Story behind the photographer: Mark Sutton

Story behind the photographer: Mark Sutton

9 August 2014 – Throughout the 2014 campaign, GPUpdate.net has been running features with Formula 1 photographer Mark Sutton, putting his favourite shot of the weekend under the spotlight. Here, we take time to discuss his route to the top echelon, his all-time favourite photograph and what advice he has for young hopefuls.

How did you become a Formula 1 photographer?

My brother Keith started the business back in 1980. But before that our father was taking us to the races. We were sort of brought up on it. We were young boys going to the races with their father. My brother then got a pass and managed to take some pictures in front of the fans for the first through the manager of Oulton Park. My brother was coming back with the films and I was helping process them in our home in Manchester. So I was seeing what was happening. In 1983 I was 18 and managed to get my first pass to cover some races for my brother.

My first experience was Formula 3 in that year. Ayrton Senna was obviously winning, but he was also crashing. One of my famous pictures is when Senna and Martin Brundle crashed at Oulton Park. They landed on top of each other and I was there to capture it. I had no motor drive on the camera so I was literally taking a photo and winding the film on. And it was black and white only. No colour. It was too expensive and also, there weren't that many publication in colour anyway. I suppose that photo got me a name. That picture was published everywhere. It was the battle of the season and I was the only guy who had a good sequence of that incident. I had one of them side-by-side and two or three with them on top of each other. Those were in every publication.

I actually started working in the studio doing catalogues, believe it or not. So I wasn't even a photographer, I was an assistant. But I was learning all the time. In 1984 I covered the British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch. That was my only race of the season because I was too busy with my full-time job in the studio. In 1985 Keith came to me and said, "Why don't we set up an agency, drop the Keith Sutton Photography name and call it Sutton Photographic?" In 1992 I started doing all the Grands Prix. We managed to get a contract with a Japanese magazine called F1 Week. They paid me a good a fee to have me there and it meant we had two photographers at every Grand Prix. That grew to six people in the end.

What's your all-time favourite photo?

It's 21 years old, but still my favourite. It's the Flying Finn, the picture of Mika Häkkinen jumping over the kerb in Adelaide back in 1993. If you look in Autocourse you see the pan picture on the left-hand side and the jumping shot of Häkkinen on the right. So you see what I was doing. It was shot at 1/250th of a second. That's quite a slow shutter speed. You get quite a lot of blur in the background. It's not something you'd use when you want to capture a moment like a crash.

What happened in this case is that I heard a screech of the brakes in my right ear, I stood against an advertising wall and there were probably around 10 of us there taking pictures. So I heard the screech, looked up, pointed my lens and kept my finger on the button. I didn't refocus. It was exactly the same focus as the pan picture. I think I fired three or four frames. I looked around to everyone else and asked, "Did you get it?" Most of them didn't even see it, never mind get it. It was actually on a 300mm F2.8 lens, so it was a fixed lens, which means I couldn't change the focal length or anything. The exposure was set, the shutter speed was set. It was literally just fire away and hope for the best. I guess I was very lucky. I never said anything to anybody. I just kept it quiet in those days. I didn't want to brag if I didn't have it sharp. So the photo was processed overnight in the lab we had in Adelaide. The next morning my brother went to the light box to have a look at everything and he was like, "Wow, look at that, it's in the air!" And then all photographers came over and a had a look. That was quite an amazing moment in my career. It gave me a huge boost. The photo was pin sharp.

The story then was to get some prints, because you couldn't really show people a negative. We asked the lab for three prints. One for themselves, one for me and one for Mika. They turned it around in an hour. I went back in the afternoon and showed it to Mika. His face was quite funny. He signed it the Flying Finn and at that moment the Flying Finn as a signature was created. Mika is known as the Flying Finn because of my photo! Then someone from the team came up to us and looked at the print and said, "We thought it was a blip on the telemetry and that we lost you for half a second." It's probably the most selling picture of the whole archive. I think I sold 200 prints to the team and also sold it to Shell and Goodyear for use in their advertising campaigns. It made my name in the business and it shows that I'm a good photographer. Yeah, I was lucky, everybody has to have a bit of luck, that what this sport is all about, just like with the drivers in the last race in Hungary.

Is there a lot of rivalry between Formula 1 photographers?

