We decided to go trackside for a day of motor racing in bright sunshine. Armed with a Pentax K10D, 16-45mm f/4 ED/AL lens and a 50-200mm f/3.5-5.6 ED/AL lens, we were fully kitted out to try some of the different styles of shooting that are available at this kind of event.
There were six challenges we wanted to accomplish on the day:
- Shutter speed variation for panning shots
- Focus on and freeze fast moving cars
- Ability of new technology to use old in-camera tricks
- Great results up close
- Shooting in the pit
- Wide angles on the cars
Cadwell Park is a motor race track situated south of Louth in Lincolnshire so that's where we headed on a glorious sunny day. The temperature was high, the atmosphere full of dust and fumes with people driving cars at high speeds. The K10D was going to need those weatherproof seals and a sensor that could rid itself of dust. Could it focus, track and freeze the cars though? The spectator areas at Cadwell are fairly close to the track and the modern K10D can use all Pentax lenses so we fitted it out with a Pentax 50-200mm f/4-5.6 lens to start with.
Challenge I: Panning
Getting a great panning shot wasn't difficult with the K10D. The object is to freeze the movement of the car, but get the background to have some motion blur to convey a sense of speed. To do this, you pan the camera through the shot, aiming to keep it focused on the car. The large grip of the K10D helped and the balanced weight made holding it steady and level a breeze. We pre-focused on the part of the track where the car was going to pan through and waited for a hurtling car to race into view. With a shutter speed of 1/250sec at f/4.5 the shallow depth of field helped knock the background out of focus. That meant that only a small amount of panning movement was required to put a sense of motion into the background. The great thing is reviewing the images on the K10D's 2.5in LCD screen gave instant feedback to help revise and improve the next shot. A few shots later and we bagged the required result.
Challenge II: Freezing fast objects
To freeze the action of two cars racing down the home straight simply required a shutter speed of 1/400sec and the K10D has a top shutter speed of 1/4000sec, which meant that it could cope with any combination of aperture and shutter speed we threw at it on a very bright day. In one fast shot, they were frozen on the track as if they were parked there.
Challenge III: New tech, old tricks
A classic technique is the zoom burst shot which makes the image leap out of the screen at you. The shot uses a slow exposure at the telephoto end of zoom, then, as the shot is taken, the zoom is taken out to the wide angle quickly and the trails are burnt into the image. But we wondered if a hi-tech digital camera could reproduce old lens trickery from the days of silver halide. We headed down to the Scrutineering pits where the cars were being tested for noise limits, found a nice looking orange Lotus and focused on the bonnet to get the reflection of clouds at the centre. The shutter speed on this was 1/30sec at f/22. The aperture setting isn't critical as long as the exposure is correct and the only time a tripod is needed is if focusing on the badge so it comes out sharp. Some shake or movement just adds to the effect and a short time later, this new digital pup had learnt an old dog's trick.
Challenge IV: Up close and personal
Shooting the cars racing around the track is all well and good, but it's also nice to get right in amongst them for some close-up action. A change of lens to the Pentax 16-45mm f/4 ED/AL brought close focusing ability to the party. This Lotus was in the middle of the pit area, but we weren't worried about dirt as the K10D's rubber seals protected the inner workings from the exhaust fumes, dust and oil in the air. If only the same could be said for our lungs.
When shooting these types of images, try zoning in on places of the car to produce either an abstract image, or one that focuses attention on a specific element of the car. We liked this one because of the lovely lines coming down the windscreen and onto the bonnet, the rich colour of the paintwork complimented by the black alloy wheels. The paint chips on the front bumper were included to show the wear and tear of racing.
Challenge V: Rubber seals in the pits
We wanted to get some action from the pit and cars were coming in and out all the time. Because of those rubber seals, we had the freedom to walk around the pit area and not worry about any dirt or splashes from anything. The air was also heavy with petrol fumes. The final image of the driver backing out of his pit area, revving the engine, was shot at 1/1600sec at f/5.6 which shows what a hot and smoggy day it was down in the pits.
Challenge VI: Wide angle
For this challenge we wanted some snazzy, dynamic images - think fast car magazines - so used oblique angles and filled the frame with the grill or wheels. One of the kit lenses the K10D comes with is the 16-45mm f/4 ED/AL lens featuring extra low dispersion to give better colour and contrast and an aspherical lens for clear, crisp images. The 1.5x focal length magnification extends the range to 24-67.5mm in 35mm terms. The lens is a constant f/4 so there's no change of aperture. With the focal length at 28mm we shot from a low angle to make the car look bigger and more menacing with that flashy styling.
Well, we came to shoot sharp pictures of cars screaming around the race track at high speed and in amongst the action down in the fume-filled pits. Thanks to the K10D we managed to achieve that. It's not so heavy that wrists were aching after half a day of photography, yet it was sturdy enough for all-action photography. The metering coped admirably with the contrasting light as it was a bright day with shadows on the track at intermittent points. We managed to get great action shots using the techniques we wanted to try and the Pentax helped us achieve them. The K10D was also quite happy to carry on in the pits as we came stumbling out coughing and hacking.