Is there a better place to test and improve your digital photography skills than the fast-paced action of an automobile or motorcycle race? There’s not many! That’s why PhotographyTalk.com has added this two-part article to its Web site, so you can recognize and focus on the best photographic opportunities during the frenzy and noise of a motorsports event. Part 1presented some tips and techniques for capturing interesting images during practice runs and qualifying races and of the spectators. Part 2 provides you with tips you can use to photograph the race itself.
Compact cameras or DSLRs with normal focal-length lens just won’t fill your viewfinder with the action of a race. You will simply shoot a bunch of pictures that shows great expanses of the track and cars that look like tiny specks. Regardless of where you are located in or around the stands, you need a telephoto lens of 300mm or more. Most of the pros use 400mm and 600mm lenses. They understand one of the primary rules of photography: move as close to your subject as possible or use a lens that allows you to fill the frame with the subject. Like the pros, plan on using a monopod to support the weight of that long lens and steady it.
Another important equipment detail is that the telephoto lens that a digital photography enthusiast or hobbyists can afford will be relatively “slow,” meaning the smallest aperture opening will probably be only f/4.5 or 5.6. Most professional lenses of this type are f/2.8, and they cost approximately four times as much. Both lenses will stop action in full sunlight, but in the shadows the slower lens will not. The solution is to shoot at a higher ISO setting. This requires a bit of practice to find the exact combination of ISO and shutter speed to stop action in low light.
The pros know the best position for action shots is at a turn of the track. Cars or motorcycles are more likely to maneuver at the turns because they must slow their speed. Then, you can also take a few shots as they accelerate into the straightaway. The turns are typically enclosed with a low wall and a high fence, which you must take into account when picking a shooting location.
Finding a good position is another reason to come to practice runs, so you can scout locations before race day. At the very least, come early to the race to find those positions without having to do so in the midst of a thick crowd of people. Most races place officials at the turns. Their activities can make for interesting digital photos, and they may also provide you with some tips about the best angles to shoot approaching cars.
Another location option is a tower, which some racetracks have. These elevated viewing platforms put you above the crowd, with no fence or other obstructions. Some tracks will permit amateur photographers to be on the towers. Another excellent reason to come to the track during a pre-race day, so you can inquire about that opportunity and acquire any pass that is required.
The more you know about a particular kind of motorsport, the more likely you’ll be able to compose exciting and interesting digital photos. In some cases, you’ll want to stop the action completely, such as during a crash, when parts are flying and a car or motorcycle may leave the ground.
Another compositional technique that is excellent for racing photos is panning with the object. It’s a relatively simple technique that will probably require some practice. You shoot at a slower shutter speed and move or pan your camera horizontally with the car as it comes into your field of view. Remember to give it some lead space, and then release the shutter when the car is approximately directly opposite your position. The resulting photo will show a relatively sharp image of the car (just a bit of blurring around the edges), but the background will be blurred.
You can also use the slower shutter speed, but not pan your camera with the moving car or motorcycle. This will impart more blurring to the object than a panning shot. This technique will also require some practice to determine the best shutter speed to capture the action and still be able to identify the car.
A final safety tip from the pros: Learn how to shoot with both eyes open. You want one eye on the viewfinder and the other open, so you’re able to spot other photos to shoot and possible dangerous situations, such as flying debris. Remember, the closer you are to the track, the more dangerous it can be.