Motorsport Photography Camera Settings Cheat Sheet
When you are first getting into photography, camera settings can be a bit overwhelming. So it’s very easy just to leave your camera in auto mode (the A+ or green box option on most cameras).
That said, the automatic settings that your camera applies never really work for motorsport photography. The cars move too fast. Even when using sports mode, if your camera has that option, it struggles to use the right settings to properly capture cars on track.
What I’ve done to help you get out of auto mode on your camera is to create this handy cheat sheet that will allow you to understand what settings you need to change and what situations you should use them to give you the best chance at progressing in your motorsport photography.
Please keep in mind this is a very oversimplified guide to help you get started. Once you’ve mastered the basic techniques and composition, then you can get more creative with the settings that you use. Always keep in mind that the more settings you control, the more creative control you have over the images you create, which creates more predictable photos.
Basic Camera Settings
To really simplify things, and make it as easy as possible, allowing you to focus on your technique and composition, I recommend that you use your camera in Shutter Priority mode.
On Canon cameras, this is the Tv (Time Value) mode. While Nikon and Sony cameras typically labelled this as S or S-mode for Shutter Priority Mode or Shutter Mode.
Using Shutter Priority mode will allow your camera to do the hard work of changing the aperture and ISO to balance the exposure while allowing you to control the most crucial creative element in capturing motorsport photos: the shutter speed.
So, what shutter speed should you use? Let’s take a look.
To Freeze The Action
1/2000th to 1/1000th – The appeal of the motorsport is the highspeed action. In order to freeze a moment, you need to use a very high shutter speed.
This shutter speed range will allow you to freeze the action. Use this setting at high-action moments, particularly race starts, when things are the least predictable. It’s also a good setting to use when photographing race cars when they are coming directly towards or away from you to ensure the sharpest possible photo.
To Create Motion Blur
1/160th – 1/80th – Showcasing speed and movement is an essential part of motorsport photography, and the best way to do that is motion blur/panning.
As I said earlier, this is massively oversimplified, but if you just focus on these settings while you are learning the other aspects of motorsport photography, it’ll help speed up your learning. Then once you are more comfortable and confident with how your camera works, you can work on controlling more settings and getting even more creative with your photos.
How To Process Photos and Deliver Them Quickly To Clients
In the modern age of instant updates through social media, getting your images out to your customers quickly is arguably more important than how good they are. Just ask any Team PR with a camera or Journalist on a tight deadline.
Mastering the art of processing and delivering photos efficiently is a crucial skill for any professional motorsport photographer. Let’s have a look at the steps you can take to streamline your workflow to ensure swift photo processing and delivery.
Only Capture The Photos You Need
It goes without saying that the fewer photos you take, the less photos you need to sort through. This, above every other tip I’ll mention in this post, will significantly speed up the process of getting your photos out to your customers.
When you are new to motorsport photography, it can seem essential to get every photo of every car all the time. However, with experience, you’ll learn that knowing who you are shooting for and the photos you really need to capture will allow you to not only streamline your time trackside but also once you get back to the media centre to process and deliver your images.
One of the biggest hold-ups in getting photos out to your customers is downloading your images once you get back to the media centre.
Fortunately, with an investment in technology and good processes, this is also the easiest area to make improvements to get your images out to your customers faster.
By the time you get back to the media centre, you will have numerous gigabytes of data to download onto your computer; slow cards and readers (even the USB cables you use with your readers) can all add bottlenecks to slow down this process.
Did you know that USB 3.2 offers transfer rates of 10Gbps, but if you are using a USB 2.0 cable, you’ll be limited to just 480Mbps? That might not sound like much, but it’s the difference between transferring 10Gb of data in seconds, not minutes. But again, that’s one of a number of factors that play into how quickly you can download your images.
In my experience, I’ve found that sticking with one good quality brand for my memory cards and card readers ensures that I have consistent performance. For me, that’s ProGrade Digital. But I’m sure other people have their own brand allegiances.
Another thing to keep in mind when it comes to transfer speeds is that SSDs are significantly faster than traditional hard drives. I try to make sure that I’ve always got room on my computer’s internal SSD storage to store the day’s photos (which is harder than you think when you can capture up to 10,000 images in a day). However, to do that usually means migrating the previous day’s photos onto an external SSD at the start of each new day.
In addition to the technology improvements, a couple of simple processes can also streamline your download process.
