Wednesday, May 09, 2012

I'm working on this week's photo highlights update, running a little late, but in the mean time here is some contributed writing by author Imogen Reed and a couple of videos below that.  Enjoy!

Photographing Motorcycle Racing

There is perhaps no better way of capturing the beauty and power of a motorcycle than by photographing them in action. Whether it’s MotoGP, Superbikes or Speedway, motorcycle racing can provide great opportunities for truly fantastic pictures, but capturing bikes when they are travelling close to 200mph is no easy task and it requires skill, patience and some decent equipment.

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For a photographer, motorbike racing provides a fantastic challenge and is one of the most exhilarating forms of photography. If you’ve thought about it, but have been put off by the challenge, now is the chance to get off your recliner sofas and armchairs, grab your gear, and get to the track.


When it comes to photographing bikes at speed on a racetrack, there are two essentials: a fast shutter speed and a decent zoom. It isn’t really possible to get good results with your average point and shoot digital camera, as most have such a delay from when you press the shoot button to when they actually take the shot that you’d have missed all the action.

While a few budget models do permit fast action shooting and have some modicum of optical zoom, a decent SLR (single-lens reflex) is pretty much a prerequisite for capturing on track action. To boost your chances of getting a sharp image it is preferable to use an SLR with a fast drive mode, but you can get good results without, and as will be explained, not all images need to be in focus.

Ideally, a lens with some form of image stability (IS) will make things easier, but you can make do without one. When choosing a zoom, the bigger the better, especially as these days spectators tend to be a good distance from the action. If you see professional photographers at motorcycle racing events, you’ll see some really huge zoom lenses enabling them to get right into the action. Obviously, you’ll probably be restrained by your budget, but get the largest zoom you can afford.

You need also to ensure you have plenty of storage and a memory card that can keep up with the fast shutter speeds you’ll be using. A decent 400x card with 16GB-32GB of space should do it.

Capturing the action

Before you take any shots, you need to get a feel for how the bikes move around the track. Obviously, it is going to be a lot easier to capture bikes going round a hairpin at 50mph than travelling on a high-speed bend at 180mph. Furthermore, knowing where the best action is going to take place will help you get better shots. Overtakes tend to happen at the end of long straights, while standing near a chicane or S bend will often give great results when the bikes are bunched up close, as it will enable you to show them in different lean angles.

Because the bikes are moving, you are going to need to get a handle on panning. Panning is simply following the bikes and taking shots whilst the camera is moving. This can be quite difficult to get the hang of, especially with a large zoom lens. You can of course use a tripod, but this will be pretty cumbersome. One technique the professionals use is the “sniper shot.” This entails breathing out steadily as you pan and shoot. By letting out a continuous exhale, your hands will be at your stillest when you pan, preventing any wobble.


When it comes to camera settings, even subtle changes can give vastly different results. For the beginner a good wide aperture with a 1/1000 second shutter speed will get fairly sharp pictures and enable you to let off a volley of shots on each pan. However, using this stop motion technique will not present much of an effect of speed. To achieve a good sense of motion, you need to try playing with motion blur.

Blur can create a really good sense of speed in a picture, but you don’t want to overdo it, otherwise it will be difficult to make out what exactly it is you’ve photographed. The key to getting blur is to slow the shutter speed down. A setting of 1/250 second should give just enough blur to a shot without obscuring the whole image.

Playing with different angles, settings and positioning yourself at different corners can create unlimited possibilities for great racing photographs. Try using motion blur on a slow corner when the bikes are bunched up, and you’ll get the lead bikes in sharp focus and the tail-enders in motion blur. Alternatively, use the stop motion technique and full zoom on the end of a straight and you’ll be amazed at the amount of detail you’ll be able to capture, from tyre smoke, to even the white’s of the rider’s eyes.
-Imogen Reed


RC 51 Mark said...

Riveting commentary.

Flash2Crash said...

"... get off your recliner sofas and armchairs..." I knew there was a catch!