Shiv’s top shots: Miami

The Miami race marked Shiv’s first anniversary as resident photographer at Current E. In the past year, he’s become the go to man for artistic Formula E photos, building up an archive of around 17,000 pictures. Here, Shiv explains how he approaches each race weekend and why he’s named a lens after a racing driver.

“At every event, I have a set programme. On Thursday, I focus on the workshop activity: mechanics at work, the cars being built, components and tools. On Friday, it’s all about the drivers. I do the track walk, as well as driver press conferences, portraits and shakedown. Saturday is race day, so I concentrate on track action and podium celebrations. The schedule is vital, because we supply photography to five race teams, publications, sponsors and drivers. On an average race weekend, I’ll rack up around 2,500 usable pictures.

My preparation starts before I even leave home. I check the track layout on Google maps, to get a feel for the city backdrop. I also check a website which tells you where the sun rises and sets, as half the battle with any photography is chasing the light. 

When I get to the track on Thursday, I check where the barriers have been set up. Because they’re so new and in city centres, Formula E tracks have their own challenges. At a dedicated circuit, there are run off areas and not much catch fencing. You can usually walk the perimeter of the track inside and out, too. With Formula E circuits, however, you can’t tell where access will be blocked or not until you arrive. It’s important to know that before the cars arrive on track.

I try to find some elevated points where you can shoot from above the catch fencing, but which don’t take ages to get to. It’s quite rare to find these places! I also look for sections without catch fencing. The classic case in Miami was on the inside of the first few corners, under the flyover. These points are critical for getting shots of the car in motion without obstructions.

When capturing driver portraits and pit lane action, you have to read the situation and predict what’s going to happen. A lot of that is instinct, which I’ve developed through years of doing weddings. You watch people’s body language as they’re talking and then try to get to a position where the driver is going and next to what they’re going to look at. You look at where the sun and shadows are.

In the pit lane, I try to shoot the drivers outside the garage because the light inside is too flat. I usually look for little groups having jokes, talking, laughing. On the track walk, you can usually spot the dodgy corners and you know the teams will stop there to look at that part of the track. These are ideal spots to get pictures of the driver, engineers and team principals.

I keep two Canon 5D MKIII camera bodies with me all the time. In the pit lane and the garages, I use a Canon 16-35mm 2.8 MKII wide angle lens, for architectural and contextual pictures. For 90% of the driver shots, I use a Canon 70-200mm 2.8MKII portrait lens. You can be some distance from the subject using that lens, so it doesn’t intrude into people’s personal space.

For on track action, my go to lens is Canon 300mm 2.8 MKII. This is an expensive bit of kit, but it’s the fastest focusing lens in the world, so you very rarely get out of focus shots. Professional photographers often lenses with more range when shooting circuit racing but, because you’re so close to the action at a Formula E circuit, you don’t really need them.

The fourth lens I use is a Sigma 50mm 1.4 art lens. This is my ‘fun’ lens, which I nicknamed Sam after I used it first to capture the shots of Sam Bird celebrating his win in Putrajaya. I use this lens for technical shots of components, in the garages, and for shots such as drivers’ eyes in their helmets. It has a very shallow depth of field, which means it blurs the background to add more focus to the forefront of the picture. It’s tricky to execute pictures with Sam, but the rewards are worth it.

Shallow depth of field shooting is more difficult, but it really emphasises the subject’s story. It suits my style too: I like focusing off centre, which includes the background without making it equal to the subject.

Even though I enjoy documentary-style shooting, sometimes I do pose the drivers. You need to have the confidence to approach the drivers and ask for a minute of their time, but it’s worth it when you get a great shot of them. Because we shoot for five of the teams, the drivers are a lot more comfortable with me than they were at the start of the series, which means they’re more willing to pose for these pictures. Building a relationship is just as important as the photos you take.

My advice for photographers who are new to the sport is to pace yourself. At the beginning of the series I was trying to do too much. Race day is a very busy day and if you’re not careful you can burn yourself out my lunchtime. Take your hydration and nutrition seriously, and get plenty of regular rests. I don’t tend to look at other photographers’ pictures during the race weekend either, as it might influence my style, even unconsciously. After the weekend, I’ll have a look at other shots and it’s amazing to see the differences in angles and approaches.

Because time is often so short, I try to make sure sure the shots are right, first time. I don’t really do much editing to my shots after the race. I tend to increase the colours and contrast slightly, and I change a couple to black and white. That’s about it.

From a photographic point of view, my highlight of the Miami race was the flyover. The light was fantastic, with sun beams bursting through the gaps, highlighting parts of the cars while the background stayed in darkness.

It’s also great when one of the teams we shoot for wins a race. Miami was extra special because I get on so well with Nico and I was able to get photos of him and his wife, Delphine, after the race. It’s like being part of the family. And as a big F1 fan, having my work appreciated by Alain Prost is priceless.

It’s been an amazing start to the Formula E series for me. I really am living my dream.”

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