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GUIDE – How To Photograph Motorsports

20 Dec , 2013  

This guide will help you to photograph motorsport. It’s a very hard sport to photograph, but when you get it right the results are highly rewarding. I will talk about the equipment you will need, how to position yourself at a racetrack and also explain a common technique used to photograph motorsport, which should help you get started.

Porsche 991 GT3 Cup - Donington Park

Focal Length – 275mm, Shutter Speed 1/400, Aperture F7.1

What You’ll Need:

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A digital or film SLR camera is an absolute must. What you are shooting is – more often than not – moving at a fast rate and you need a camera that can keep up. Shutter lag wipes off compacts, phones and most bridge cameras so don’t waste money buying one for this specific use.

The lens of choice is just as important as the camera itself. DSLR cameras quite often have kit lenses bundled with them and the focal length is far too short for motorsports. If you are shooting from the side of the track, even if you are near, you need at least a 100 mm telephoto lens. Something above 300mm is fine but 400mm+ is ideal and will able to cover all the UK tracks. Also keep an eye out on aperture. f2.8 is the ideal mark but don’t get anything lower than f5.6.

Have a monopod to support your camera and lens. This can be optional but I would highly recommend having one. Both a camera and telephoto lens together isn’t heavy, but it’s too weighty to stay still and take blur free photos. A monopod will make your photographing-motorsport-life much easier. A tripod can do this job but is more restricting of movement.

My equipment for the photos seen was a Canon 20D (old school), Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM and a monopod from 7dayshop (great value).

How To Position Yourself:

Before photographing motorsports, do your homework first. Find out the slowest corner/s. This will give you the best chance to get sharp photos of the action. I previously had a track experience at Donington Park so I knew the slowest corners were Redgate and the Esses.

Focal Length - 400mm Shutter Speed - 1/250 Aperture - F6.3

Focal Length – 400mm, Shutter Speed – 1/250, Aperture – F6.3
This was taken behind a catch fence. The fairly wide aperture and zoom is enough to see through it.

How To Set Up Your Camera:

Set your camera into burst mode. This will allow your camera to take more than one photo in a single second and allow you more chances to get a sharp photo.

Ideally keep your focus in manual mode. Fix yourself on one area when shooting. Sharpen up your focus for that one area only, and simply shoot. If the focus is sharp, the image will be. If you shoot in autofocus, which can happen, set the autofocus mode to ‘continuous focus’ so when you press down the shutter button halfway, the autofocus will still adjust to what it aimed at first. Although I recommend manual as autofocus can be a bit unreliable.

Shutter speed is something else that needs to be considered. The higher the better as you need to freeze the action as much as you can. But some techniques don’t rely on the fastest shutter speeds.

Basic Techniques:

Panning. This is one of the simplest techniques but it can take a while to master. Idea is to move along with the car or bike and move at a rate which keeps the subject sharp but the background blurred. This helps give a sense of movement to the photo.

Shutter Speed - 1/200 Aperture - F7.1

Focal Length – 160mm, Shutter Speed – 1/200, Aperture – F7.1

I can tell you ideal shutter speeds, but its something that needs to be figured out as the amount of light also can have a huge impact on how fast or slow the shutter should be. If you at least start on composing the subject, everything else can fall into place afterwards.

I hope with these pointers you have a better idea how to tackle this tricky subject!

Tips:

  • Wide aperture equals out catch fences.
  • Tilt your camera for added drama – although don’t overdo it.
  • Find slowest corner/s on track.
  • Use manual focus.
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