Written by Joe Barnet
Photographing cars has always been a passion for me. Most people who are drawn to photography are compelled to photograph something they already like and know about, like sports, travel, animals, architecture, landscapes, trains, the list goes on. I actually know very accomplished photographers that shoot pretty much exclusively the subjects I just listed. Some became professional photographers, some did not.
Sports, and more precisely, motorsports is my jam! But if you love photography enough to make it your profession, you come to enjoy photographing other things besides your very favorite subjects, and if you are really lucky, you'll make your living photographing what you really like, at least some of the time.
I think sports photographers have to learn their gear better than most other photographers, and actually practice shooting action to stay sharp. They also have to know their sport in depth so they can anticipate the action. Sports shooters take their cameras and lenses to the limit in terms of performance, mainly focus speed, dynamic range and low light capabilities. In fact, new camera and lens prototypes are tested in sports events before anywhere else.
The first time I photographed a high school football game I knew I really liked sports photography, and the first time I photographed an NFL game, I thought there was no turning back... Until I photographed Formula 1 Racing, then I was sure.
There is a cartoon called Fisherman's Hell; from behind a counter where you can see both items, the Devil says to his new fisherman guest, fishing pole and all: "BEER OR BAIT, YOU CAN ONLY CHOOSE ONE"
That would be like someone offering me a ticket to the Monaco F1 race, with Pit access OR a Nikon D6 with a 200-400 zoom and I could only choose one...
With most types of photography, there is time to craft the image. Even at wedding, if you know what you're doing, you can anticipate and get ready for the action; you know when the bride and groom will start walking down the aisle, but with sports, there is more luck than with other genres of photography, and the more you know about the sport you're photographing and about the players, or drivers, the luckier you get.
Techniques like zone focusing and panning are very important to master in motorsports photography, the best race images have a sharp car, except the wheels, and a blurry background. Hopefully you have an interesting background like fans the stands, side rails and pavement, etc. Multiple car images that show the competition are also very cool. Low and high angles are usually more interesting than eye level. Positioning is very important, always taking safety into consideration; not only the photographer's, but the driver's and track staff. You don't want to be the reason for a driver to be distracted and lose time or worse.
Panning is probably the hardest technique to master. Panning is when you follow the car with your camera with a "panning" motion and shoot, with a relatively low shutter speed, as the camera moves with the car. This allows the moving car to remain in the same place in the view finder while the stationary background is rendered with a motion blur. The slower the shutter speed, the more blur in the background, and the harder it is to do, especially when using a long telephoto lens on a monopod.
Knowing your gear well, in order to work fast and adjust to changing lighting conditions is key. The better you know your camera the more "keepers" you bring back from a race.
With all sports there is behind the scenes action. The locker room, bench or sideline activity, press conferences for most sports and garage and pit areas in car racing. Working well with indoor lighting and wide angles is important in the garage areas, and learning how to get the images and not get in the way is crucial in the pits area. I never like to photograph in the pits during a race if I don't have to; too much of a chance of being in someone's way or breaking someone's concentration. I like to shoot in the pits during practice and qualifying times before races.
I really believe that having photographed sports for many years, I still do, has made me a better all around photographer, especially a better events and wedding photographer.
Here is a mix of old and new car photos, everything from vintage F1 with Niki and James to Porsche door to door racing and Motor Cross. https://www.barnetphotography.com/motorsports