Professional Insights

Professional Insights

Sutton Images

Sutton Images

Motorsports (UK)

Life in the fast lane: capturing Formula One

Long established as the world's largest independent motorsport picture agency, Sutton Images exclusively concentrates on every aspect of motorsport imagery. With a team of ten dedicated professionals, we offer an extensive range of services from our headquarters situated at the heart of Britain's motorsport industry near Silverstone Circuit, England.

Our technologically advanced, in-house facilities provide the ability to capture, process and deliver images rapidly to our global customers. With six acclaimed and award-winning staff photographers, along with a worldwide network of agent photographers and representatives based on every continent, we offer unrivaled coverage of hundreds of international events each year. An archive of over four million transparencies, with a searchable online digital archive of over 900,000 images, spans the history of motorsport from 1960 through to the present day.

Keith Sutton's career as a freelance motorsport photographer took off when a young Ayrton Senna approached him and employed his services as he swiftly climbed the motorsport ladder in Britain during the early 1980s. Afterwards, Keith went on to form Sutton Photographic in 1985 with his younger brother Mark. The company aimed to cover every Formula One Grand Prix, in addition to other motorsport races around the world.

Today, Sutton Photographic has evolved into Sutton Images, and the company continues to go from strength to strength. Based in state-of-the-art offices in Towcester, near Silverstone, Keith and Mark, along with their staff and a team of agents worldwide, continue to cover the best motorsport the world has to offer.

Sutton Images continues to provide images to scores of publications worldwide. It works closely with teams and sponsors, and prides itself on providing public relations and media support for young talented drivers. Included in this impressive portfolio are F1 World Champions Kimi Raikkonen and Jenson Button.

Keith and Mark Sutton are now recognized as two of the finest motorsport photographers of their generation, and their work is found in publications all over the world, including, a weekly online motorsport magazine with an ever-expanding readership of over 200,000.

Much has changed in the years since Keith and Mark first started their motorsport photography business, but one thing remains the same: the joy of capturing a car driven at high speeds by the finest exponents of the art remains undiminished.

Getting up to speed

Keith's passion for motor sports and photography originated from his father. He was an avid race fan who used to take his son to racer pits. When Keith was 17 years old, his father lent him a Nikkormat body with a 24 mm fixed lens and a 70-200 mm zoom lens, and he started shooting cars. Keith took pictures at as many races as he could, printing, and selling them to racing drivers. After two years, Keith was ready to start as a full-time freelance photographer.

In 1981, when Keith walked into a paddock at Brands Hatch, a race circuit in England, a driver approached him and asked 'Why were you taking all those photos of me?' Keith replied 'Because I work for a Brazilian magazine and they want pictures of Brazilian drivers'. The driver then said 'I've just started my career and I need pictures of myself to send to Brazilian newspapers. Will you be my photographer?' That day, Ayrton Senna da Silva won his first race in a racing car, and Keith became his photographer.

Mark started similarly when he was in his teens and took what Keith had left – the same Nikkormat that Keith started with. One of the most famous of Mark's photos was taken in 1993. He was planning to shoot photos against the fence and the curve. It was at 1/125s. He heard a car brake and screech, and the next moment he looked up, put his finger on the button and caught Mika Häkkinen's car in the air in an absolutely pin-sharp shot.

When Ayrton Senna won the Belgium Grand Prix in 1991, Keith went into the room next to the podium and lifted up a window. This was to one side of Ayrton, so Keith shouted his name to get his attention and Ayrton looked up with the champagne.


Fulfilling but demanding

Traveling the world and capturing all the action, personalities and glamour of a Grand Prix is never dull. All sports are unpredictable and none more so than Formula One. The drama is always unfolding in front of you, whether through action on the track, the passion of winning, the despair of losing or the never-ending politics that go on behind the scenes. All of this is a dream for a photographer. Capturing these moments and then seeing your work published around the globe so quickly is immensely satisfying.

Ironically, you could say that the most enjoyable parts of the job are also the most difficult. The time you spend at the circuit can be very long: usually 12 hours a day or more. With a team of photographers stationed at strategic points around the circuit, the challenge is to capture every key moment during the race. One blink and you could miss one! In this digital world of ours, the next challenge is to edit the photographs as quickly as possible for the media.

There are a lot of photographers shooting here, and they either work for themselves or for competing agencies. However, everybody gets along very well since you see the same familiar faces at every Grand Prix.

You can utilize different styles of photography over the course of a Grand Prix weekend. In the paddock you can be a celebrity photographer, shooting the likes of Lewis Hamilton with his famous girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger, and then move on to shoot F1 action out on the track. We don't rigidly follow such criteria, but we do try to use our best judgment and select photos that tell the story of the weekend. These include everything from portraits, including newsworthy images of VIPs for newspapers, to artistic shots of Formula One cars in action. We also try to add photos that capture the atmosphere of the event, with images of fans, flags, concerts, grid girls and other elements of a day at the Grand Prix.

