In Focus: Mexico 2017

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During the comedown from the electrifying spectacle that was the 2017 Mexico ePrix, Current E’s Lewis Larkam spoke to Nat Twiss, automotive lead photographer and part of the highly talented trackside Formula E team at our photographic partner, Spacesuit Media.

As one of the snappers on the ground in Mexico, Nat talks us through three of his favourite images from race day, including that striking capture of the final lap crash. See many more of his pictures at spacesuitcollections.com.

1. Line-a-stern

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Oliver Turvey and Nelson Piquet, NextEV, FP2

Camera: Nikon D800
Lens: 70-200 2.8 VRII

“It’s quite rare that you get a shot of both drivers from the same team in a single image. It’s almost impossible. I have a bit of a thing for that angle, the car rushing forward into the scene. I have a few similar shots from Hong Kong from Turn 1 with the skyscrapers in the background and the crowd in the stadium. That is really the defining thing about the Mexico circuit, that stadium section is unbelievable really. I can’t speak highly enough of it.

“Basically to get a shot like that with a lot of motion blur, you have to leave the shutter open for quite a long time. For that image it would be about a fifteenth of a second, a tenth of a second maybe. That is quite a long time in photographic terms. What you have to do is make sure a part of the car is sharp, so in that shot in particular, Oliver Turvey’s helmet is sharp.

“To do that you have to make sure that there is a point in your viewfinder that exactly follows the point you want in focus. Getting that is actually the hard part: setting the camera up to do it isn’t. Some of it is memory and then having the steadiness of hand and the technique. It’s a very strange way of getting a shot but it works in some scenarios and that’s one of them. It’s something not a lot of photographers do but I’m quite fond of it.

“I really like the colours in the shot. Formula E goes one way or the other in terms of how vibrant it is as a series. In Mexico you have these very crisp, blue skies and the stadium section is quite nice when you have fans in it because they tend to wear a bunch of different colours, which makes your background really good. I’m kind of in love with the NextEV livery as well and I think Oliver’s helmet really stands out well against the car. The colours and the tones in that image are my favourite aspect.”

2. Back-to-front 

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Lucas Di Grassi, ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport, victory lap

Camera: Nikon D800
Lens: 24-70 2.8 

“This was mostly down to luck because I was standing in the stadium section at the time. From where I was standing I couldn’t actually move around the circuit during the race, I was stuck in this one place. I knew Lucas would be coming around and I knew he would be pretty happy considering where he started on the grid and the events that led to him finishing where he did.

“I kind of banked on him doing something in the stadium but I wasn’t sure if it was going to be a donut. I just made sure when he came around on his victory lap that my camera was on him and no one else. In terms of the actual set-up of the shot, the sun was directly behind Lucas so everything was backlit. I made sure the car itself was silhouetted and the main point of light in the donut was the tyre smoke, as opposed to the car.

“It made a striking image. Lucas has clearly got a talent for doing donuts in Formula E cars because it was a very symmetrical donut! Just to top things off the TV helicopter flew by the top of the stadium as well, so I had the helicopter in the top of the image, which is quite a rare grab in Formula E. Usually they are too high to get in the frame but it was just in the right place.

“I like the symmetry of it, I really like that. I just wish that he could have done it at a different part of the stadium because the opening the F1 cars go through is in the shot and I would have rather got something with the whole crowd behind him. But, as far as I know, I’m the only person that got him doing donuts so I’m pretty happy.”

3. Felix in flight

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Nick Heidfeld and Felix Rosenqvist, Mahindra Racing, final lap

Camera: Nikon D800

Lens: 70-200 2.8 VRII

“Capturing the crash was just a very lucky moment. I spent the entire race in the centre of the stadium in a little circle surrounded by the concrete barriers. The only people in there were me and one of the TV camera guys, who was running a swing-arm camera as they went through the stadium. I think that was a good call, because it meant that I got an angle that nobody else had for one of the biggest moments of the race.

“For the first part of the stadium section I was following Nick and he started spinning. I didn’t see Nico hit him, I just got Nick going sideways and I knew this was quite a difficult corner to back out of if you were at pace, so I just made sure my camera stayed on him basically. It’s very rare that you get a big crash like that in Formula E. It’s the biggest one I’ve seen since I’ve been covering the series. 

“In terms of the technical side, there’s not much to it. I wasn’t set up for that shot in any way, shape or form. If I wanted to take that shot exactly how it should have been, I should have been shooting at a faster shutter speed. The action actually appears more frozen, because the only thing in the picture which was sharp is Felix’s helmet and I would have rather got some more of the car itself in focus to make it look a bit more crunchy. But that’s just the nature of racing. Unless you are shooting at Turn 1 and you are prepared for an accident, you have just got to go with the flow.

“It was purely spontaneous. I could have very easily been shooting somebody further back in the field at the time but it just so happened that I had my camera on Nick when he spun and then switched my focus onto Felix. That is a one-in-a-thousand shot to take, especially when you are shooting at such a low shutter speed as well. The luck of that image just astounds me. You have to be in the right place at the right time. Experience helps with that, as does experience to react best to those unexpected circumstances. Sometimes I think you need the reflexes of a racing driver to photograph racing drivers properly. Now who wants to put me in a racing car?”

Staff writer: Lewis Larkam

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