The Challenges Women Face in Motorsports Photography

Motorsports photography isn’t a space traditionally associated with or particularly welcoming of female photographers, but one woman — Alison Arena — has made a name for herself in this industry and is now coaching others to follow suit.

Motorsports photography, similar to any other type of sports photography, can exhilarate both the viewer as well as the photographer. It is a genre of photography that allows photographers to create powerful stories of high-running emotions, technological advancements and techniques, one-off moments that can instantly change the outcome of the race, and the achievements of sports professionals who are taking part.

As a niche sports photography genre, it isn’t as popular among women photographers, but photographer Arena from Ignite Media — with Mazda, Red Bull, Ferrari NA, and Wired among its past clients — has proved that it can be a career path to break into and does so successfully and with passion.

Arena got started in motorsports photography as part of her class projects in school and found that she had a great interest in it, particularly drifting. She started out by shooting races she attended as a fan, fine-tuning her photography skills step by step with every event.

“Shooting drifting as an up and coming sport allowed me to grow with the sport and make it so I had so much more access than if I had started in a bigger race series”, says Arena. “Eventually, I gained a couple of clients and then worked my way up from there.”

In all aspects of racing, there are very few women involved, which is why Arena took it upon herself to work harder than her counterparts to prove herself in the motorsports world — one that is filled with masculine energy — and to gain respect from her peers.

“I feel like part of my job is suppressing my femininity, which at times gets a little old,” she tells PetaPixel.

On the other hand, the downfall of being one of the few women photographers in motorsports also works to her advantage to a certain degree.

“I stick out, so I’m memorable and people think to hire me for future gigs or go out of their way to see what my work is like,” says Arena. However, it can soon become tiresome to stick out and constantly having to prove herself or show to others that she can be “one of the guys.”

Understanding the problems faced by women and minorities who may not have considered motorsports photography a field they can enter and excel at, Arena has also focused her efforts on coaching and educating to help refine their skills, build a motorsports portfolio, and gain confidence.

In action at the clinic, by Christian Pondella
In action at the clinic, by Christian Pondella
In action at the clinic, by Christian Pondella

Arena recently ran a photography clinic that gave female photographers a crash course on shooting competitions like the Red Bull Tennessee Knockout, with Enduro champion Cody Webb participating to give the photographers a subject in motion. The participants included photographer Amy Lentz and Alyssa Del Valle, who wanted to bolster their motorsports photography skills, as well as Wrenne Evans, who comes from the world of concert photography and has worked under renowned photographer Annie Leibovitz and spent years touring with singer-songwriter Maggie Rogers.

In action at the clinic, by Christian Pondella
In action at the clinic, by Christian Pondella
In action at the clinic, by Christian Pondella

Arena believes that the motorsports industry is generally becoming more inclusive, but it is still going to take time for it to fully materialize.

“I think it’s important to make women and minorities aware that it is an option to shoot racing,” she says. “Since you don’t see many female motorsports photographers, a lot of women might not even think of it being an option. It’s important to make it clear that this is an avenue that can be pursued and isn’t out of their grasp.”

More of Arena’s work can be found on her website and Instagram page.

Image credits: All motorsports images by Alison Arena, all behind-the-scenes images from the clinic by Christian Pondella via Red Bull Content Pool, and used with permission.