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Digital Motorsports photography

Derek Clegg is in the drivers seat of this all-action guide to shooting motorsports.

| Sports and Action
Capturing a moving bike or car, freezing the action, seeing small stones kicked up from the tyres, suspended in mid air, is partly why I have a passion for taking photos at high speed motorsports events.
Words and photos Derek Clegg

Type of camera
An SLR camera (film or digital) is essential for motorsports photography. I shoot solely in digital with an Olympus C2100UZ 2.1 mega-pixel camera. It has a 10x zoom lens (38-380mm equivalent in 35mm) and when this is lacking in zoom I attach the Olympus B300 1.7x teleconvertor to increase to 600mm. A long telephoto is a major factor in taking good motorsport photos as you have to get in close to the action and fill the frame with the subject.

You also need to be able to control the shutter speed using an shutter-priority mode. Your subject, more often than not, will be travelling at high speed therefore a fast shutter speed is required to freeze the action without getting blurred photos. Generally I use anywhere from 1/400sec to 1/1000sec depending on the available light. If the light is poor, you can change the camera s auto ISO rating from ISO100 to ISO400 to allow a fast shutter speed. The downside of using ISO400 is that there is noticeably more noise (similar to grain) in the photos. An external flashgun could be used on this Olympus, but most motorcycle races prohibit the use of flash.

Eddie Allingham at Aghadowey race circuit riding an Aprillia RSV1000.
1/500sec, f/5, ISO100, spot metering.

Safety zone
As motorsport involves a certain amount of danger, it should go without saying that you should always stand in a reasonably safe place, but you would be surprised just how many people disregard personal safety. The inside of a corner is safer than the outside. Try to choose a spot where there aren t as many spectators. Spectators can often ruin a good shot. If possible, talk with the event organisers to try and get a press pass. This allows you more freedom of movement than that afforded to the general public.

David O'Rourke at Colonial one on Kirkistown race circuit, riding Yamaha R6.
1/400sec, f/3.5, ISO100, centre-weighted metering.

To ensure a crystal clear shot, I start to focus on the subject from some distance away and keep on tracking the subject until it is at the spot on the track where I wish to take the photo. At this point I press the shutter button and to avoid blurring the shot, I keep on tracking (panning) with the subject until the shot has been recorded.

I found that the older centre-weighted metering is ideal for this sort of photography as the subject is usually correctly exposed along with the surrounding trackside. I rarely need to use any other mode, except when shooting into the light, in which case I would switch to spot metering but this can sometimes leaves the background washed out or over exposed.

Take plenty of photographs
You can always delete bad ones at the computer, but the computer wont let you add any new photos so shoot plenty. While at the track only delete shots where you have completely messed up, the rest of the photos can be judged more critically on the computer screen later.

When I transfer photos from my camera to my computer, I delete all the poor ones. The important thing is to learn from your mistakes. Analyse your bad photos. See what makes them bad, and don't make those same mistakes again at the next event you photograph. A few subtle tweaks in Adobe Photoshop will transform some of the photos. I adjust the levels, add some contrast and if required add a bit more colour saturation. Then I burn all the keepers to CD-ROM for storage.

Jamie Patterson, at colonial one on Kirkistown race circuit riding a Suzuki GSXR1000.
1/500sec, f/3.2, ISO100, centre weighted metering.

To summarise
  • Use an SLR camera
  • Use a lens with a good zoom (300mm minimum)
  • Select a fast shutter speed
  • Select centre-weighted metering
  • Pan with the subject
  • Try to fill the frame with the subject
  • Take as many shots as possible
  • Practise, practise, practise

Marc Cooper, riding a Yamaha R1 at colonial one on Kirkistown race circuit.
1/500sec, f/3.2, ISO100, centre weighted metering.

William Dunlop at the hairpin, Aghadowey race circuit, riding a Honda RS125.

1/500sec, f/6.3, ISO100, spot metering.


About the author
Derek Clegg is an amateur photographer from Ireland with a great eye for motorsports. To view more of his motorsports photography visit


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cf73 Avatar
cf73 19 234 Australia
Based on other aticles on motorsport photography and personal preference I would have thought that a higher ISO should be used ie at least 200 but prefferably 400. This would allow the camera to operate at a smaller apeture and thus a great depth of field. With fast moving objects like bikes at f3.2 it doesnt give much margin for error.
I always use ISO400 unless in bright sunshine where I would use ISO200.

valraj Avatar
Hello Derek,
Well done and your motorsports photos are great and the time you have spent on the racing track pays off.Your panning techniques are superb and shutter button excecuted at the right moment.Well done ! Keep It Up!.

Rajah A.Perumal
from Singapore
SpeedDemon Avatar
I respectfully disagree. There is no need to use high ISO or shutter speeds above 1/320 for motorsports. Using high shutter speeds and high ISO's is very basic Stop Motion Photography, and it creats boring, static looking images.

If you really want nice dynamic motorsports images, use an ISO of 100 and shutter speeds that allow for blurring of the wheels and/or chain - this gives the viewer the impression that the vehicle is moving. You also have to learn proper panning technique, otherwise your photos will blur.
jackitec Avatar
I would use a slower speed to show the wheels are turning
motorsportpictures Avatar
yep same, I would use a shutter speed of about 1.125th
luckybry Avatar
excellent information i am hoping to go knockhill soon so will be trying this out
SteveCL Avatar
Anyone thinking of going to Brands Hatch - be warned you will will need to be 11 feet tall or take a ladder. I went last year for the first time in years and they have installed very high wire fencing all around the circuit the majority of which is totally unnecessary. Could only find two places to avoid the fence -won't be going again. Good old Nanny Britain.
toad46 Avatar
The same for silverstone went to the moto gp this year exactly the same 10 foot fence the whole way round had to sit in a grandstand to get away from it and then you have to have a lens 3 foot long to get a close up 1st and last time for me.

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