Vladimir Rys

A shot of a racing car taken with a long exposure to create streaks of colour across the image.

Canon Ambassador Vladimir Rys enjoys photographing motorsports because it offers him plenty of opportunity for experimentation. This long exposure of a race was shot in Austin, Texas in October 2018. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II (now succeeded by the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III) with a Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM lens at 1/4 sec, f/10 and ISO50. © Vladimir Rys

Canon Ambassador Vladimir Rys travels the globe capturing one of the planet's fastest sports. Renowned for his impeccable timing and spectacular images, the Formula 1 specialist usually takes around 80 flights a year, following motorsports around the world.
Born and raised in Prague in the Czech Republic, Vladimir first picked up a camera aged 13. "My grandfather was a photographer, so I started to play around with his equipment," he explains. "It quickly became my main passion."

While studying photography in Prague, Vladimir was offered a job at a local newspaper. "My boss there was very tough with me, but that was the best schooling I could have asked for," he says. "He opened the door into sports photography for me, and I learned so much from him. I look back on that time as a fundamental point in launching my career."

After working as a photographer for football magazine Hattrick, Vladimir moved to Germany in 2002 to take up a job with Getty Images. "By then, I had won a few awards in Prague and people seemed to like my stuff," he explains. "But Germany was a completely different world and I quickly realised I knew nothing, so I began learning again. The competition was massive within the agency, and that pushed me a lot – we challenged each other every day to go out and capture something new, something unseen.

"I was covering everything and went to three Olympic Games. Every sport has its own character, and you have to be ready to know what's going to happen next. If you see it already happening in front of you, it's too late and you've missed the shot."

Locations: Greece and Germany
Specialist area: Motorsports
Favourite kit:
Canon EOS-1D X Mark III
Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM
A close-up of an eye with a racing car reflected in the pupil.

A racing car is pictured reflected in the eye of a mechanic inside a garage during previews for a motor race in Austin, Texas in October 2015. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X (now succeeded by the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III) with a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens at 1/40 sec, f/7.1 and ISO2500. © Vladimir Rys

Today, Vladimir's portfolio is bursting with images of many different sports, but Formula 1 is where the photographer's passion lies. "My first season was in 2005, and I remember going to Australia for the first race," he says. "Suddenly, a new world opened up in front of me. Photographically it was so exciting because I had a space where I could do a nice portrait, I could capture the action, I could be arty, I could shoot landscape – I could shoot anything."

Vladimir went freelance in 2010 and is now based in both Greece and Germany. After 15 years photographing high-speed races, he is still just as excited every time he sets foot on a circuit. "Every track and every race is different," he says. "I'm constantly learning."

Racing cars arrive on the grid for the start of practice.

Racing cars arrive on the grid for the start of practice in Spielberg, Austria in June 2019. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with a Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM lens at 1/1250 sec, f/2.8 and ISO50. © Vladimir Rys

With a string of awards to his name, including being named Photographer of the Year in 2014 by the Italian Motorsport Federation, Vladimir's pictures are known around the world. "It's always nice to get recognition for your work, but that's not why I do it," he explains. "For me, it doesn't mean that now it's time to lean back and enjoy it. It pushes me forward."

As for what's next, Vladimir believes the best is yet to come. "I'm never satisfied," he says. "I constantly look forward to the next race and the opportunity to create something new again. I always hope the next picture will be my best yet."

What would you say are the key elements of successful Formula 1 photography?
"Motorsport is so fast, but you should go slow. Follow the lines and the shadows and position yourself carefully. Over the years, you learn where you can expect the cars to come off the track, what time they'll come through a particular tunnel and where you can get a nice action shot. That's why Formula 1 is still so exciting for me and I still have the curiosity to find those new shots."

How would you describe your photographic style?
"My style is very graphic; I like to follow the light. I mostly look at light, composition, colours and shadows. As a photographer, you need to put the whole story in one picture. You need to see something that the average spectator doesn't see. You must always look from a different angle, find new positions and be extremely focused on what you're doing."