Yeah, there's huge rivalry. There are so many of us. There are about 60 permanent photographers at every Grand Prix. We're all looking for that one special picture. And digital probably didn't help because it has made it easier for everybody to create nice pictures and it has made it easier for the semi-pros to come in and start doing it. It has it made it easier for the crowd to make pictures. It helps in some cases, like a few years ago when Lewis Hamilton crashed into the wall at the Nürburgring. Someone contacted the office and offered us the photo. We ended up buying it and we made him a bit of money and we had him published in Lewis' book. You need to understand though that pictures don't make millions. They might make a few thousand. That's what people don't understand. It might be slightly different when you have Leonardo DiCaprio naked on a beach somewhere, but you aren't going to make millions on a motorsport picture unless it's something really special. Nowadays it's really difficult to get an exclusive picture. You've got the public, the TV and over 100 photographers, including all the locals who camp out in every corner.

How's your relationship with the current Formula 1 drivers?

Pretty good actually. Some of them keep themselves to themselves. Some of them you have a laugh with. Some of them don't say anything. They are a funny bunch. But I can understand why. They have got a job to do and I think sometimes they feel we are infringing on their private side. But we are not. We are there to do a job at the end of the day. They can't understand why we are taking pictures of them every moment but people like you want pictures. The problem is that we don't see them all the time because they are hiding away in their motorhomes. So when you are shooting them as they are walking from their motorhomes to their garage, they don't understand why. But we haven't seen them, we haven't got any pictures of them. So we need something!

There was a funny moment with Nico in Germany, when he had just won the race. I was taking some pictures of Nico with some of his friends and Nico was shouting, "Work, Sutton, work, keep firing, keep firing." There was a bit of banter going on. That was quite nice, I quite enjoyed that. So he knows who I am. But a lot of drivers you know from their early careers. Jenson Button we supported all the way through from Formula Ford into Formula 3 and into Formula 1. We were his PR company. With Kimi Räikkönen we did a similar thing. Keith had a few parties with him so they have a good relationship with each other. Sebastian Vettel we know really well because we supported him through the Red Bull Junior project. We helped his career when he was 15 and we have pictures of him with his braces on. Some of the other drivers we know from GP2 and GP3. Not so much from  British motorsport anymore, besides Daniel Ricciardo, who did British F3.

Do you have advice for people who want to be a Formula 1 photographer?

It's horrible to say but we can't help you anymore. When we started, we had eight photographers here. They were doing all the junior formulas as part of their apprenticeship. But it has all changed. If you have got the drive to go and be a photographer, you have to go and do it yourself. You have to love motorsports and you have to love photography. You have to be out there in the rain and the cold. You have to have some kind of backing from your family or have rich parents or whatever. You have to go and do it yourself. And then we will try and find you and pick you up. It's all about being positive. You need to be pushing the agencies. Show them what you have got and what you can do. That's the only way it's going to happen. People need to contact us. We can't find them otherwise. Send us a link to your website or your Flickr. Send us some pictures on a link. They need to be high-res. Give us the opportunity. It's a sad situation. We would love to have people here on apprenticeships but it just doesn't work anymore. It's a totally different business to what it was before. Also, I don't think the interest in the smaller formulas is there anymore. I don't know why. In the 90s and early 2000s there was a huge amount of interest in British motorsports and foreign motorsports, but that interest seems to have gone down a lot.

And do you have advice for fans who want to take photos when they are the circuit?

It's all about knowing where the light is. The light always needs to be behind your head. That's a simple fact. That way you're going to get the best light on your subject, whether it's a car or a person or whatever. In terms of position, obviously always try and look for a position where you are quite close to the car or where it's going on a kerb or where it's coming around a corner quite slowly. Because when you are shooting, you have got to follow the car, despite the fact the autofocus systems are quite good now and certainly the Nikon systems we use. Where you want to focus it is entirely up to you, but in most cases you focus on the helmet or on the track before. And then you would fire around the car.

At the beginning I would recommend a fast shutter speed, because you want to freeze the action. It's all about freezing the action. So select shutter priority, which means you are shooting with a shutter speed selected by you and the exposure has been selected by the camera. Each car has a different colour and a different brightness. So the camera will adapt to this automatically. You can do it manually. It's quite easy to do. Do a pre-shot. If it looks good then leave it as it is, if not change it. But with shutter priority it will automatically change for you. It's all a matter of experience, trial and error. If you make a mistake, reshoot it. Obviously you can look on the back of your camera. I never had a chance to do that in the old days. Now you not only have the opportunity to look at the picture on the back of your camera, but also enlarge it, zoom in and check if it's sharp. Today it's so much easier. Once you've done those basic steps, you can start to experiment.

related

Comments

Latest News
Full
Compact

  1. Friday 6 March 2015

  2. 16:58

    Photos: Caterham's Formula 1 journey

    F1
  3. Feature: Bidding farewell to Caterham 16:57

    Feature: Bidding farewell to Caterham

    Formula 1 lined up with 11 teams in 2014, but this year will see only 10 enter the championship. GPUpdate.net reflects on...

