In a series of articles X Photographer Jeff Carter will be shooting at sports events in the UK and showing how to capture great images with the Fujifilm X Series without the need for a media pass.
Sports Photography as a Spectator – Horse Racing
Horse Racing is a very photogenic sport with bright colours and plenty of action. The summer months are known as the flat season and, as the name suggests, the races are held without any jumps. November marks the start of the jump season, with races over fences or hurdles, which adds an additional element for the photographer to capture.
Horse racing is one of the oldest sports in the world with records showing horse racing occurred in Ancient Greece, Babylon and Egypt. Horse racing was even included in the Olympic Games by 648BC. In more modern times horse racing became popular with royalty, earning the sport the nickname ‘The Sport of Kings’.
There are major race courses all over the UK and I attended the first event of the 2017/18 Jump Season at Musselburgh near Edinburgh for part 9 of Sports Photography as a Spectator series.
BE PREPARED – What to Take
There are three main elements to consider at a race meeting. There is the paddock, where the jockeys and horse prepare for the race in the parade ring. There is also the grandstand area where the main focus is the betting ring where the ‘Bookies’ are located. The third area is the race course itself, where the action takes place.
You can stand right next to the parade ring so a short or medium telephoto lens is adequate. I used the XF16-55mm f2.8 and the XF50-140mm f2.8 to capture some telephoto candid shots of the jockeys and some wider shots of the horses are they are paraded in front of the spectators by the grooms.
In the grandstand area a short telephoto zoom was the best lens to capture the activity. Standing back and watching the bets being placed and spectators enjoying their day out at the races I shot using the XF50-140mm f2.8 attached to my FUJIFILM X-Pro2. An alternative lens to consider is the XF55-200mmF3.5-4.8.
Next to the course a long telephoto is best, with the XF100-400mm f4.5-5.6 being the most suitable lens. However there are locations around the race track where you can get close enough for the XF50-140mm f2.8 or the XF55-200mmF3.5-4.8 to be long enough to capture a frame filling action shot. Also consider using the 1.4x or 2x converters on the 50-140mm to give the shorter telephoto zoom a bit more pulling power.
Check the weather forecast before you travel and dress accordingly. Race courses tend to be open to the elements so during the jump season wrap up warm and wear hats and gloves.
While catering facilities are available, with a variety of bars and restaurants on site, I would recommend taking a snack and a bottle of water.
GET IN POSITION
First thing is you must stay behind the spectator barriers in all areas.
Out on the race course there are areas that have two sets of barriers alongside the track, which can sometimes get in the way. You just need to move to a location where the barriers aren’t visible in your shot, on no account must you move inside the outer barriers.
At Musselburgh you may move to the inside of the course and stand behind the spectator rails, which are much closer to the fences. This access may be restricted at some of the bigger events, but at the one I attended, spectators were allowed to cross the course between races.
In the paddock and in the betting ring, things are more relaxed but, again, you must stay in the spectator areas next to the parade ring.
SHOOTING THE ACTION – AF and Exposure
The races were of varying lengths but most took the final set of jumps twice, so this was the best places to stand.
The FUJIFILM X-T2’s AF system is superb and will track the race horses easily. I set the camera to ‘boost’ to improve the reaction time while the AF-C custom setting was set to ignore obstacles (set 2) so the AF didn’t get confused by the fences as they entered the frame while you are tracking the competitors.
I found single point AF to be the most useful setting, using the focus point on the rider’s upper body.
As usual I used matrix metering to see the exposure in the viewfinder and I shot in manual exposure mode, with the shutter speed dial set to T and the rear command dial used to adjust the shutter speed. I also set the ISO dial to ‘A’ and used the front command dial to select the required setting.
ADJUST THE SHUTTER SPEED
To freeze the action a shutter speed of at least 1/1000 is needed. With the 100-400mm zoom I would increase the ISO to compensate for the slower f5.6 aperture to maintain a shutter speed of at least 1/1000. With the 50-140mm f2.8 the two stop advantage made it easier to keep the ISO lower as long as I was able to get close to the fence.
I also used slower shutter speeds down as low as 1/30 to give a lot of movement in the final image. Because the horse and jockey is moving across the frame, while at the same time they are also moving up and down, the use of a slower shutter speed was very hit and miss. However when it did work the effect was quite dramatic.
Do not use a flash gun as it can scare a horse. Unsurprisingly the use of flash is not permitted.
CHOOSING AN EVENT
There are 60 race courses around the UK with a calendar of events for each venue available on the Racing UK website.
Of course there are the big events such as the Epsom Derby, the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Grand National at Aintree but access for visitors will be more restrictive due to the nature of the event. By attending a smaller event you will have better access and more opportunity to take great action shots.
Ticket prices vary depending on the event and the location. For the event at Musselburgh adult entry was £20 on the gate but if you book in advance you can save 10%.
CAMERA AND LENSES
• Fujifilm X-T2 with battery grip / X-Pro2
• Telephoto Zoom – 100-400mm f4.5/5.6 or 50-140mm f2.8. A good alternative lens in the 55-200mm f3.5/4.8.
• Standard zoom (16-55mm f2.8 or 18-55mm / 18-135mm) for wide action shots and paddock images.
• Wide Angle Zoom – 10-24mm f4 wide angle zoom lens can also be useful a different perspective. A wide angle prime is also useful such as the 16mm f1.4 or the 23mm f1.4 or f2 lenses.
• Shutter dial set to ’T’ (and locked). Shutter speed selected on rear command dial
• Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS) on.
• Metering set to Matrix.
• Autofocus – AF-C with camera set to ‘boost’ to improve reaction time.
• AF custom setting on Set 2 (Ignore Obstacles)
• AF Mode – Single Point
• Drive set to CH (8 or 11 fps)
• Action freezing images – minimum 1/1000s with aperture wide open. Adjust ISO accordingly.
• Panning images – 1/125s or 1/60s choose a suitable aperture and drop the ISO down to 200/400.
• People shots – Autofocus to AF-S and use wide aperture to isolate the subject from the background when using telephoto lenses.
PREPARING FOR THE EVENT
• Check the weather forecast and dress accordingly.
• Take covers for your cameras. The X-T2 / X-Pro2 / X-T1 and the majority of Fujinon lenses might be weather resistant but I always cover the equipment when not in use.
• Food and drink. There are facilities at an event but be prepared to pay event prices.
• It might be worth checking with the race course before travelling to make sure they allow cameras. Some venues, especially for the bigger events, restrict the use of ‘professional’ cameras, which usually means camera with interchangeable lenses.
• Stay behind the spectator fences at all times.
• Obey any instructions given to you by the event officials.
• DO NOT USE FLASH