It can all be quite complicated, so you really need to like the sport and understand how it all works. This knowledge of the people, rules and customs makes your life easier when creating the best images for news, features and other stories.

The ever-changing workflow and media environment

Incorporating multimedia into our traditional stills photography has been a fantastic way to promote our business. We display many of our photos on Facebook, and now tweet key images such as celebrities, accidents, race winners and podium scenes. These have often been re-tweeted by the actual drivers involved.

We have also been producing Animoto videos of key images for a few years now, and these are published on our website and in magazine. Over one hundred images are shown with accompanying music.

Recently we've taken a huge step up from Animoto and are now very proud to produce our own 30-minute TV program called “Weekend in Stills.” It's broadcast on the Wednesday evening after a Grand Prix on the Sky Sports F1 channel. It has been a perfect way to showcase our best images for a global audience, and we're seeing the benefits through increased publicity and revenue.

Obviously, Facebook and Twitter deliver up-to-the-minute news wherever you are in the world. Over the past few years we have also seen the emergence of digital magazines, including our own: This is produced overnight on a Sunday in Australia and is published first thing Monday morning. It has been a hugely successful format for us, providing an accessible, multi-platform, up-to-the-minute magazine, whereas printed publications aren't usually available in the shops until four days after a race.

Never a dull moment

Being an F1 photographer isn't as glamorous as it looks. It's often very hard work with many days and nights away from home in challenging climates. You see endless airport departure and arrival lounges and spend long hours in the air. You then have to deal with the jetlag that comes with a long-haul flight and start working almost immediately after arriving. You definitely need an understanding partner, as family life can often be disrupted.

Life is very hectic at the circuit, and it gets more so as the competition progresses. There's always something happening around the paddock, or you may be out photographing support races or editing your photos to send back to the UK.

Managing your time is very important. Suffering in the high humidity of Malaysia one weekend and then baking in the dry desert of Bahrain the next means that having reliable equipment is crucial, and our Nikon equipment is flawless in this department.

An easy decision

Before we made our decision to switch to Nikon, we rigorously tested the new Nikon D4 and various NIKKOR lenses. We were very impressed with the results. It was an easy decision for us to make, and just in time for the 2013 F1 Championship season starter in Melbourne, Australia.

Considering the speed of F1 cars on the track, features like fast autofocus and frames-per-second are vital. Quality high ISO images are also very important, as we have to shoot right into the dimly lit pit garages. The Nikon D4 can handle it all.

What's in our camera bags

We use the Nikon D4 exclusively. The equipment we carry for assignments can vary with each Grand Prix, but as a rule, we carry two Nikon D4 bodies, a range of lenses — varying from wide-angle to super-telephoto — and additional teleconverters and Speedlights.

For safety's sake, photographers are kept well away from the action on the track. To achieve stunning close-ups of the cars in action, the AF-S NIKKOR 300mm f/2.8G ED VR II, AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/4G ED VR and AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4G ED VR telephoto lenses are indispensable. However, due to their size, they are not practical for every shot, so the AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR, possibly with a teleconverter, is an excellent alternative.

For more general photography, especially around the paddock or for capturing atmosphere, we alternate between the AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED and AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED lenses. The AF DX Fisheye-Nikkor 10.5mm f/2.8G ED can also get fantastic results when you are close to the action.

The 2013 Sutton Images full kit is as follows:
Nikon D4 body x4
AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4G ED VR x1
AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/4G ED VR x1
AF-S NIKKOR 300mm f/2.8G ED VR II x1
AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II x2
AF Zoom Nikkor 35-70mm f/2.8D (2.0x) x2
AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED x2
AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED x2
AF DX Fisheye-Nikkor 10.5mm f/2.8G ED x1
AF-S Teleconverter TC-14E II x1
AF-S Teleconverter TC-17E II x1
AF-S Teleconverter TC-20E III x1
Speedlight SB-910 x4

NPS: always prepared

The NPS staff is always prepared for anything that may happen and they keep our cameras ready for action. We have a great relationship with all the NPS staff in the UK and also those in attendance at each Grand Prix. They are always on hand to offer support with sensor cleaning, repairs and the loaning of equipment if required, as well as software updates or fixes.

We are currently working with Nikon on a project to profile the Nikon D4 in the Motorsport and F1 arena. We have plenty of experience, gained through years of capturing the sport, so we will be working with Nikon to showcase the features of the camera and potentially work with Nikon's R&D team to provide feedback for future product development.

See more of Sutton Images work on its website. Open in new window.