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. Thursday 8 December 2016

  2. Video of the Day: Mercedes-Benz party 05:34

    Video of the Day: Mercedes-Benz party

    Mercedes-Benz staged its annual, action-packed motorsport celebration in Sindelfingen, near Stuttgart, last weekend, with recent…

    F1
  3. Wednesday 7 December 2016

  4. 18:32

    New: Follow GPUpdate on Instagram!

    F1
  5. Chilton stays in IndyCar with Ganassi 18:09

    Chilton stays in IndyCar with Ganassi

    Max Chilton will remain in the IndyCar series with Chip Ganassi Racing in 2017. Chilton, 25, made the switch from Formula 1…

    Indy
  6. Carlin names Habsburg as first F3 driver 15:47

    Carlin names Habsburg as first F3 driver

    Carlin has announced its first driver signing for the 2017 European Formula 3 season, with Euroformula Open runner-up Ferdinand…

    F3
  7. Marko: Both Red Bull drivers locked in 15:09

    Marko: Both Red Bull drivers locked in

    Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko has made clear that both Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen are under binding contracts, amid…

    F1
  8. Kvyat calls for driver vote over halo device 14:04

    Kvyat calls for driver vote over halo device

    Daniil Kvyat has called for a driver vote on the 'halo' in order to provide governing body the FIA with a clear answer over…

    F1
  9. Repsol extends Honda deal through 2018 13:11

    Repsol extends Honda deal through 2018

    Spanish energy company Repsol has extended its MotoGP sponsorship contract with Honda until the end of 2018, the Japanese…

    MotoGP
  10. MotoGP presents updated 2017 calendar 12:36

    MotoGP presents updated 2017 calendar

    MotoGP organisers have presented an updated calendar for the 2017 season, with the German Grand Prix brought forward to early…

    MotoGP
  11. Ricciardo: Verstappen arrival 'pushed me on' 11:51

    Ricciardo: Verstappen arrival 'pushed me on'

    Daniel Ricciardo has explained that Max Verstappen's race-winning arrival at Red Bull "pushed me on" for the remainder of the…

    F1
  12. Rahal signs Servia for Indy 500, view to more 10:27

    Rahal signs Servia for Indy 500, view to more

    Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has signed Oriol Servià to compete in next year's Indianapolis 500, with a view to adding more…

    Indy
  13. Michelin: Return a 'tremendous challenge' 09:03

    Michelin: Return a 'tremendous challenge'

    Michelin can be proud after overcoming the "tremendous challenge" of its comeback as sole MotoGP tyre supplier in 2016…

    MotoGP
  14. Red Bull: Gasly can still have F1 future 07:28

    Red Bull: Gasly can still have F1 future

    Red Bull team boss Christian Horner says that Pierre Gasly can still have a future in Formula 1, despite the newly-crowned GP2…

    F1
  15. Video of the Day: Force India's academy star 05:36

    Video of the Day: Force India's academy star

    Discover more about the developing career of Mumbai-born Force India academy driver Jehan Daruvala.

    Misc
  16. Tuesday 6 December 2016

  17. Provisional 2017 F1 entry list revealed 18:49

    Provisional 2017 F1 entry list revealed

    Formula 1's governing body, the FIA, has issued the provisional entry list for the 2017 season, with Stoffel Vandoorne revealed…

    F1
  18. King 'happy' with Manor Formula 1 displays 15:14

    King 'happy' with Manor Formula 1 displays

    Jordan King says he "feels happy" with the performances he delivered during his pair of Formula 1 practice outings with Manor in…

    F1
  19. Video: Vettel, Räikkönen at Finali Mondiali 14:02

    Video: Vettel, Räikkönen at Finali Mondiali

    Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen put on a show at the 'Finali Mondiali' at Daytona.

    F1
  20. Formula V8 3.5 adds 'World Series' to name 12:32

    Formula V8 3.5 adds 'World Series' to name

    Formula V8 3.5 promoter RPM has announced that the series will tweak its name for 2017, adding in 'World Series', following…

    FV8 3.5
  21. Red Bull/Aston Martin tie-up to continue 10:30

    Red Bull/Aston Martin tie-up to continue

    Red Bull has announced that its collaboration with British luxury sportscar manufacturer Aston Martin, centred on the design of…

    F1
  22. Mercedes considering Alonso for vacancy 10:00

    Mercedes considering Alonso for vacancy

    Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has admitted that the team is considering Fernando Alonso as Nico Rosberg's replacement, describing him…

    F1
  23. F1 penalties: Who topped 2016's charts? 09:02

    F1 penalties: Who topped 2016's charts?