Do you have a favourite Formula 1 circuit to photograph?
"Monaco is the top circuit for most of the photographers because it's so rewarding and you can get so close to the cars. It's like nowhere else. I also love Singapore. The atmosphere of the night race is so unique. You can play with colours and light and it's incredibly beautiful. One of the most difficult circuits is Silverstone in the UK as it's just flat. It's not as photogenic, but it's such a speed circuit and that's amazing. I like that every circuit presents a different challenge."

What's your advice for staying focused during a long race?
"Always eat before the race starts so you can focus. Also, keep warm. If you feel you're losing concentration, change position, experiment with a new angle, try something different. Get out of your comfort zone and try something crazy. Some races are long, but for me, it's so exciting and the time flies by."

One thing I know

Vladimir Rys

"Technology is always rapidly improving and developing. I've seen so many changes over my career and you just can't ignore that – you must learn to adapt to the new developments and equipment. You need to keep changing your approach, but also stay true to your own style and your own photographic values. Create the picture in the camera, not just on the computer. There are tools that assist you to become better in your photography, but remember that computers are only there to help you. You shouldn't rely on them to create your pictures, because you won't get the same results."

Facebook: @VladimirRysPhotography

Instagram: @vladimirrys

Twitter: @vladimirrys


Vladimir Rys' kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs

Vladimir Rys' kitbag containing Canon cameras and lenses, as well as passports and a press pass.


Canon EOS-1D X Mark III

The ultimate creative toolkit with superb low-light performance, deep learning AF and 5.5K RAW video. "This camera is an extension of my hand but also my eyes," Vladimir says. "I use it almost subconsciously, which allows me to focus only on my subject. I love the handling of Canon; when you get a new camera, you feel like you've had it before because it's just so familiar and easy to use."


Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM

With its incredible f/1.2 maximum aperture, the super-fast EF 50mm f/1.2L USM is a consummate low-light performer. A lens that allows fine creative control over focusing and depth of field. Vladimir says: "My standard lens – I shoot so much with this. I can shoot portrait, action – it's my favourite for sure."

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM

This versatile lens gives great results in portrait work and handheld movie-making, thanks to its ability to achieve a shallow depth of field with beautiful bokeh. "One of the sharpest lenses – it has a beautiful and rich texture," says Vladimir.

Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM

This fast, lightweight and high-quality telephoto lens is the perfect tool for capturing indoor sports in low-light conditions and for shooting portrait photography. "It's great for portraits, action and gives the most beautiful bokeh," says Vladimir.

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM

A fast-aperture super-telephoto lens that delivers a professional performance – ideal for sports, news and wildlife photography. "It's always with me trackside, where you can't get as close to the action due to safety reasons," says Vladimir. "I also use it for a lot of panning."

Canon CN-E14mm T3.1 L F Cine Lens

Part of Canon's range of EF Cinema prime lenses, the CN-E14mm T3.1 L F offers spectacular 4K image quality and a full frame image circle plus great low-light performance and fine creative control over focusing and depth of field. "This is a great lens, razor-sharp from the centre into the corners of the frame," says Vladimir.

Canon CN-E50mm T1.3 L F Cine Lens

From the Canon series of prime lenses, the CN-E 50mm T1.3 L F is a lightweight (1.1kg), compact fixed focal length lens designed for EF mounts. "I just love a 50mm lens of any kind," says Vladimir. "I use a variety of 50mm cine lenses, all the way down to some old great FDs. This version just sits so nicely in your hand."

Canon CN-E85mm T1.3 L F Cine Lens

Compact and weighing only 1.3kg, this short telephoto prime lens offers spectacular 4k image quality, a natural angle of view and perspective and is ideal for low-light shooting and shallow depth of field. Vladimir says: "It's always rewarding when shooting wide open because of its beautiful texture and colour transmission."

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