© All photos, including featured cover, provided by Cherry Fan
Cherry Fan （范雨芹） is the first female photographer from Mainland China to be accredited an F1 media pass for the full season. She started her freelance photographer career in the motorsport world in 2011, and moved into Formula 1 in 2017. From being a Formula 1 fan to being a professional photographer, Cherry went further and further in the sport she’s passionate about. We had the opportunity to hear her tell her story of becoming a Formula 1 photographer. Let’s see how she stays on this path less travelled by others.
The addictive paddock life
Before becoming a photography in the F1 paddock, Cherry Fan was a Formula 1 fan first. Her love for photography is ‘inherited’ from her father, and her passion for motorsport is developed from going to the Shanghai International Circuit for F1 races during her college years. In 2011, Cherry’s racing hero Robert Kubica had to leave Formula 1 racing, yet it also became an opportunity for Cherry to start practicing photography again, something she hasn’t been practicing very often since she was a child. It was one more reason for her to focus on racing while her racing hero was not on track. This reason sent Cherry back to the paddock again and again, until she was accredited a full season pass for the 2020 season.
It started as a hobby, but as I kept going, I got to where I am now. I don’t want to stop, so I will keep going this way.
The paddock life is addictive, and Cherry made many photographer friends in this environment. They battle with their photos, help each other out when needed, and learn from each other to become better photographers together. “I’m usually busier at local races in China. I won’t have much time to shoot stuff I like. During F1 races I can leave more time to shoot things that fit my own aesthetic choices. Sometimes I’ll learn from top photographers. I’ll also have opportunities to talk to them about photography. We usually will talk about the overall feeling the photo is conveying, the lighting of the photo, and where we took it. I’ll see where I need to work on and strive to do better.”
In the paddock, besides having photographer friends, it is even more important to have access to teams. During her three seasons in the Formula 1 paddock, as she attends more and more Grands Prix, Cherry has also been growing her network. “The teams would love to have you shoot their drivers. Their interviews are a lot of times in public areas or at TV pen, photographers can just go up and take photos of those. Sometimes other photographers will also share information with me. I’m a newbie any way, they have been taken care of me. I have no conflict of interests with anyone, so I can be friends with a lot of people in the paddock.”
Back to the basic and detailed planning of a race weekend
Even though Cherry has been an enthusiastic of photography her whole life and started shooting motorsport because of her love for F1, she realized to be a professional photographer, she still needed to catch up on the professional training. So she trained under the first ever Chinese F1 photographer Ming Yu and obtained professional qualifications as a photographer. In her opinion, good photos share common qualities. “Some people are keen on having their own style. But I think good photos must be accepted by common aesthetics and appreciated by most people. I would recommend a 20-80 rule: 80% of your photos should be appreciated by most people. You should have a really solid base, then you can master lighting, and at this point, your photo should be good enough. The next 20% is where you can do what you want and have your own signature. The 80% is common across all photography.”
During every race weekend, Cherry needs to deliver photos commissioned by clients, publish race reports, and leave time to shoot for her own technical development. To cover everything, she needs a detailed plan. “My planning is much more detailed now I’m a photographer than when I was just a fan. I will layout what client commitment I have, what events they have, what’s the racing schedule like. If there is something I need to coordinate with my client, I need to plan in advance and communicate with them. Then there is the more detailed planning of how I shoot from trackside. This is also where motorsport is different from other sports. In other sports, for example football or basketball, you are confined in a much smaller court comparing to a racing circuit. I need to plan how I manage my own energy and time at a 5-6 km circuit. Then there are also things you simply cannot miss, such as celebration after a race. Last year, during Mexico GP, we all know Hamilton might win the title, then I need to know when to claim my spot. I need to be there early to have a spot to shoot their celebration. I went there with 20 laps remaining, it was all for a photo of him and his team celebrating his 6th title.”
A race weekend is not complete if we don’t have the people, the cars, and their story all together.
With her solid basic technical skills, her detailed planning of the weekend, the last thing Cherry needs for a great racing photo is the understanding of motorsport. Luckily for Cherry, as a long-time F1 fan, she already has a deep understanding of the sport. “Generally for all sport photography, catching the moment is key. You catch the moment that matters, then you have a better photo than others. But how to catch that moment requires your knowledge of the sport. If you shoot motorsport, you need to understand the circuits and the cars. Every driver has their own driving style and racing line. It’s better to observe for a few laps at a corner before you shoot, get an idea of how everyone is getting in and out of that corner. I have enough knowledge of motorsport, but if I go shoot some other sport, I’ll need to do some homework on their rules and the players in order to get good photos.”
At least for now, financially and physically I can still keep going, then I will. Right now not many people from China are following this path, so I want to leverage my experience in the international racing scene to provide better service for my clients in China.
It is common knowledge that photography is an expensive practice and racing is an expensive sport. Motorsport photography is basically putting two expensive things together. “I usually have client commission for local races in China so I can make some money off of it. But for F1, so far I pay for my own travel, I’ll use my other work or brand collaboration to cover it. Besides clients in motorsport, I’ll also work with brands of camera equipment or the travel and hospitality industry to broaden my reach.”
Her mentor told her that it’s not easy to make a profitable business in motorsport. Being on this less travelled path, with difficulties from various aspects, Cherry has not considered giving up. According to her, there might be millions of reasons to stop, but only one to keep going, and that reason is your own will to keep going. Getting her full season pass for the first time, only to have the first half of the year be disrupted by COVID-19, Cherry didn’t go sulking for four months. Now the season is finally underway, yet there is still travel restrictions keeping Cherry from the paddock. This difficult year didn’t upset Cherry, she’s patiently waiting for the day to return to the paddock with faith and her passion for the sport.
People in motorsport have all gone through difficulties this year, let’s join Cherry and keep going for the sport we all love.