When I first started taking motor racing pictures at Brands Hatch as a teenage race fan I came back and developed my black and white images and was thoroughly disappointed with my blurred and rather dull photographs. Equipment did play a part in the bad photos for ,certainly nowadays, long lenses are important to get great action imagery at the race track but also my approach was all wrong.
I was trying to pick out individual cars and not concentrating on telling the story of the race. If you want to cover a motor race properly you need to make a plan. Study the program, watch the qualifying heats to pick the exciting drivers and walk the circuit to ID the best spots to shoot the race from.
As above, shooting in the assembly area before the race, will give you a feel for the cars and there may be opportunities to photograph the drivers before they put their helmets on. If you have a track pass the grid is an exciting place to be but make sure you follow the marshals instructions and leave early to get to your start position.
There will often be a warm up or green flag flag lap before the race starts proper and this is a good time to hone your first lap location and pre-frame your angle of view to be sure you are in the best spot for that all important start shot. This is the time to check all your camera settings are as you want them, you won’t have time to change exposure or motor drive options when the cars are thundering down the track towards you. Set your autofocus to ‘Servo’, this means it will follow the moving cars as they progress through the frame towards and across it.
One of my rules of thumb is that I try to pick a shooting postion where I can get more than one angle so as to make the best of the location, either with different focal lengths or by turn around and shooting the other way. So for that vital first lap shot, above and top , I’m about 300 metres from the start line with my 70-300mm lens. I can swing around to follow the cars into turn one and pick out any action that happens as the racers jostle for position. You’ll need a fast shutter speed of between 1/400-800th second for this but don’t go too fast ie over 1000th as this will freeze the action completely and you’ll lose any sense of movement from your photo.
Most classic car races are short, 10 laps or 20-30 mins duration so once the cars have gone by on lap one move to your next shooting position.You may have to run so as not to miss too much of the action. In your new location you may now not know who is leading the race so ask a spectator or try to see the TV screen if there one to catch up on who to shoot. Try to shoot battles between multiple racers as this will tell the story of the race better than picking out single cars.
Keep safe.If you have the right track side passes think of your safety and never turn your back on the race or cross the circuit until the race has finished and the marshals say you can .Check up in your program which cars the star drivers are in and be sure to get some good shots of them.
Vary your focal length and your shutter speed so that all of your images don’t look the same. Shoot some wide angle views that might work as scene setters or establishing shots and try some slow pans down to 1/30th second to capture the movement. Remember, not all of the car needs to be in focus, as long as one part is sharp the image will work.
Make sure you’ve got a few frames of the leading cars especially towards the end of the race.I’ve been caught out many times thinking I have the winning car only to find it was overtaken on the final lap…and if you can shoot the prize presentation you’ve got a top and tail to your motor racing story.
Read more about photographing motor racing and rallying in the book ‘How to Photograph Cars’ where there is a whole chapter on the subject.Get your copy at the best price on this website.https://www.howtophotographcars.co.uk/products-page/