I know everyone is different, but what I’ve found works best for me is making sure I have a card reader for each camera I’m carrying (usually two, but occasionally three if I’m doing long exposures or remote shooting, etc.).
Obviously, the amount of USB ports you have on your computer can limit this, but being able to download all of my cards at the same time allows me to use the time that I would be waiting for them to download them individually to quickly eat some food or grab a drink etc. Making that time a little more productive than just sitting and waiting. Those precious few minutes are invaluable if you are photographing multiple categories on a busy race program. Then, once they have downloaded, I get straight into sorting and processing.
If you are downloading multiple cards at the same time (and not formatting them once they have been downloaded, which I don’t for this reason), just make sure that the card goes back into the same camera it came out of. Otherwise, you can run into weird little issues, particularly sporadically duplicated file name issues.
Once the photos are on my computer, I open them into Adobe Lightroom Classic and apply a preset on import. I find this process faster and much more reliable using Lightroom to import the images directly. There are many other software tools out there, but for me, the balance between sorting, editing and uploading means that Adobe Lightroom Classic is what works best for me.
Adding the preset on import means that 70%-90% of my edit is already done before I’ve even started sorting through the photos, so I’m seeing what my customers will ultimately see when I’m picking out their photos. It does add a little bit of time to the import process, but it significantly speeds up the edit and upload process because the bulk of the work is already done.
When I’m sorting through my photos, I use a system of colour tags and star ratings to group photos that can be assigned by quick keyboard shortcuts as I’m scrolling through the images, and I can then use the filter options in Lightroom to focus in on those shots for the final edit and export.
For the most part, I can quickly skim through my photos and determine which ones will be best for each customer from the thumbnail preview. But that’s a skill I’ve built up over time, and knowing how I’ve captured the shots to ensure they are usable while trackside. Obviously, super slow pans and other arty shots need a bit more attention to ensure they are up to my standard, which does slow down the sorting process. But I know that when I take them.
Only Edit What You Need
As I just mentioned, with the photos I need to get out to customers sorted using the colour tags and star ratings, I can use the filters in Adobe Lightroom to focus on only the shots I need.
At this point, I can batch-edit photos to make as many additional quick adjustments as needed – at least a quick white balance and crop if required – before exporting them out for my customers.
I don’t do anything else with the other photos I’ve captured. I don’t delete the bad shots. I don’t do any additional edits. I don’t even pick out my personal favourites for social media. Nothing.
Any of that additional work waits until the end of the day (well, usually late into the evening) once all of my customers have all of their photos from the event.
Multiple Internet Connections
Once the shots have been exported, I’m done, and I can either get back trackside for the next group of sessions or head back to the hotel and get some dinner.
However, that doesn’t mean that the process of getting photos out quickly has finished. Uploading photos to the internet so that your customers can actually use them is a big part of the whole process. This is where having a choice of internet connections is crucial.
Some tracks and media centres provide internet connections, which can be great. However, at the end of the day, when everyone else is uploading their images (or worse, videos), this can (and usually does) slow down dramatically.
On the flip side, having your own 5G wireless hotspot can be great. However, this is reliant on mobile coverage from the provider, and there is a big crowd who are also using the mobile network this will also slow down (and become unusable) until that crowd disperses.
I’ve found the best thing I can do to ensure my photos upload quickly is to have a choice of internet connections that I can use depending on what is working at the time. Sometimes, at particularly big events with large crowds, that means leaving the venue before the photos have been uploaded. A 30-minute drive can potentially save hours of upload time depending on what is happening at the circuit, particularly when there is a post-race concert.
Sending Images Directly From Camera
Alternatively, to expedite the delivery process, you can consider sending images directly from your camera.
Back to my opening point, getting images out quickly is often more important than the overall quality of the photos, especially in a world of instant social media updates and editorial websites.
With that in mind, most modern intermediate to professional-grade cameras have some sort of inbuilt ability to wirelessly transfer your photos to or via a mobile device. What that ability is and how you can use it will ultimately depend on the camera that you have.
And while Lightroom and Photoshop exist as mobile versions, this method won’t really allow you to edit the images properly. There are also a number of other limitations to consider (like internet speed and access, as I just mentioned). However, in terms of your customers not having to wait all day to get images from you, this can be a very good stop-gap solution.
How do I do it? I send smaller, unedited jpeg versions directly from my cameras to a website via FTP to allow my customers to securely access my images while I’m still trackside. This is especially handy if I need to cover multiple categories on the same race weekend, taking the pressure off to get back to the media centre.
