Renowned motorsports photographer Frits van Eldik on the how the dynamic range of the EOS-1D X Mark II has brought an extra level of detail to his shots.
Frits van Eldik is one of the world's most accomplished motorsport photographers. Over the past 20 years, the Dutchman has shot Le Mans, MotoGP, Formula 1, and "everything else that moves fast." He's seen it all. But motorsport still manages to throw up the odd surprise, as the story behind his moody picture of Fernando Alonso's racing car proved: "The image is special," Frits says, "because F1 cars normally do not drive in the dark."
Frits went to the Formula 1 winter test in Barcelona to take pictures for ANP, the largest news agency in the Netherlands. F1 teams use the four-day event to see how their cars are running before the season begins at the end of March. ANP wanted pictures of the Dutch driver Max Verstappen but bad weather prevented Frits from getting them.
He says he always enjoys working in Barcelona because he likes the light, particularly at sunrise and sunset. But during the February 2018 test it rained and snowed non-stop. The days were cold and grey and Frits wasn't getting the pictures he needed. It got dark at the end of the first day of testing, so he saw an opportunity.
"We are not used to seeing Formula 1 cars running in these dark conditions," he says. "We have night races with artificial light but in this case it was seriously dark. Then they switched on the red lights and that made the situation even more exciting. An unusual situation. So I tried to create an unusual photograph."
To shoot McLaren driver Fernando Alonso, Frits used his Canon EOS-1D X Mark II. "It is the perfect camera for action photography because the autofocus speed and frame rate are very high. Besides that, it does a great job of capturing the moment in low-light conditions, like in this picture."
Top racing cars can shoot past photographers at well over 300km per hour, so the challenge was to keep the camera focused as Alonso's car approached, passed, and moved away at high speed. That's where the camera's expanded autofocus points and AF tracking came in, as the EOS-1D X Mark II can shoot 14 perfectly sharp frames per second with full AF/AE tracking. Frits locked on to the car and it remained locked.
Frits used a Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens, though he has lenses ranging from 8mm to 800mm – ready for everything from up-close action to wide atmospheric shots. And it doesn't get more atmospheric than this image of the car in the dark, red lights bouncing off the track.
"There is no second chance," Frits says. "You always try to capture something different, which is not easy in Formula 1 as the standard of photographers is very high. The other part is luck. I was concentrating on the unusual situation with the darkness and just the red light on the rear of the car. I wasn’t expecting the red 'traffic lights'. So when they were switched on, it created some magic."