Photographing Motorsport

Have you ever thought about photographing a motorsport event?

Photographing motorsport is exciting and exhilarating. Capturing the action is demanding like most sports photography. Adding to this, you are exposed to all kinds of weather. It’s a commitment generally only made by car enthusiasts.

As the event rolls ahead you need to be ready for the action as it will not stop for you. You can’t expect to get a second chance as some drivers will crash, or their cars will have mechanical failure. Rally, drift racing and time attack are especially challenging as the cars may only pass once. This is especially the case with rallying as the cars pass at seemingly impossible speeds and do not return because they are not on a circuit. The next time you see them will be in another part of the countryside.

How do you get on the dangerous side of the fence?

Being in the right position to get unobstructed shots is a hurdle which seems too high to jump for most people. Access is only granted to genuine members of the media on the premise their images will add value to the event after being published. The bigger the event and higher level of competition the more strict the application process.

If you’re not a member of the media and haven’t been photographing motorsport, start building your folio with a range of images.

It’s advisable to include images relative to the type of motorsport event you want to photograph. Event and action shots showcasing your ability to tell a story are the winners. If you haven’t photographed a motorsport event before build your skill level and folio.

Start with easy access club or state level events, contact the organisers and introduce yourself. Some organisations have a formalised media application process and some only have a simple indemnity form. In motorsport, safety is a high concern. Strict guidelines are in place at all levels of the sport because of the risks associated with cars being pushed to their limits. At the event you will be briefed on access and prohibited areas.

They’ll ask for Public Liability Insurance.

Apart from your photography gear, make sure you’re well equipped with food and drink. You’re likely to be out in the open and concentrating hard on framing cars, nourishment can take a lesser priority. Dress for the elements and prepare for hotter, cooler and rainy weather. This is especially important when photographing a rally. As they are mainly staged in forests and mountains, the weather can change suddenly so you need to be prepared for this. It can make the difference in having a fun or a terrible day.

Familiarise yourself with the course by looking over a map.

Assess the access points to sections of road you want to shoot. Your decision will be based on the shots you want to achieve and the capability of your photography gear. By this stage you’ve already thought of the possible shots; high speed panning shot, front-on approach, long shot, close shot, passing shot (if a race). The overall aim is to emphasise the speed of the car.

Before heading out, study the schedule and decide where to be when the action unfolds. Motorsport facilities are large and it’s advisable to maximise the time you’re actually shooting, rather than walking back and forth from point to point. Your camera gear will feel twice as heavy by the end of the day! It’s also a matter of getting to the right access point at the right race/session. The access points can be small and you may be shooting through a hole in the fence shared with a number of other photographers so be polite and patient.

Before the cars approach decide where on the track you want to capture them and choose your exposure.

This might sound obvious, but drivers take different lines on the course and their cars behave more aggressively at different places. Most drivers will take the same ‘racing line’ on a circuit. But in the case of a rally, drivers with different driving styles and car types will have you shooting them on different parts of the road.

The car is at its limit when a driver dives deep into the braking zone and turns their car into a corner. Capturing the stress on the car will show more action in your shots. It’s also possible the driver will loose control of the car and you need to be ready to capture any drama. This might be a brake lock-up, a slide, leaving the track or even hitting a barrier or another car. They’re the kind of situations you don’t wish on any driver but they make great shots.

Aim to get a variety of shots at different points of the course. Some events may not have a variety of corners or access points, so try different photography styles to differentiate your images. Once you have the key images experiment with the rest. Don’t stop at the action shots. Take a walk through the pit or service area and photograph the cars refuelling, changing tyres and getting repaired.

This is the place to meet the drivers and teams.

Depending on how the event is unfolding for them they’ll usually be happy to talk to you about the team, car and driver. They’ll also allow you to get close to the machinery and it’s a great opportunity to take some detailed shots of the cars.

The end of the day is similar to any other photo shoot. Sorting through the hundreds of images is time consuming. Keep a copy of the entry list so you can identify the car and driver for filing your images and submitting to your publication. The organisers of the event are good sources of comment and information if your submission requires more information to make the story great.

Has this been a help to photographing motorsport? Please let me know what you’re going to shoot in the comments…

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