By Jeff Carter
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 – Motor Sport
With many venues surrounded by high fences and wide run off areas, motor sport can be a challenge for photographers looking to capture some action images. This is very true for places like Silverstone that host a Formula One Grand Prix but there are circuits that do have great access and less fencing for aspiring sports photographers.
I attended the British GT weekend at Snetterton race circuit in Norfolk. Motor Sport Vision, the owners and operators of the track, have upgraded the facilities to include some of the best spectator viewing areas at any circuit in Europe, with low fences and sweeping views of the track.
BE PREPARED – What to Take
Race tracks, by their very nature, are large. Getting around means a lot of walking, so plan your day well. Catering facilities are usually abundant but they can be expensive, so I would recommend taking a packed lunch and a bottle of water.
For action shots you will need a long telephoto lens if you want to fill the frame with your subject. The best lens choice is the XF100-400mm f4.5/5.6 and you can add the 1.4x converter to increase the focal length with minimal loss in quality.
You can also consider the XF50-140mm f2.8 and I recommend adding a 1.4x or 2x converter to increase the focal length of the shorter zoom lens. I have tested the 50-140mm with the 2x converter and I can highly recommend this combination for sport.
Another lens to consider is the XF55-200mm f3.5/4.8. The autofocus is not as quick as the two ‘pro’ lenses but I have used this lens for action and it is a good choice if the other two lenses are outside your budget.
While shooting cars in action is probably your prime focus at a motor sport event, don’t forget to visit the paddock to capture some behind the scenes images.
You’ll see cars being prepared or repaired by the mechanics. You’ll see drivers talking to their team or sponsors and this is where you can use your shorter focal length zoom and prime Fujinon lenses to good effect. You can even take pictures of the podium ceremony and get some drivers celebrating with champagne.
The paddock is a great place to capture a different side of a motor sport event.
GET IN POSITION
Spectators at a motor sport event can be limited to where they can stand by the location of the high debris fences at some circuits. However at Snetterton there are no big fences to get in the way of the action.
Also most of the spectator areas are directly behind the media area. I found myself heading to the spectator area because the angles were better even though I had a media pass and was allowed to shoot trackside.
Before you start shooting check where the cars are on track and the line they take through the corner. You can then adjust your position to get the best shot.
Also make sure you check the background. A messy background can distract the viewer, so look for the parked track recovery vehicle or a group of brightly coloured marshals behind the car and move your position to avoid the distraction in the final images.
SHOOTING THE ACTION – AF and Exposure
Motor sport action is probably easier to shoot than some other sports such as rugby because the cars will follow what is called the racing line.
The FUJIFILM X-T2’s AF system is superb and will track a fast moving car easily, but it isn’t infallible. Bright headlights or sunlight on shiny bodywork will sometimes cause the AF system to lose the lock and the lens will hunt to regain the focus.
To improve my hit rate I set the X-T2 to ‘boost’ to improve the reaction time and also set the AF-C custom setting to shoot accelerating or decelerating objects (set 3). I also prefer to set the camera to Zone AF with a 3×3 square that I could move around the viewfinder using the toggle switch. I do use single point AF if I need to be more precise with the focusing, such as a driver through a window.
Automatic metering can also be fooled by shiny cars and bright headlights. I use centre weighted metering but only shoot 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 use the front command dial to select the required ISO.
With the aperture ring adjusted by my left hand, I can adjust all three elements to get the correct exposure without taking my eye from the viewfinder.
FREEZE THE ACTION
It is very tempting with fast moving cars to shoot at a high shutter speed (1/1000 second or higher) to freeze the action. This can work well if the subject of coming towards the camera and is part of a group battling for position or the car is involved in an accident and has spun off the track.
However if the car on its own and you can see the wheels in the image, a high shutter speed will freeze all movement and it looks like the car is parked on the track. The final image lacks any sense of speed and is not very interesting. This is where a slower shutter speed can make all the difference.
Dropping down to 1/250 second and shooting on a medium to slow corner, the wheels will be turning but you will still be able to get the car sharp. This effect is much more exciting to the viewer.
Dropping the shutter speed down even further to 1/125 or 1/60 makes the end result more dramatic but can be a lot harder to get right.
PANNING – Projecting The Speed
This technique is not unique to motor sport photography but it used extensively by professionals and amateurs alike.
Ideally the subject will be traveling across the frame in front of you as you shoot. Selecting a shutter speed of 1/125 or slower, the photographer follows the car in the frame and presses the shutter release at the mid point of the swing. You must continue to follow the car after you press the shutter release to get a smooth action.
It is very much like swinging a golf club except you do it horizontally across your body. It does take lots of practice but once you have mastered the technique your images will improve dramatically.
You can then take the shutter speed down to 1/60 or even 1/30 to emphasise the speed even more. You don’t need to get all of the car completely sharp, it is about projecting that sense of speed into the final image.