    F1
  4. Vișoiu graduates to GP2 with Rapax 15:38

    Vișoiu graduates to GP2 with Rapax

    Robert Vișoiu will make the step up to GP2 with Rapax in 2015, completing the team's line-up. The Romanian, 19, has spent...

    GP2
  5. 14:19

    Photos: Formula 1's new Safety, Medical cars

    F1
  6. Formula 1 gets new Safety Car for 2015 14:18

    Formula 1 gets new Safety Car for 2015

    Formula 1 will have new Safety and Medical cars for the 2015 season, in the form of the Mercedes-AMG GT S and Mercedes-AMG C...

    F1
  7. FIA considers new Formula 1 teams tender 13:01

    FIA considers new Formula 1 teams tender

    FIA President Jean Todt has suggested that the governing body could look at opening a tender for new Formula 1 teams in the...

    F1
  8. 11:53

    Photos: Melbourne gets ready for Formula 1

    F1
  9. Overview: Statistics from pre-season testing 08:50

    Overview: Statistics from pre-season testing

    With all three pre-season tests done and dusted, teams and drivers are now heading to Australia. Ahead of the first race,...

    F1
  10. Sauber confirms van der Garde lawsuit 08:15

    Sauber confirms van der Garde lawsuit

    Sauber has confirmed that Giedo van der Garde has taken legal action against the team. Van der Garde, who acted as...

    F1
  11. Video of the Day: Williams prepares for 2015 05:04

    Video of the Day: Williams prepares for 2015

    Williams gears up for the 2015 Formula 1 season with this promotional trailer, featuring its drivers.

    F1
  12. Thursday 5 March 2015

  13. Manor passes crash tests with updated car 18:46

    Manor passes crash tests with updated car

    Manor Marussia has been officially cleared to compete in next weekend's season-opening Australian Grand Prix, after passing...

    F1
  14. Speed joins Vergne at Andretti for Miami 16:20

    Speed joins Vergne at Andretti for Miami

    Andretti Autosport has confirmed that Scott Speed will make his Formula E debut at next weekend's Miami round, alongside...

    FE
  15. Manor in talks with 'quick young guys' 15:17

    Manor in talks with 'quick young guys'

    Manor's President and Sporting Director Graeme Lowdon says the squad is in discussions with a few 'quick young' drivers and...

    F1
  16. Weekend deadline for German Grand Prix 11:16

    Weekend deadline for German Grand Prix

    Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone says that the future of the German Grand Prix needs to be resolved by this weekend,...

    F1
  17. Van der Garde takes legal action against Sauber 10:25

    Van der Garde takes legal action against Sauber

    Giedo van der Garde is taking legal action against Sauber, claiming that he was unfairly dismissed from the team with which...

    F1
  18. Stöckinger to make GP2 debut with Status 09:05

    Stöckinger to make GP2 debut with Status

    Status Grand Prix has confirmed that Lotus F1 junior driver Marlon Stöckinger will make his GP2 debut with the squad in...

    GP2
  19. Jaafar switches to Fortec for FR3.5 campaign 08:05

    Jaafar switches to Fortec for FR3.5 campaign

    Malaysian driver Jazeman Jaafar will race for Fortec Motorsports in this year's Formula Renault 3.5 Series. Jaafar made...

    FR 3.5
  20. Video of the Day: Ice driving with Rosberg 05:22

    Video of the Day: Ice driving with Rosberg

    Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg shows off his ice driving skills ahead of the new Formula 1 season.

    F1
  21. Wednesday 4 March 2015

  22. Manor confirms it will race in Australia 16:40

    Manor confirms it will race in Australia

    Manor has confirmed that it will return to competition and race in next weekend's season-opening Australian Grand Prix,...

    F1
  23. Pirelli names tyre choices for first four races 14:27

    Pirelli names tyre choices for first four races

    Formula 1 tyre supplier Pirelli has announced its compound nominations for the first four races of the season in Australia,...