To facilitate this, I use PhotoShelter, as it is the only reliable service that I have found that meets my security and FTP upload requirements.
In the fast-paced world of motorsport photography, the ability to process and deliver photos quickly is an essential skill.
If you, too, want to streamline your workflow and impress your clients with prompt image delivery, I would strongly consider adding some of these elements to your workflow.
As the first “big lens” built by Canon specifically for the mirrorless RF mount, the Canon RF 100-300mm f/2.8L IS USM has a lot of expectations to live up to, especially for motorsport photographers used to lugging around a big prime lens while trackside.
Does it hold up to those expectations? The team at Canon (CPS), so kindly let me test their latest flagship lens at Mount Panorama for a couple of days, during which I captured 6898 images with it so I could judge for myself. So let’s take a look.
And, yes, before you come at me for that opening remark, I am aware that the 400mm, 500mm and 600mm primes do exist as RF models. But the current versions are just the last generation of EF models adapted for the RF mount. Whereas the 100-300mm f/2.8L IS USM has been specifically created for newer mirrorless bodies.
Captured with the Canon RF 100-300mm f/2.8L IS USM + 1.4x Extender on Canon R3
Despite being a “big lens”, the Canon RF 100-300mm f/2.8L IS USM is not heavy. In fact, given it’s only 2.6kgs, instead of using a monopod, I used the lens all day handheld.
Mounted to a Blackrapid sling strap, I was able to carry it around for a full day trackside, as I would any of my other camera equipment, without any issues. Given the size of the lens, it sure must have looked odd carrying it in that fashion. But in terms of everything else, being able to use the lens handheld allowed me it allowed me to be more nimble with how I used the lens, particularly when panning, which I always do a better job of handheld than with a monopod.
I’m sure the built-in stabilisation, which is rated for up to 6 stops in combination with an IBIS system, also contributed to being able to use the lens successfully handheld.
Another thing that the Canon RF 100-300mm f/2.8L IS USM has going for it is the versatility of the zoom range. Sure, 100-300mm doesn’t give you a lot of reach while trackside, but once coupled with an extender, particularly the 2x, you’ve got a lot of flexibility.
200-600mm is a very good range to live in for motorsport photography. Often, when using a 400mm lens and even a 500mm, you might find yourself a bit short, especially at bigger, more modern circuits. But there are also times when they are way too tight, like at street circuits. Given that I go to so many different styles of race track over the course of a year, my personal preference is to have the flexibility of being able to zoom and 200-600mm covers just about every situation you could find yourself in as a motorsport photographer.
What’s Not So Good
Captured with the Canon RF 100-300mm f/2.8L IS USM + 2x Extender on Canon R3
The biggest issue with the Canon RF 100-300mm f/2.8L IS USM is the ability to use filters with it, especially polariser in motorsport photography. Unfortunately, the lens lacks the ability to use a drop-in filter means you need to get a huge 112mm filter to mount on the front of the lens. Given that the 112mm filter size is not all that common, obtaining a polariser at this size is going to be particularly expensive. Even more so than drop-in filters tend to be.
Another thing to consider when using a CPL is that the lens hood doesn’t allow you to quickly and easily adjust your polariser. You either have to reach into the hood to rotate the CPL and make adjustments or remove the hood entirely, neither of which really isn’t that practical. At least with drop-in filters, there is a little dial on the filter that you can use to make quick adjustments.
Need For Extenders
The fact of the matter is that 100-300mm isn’t a focal range that is all that useful when trackside. 300mm at f2.8 in the garages is fantastic, but for the lens to hold its own while trackside, you will also need either a 1.4x or 2x extender as well.
In saying that, the Canon RF extenders are very good. The autofocus performance was similar with and without the extenders, even with the cars travelling at high speed towards me. Also, the image quality, particularly the sharpness of the photos, was, for the most part, consistent both with and without the extenders. However, it is an additional expense you need to consider if you are looking to use the lens in motorsport photography.
What’s It Like To Photograph Trackside With The Canon RF 100-300mm f/2.8L IS USM?
Captured with the Canon RF 100-300mm f/2.8L IS USM + 2x Extender on Canon R3
The first thing you notice when using the Canon RF 100-300mm f/2.8L IS USM trackside is the size. While I’ve mentioned the lens isn’t heavy, and it’s not really as big as the 400mm (f2.8 prime), it is still quite sizable. So, while you can use it handheld easily, you do lose that subtly of a smaller lens (like the 70-200mm) when trying to capture candid photos in and around the garages.
