Survival of the most adaptable – Thinking on your feet as a motorsports photographer

As Apple says - Think different

As Apple says – Think different – get different shots

A key skill as a motorsports photographer, indeed, in any field, is adaptability. Very rarely does everything go exactly as you want it on a shoot, so you need to be prepared to think on your feet, change things up and come up with workable solutions to imperfect situations.

Australian Formula 1 GP 2013 - Turn 14 exit - Mercedes - Lewis Hamilton - side-on profile pan 7

Track access is a good example. As an amateur, you will generally never get the access a pro will. At Phillip Island and Winton you can get close, but those are rare exceptions. And at major events like F1 races, forget it. So if you’re stuck somewhere, surrounded by crowds, what can you do? Stand back, switch to tracking autofocus, pan and let the crowds assist you. Tracking autofocus will follow a car through even solid objects like people, and by panning, whilst still noticeable, you make any fences in your way less of an issue. At panning-level shutter speeds, the crowd also just becomes a blur of various colours, adding to the image and also providing context. Of course, you should still move around to get the best possible variety of shots, which may not be possible depending on the event, but even if not, you should still get some nice pics on everyday access.

Someone shooting wide? Use a tele, or vice versa

Someone shooting wide? Use a tele, or vice versa

Even as a pro, access can still be a challenge. At major events, many photographers will also be shooting from the same location as you. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t get your own unique shot. Move around, even if it’s just by a few centimetres. It will make a difference to your angle. Or try a different lens: If everyone is shooting using a tele, use a wide-angle, or vice versa. If you can move around, use it to your advantage. Bunch of photographers at the end of the race shooting the winner from the front? Tell that story┬áby shooting from behind and capturing the photographers. Larry Chen from Speedhunters is a very good exponent of this.

The background to turn 1 at Sandown is just a wall and a bunch of detritus. Panning helps make it look better.

The background to turn 1 at Sandown is just a wall and a bunch of detritus. Panning helps make it look better.

Poor backgrounds is another problem motorsports photographers often have to deal with. There are two main solutions here. First, similar to being in a crowd, pan. Panning will blur the background and save your shot. If you don’t want to pan, try and use the track to lead the eye. Even if the background is poor, a snaky piece of road or dirt, leading the eye through the picture, will often compensate and give you a perfectly decent shot.

Background is still not great, but the snaking tarmac compensates

Background is still not great, but the snaking tarmac compensates

Finally, one of the biggest issues outdoor photographers face is lighting. And unlike some sports, there are times when using flash simply won’t work. Either you’ll blind the driver, or, especially if you’re an amateur in a more distant location, your flash simply won’t reach. Here, the only solution, I’m sad to say, is to move. As I said last time, each person will have their own lighting preferences, so try and analyse where you think the lighting will be best for you and get walking.

Don't like the light? Get walking until you do.

Don’t like the light? Get walking until you do.

OK, that’s it for now. Let me know if you found this advice useful in the comments below.

This entry was posted in Adaptability, Cars, Racing, Technique, Uncategorized.