When photographing anything with speed, the main thing to remember is your photos should relay motion to the viewer when possible. If your photos show a race car with tires static and the car and tires tack sharp, the car might as well be in a showroom standing still.
So how do you capture motion in race photos? If you have an SLR camera, where you can alter the aperture and shutter speed, then you’re in control and ready to go.
Here are five tips for taking racing photos at this weekend’s Grand Prix of Baltimore:
1. Slow shutter speed and panning with the car. This will result in the car sharp with the background blurred. It will take some practice to find the right panning speed, but you will have lots of time for that during a race. Remember to keep the camera level (if so desired) while panning. The current trend is for tilted horizons in photos, which can work at times.
2. Slow shutter speed and keeping the camera still. This will have the car appear blurred as it speeds through your image against a sharp background, an effective way to show the car’s motion.
3. Very slow shutter speed and pan with the car. This will effectively blur the car and the background side-to-side and up and down. If done right, it can result in a very pleasing image. If it’s too blurry, try to step up the shutter speed one step at a time, until you get what you are looking for.
4. If the cars are coming right at you… Remember you can get by with a slower shutter speed than you think, because the car is not crossing your shutter horizontal plane. So try using a low-to-medium shutter speed, such as 125th-250th of a second. This will keep the car sharp, but blur the tires as they rotate. This can make for nice motion, which will relay the sense of speed effectively.
5. Watch your background. If you can move around, try to get as clean and empty a background as possible. The cars are brightly painted, so in most cases you don’t want the background to fight with the car for attention. Also, pay attention to the foreground for the same reason. “Back-lighting” can be fun to play with, as the polished sections of the car will reflect the light and form the outline of the car. If doing this, play with your exposure until you obtain the desired result. Several “stops” underexposed from normal probably will give you the best results with this effect.