Through the Lens – Life of a Formula One Photographer

Through the Lens – Life of a Formula One Photographer


“The trick with all this is just looking at the shadows. Where are they all going? Where’s the sun coming from?”

Khoo2I am shadowing Paul Khoo; freelance photographer for Rewind Magazine, F1 correspondent and former Assistant Deputy Chief Scrutineer at the Singapore Grand Prix. But today we’re in China and Paul is kindly showing the best spots to shoot from around the Shanghai International Circuit.

“You try to see what’s good. See what makes a nice picture. That over there is pretty nice where the marshal in yellow is standing”, gestures Paul to a lemon-outfitted track attendant. I can probably get a nice pan shot. But by the time FP3 starts the sun is going to be overhead already which sucks a bit”, offers a slightly discontented Paul.

I’m learning a lot on the run. While there’s no time to discuss aperture settings and charged-coupled devices, I am at least getting a grasp of the time constraints and setting limitations faced by Formula One photographers.

“Once you go somewhere you can be stuck as the only way back is via the pit-lane – But it’s a nice area getting them coming down there!”

Before you can say ‘complimentary metal-oxide semiconductor’, Paul has bolted over towards the pit-lane entrance for a quick scout. I hang back, unsure whether to follow. Paul returns with a dossier of angles to shoot from stored in his data cruncher for later. Soon we settle down at a spot near Turn Four. We have a few minutes left to converse before the track erupts with screaming V8’s.

“When you go out on Thursday for the driver’s walk you can actually go out on the circuit. It’s a nice way to look at the track and see interesting places, plus ifKhoo1 you walk with (or close to the drivers) you can hear their thoughts on the circuit”, offers a loquacious Paul.  “Often the engineers will be there so you can eavesdrop. They might say: “this areas going to be tricky” or “we’ve got that new part coming in that’s supposed to maximise this area” or something. That’s always nice to know”.

It’s enlightening information – the kind you might expect to be hearing from an ex-engineer or SkySports cognoscenti. But Paul’s career goes beyond simply taking pictures. Beginning his career at the US Grand Prix in Phoenix in 1989, Paul quickly became the US correspondent for Motoring (Singapore based magazine) and wrote features and race reports. He also shot everything from F1, Indy Car, IMSA, FIM 500cc and Nascar.

After Singapore was chosen to hold a Formula One race, Paul jumped at the chance to train as a race marshal and quickly rose through the ranks to Senior Race Official. He was also the line chief for the weigh bridge at Singapore; it’s where he met the publisher of Rewind, Eli Solomon.

“I met Eli during the second Singapore Grand Prix”, explained Paul. “He was doing a story on Williams and somehow made his way onto the weigh bridge. Due to the sensitive nature of what goes on the weigh bridge, photography is not allowed. So I threw him out… Nicely!” Paul laughs. “After that, we got to know each other and I started freelancing for the magazine”.

Paul no sooner finishes his sentence when the Shangai landscape is flushed with the cacophonous shrill of Formula One. It’s where our conversation has to end and where his job begins. I watch on attentively, knowing a little more than I anticipated about the world of Formula One photography.


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