andrewbussa
 
Motorsports Photographer Specializing in Open Wheel and Road Racing

Racing Photography Tips

Equipment:

I shoot a Nikon D7000 and D80 and love them both. Even the D80 makes great 16x20 inch prints. The Nikon D800 or D300s would do nicely too, but price is an important factor. There are some inexpensive D3x and D3 bodies for sale on eBay if video isn't needed. I have the 18–105 mm kit lens and the 70–200mm VR lens, both Nikon glass. The 18–105mm lens is plastic and lightweight. It feels cheap, but works well in the 18–50mm range. It has 3.5–5.6 aperture, but I prefer it to a $2000 2.8 aperture zoom that will cover 17-35mm. I use the 70–200mm lens whenever I can. It has a 2.8 aperture through the zoom range that can throw any background clutter out of focus and works fantastically at dusk. It has a lightning fast focus and takes very sharp pictures. It can stop the wheels on a car at 170 mph, not that you'd want to. I love that lens. This setup will get you all but the longest shots and cost me about $2,500 with accessories. I also have a Nikon SB-800 flash and use it mostly for podium and grid pictures.

Plan your day of shooting:

Have a plan for your day at the race track. Closed toed shoes, long pants and a shirt with sleeves are a must for credentialed photographers. Everyone should have hearing protection. Get a track map and look for good photo spots. Keep in mind where the sun will be when; it will help make your shots. A schedule of on-track and off-track events will help greatly. Charge your batteries, clean your gear (I recommend the Nikon Lens Pen) and have a fun day at the race track.

Safety:

Motor racing is very dangerous. You need to be aware of your surroundings at all times, and have an escape plan for every place you are shooting. Here are some safety tips to keep in mind:

• Be aware of your surroundings. Know what is coming and from where. Race cars enter the pits or garages, turn off their engines and coast. You won't hear it coming, but it can be moving fast. Always face up track when there is nothing between you and a car. Being alert also makes for better shots.
• Walls move! Any wall a car can hit will move (some NASCAR tracks excluded). Never duck behind a wall, it will crush you. Depending on the impact and barrier, the wall may move several feet, and you won't stop it.
• If a car is coming at you, move away from the impact site perpendicular to the direction of the race car or just run up track and away from the wall. When the car hits, debris will keep going in the direction that the car was moving. The shot is never worth a wing to the head.
• If you’re shooting in the pits, always ask a team member where you can shoot. Photographers have cost teams wins by ruining pit stops. It's also the fastest way to get your credential pulled. Always know how to move away quickly in case of fire or an injury. Be mindful of flying air guns too.
• Corner workers own the track. Ask them where you can and can't shoot and any safety questions you have. They are very cool and talkative; you'll like them.
• Don’t be stupid. Think if something is safe before you do it. Ask if you’re not sure. Being stupid will get your credential pulled every time. Never walk on a hot track, this includes after the race when Helio Castroneves is climbing the fence or when pace car rides are running.

 

Taking the shot:

Visualize your shot

Do you want three bright porta-potties as your background? Look for good backgrounds; they are usually just a couple steps away from the bad ones. Also think of how the cars will be moving and what action you'll capture. Be creative and have fun!

Panning

This is the motorsports photographer's art. Keeping the lens pointed at the same spot on a car that is constantly changing velocity is hard. It takes practice. Fill a memory card shooting cars on the street at home—that's how I practiced. They go faster at the track, but you’ll have the basic skills down.

Shutter speeds

1/250 to 1/400 will give you full wheel blur and a little background blur. I like minor wheel blur and minimal background blur, and use 1/400 and higher. Anything lower than 1/200 and you'll have a hard time keeping the car crisp.

Aperture settings

This is tied to the shutter speed equation. Play it safe and only set one or the other. You don't want to reset the camera when cars are whizzing by, you may miss a shot and it is a safety issue, focus on the cars on track. The lower the F-stop number, the more light you'll take in and the smaller your depth of field. A 2.8 aperture setting is always great for driver shots, it will blur all the clutter out of focus.

Burst mode

Why have one photo when you can have four? I always shoot in burst; one of the pictures has to be good. This will eat your memory, so buy large memory cards.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom:

Lightroom is an amazing program that has streamlined my workflow and increased my productivity. I love it and recommend it to everyone.