Dawn Chua: Felipe Massa, Singapore Grand Prix

The Image

Dawn Chua

2013 Formula One Singapore Grand Prix, Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore

Time / Date:
18:27/ September 21st, 2013

The Technical

Camera Body: Canon 5D Mark II
Lens: Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L Mark II
Filter: B+W filter

Camera Settings:
Shutter Speed: 1/25
Aperture: f/16
ISO: 320
Focal Length: 24mm

The Story


I’m a freelance music photographer first and foremost, but since I started following Formula 1 as a fan in 2011, I’ve been considering pursuing a career in motorsport/action photography as well. Music and motorsport are pretty different ball games, but they do require quick thinking and the want to freeze that split second, that single moment – something that drives me so much, and why I do photography. While I’ve been fortunate to attend the British Grand Prix overseas, the Singapore Grand Prix is my favourite (mainly because I’m biased and it makes me feel slightly more patriotic three days a year), and this being my second year attending I knew I wasn’t going to just enjoy sitting around and watching, I wanted to really have a go at shooting, even if it was just as a fan.

The Scene: 

This was taken on the second day, the final practice before the qualifying round to determine the race start position of each driver. During the practice rounds the cars go out and the drivers get to have a feel of the track, to report back to their teams how the set up of the cars/tyres are responding to the conditions and to get familiar (if they aren’t already) with the track, corners and racing lines to take, e.g. during the actual race. I was hanging around the beginning of the first sector, where the cars shoot down fast through the last straight, through the start/finish line and into the first corner. I thought it would make a nice shot to get a close up of some of the tyres of the cars locking up as they brake, but then it occurred to me that the sun was going down, and the fading light was coming right through the overhead highways over the circuit – that’s one of the things that really make the Singapore race unique, that it takes place on the streets right in the city area and in the night. And I thought maybe I’d try to get the close up shot later so I could take advantage of the remaining sunlight for a bit, because the race starting in the dark and under the artificial lights tomorrow night I wouldn’t get another chance until next year. Here in this photo you’re seeing the driver Felipe Massa in the Ferrari car.


I brought along a 5D Mark 2, a 7D, a 24-70mm and a 70-200mm. The 24-70 was mainly on the 5D2, the 70-200 on the 7D to give that extra reach on the cropped sensor to get close up shots. For this shot I used the 5D2 and the 24-70mm, I wanted to go wide and get the whole scene in as well as the full car.

Making the Shot:

The key to shooting a really nice panning shot is to slow your shutter down. It’s easier to freeze the car in motion but the real technique lies in trying to catch a car going at 200km/h or more down a straight with a slow shutter speed, and get the shot sharp. Prefocus, track the action through the viewfinder, move with the car, lock on and fire. Keep the speed that you move your camera and the car the same. Admittedly one of the main reasons for me slowing the shutter down really slow was because shooting through the catch fence is where you have to blur the lines of the fence out to get something clean. Where the accredited photographers get somewhat of a better spot to shoot (though in a tight circuit in Singapore, not by much) with no fence blocking them, you have to make do.

Editing & Processing:

I go through the raw files on Photo Mechanic, mark the best ones and work with them in Camera Raw, if they need further tweaking then I open them up in Photoshop. I’m very much a photographer who likes heavy contrasts, and I usually tweak that a bit and the exposures at the same time. Also did a bit more sharpening on this shot.

Looking Back: 

Aesthetically I’m happy with this photo, I’m glad I could use a bit of the evening light. As for making the shot technically I don’t consider myself the strongest at panning shots yet, I’m working on it though, but to get this one right is pretty sweet. To just to create that one shot in the moment, where time stops, make silence where there is too much sound, yeah that’s what I live for, and I hope it came out in the photo.


Be quick and pay attention to what’s going on around you. This applies to any form of action photography, be it music or dance or sport or anything else – know what you’re shooting, or try and get a feel of it before hand. In racing try and understand what the drivers may be doing, understand the circuit and it’s strengths and limitations, where the light is going to be or what a driver has a tendency to do (for instance, every year at the Singapore race a car will crash into this one particular corner) and as a fan shooting through the fence like myself, try to look for better, unobstructed views to get the shot. The day before I shot this photo I went for a talk by Mark Thompson, one of the photographers on the Getty Images F1 team and he was talking about how the panning shots were more interesting than the static shots of the cars parked on the apex, and that stuck with me throughout the weekend.


Motorsport wise I’d say Darren Heath is pretty much my biggest inspiration, he’s the reason I wanted to get into all of this in the first place. Vladimir Rys – another photographer that has had a big effect on my overall shooting as of late, his work taught me how to slow down. My background, my first love and mainly what I shoot every other day is music so I look up to Aloysius Lim and Ryan Russell the most for that. I’ve had the privilege of learning under Aloysius for a few years, he’s taught me a lot, the one thing that has stuck with me the most from him is that what you shoot that people aren’t shooting is what is going to make you stand out, and that’s something I’ve tried really hard to keep with me ever since. I like Alex Stoddard, Platon, Anton Corbjin, as well to name a few others, the list is too long to name everyone to be honest.



About the Photographer

Pint-sized photographer from Singapore. I shoot rockstars, racecars (try to) and everything in between…

Website: www.echoroar.com
Tumblr: echoroar.tumblr.com
Twitter: @dawnechoroar
Instagram: @dawnechoroar

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