It’s also more bulk that you need to consider when moving in and around big crowds. Despite using the sling strap to carry the lens, I often found I was holding the lens to safely manoeuvre it as I made my way through the crowds, both behind the team garages and getting through spectator areas.
Otherwise, the 100-300mm is well balanced, even with an extender attached.
The inbuilt stabilisation system is extremely good. Even at 600mm with the 2x extender attached, I was still able to use the lens very easily handheld for static shots.
As you would expect if you are familiar with Canon lenses, the 100-300mm features three stabilisation modes, and I was able to pan at 1/100th with a fairly solid hit rate at 400mm (200mm + the 2x extender), all still handheld. If I get another chance to test the lens, I’ll definitely push the stabilisation system harder with some slower pans while still handheld.
Obviously, if you are more comfortable using a monopod, you could certainly do that successfully without any of the stabilisation.
The autofocus was super responsive. Even when shooting head-on in the high-speed sections of the track, the combination of the camera (a Canon R3) and Canon RF 100-300mm f/2.8L IS USM with the 2x extender attached were able to hold the car in focus with very few frames only slightly missing focus.
And other than a lack of polariser, the lens held its own (both in terms of focusing and image quality) in tricky light situations, especially the early morning back-lit shots.
Captured with the Canon RF 100-300mm f/2.8L IS USM + 2x Extender on Canon R3
Canon hasn’t opened up the RF mount to third-party lens manufacturers, but that’s not to say that there isn’t some solid competition from Canon’s existing RF lens range.
At a quarter of the price (once you include the extender for the 100-300), the Canon RF 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1L IS USM Lens is still a very, very good lens. Obviously, it does have some trade-offs, but for the price, flexibility and image quality, it does make it hard to justify the extra expense of the Canon RF 100-300mm f/2.8L IS USM, especially having to buy an additional extender.
That said, I can still see the benefits of the 100-300mm “big lens”. While I haven’t had a chance to test it yet, in low-light situations, particularly night racing, being able to use the lens at 300mm at f2.8 has some obvious benefits. Even with the 2x extender, 600mm at f5.6 is still very usable in low-light situations. And it’s much cheaper than the 600mm f4 prime.
Is the Canon RF 100-300mm f/2.8L IS USM a good sports lens? Absolutely it is.
Is it that much better than the Canon RF 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1L IS USM Lens to justify the extra expense? That’s a tougher question. The 100-300mm, especially when coupled with an extender, is an extremely versatile lens with exceptional image quality and autofocus response. But is it four times better than the cheaper 100-500mm? That’s harder to quantify.
How To Quickly Find The Best Photo Spots At A New Race Track
For motorsport photographers, the opportunity to photograph a new race track is an exciting prospect. It’s like starting with a blank canvas, full of possibilities waiting to be explored.
However, getting acclimated to a new track, especially for those without a lot of experience, can be a bit challenging. Let’s delve into the practical ways of quickly learning a new circuit while ensuring you not only capture the best possible photos for your customers during a race event but also showcase the unique aspects of each new venue to capture images that tell the full story.
In the digital age, social media serves as a valuable tool for photographers seeking inspiration and insights about a new race track. Before visiting, taking some time to browse platforms like Instagram and Facebook will allow you to see what other photographers have captured at the venue. This will give you a good sense of the track’s unique features and the types of shots that have been taken there previously.
That said, while social media is a great source of inspiration, it’s essential not to get too fixated on replicating what others have done. I find that I’m at my most creative when photographing a new race track with fresh eyes and an open mind. Allowing myself the freedom to explore and discover shots as I see them in front of me.
Look Up Race Reports About The Track
Motorsport media outlets regularly publish race reports that not only highlight the race action but also provide context for each track by featuring iconic shots of it. These reports can be a valuable resource for photographers looking to understand the most significant and visually appealing aspects of the venue.
By reviewing recent race reports, you can identify key locations on the track where important moments typically occur, but also shots that put the venue in context. This knowledge will help you plan your shots and ensure you don’t miss capturing crucial shots during the race weekend.
Do The Track Walk
Just as drivers and teams do a track walk to familiarise themselves with the circuit, as a photographer arriving at a new venue, you should also participate. Walking the track allows you to gain a comprehensive understanding of its layout, elevation changes, and unique features.
