Moonlight driving: the story behind Frits van Eldik's rare F1 photograph

A low-light photo from the rear of the racing car driven by Fernando Alonso, its brake lights emitting a red glow on the wet track.
Frits van Eldik used bad weather and low light to his advantage in this atmospheric picture of a Formula 1 car being driven at night by Fernando Alonso in Barcelona, Spain, on 28 February 2018. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with a Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens at 1/500 sec, f/2.8 and ISO1000. © Frits van Eldik

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.

Canon Professional Services

Put yourself in safe hands

Access free expert advice, equipment servicing, inspirational events and exclusive special offers with Canon Professional Services (CPS).

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."

Escrito por Gary Evans

Frits van Eldik's kitbag

The key kit pros use to take their photographs

Sports photographer Frits van Eldik lying prone on a racetrack with a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II camera and telephoto lens.


Canon EOS-1D X Mark II

Breaking the boundaries of high-speed shooting, this DSLR can shoot up to 14 fps with full AF / AE tracking or up to 16 fps in Live View, thanks to the speed of DIGIC 6+ processors and the new mirror drive system.

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

This full-frame 30.4MP DSLR captures incredible detail, even in extreme contrast. Continuous 7fps shooting helps when chasing the perfect moment, while 4K video delivers ultra-high definition footage to the DCI standard (4096x2160).


Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM

High-performance L-series super-telephoto lens, with 4-stop Image Stabiliser with 3 modes ideal for all types of action photography. The EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM delivers outstanding image quality in a robust lightweight construction.

Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM

Featuring superb image quality edge to edge, a robust build and impeccable weather sealing, this L-series ultra-wide angle zoom lens has a constant f/2.8 maximum aperture for crisp results whatever the lighting conditions.


Canon Extender EF 2x III

Double the focal length of Canon L-series telephoto or telephoto zoom lenses with this extender, which brings higher AF accuracy and improved communication between camera and lens

Get the newsletter

Click here to get inspiring stories and exciting news from Canon Europe Pro

Sign up now