed very ugly across Ericís famous hat, on purpose. Be sure to read about the dangers of posting your photos on the Internet at the end of this article.

Alain Prost, Driving legend - Owner/Prost Grand Prix Racing.     The access the average fan is granted at race tracks varies greatly. If you are a fan of any racing series, You know that you canít just wander into the pits. Donít worry, there are still ways to get your pictures. Formula One races are notoriously the most restrictive for fan access. FIA photography credentials are required to get photos of legendary driver, Alain Prost at work with his team during the 2001 season.   CART or NASCAR events pretend to be more hospitable, but severely limit ticketholders too. Adjust your photography plans according to the race series. F1 drivers can only be found at the charitable and social events surrounding a race. Some tour companies offer ticket packages that include a walk through the pits during slow periods of the race weekend, and attendance at some of those social events. We like the GrandPrix Tours company. Their race weekend format will get the average fan as close to the action as is possible. We recommend them to friends that want to "see it all".
     NASCAR teams usually have autograph sessions at every race, coordinated by the driver and team fan clubs. Check the web sites for schedules before you travel. The least restrictive of all is the NHRA. Dean Skuza, Driver of the Team Mopar Funny Car. This is top of the line, professional drag racing at itís best, and you can get really close to the action. A pit pass ticket is available that allows you to stand in the pits and watch the teams work on the cars through out the weekend. Any fan can get an autograph from Dean Skuza ( Right). He is noted for his willingness to interact with the fans, but he is by no means unique in doing this. Most NHRA teams make their drivers available for pre-scheduled appearances, more than any other professional racing series in the world. If you go to an NHRA event, Remember that these teams are trying to win a race. They are at work, while you are enjoying your weekend. Respect their request to move out of the way, wait in a designated area or to "come back later". Kenny Bernstein, Driver of the Bud King Top Fuel Dragster. Hereís another photography tip for your next visit to any race track or public event. Keep your camera ready at all times. This photo of Kenny Bernstein is not very "professional". The shadows at his feet and the cluttered background would keep it from ever being printed in the media. As a fan photo or race day souvenirs, It is a great picture. Kenny is smiling, ( He always is.). He is in his "dress" uniform on the way to a press photo shoot ( so was I ). This picture was taken in a "public area" of the pits. Any fan could have taken this photo. In fact it would be easier to get this photo, than to get an autograph at that moment in time. Years from now, Which of the two choices would bring back more fond memories, the autograph you "almost got", or this nice snapshot? I choose the picture I took myself.

     Sometimes you must take a pre-planned, posed picture. Whether it is the family around the X-mas tree, or your boss at an award presentation, these situations require you to "get the shot", and get it, "now". Hereís a great trick for getting the candid and natural facial expressions in these situations. I call it the
(Click)(Click)1-2-3 Cheese!(Click) trick. The name gives it away, but Hereís how it works:
     Tell your target subject that you are going to take a great photograph, and that you want them to look good. Walk up to them and show them where to stand, and how you want them to pose. Then, tell them that you have to adjust the camera, and that youíll say 3-2-1, "cheese", when itís time to take the photo. As you step back to aim your camera, your subject will relax, and wait for your instructions. During this time, chat with them casually about anything. If you are tricky, you can get one, maybe two photos when they arenít expecting it. Always do the 3-2-1 countdown pictures too. Itís rare, but some people really do look better with their "posed smile". Either way, youíll have several shots to choose from, and the natural facial expressions will be well worth the extra effort.

F-stop in action at the 12 Hour of Sebring.

About the author:
"F-stop" is one of the founding members of
He first worked with "Vector" when they were both little "baby fish in the big pool".
See some of his photography work and read other technical and "How to" articles on this web site.
His byline appears occasionally in enthusiast publications, world-wide.

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