This is an interview I did with F1 photographer Darren Heath about a year ago.
Darren Heath never had the means to pursue a career as a professional racing driver, but had he been given the chance you can’t help but feel that he would have made it. A casual conversation with the Formula 1 photographer subtly reveals that no matter what career he pursued, success would have been forthcoming. Now entering his 24th season in F1, Darren is still committed as ever to “get the sport that I love across to people in an ever more interesting way.”
Even though Darren is now recognized as one of F1’s top photographers, he is constantly pushing himself to become better at his craft. “I doubt myself often. I am very, very analytical and constantly striving to be better. I never think that I’m good enough and I think that when you do [think you’re good enough], it’s time to stop whatever you do.” Expanding his skill set and discovering new ways to shoot the sport is a never ending endeavor. “I studied other photographer’s work, particularly photographers and movie directors of photography who have never been to a car race or a Formula 1 race, I try to learn what they’re doing, techniques they’re using, equipment they’re using. I try to go into every season with a mindset to do something a bit different to what I’ve done before maybe, so this time last year I reasoned I would cover 2012 using long lenses a bit less, stepping back, maybe go into a pit session with a 50mm and a 55mm, and not take any other lenses.”
The way Darren carefully gathers his thoughts and chooses his words help one understand why he enjoys immense respect within his profession. Darren Heath wasn’t always a household name in motorsport photography. He recalls fondly how star-struck he was at his first grand prix in 1989 at Hockenheim: “You walk around thinking my god, there’s Nelson Piquet, there’s Alain Prost, there’s Ayrton Senna, and not only that, Frank Williams, Ron Dennis, and all these people who six months before I had posters up of on my wall.”
How does he feel now after over two decades of shooting Formula 1? Has the mystique surrounding the sport worn-off? “You start to work with these people and see that they’re just the same, they’ve got loads more money and a more glamorous lifestyle, but they’re still the same as us. I’m sure it’s the same if you look at the film industry or the music industry; if you talk to people who are inside it they’re still full of people with the same insecurities, the same desire to go home and see their families.”
Darren admits he still gets nervous before certain shoots, but not for the reasons you might think. Heath says, “It’s not necessarily being nervous that you’re working with one of the superstars of the sport, it’s more that the lights work, or that it doesn’t get lost with freight on the plane.” He still gets ‘goose-bumps all the time’, regardless of the constant interaction with F1’s biggest names. Darren, with true emotion in his voice, explains: “Every time I walk on the grid, an F1 grid, I feel it, I feel that rush, that real buzz, how fortunate I am to be there.” Photography and motor racing are two distinctly different disciplines, but what they have in common is that they both require an undying dedication to the craft and an innate ability to put you among the best. “I’ve worked with [photographers] that are good at what they do but lack that extra spark on top”.
You walk around thinking my god, there’s Nelson Piquet, there’s Alain Prost, there’s Ayrton Senna, and not only that, Frank Williams, Ron Dennis, and all these people who six months before I had posters up of on my wall.
Darren goes on to talk about what separates the average drivers from the greats in the top level of open-wheel racing: “Why can Ayrton Senna drive a racing car much better than Mark Blundell, who are both in Formula 1, but there’s something that he could do that very few others could. Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton they’re better than most of the rest of the field, but understanding why, that is difficult, it’s so much down to practice and applying yourself.”
The sport of Formula 1 is blessed to have dedicated individuals like Darren to work within its ranks. Does he have aspirations that his two boys, three and four years old respectively, will follow in his footsteps? “I have no problem with that at all, who knows what Formula 1 will be like when there 18-19. I’m sure there will be a Formula 1. There will be car racing but probably not cars as we know them now. I don’t really want to think about 16 years-time [chuckles]. I’ll be old and decrepit by then.”