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4 Reasons Why A Support's Needed For Motorsport Photography

Find out why it's a good idea to pack your tripod / monopod for motorsport events.

| Sports and Action
Using a tripod / monopod when photographing motorsport isn't a must but as with all types of photography, it can help you perfect your shots. Why? Well we've listed four quick reasons, with a few tips thrown in, on why you should consider taking your support with you next time you're visiting a race track.

4 Reasons Why A Support's Needed For Motorsport Photography: Motorsport

A Long Time To Be Hand-Holding

Once you have your spot, on a bend is good, you can spend a lot of time standing with your camera held up, waiting for a car or bike to pass through the spot you're facing. As a result, your arms will soon get tired, especially if you're using a longer lens! But if you use a tripod or monopod to take the weight of the camera and lens you won't ache as much and you can set the support so it's fastening in the right direction for when the car / bike does eventually come along the track.

Camera Shake

When using longer lenses camera shake tends to become more of a problem, however if you're using a quick enough shutter speed you can 'cancel out' the shake. You can also place your camera on a support which will help eliminate shake.

You May Want To Pre-Focus

Even if you've found a spot on what's considered to be a slow corner you may find that your camera's auto focus still struggles to keep pace with the vehicle moving through your frame. As a result you'll need to switch to manual and pre-focus on a spot on the track you know the bike / car will have to pass through. Then just lock the focus, to ensure the image will be pin-sharp, and wait for the vehicle to pass through your frame. As even the smallest of movements can change the focus, use a tripod to keep the camera still and don't touch the lens barrel once you're set up.

Extra Tip: Take shutter lag into consideration and press the shutter button before the vehicle comes into frame. Using burst mode / continuous shooting will also help ensure you don't miss the crucial shot as you'll be able to capture images from just before the car / bike enters the frame right through until it leaves.


A good example of motorsport photography will show a sharp vehicle sat against a background that's blurred, creating the sense that the car or bike's moving at speed. To do this you need to pan your camera, following the subject as they move through your frame. You can pan quite easily without the help of a support but some photographers do prefer to use a tripod or monopod, it's really down to personal preference. Monopods are good as you can move the whole thing as you turn your body while if you're using a tripod, you have a choice of heads. Ball heads such as Vanguard's BBH range are quick, flexible and the ball can be locked in place when panning. If you don't have a ball head, you can just use a pan head which, as you'd expect, make panning easier. Vanguard have also introduced a new range of pistol grip ball heads which feature a built-in remote shutter release and are ideal for capturing moving subjects. 
4 Reasons Why A Support's Needed For Motorsport Photography: Vanguard
Make sure you follow the car / bike's movement as soon as they come into view, keep panning, press the shutter button when they're in the right stop then continue to follow their movement out of frame to ensure your pan is smooth.

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cosmicnode Avatar
cosmicnode 13 28 England
26 Mar 2013 5:28PM
I find tripods the least useful accessory to take to a motor race, the only people who are able to use them successfully are the small number of professionals using a 600mm lens set up at the end of a long straight, and shooting approaching cars head on. Not a position accessible to amateurs who have catch fencing, marshals and professional photographers in there way. They are also not suitable for grandstands , you are also not panning in a flat curve the camera needs to move up or down as you pan., you need freedom of movement to pan smoothy.
The monopod is however the best accessory you can take to a motor race, it simply supports the weight of your long lens without restricting movement, I use a ballhead on mine to support a 200-400 f4. when panning I set the ballhead loose holding the lens and camera body as if I was shooting without a support, this allows the camera and lens to rotate around me , I am not trying to rotate around a fixed point, when resting tighten the clamps. Buy a monopod which will give you the maximum height , allowing the foot to be on a lower step on the grandstand or lower down a embankment. Of the many thousands of photographers at motor races very very few try to use a tripod and these seem to end up shooting without it by the end of the day.

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