Syd: Work on variety

Shooting motorsport is about searching for variety. When you have 100 of the best photographers around the world shooting a race it never ceases to amaze me at the new angles, lighting and images that appear at every event. Sure, there are classic shots like the overhead images of cars racing beside the seaside at the Monaco GP, but there are literally tens of thousands of unique images at every motor racing event generated.

To compound the challenge, at some motorsport events you can only shoot from fixed locations. At the Australian Grand Prix for example there are 44 designated locations.

Here’s the location at turn 4:
F1 Aust Grand Prix - Practise - March 25
where I shot the first crash of the first race for 2011 on the installation lap of practise 1:
F1 Aust Grand Prix - Practise - March 25

So, work on variety. My practical tip is shoot from at least 5 different locations over a 60-90 minute session. Play with different exposure settings, shutter speeds and aperture settings at every location. Try to do some panning shots when you’re using a slow shutter speed. Try to do some funky zooming. There’s no such thing as a bad photo as each photo is just a step to getting it just right.

Varying different exposure setting
– When its sunny you can use a simple technique to give your images a different feel
– Rather than having an evenly exposed image, try under exposing your image at least 1 but up to 3 stops
– This will mean that only the bright or reflective parts of the image will be properly exposed with the rest of the image either black or be rich and deep in color

Varying shutter speeds
– For most sports I try to shoot with a shutter speed of no slower than 1/1000th of a second
– Try using a shutter speed of 1/100th of a second or slower
– Don’t do anything different with your focusing – you still need to have accurate focusing
– A slower shutter speed doesn’t mean that your images are blurred because they’re out of focus, they have a sense of motion caused by the contrast points (which are in focus) are now blurred in straight or curved lines

Varying aperture
– While our recommendation is often to shoot at the fastest aperture e.g. f 2.8 for a shallow depth of field a less fast aperture is worth trying
– I often use a wide angle lens and get really close to a subject
– At such close distance, even with the fastest autofocus camera, sometimes I rely on a large depth of field and not even try to focus
– Set your exposure and use an aperture of f11, 16 or 22
– Focus on where you expect your subject to be on the track
– Then just wait until your subject arrives at that point on the track and fire

Panning and zooming
– This last one can be used to create a sense of movement in your images
– It’s simple to explain but may take a bit to perfect
– I use a shutter speed of between 1/80th to 1/125th of a second
– The objective is to match the horizontal panning of your camera with the movement of the subject
– A slow shutter speed will mean the background is completely blurred while the subject is still in focus
– You can easily practise this by sitting on the side of a busy road and try it with cars as they drive by
– There are lots of tutorials on how to do this. Here’s one
– Another technique to give blur and a sense of motion is know as zoom-blur
– This is obviously done on with a zoom lens and it requires you to rotate the zoom ring on your lens after you fire the shutter
– So use a shutter speed of 1/60th or 1/100th of a second, and as soon as you fire the shutter twist the zoom ring on your lens and zoom out eg 200mm to 70mm in a fluid motion
– Here’s a tutorial I found

Post your shots on our flickr group. Love to see how you go. Have fun!


P.S. Here’s a montage of some of shots where I tried to get variety:

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5 thoughts on “Syd: Work on variety

  1. I see that you are shooting through some fencing here. Any tips for shooting through a fence. I have to battle that quite often when I am shooting baseball and softball games.


    1. Hi Nick:
      – You have to be very close to the fence, no more than 3 inches
      – Shoot wide open f2.8
      – Add mid-tone contrast in post processing as the fence often creates a dullness


  2. haven’t shot baseball/softball, Nick so my alternative suggestion may be more hinderance than help.

    … but adding to Syd’s earlier comment, after much grief at the Melbourne AGP a couple of years back, I decided to stand back from the fence, probably 2 meters, and manually focus on a point on the track… lots of practice and with the sun in the right spot, this was the result:

    image details –
    Canon 30d
    Sigma 50-500mm @500mm



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