    F1
  24. Ricciardo answers GPUpdate reader questions 14:02

    Ricciardo answers GPUpdate reader questions

    Last month, GPUpdate.net gave readers the opportunity to pose questions to Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo. We picked out a...

    F1
  25. Marciello to get practice outing in Malaysia 11:26

    Marciello to get practice outing in Malaysia

    Sauber test and reserve driver Raffaele Marciello has announced that he will take part in the opening free practice session...

    F1
  26. Lotus pleased with engine, chassis gains 10:14

    Lotus pleased with engine, chassis gains

    Lotus Technical Director Nick Chester reckons the team is in a much stronger position this year with its new...

    F1
  27. Pons confirms Merhi for 2015 season 09:38

    Pons confirms Merhi for 2015 season

    Pons Racing has signed Roberto Merhi for the upcoming Formula Renault 3.5 campaign. The Spaniard, 23, made his series...

    FR 3.5
  28. F1 2015: How did each team fare at Barcelona? 08:12

    F1 2015: How did each team fare at Barcelona?

    After eight more days of testing at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, the pre-season period is officially over....

    F1
  29. Video of the Day: Red Bull driver photo shoot 05:04

    Video of the Day: Red Bull driver photo shoot

    Go behind the scenes at Red Bull's driver photo shoot with renowned photographer Michael Muller.

    F1
  30. Tuesday 3 March 2015

  31. Video: Red Bull puts UE Boom to the test 14:43

    Video: Red Bull puts UE Boom to the test

    After teaming up with Ultimate Ears last year, Red Bull decided to put the UE Boom to the ultimate test.

    F1
  32. Alonso to sit out Australian Grand Prix 12:13

    Alonso to sit out Australian Grand Prix

    McLaren has confirmed that Fernando Alonso will sit out the Australian Grand Prix in the wake of his testing crash at the...

    F1
  33. Force India braced for early regression 09:31

    Force India braced for early regression

    Force India Deputy Team Principal Bob Fernley says the squad is braced for a slow start to the 2015 campaign following the...

    F1
  34. Williams confirms Wolff's on track programme 09:24

    Williams confirms Wolff's on track programme

    Williams has confirmed the details of Susie Wolff's on track programme for the 2015 season. Wolff, who stepped up to the...

    F1
  35. Toro Rosso has performed 'as expected' – Key 08:42

    Toro Rosso has performed 'as expected' – Key

    Toro Rosso Technical Director James Key hailed a positive pre-season campaign for the Italian squad, believing that the new...

    F1
  36. Video of the Day: Berlin ePrix launch 05:24

    Video of the Day: Berlin ePrix launch

    Highlights from the launch event of Formula E's Berlin ePrix, which will take place later this season around the grounds of...

    FE
  37. Monday 2 March 2015

  38. Arrivabene urges concentration at Ferrari 15:42

    Arrivabene urges concentration at Ferrari

    Ferrari Team Principal Maurizio Arrivabene has emphasised that the Italian outfit must remain disciplined as it prepares for...

    F1
  39. Renault 'quietly confident' ahead of Australia 14:14

    Renault 'quietly confident' ahead of Australia

    Renault Managing Director Cyril Abiteboul says the French power unit supplier is 'quietly confident' ahead of the opening...

    F1
  40. FIA confirms clampdown on helmet changes 13:08

    FIA confirms clampdown on helmet changes

    Formula 1 drivers will be restricted to just one helmet design per season after a proposals put forward by figures inside...

    F1
  41. Final Barcelona pre-season test in numbers 11:01

    Final Barcelona pre-season test in numbers

    The final pre-season test at Barcelona saw Nico Rosberg and Mercedes top the timesheets, and Sauber lead the mileage stakes....

    F1
  42. Vettel expecting close fight behind Mercedes 10:52

    Vettel expecting close fight behind Mercedes

    Sebastian Vettel says he expects a close fight between Williams, Red Bull and his Ferrari team this year – albeit some way b...

    F1
  43. Mick Schumacher to race in German Formula 4 10:45

    Mick Schumacher to race in German Formula 4

    Mick Schumacher, son of seven-time Formula 1 World Champion Michael, will make his car racing debut in German ADAC Formula 4...

    Misc
  44. Pons Racing parts company with Tunjo 10:33

    Pons Racing parts company with Tunjo

    Formula Renault 3.5 outfit Pons Racing has confirmed that it has parted company with Colombian youngster Óscar...

    FR 3.5
  45. 09:57

    Photos: Red Bull presents RB11 livery

    F1
more news