I have captured panning images at 1/4 and even 1/2 second and the effects are very dramatic if you can get it right. However the miss rate at these shutter speeds are high, so patience is the name of the game.
IN THE PADDOCK – Getting in Closer
If you are interested in getting images of a different side of the event head to the paddock.
You can usually get pictures of the mechanics working on the cars from a distance, but don’t be afraid of approaching a team to ask permission to get a wider angle shot.
I spoke to the Slidesports Race Engineering team where driver Christie Doran was taking part in the VAG Trophy. I was able to get some shots of the cars being worked on from inside the awning and also some images of Christie before she went out to compete.
CHOOSING AN EVENT
Motor sport events are held every weekend from March through to October, with some circuit holding events right up to Christmas. It might be tempting to go to a high profile event at a big circuit like Silverstone or Brands Hatch but options at those tracks for photographers can be limited.
Check out the big national championships like British GT or British Touring Cars at smaller circuits like Snetterton, Knockhill, Mallory Park, Croft, Cadwell Park, Oulton Park and Castle Combe where the access is better and action packed is almost guaranteed.
24 HOURS OF LE MANS
I will be heading to France to work on the world famous 24 Hours of Le Mans, which is Round 3 of the FIA World Endurance Championship, alongside my fellow X Photographers John Rourke (UK), Andrew Hall (AUS), Dirk Bogaert (BEL) and Jacky Ley (FRA) .
While this event is held in France, it is one of the biggest events for British fans as around 70,000 make the trip across the channel each year. While there are high debris fences at some points around the 13.6km circuit, there are plenty of good opportunities for action photographs and unrivalled access to the pitlane and paddock for all visitors.
CAMERA AND LENSES
• FUJIFILM X-T2 with battery grip
• Telephoto Zoom – 100-400mm f4.5/5.6 (with an option to fit a 1.4x converter for extra pulling power) or 50-140mm f2.8 with a 2x converter for frame filling images. 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.
• 10-24mm f4 wide angle zoom lens can also be useful a different track shot or a close in paddock image.
• Shutter dial set to ‘T’ (and locked). Shutter speed selected on rear command dial
• Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS) on.
• Metering set to Centre Weighted.
• Autofocus – AF-C with camera set to ‘boost’ to improve reaction time.
• AF custom setting on Set 3 (accelerating and decelerating objects)
• AF Mode – Zone (3 x 3) or 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 A MOTOR SPORT 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 usually facilities at an event but it is probably wise to take some food and at least a bottle of water.
• Never climb over the spectator fences. Always stay in the spectator areas
• While it has only happened on rare occasions, debris can be thrown into spectator areas during an incident on track. Be prepared to move quickly.
• Obey the event officials at all times.
• When walking in the paddock, be aware of any moving vehicles.
• Never enter a team area without the permission of the team. However if you ask and explain what you would like to do some teams will be only too happy to accommodate your request.
Snetterton Race Circuit: www.snetterton.co.uk
Motor Sport Vision: www.msv.com
Slidesports Race Engineering: www.slidesports.co.uk
Christie Doran: www.christiedoranracing.com
FIA World Endurance Championship: www.fiawec.com
24 Hours of Le Mans: www.lemans.org
NEXT MONTH: Eventing
4 thoughts on “Sports Photography as a Spectator – Motor Sport”
Nice article, many thanks.
I notice you leave OIS on, I have found that doing this does not have any adverse effects on images with shutter speeds faster than 1/500, do you have any opinions on shooting fast shutter speeds with OIS on.
Michael, yes you are right I leave the OIS on because I see no difference in the final images I shoot. I did a video for Fujifilm in November 2015 when I was testing the XF100-400mm in Bahrain which was shown in the press conference in Tokyo at the launch of the lens in January 2016. This video clearly shows the difference the OIS makes and with long telephotos I think it is wise to use the OIS because any small movement in magnified. Here is a link to the feature and the video – http://macleancomms.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/fujinon-100-400mm-ois-demo.html
thank you for the great article!
Another question concerning OIS. During a motorcycle race I realized that many of my shots were quite blurry.
I suspect that the reason was a slight vertical pan with the camera as I followed the subject in a curve. I remember that the OIS is deactivated during horizontal pans but tries to stabilize the picture when the camera is moved vertically. After I switched off the OIS the shots were sharp again. Can you confirm this? Is it better to switch off OIS during action shots?
My gear: X-T2 & XF50-140
Many thanks and regards
Thank you for reading the article and the comment.
All of the pan shots used in this feature, and also the extra ones I have posted on my own blog at http://www.fujifilmXadventure.com, were all shot with the OIS on. I haven’t noticed any difference in the hit rate with the OIS on or off when I am panning, so I tend to leave it switched on and forget about it.
The only thing I do notice is when panning with the 100-400mm, the EVF can be a bit ‘jerky’ but it is very minor and I tend to ignore this as I follow the subject. I have not noticed this with the 50-140mm but then the magnification is not as great with the shorter telephoto zoom.
I hope this helps?
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