YouTuber, Formula 1 photographer, and journalist. Kym Illman's website leaves no room for doubt: this is a man of action we are talking about. For some years now, you feel something is missing in the F1 paddocks and trackside if the race weekend is not accompanied by his pictures. There is, in fact, a magic touch in Illman's work that lies in being in the right spot at the right time, as he confirms in our interview. Born in Adelaide, Australia, Illman has a background as a DJ and radio announcer and is now the head of Messages On Hold, an audio advertising company, and of Canity, an online customer service training platform. He is also a rally driver and motorsports enthusiast. In 2016, he was in Abu Dhabi for an F1 race and was struck by the adrenaline rush on the track. It was a short step from there to the FIA media application, and it is not surprising that the institution itself particularly appreciated the all-round approach that Illman introduced, focusing on people, details, and gestures. Since then, he not only posts timely images but also devotes himself to courses, videos, behind-the-scenes footage, and updates via his social channels that, by now, count millions of followers, as his content has the captivating characteristic of being accessible to both enthusiasts and newbies. Therefore, all you have to do is follow him for privileged access and an unprecedented glimpse into the world of Formula 1, which he analyzes with us in our interview in the run-up to the 2024 Championship.
I would like to start by asking you about the reasons that got you started in shooting F1, in particular.
I went to the 2016 Abu Dhabi race (which was the last race of the year) on a Red Bull corporate packet. I stayed in the garage with Daniel Ricciardo and his race engineers and had a wonderful weekend, which made me realize how amazing it was to have that level of access and observe the quietness of the garage before the competition started. So, I thought that maybe I had to investigate how to shoot that sport in more detail, and that is what got me started.
How has F1 changed in the past few years and what are the downsides of shooting the sport?
This is my sixth season, and I only missed a few so far. As far as changes are concerned, I certainly see more people in the paddock now, more selfies being taken, and more attention on the drivers (for good or bad). Somehow, having so many people shouting their names all the time is the sad side of the sport, as it seems the main focus is only to get a picture with them in order to impress others. That’s social media these days, I guess...
What keeps the motivation alive and makes a picture perfect, in your perspective?
Looking for a great story. An example could be what happened between Sergio Perez and Fernando Alonso in their adrenaline-filled last-lap battle in Brazil 2023. I was in a good position, overlooking the podium towards the finishing line, which allowed me to take this stunning photo with a lovely light just after they crossed the line. Everything came together perfectly, and that is not something that happens often.
What do you focus on, in particular, when taking photographs?
I tend to focus on the people and the motion. I look for elation, disappointment, pain, or sadness. Light and background are also very important, as well as being in the right place at the right time (I think about the Sergio Perez crash in Mexico 2023, for example). The great F1 photographers I look up to certainly spend a lot of time deciding where to be, as it often determines how good a picture will end up being. In fact, you might be ten meters left or right out of the spot and miss out on the photo completely.
Do you think the drivers and people in the paddock recognize you by now, so they are particularly generous towards your camera?
For sure. I have been to 120 races now, and I know the drivers and they know me. With some of them, you have a relationship that will give you more in terms of recognition as they would look at your lens and toward your camera instead of away from you. That is a relationship that pays off, as they know that if they look at Kym’s camera, then in a few minutes the picture will be online for them and the audience to enjoy.
Do you have other F1-related plans for the near future?
I add things all the time while working, and a couple of years ago I discovered people would like to have pictures signed by drivers, so I do collaborations with them, and this proved to be a very popular addition to my offerings. I have a very sizeable audience by now, so we will see where the future projects will lead me in this ever-changing business.