Are Promoters Going Too Far to Protect Auto Racing Photographers?

Photographing the Esses at Watkins Glen

Formula One car racing authority FIA instituted new rules this week banning photographers from track pits, after several spectacular injuries or near-misses this season. But photographers are saying such restrictions will do little more than reduce the quality of their work.

“There have been some mighty close calls over the last few years with regard to photographers being in the line of fire with race cars,” photographer Jamey Price wrote in a recent Road & Track column. “But at the end of the day, no one is out there making us work against our will. It’s simply a dangerous job.”

Those close calls include a German Grand Prix race last weekend where cameraman Paul Allen suffered two broken ribs and a broken collarbone after being winged by a flying wheel.

Around the same time, an unnamed photographer at the Zandvoort race in Holland suffered unspecified injuries from a crash:

…and a whole group of photographers suffered a close call at the 2011 LeMans race when a high-speed wreck sent parts flying into a pit.

NASCAR already bans photographers from track pits, as does IndyCar, while other racing organizations limit access and require serious protective clothing.

Price and others say such restrictions have made it harder to get decent shots, for negligible gains in safety:

I know that my job as a photographer has become a lot more difficult over the last few years simply because of how many safety barriers, catch fences, and runoff we have to shoot over just to get a shot of a vehicle on track. And all for our own “protection.


Writing on his blog, photographer James Moy called the restrictions a “knee-jerk reaction” to poorly understood risks.

In my view we should change nothing immediately. The pitlane and track are dangerous areas to work, but they are highly restricted areas. The people that work in these areas are highly experienced and skilled. Of course that doesn’t mean that freak accidents such as Webber’s flying wheel, won’t happen again, but it is impossible to wrap motorsport in cotton wool…I strongly believe that kitting camera operators and photographers out with overalls, helmets and safety equipment will actually make it a more dangerous area. Helmets restrict vision and hearing and overalls restrict movement, three fairly important senses when working in that environment.

(via Road & Track)

Image credits: “Photographing the Esses at Watkins Glenn” by Chris Waits, “Photographers in Work” by Nik Aizu

  • Steve Oakley

    having shot trackside, ya its dangerous and you have to pay attention. Helmets aren’t the end of the world. in fact crews have hearing protection on with radio comms in them. you’d be deaf pretty quick w/o hearing protection that close to the cars. as for coveralls, not sure they make much difference…. maybe the better answer is better enclosures trackside for shooting where if a car comes off the track or peices go flying you aren’t going to take a direct hit

    I’ve also shot on the flight line at air shows. props on planes like a B17 or B25 are to be respected as well as engine wash which can send unsecure items flying.

  • Mako

    We use to do really stupid things … some of it’s just common sense … but some folks don’t have it. A gal shooter got run over and paralyzed at Hockenheim back when I use to shoot there in the early 70’s.

  • Maurice Han

    When you think you’re safe, you’re not.

  • nikonian

    I think it is getting too restrictive at least out where I am at. Our local tracks wont even allowed a Tethered camera too close (12ft) of the track. I love motocross for it. Only I am responsible for myself at a moto track. It allows me to get the photos I need and I am more clearheaded not fighting other photogs and viewers for a spot. Should there be safety rules… Absolutely but as a somewhat seasoned motorsport photog I feel that they have gone way too far. Anywhere on the track is a place to possibly get injured and you need to prep for it but to pad it so much you cannot capture the experience effectively doesnt help. A vest, radio, flashlight, and a FEW no go zones should be enough, not a doggy gate around the whole track…

  • Chris Daley

    I don’t think helmets and coveralls are the end of motorsport photography and to say it is is just as much of a kneejerk reaction.

    In the Australian V8 Supercar series and other forms of track motorsport, pit lane photog’s have had to wear safety gear for a number of years and the TV cameramen have one thing that I am surprised the FOM guys don’t have, a spotter. It is ridiculous to expect a cameraman in pit lane to always have his eyes on whats coming when half the stuff he films is going. Having a spotter, who’s sole responsibility is to watch his cameramans back, to keep an eye on the oncoming traffic and pull the cameraman out of the way of any car or runaway wheel is a simple and proven safety measure.

  • Michael Zhang

    Thanks! We’ve added this video to the post

  • Dom Miliano

    I have been shooting motorsports since (yipes) the 1980s. More than once I have come close to injury. As someone previously said, when you think you’re safe, you’re not. Advice – never touch a guard rail, never turn your back on a hot track, get your shot(s) and really back off out of danger while you chimp, load a fresh memory card, take a breather, gulp some water… Last week a shooter was sent to the hospital at a vintage event (Vintage!!!) when a Camaro came through a tire wall and Armco, knocking him 10 feet. Even vintage cars are moving faster these days so safety should be on everyone’s mind. Even at relatively safe Lime Rock, I had to dodge a flying, 6 foot wide engine cover as it flew at me and a bunch of other shooters under the bridge. Their “relatively” new chain link fence blocked it and saved a few of us from certain injury.

  • Ridgecity

    I’m beginning to feel as if some people think a camera gives them superpowers and nothing will happen to them or something.