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 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?
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?
How's your relationship with the current Formula 1 drivers?
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?
And do you have advice for fans who want to take photos when they are the circuit?
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.