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Tips & Tutorials >> All Tips & Tutorials

Motorsports Photography Techniques (2): Advanced Techniques

2023-05-08
18
1.83 k

In Part 1, we learned some techniques for better panning shots of motorsports. Here in Part 2 of this 2-part article, we level up with detailed tips and techniques on two particularly challenging types of shots.  (Reported by: Hirohiko Okugawa, EOS R7 Shooting Guide by Digital Camera Magazine)

EOS R7/ EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM/ FL: 164mm (262mm equivalent)/ Shutter-priority AE (f/5, 1/30 sec)/ ISO 100/ WB: Auto

In this article:

 

3. Incorporate a vehicle moving in the opposite direction

As we saw in Part 1, the sense of speed conveyed in a panning shot doesn’t come from the vehicle, but from the motion blur in the elements around it. Anything that moves in the opposite direction of your pan will take on even more motion blur than static elements such as scenery, giving the impression of greater speed. When opportunity calls, shoot a little wider to incorporate the second car in your frame, as I did in the image above.

One car

Two cars

The composition looks more interesting and dynamic with the second car in the foreground.


Pro tip 1: Consider the features of the race—the number of participating cars, etc.

To capture such a scene, you need to have two vehicles moving in opposite directions be close enough to each other to be captured in the same frame. Part of it is due to luck, but some race characteristics increase your chances:

- Many vehicles participating
- More rounds around the circuit required

If the race has very few cars, the opportunity is unlike to come no matter how patiently you wait! Super GT races are an example of races that usually meet both conditions.


Pro tip 2: Simplify your Live View display

How well you can concentrate on panning affects your chances of success.
I find that it helps to remove all unnecessary information from my display. You can do so by going to the “Shooting info. disp.” menu.

One display element that I leave on is the 3x3 grid, which helps me to ensure that the horizon is straight. Being able to display the grid in the viewfinder is one of the benefits of a mirrorless camera like those in the EOS R system!

 

4. Head-on shots that freeze detail—while on an S-curve

EOS R7/ RF100-500mm f/4.5-7.1L IS USM/ FL: 300mm (480mm equivalent)/ Shutter-priority AE (f/5.6, 1/800 sec. EV -0.3)/ ISO 320/ WB: Auto

The three techniques we shared so far, including the two in Part 1, are panning techniques that use a slow shutter speed. Our final technique is the opposite—we go back to freezing the vehicle with a fast shutter speed. Our goal is not just any shot of the vehicle in motion, but a head-on shot while the vehicle is navigating an S-curve or some other type of chicane*.

*Chicane: A challenging stretch of the circuit that features several tight, consecutive bends.


Revolutionised by mirrorless cameras

Mirrorless cameras have increased possibilities for head-on shots on S-curves and chicanes.

During the DSLR era, where AF coverage was much more limited, most photographers would use 1-point AF to ensure the best focusing in such scenes. However, this also meant that we had to choose which clipping point we wanted to include in the frame, left or right, and give up on the other.

But on a camera like the EOS R7, subject tracking is rapid and reliable enough to keep up with the vehicle as it’s navigating the series of turns. We can now take full advantage of every single picture opportunity.

Also see:
Camera FAQ: Is Composition Easier on a Mirrorless Camera?
Canon Technology Explainer: What is Dual Pixel CMOS AF?


Pro tip: Use the Safety Shift function to automatically handle drastic brightness fluctuations

Keep control over the shutter speed and ISO speed even at your lens’ aperture limitations

Using a semi-automatic exposure mode, such as the shutter-priority AE (Tv) mode, lets me concentrate on creative matters. I have control over the shutter speed, and the camera adjusts the other settings to ensure correct exposure. I set the ISO speed manually to ensure the least grain possible and get the sharpest detail.

However, when brightness fluctuates drastically during a burst sequence (such as in the image) and you are already at or near the maximum aperture setting, you still might end up with underexposed shots.


Safety Shift is a useful solution for this. When you use a semi-automatic mode and images are under- or overexposed due to gear limitations, it overrides a manually set exposure setting to ensure the correct exposure.

The Safety Shift function is located in the orange menu of more advanced cameras.

I set the Safety Shift function to adjust the ISO speed.

Combining the Safety Shift function with Tv mode gives me full control over the shutter speed, unlike the “Minimum shutter speed during ISO Auto” setting. The camera only increases the ISO speed when it cannot achieve the settings required for correct exposure. The rest of the time, it uses the value that I set.

 

4B (Variation): Rear shots

EOS R7/ EF300mm f/2.8L IS II USM/ FL: 300mm (480mm equivalent)/ Shutter-priority AE (f/3.5, 1/800 sec. EV -0.3)/ ISO 100/ WB: Auto

In rear shots, the vehicle just bursts into the frame. This makes them more traditionally more challenging to capture for both the photographer and the camera, compared to frontal shots where the vehicle is moving towards you.


Tip: Remember to turn on subject tracking!

On mirrorless cameras like the EOS R7, subject tracking has made it much easier to get a sharp, precise shot. When Vehicle-priority mode is enabled in the "Subjects to detect" menu, the tracking frame appears over the vehicle the moment it enters the frame!

For this shot, I didn’t have to recompose to follow the vehicle—the camera kept tracking it across the frame even as it navigated left and right. This would have been impossible to achieve with the old 1-point AF method.

Also see:
Unravelling the AF Features on the EOS R3


Bonus: What lenses to use for motorsports?

An RF lens is best for maximising AF performance and speed on an EOS R system camera. A telephoto zoom lens provides the most flexibility for framing from any end of the track.

Here are two excellent RF telephoto zoom lenses. Both are equipped with tripod mounts and are compatible with the Extender RF1.4x and Extender RF2x for additional reach.

The RF100-500mm f/4.5-7.1L IS USM covers most of the scenes you will want to capture in motorsports. On an APS-C camera, it provides a full-frame equivalent focal range of 160 to 800mm.

If you often shoot indoors or in low light, the fast, constant aperture RF100-300mm f/2.8L IS USM is a good investment. On an APS-C camera, it provides a full-frame equivalent focal range of 160 to 480mm. With extenders, it ensures a maximum aperture of f/4 with the Extender RF1.4x and  f/5.6 with the Extender RF2x.

About the Author

Digital Camera Magazine

A monthly magazine that believes that enjoyment of photography will increase the more one learns about camera functions. It delivers news on the latest cameras and features and regularly introduces various photography techniques.
Published by Impress Corporation

Hirohiko Okugawa

Okugawa’s photography journey started when, as a student, he wanted to photograph motorsports. His works have been selected for Canon Japan’s motorsports photography exhibitions for 3 consecutive years. He has also shot all F1 Japan Grand Prix races at the Suzuka and Fuji circuits since 1987, juggling his photography alongside his day job in public relations until he started his own PR company in 2006. He currently covers the motorsports-beat for the Car Watch news portal run by Impress Corporation.

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