    Formula 1 currently manages driving offences through reprimands and penalty points, held on individual Super Licences. But who…

    F1
  24. Marchionne: Ferrari has found 'solution' 07:32

    Marchionne: Ferrari has found 'solution'

    Ferrari now has a "solution" to return to the front of the Formula 1 grid, after its win-less 2016 campaign, according to brand…

    F1
  25. Video of the Day: Prema drivers on GP2 05:37

    Video of the Day: Prema drivers on GP2

    Prema team-mates Pierre Gasly and Antonio Giovinazzi reflect on finishing first and second in GP2.

    GP2
  26. Monday 5 December 2016

  27. French GP comeback dedicated to Bianchi 15:58

    French GP comeback dedicated to Bianchi

    Organisers behind the returning French Grand Prix at Paul Ricard have dedicated the development to late Formula 1 driver Jules…

    F1
  28. Overview: History of the French Grand Prix 15:12

    Overview: History of the French Grand Prix

    It was announced earlier on Monday that the French Grand Prix will return at Paul Ricard from 2018. GPUpdate.net looks back at…

    F1
  29. French GP return at Paul Ricard confirmed 13:41

    French GP return at Paul Ricard confirmed

    Formula 1 will again feature the French Grand Prix on its calendar from the 2018 season, with a five-year deal to stage the…

    F1
  30. McLaren adamant Alonso will not leave 12:39

    McLaren adamant Alonso will not leave

    Fernando Alonso will not be leaving McLaren to replace the retiring Nico Rosberg at Mercedes for the 2017 season, according to…

    F1
  31. Wehrlein 'ready for the job' at Mercedes 10:32

    Wehrlein 'ready for the job' at Mercedes

    Pascal Wehrlein says he would feel "ready for the job" of replacing Nico Rosberg at Mercedes for the 2017 season, following the…

    F1
  32. Marko expects Red Bull 2017 challenge 10:02

    Marko expects Red Bull 2017 challenge

    Red Bull motorsport consultant Helmut Marko says he expects the team to be in a position to challenge Mercedes for both Drivers…

    F1
  33. Vettel quells Rosberg replacement talk 09:07

    Vettel quells Rosberg replacement talk

    Sebastian Vettel has downplayed speculation linking him to the Mercedes seat vacated by Nico Rosberg, stating that "it should be…

    F1
  34. Norris wins McLaren Formula 1 test run 08:43

    Norris wins McLaren Formula 1 test run

    Lando Norris will receive a Formula 1 test with McLaren after clinching the prestigious McLaren Autosport BRDC award at a…

    F1
  35. In photos: Where Hamilton lost the title 07:32

    In photos: Where Hamilton lost the title

    Nico Rosberg has been crowned a worthy World Champion, but with a narrow five-point margin over Mercedes team-mate Lewis…

    F1
  36. Video of the Day: Red Bull parallax highlights 05:20

    Video of the Day: Red Bull parallax highlights

    Red Bull presents its 2016 Formula 1 highlights in this parallax video, made entirely from still imagery.

    F1
  37. Sunday 4 December 2016

  38. Alonso samples Honda's RC213V at Motegi 16:14

    Alonso samples Honda's RC213V at Motegi

    McLaren driver Fernando Alonso completed laps on Repsol Honda's title-winning RC213V MotoGP bike during the Japanese…

    F1
  39. F1 urged to end corner-cutting 'subjectivity' 15:03

    F1 urged to end corner-cutting 'subjectivity'

    Formula 1 could end "subjectivity" over corner-cutting if circuits are modified to disadvantage drivers who run off track…

    F1
  40. Manor still has 'big strides' to make - Ryan 14:02

    Manor still has 'big strides' to make - Ryan

    Manor boss Dave Ryan says the outfit's improvement across the past year has been "incredible" but has cautioned that it still…

    F1
  41. Overview: A year with no reigning Champion 13:06

    Overview: A year with no reigning Champion

    For only the sixth time in history, the defending Formula 1 World Champion will not line-up on the grid, with Nico Rosberg…

    F1
  42. Hamilton only wants 'equal rights' in 2017 12:02

    Hamilton only wants 'equal rights' in 2017

    Lewis Hamilton says he is not fussed by who partners him at Mercedes next season, and that his only request is that he has…

    F1
  43. Video: Nico Rosberg title-winning montage 11:01

    Video: Nico Rosberg title-winning montage

    GPUpdate.net looks back at Nico Rosberg's title-winning year with some of Sutton Images' best shots.

    F1
  44. Lauda: Rosberg has left us 'under pressure' 10:30

    Lauda: Rosberg has left us 'under pressure'

    Mercedes non-executive Chairman Niki Lauda says he is disappointed by Nico Rosberg's decision to retire and, with hindsight…

    F1
  45. Zetsche lauds 'perfect' Mercedes hat-trick 09:46

    Zetsche lauds 'perfect' Mercedes hat-trick

    Dieter Zetsche, head of Mercedes' parent company Daimler, has hailed its Formula 1 team after securing the "perfect hat-trick…

    F1
more news