If you are able, tag along with one of the teams as they complete their track walk and listen to what the drivers and engineers have to say about the different parts of the track. This will give you invaluable insight into where race cars might bounce over kerbs or run right out to the edge of the circuit, and even where they need to be careful not to be caught out by track limits.
If you’ve already watched races at the track on TV or have a basic understanding of its layout, consider doing the track walk in reverse. This approach will help you uncover photo opportunities and angles as you will be trying to capture them. Remember that the track’s character can change dramatically depending on the direction of your walk, so explore all possibilities.
Walk Around The Track
While organised media shuttles or scooters can provide convenient access to predetermined photo spots, particularly at large race tracks, don’t limit yourself by only using these. Some of the most captivating and unique photo opportunities can be found in less frequented sections around the circuit that other photographers often overlook.
Take the time to wander around the track while photographing and explore areas that other photographers might not consider. Hidden gems, such as unusual vantage points or unexpected angles, can often be found by venturing off the standard route.
By combining these practical strategies and keeping an open, creative mindset, you’ll be well-prepared to capture stunning and memorable images that showcase the essence of any new race track that you visit. Embrace the challenge and let your passion for motorsport photography shine through in every shot you take at a fresh circuit.
The move to mirrorless has allowed Canon to add a bunch of new features to their camera bodies. One of the most notable areas of improvement, particularly for motorsport photography, is in the autofocus tracking modes and options available.
The addition of vehicle subject tracking, as part of its advanced subject detection features, is one of those key additions that has been specifically targeted towards motorsport photographers. So let’s take a look at what it is, how it works and if it will help you get better shots the next time you are trackside.
What Is Vehicle Subject Tracking?
Introduced with the Canon R3, the advanced subject detection features that include the vehicle subject tracking mode allows your camera autofocus system to automatically detect the subject of your photo (and video), lock on and follow it as it moves through the frame to ensure it is sharp no matter when it moves throughout the frame.
This feature has since been rolled out to subsequent cameras from Canon, like the R7, R10 and Canon R6 Mark 2, while it was also added to the R5 and original R6 via a firmware upgrade.
How Does Vehicle Subject Tracking Work?
In much the same way that these advanced subject detection features from Canon detect faces and eyes when set to people, the vehicle tracking mode uses a vehicle detection algorithm for cars and motorcycles that was developed using the company’s deep learning technology.
Canon advertises that this feature is also capable of detecting the helmets of racing car drivers and motorcycle riders and can give photographers the ability to automatically prioritise tracking a vehicle or a person in or on a vehicle, or vice versa.
Does Vehicle Subject Tracking Make A Difference?
Having tested this feature a few times since its release, both on the Canon R3 and R5, vehicle subject tracking in the advanced subject detection mode is very good at recognising, locking onto cars and following them on track. Very, very good.
Both when shooting photos and video, vehicle subject tracking does a very good job of keeping the cars in focus, even when they are travelling at high speeds, as they tend to do on race tracks. Even when capturing the action with a wide aperture.
However, part of the appeal of motorsport is racing, with multiple cars duking it out on track. Using an automated mode like vehicle subject tracking, as good as it is, doesn’t allow you to control which car the autofocus locks on to and follows. This is the biggest reason I don’t recommend using it.
Yes, vehicle subject tracking works exactly as advertised and can be a good tool, especially when shooting video, during track days and manufacturer drive events. However, when it comes to motorsport, the lack of control can be a huge drawback.
Vehicle subject tracking really struggles when capturing arty shots, like shooting between cars going in different directions or through the crowd.
Now, the team at Canon Professional Services did point out to me that on the Canon R3, the Multi-function 2 button (the one on the front of the camera next to the lens above the Depth-of-field preview button) allows you to quickly switch between subject tracking and the more conventional auto modes. Which is very handy, but I’ve found it much easier and much more predictable to continue to choose my autofocus point.
Pro Tip: While I don’t take advantage of Canon’s vehicle subject tracking option, I do use the advanced subject detection mode. I’ve set mine to people with eye-detection enabled, which allows me (in combination with the Multi-function 2 button) to quickly switch between autofocus modes when photographing in and around the pits.
As fast as motorsport action is on track, it’s somewhat predictable. However, when it comes to racing, particularly endurance racing, what happens in the pits is far less predictable in the way people can move. Coupled with the fact that the pits also feature some of the harshest lighting changes (dark garages and shadows from the pit structures) depending on the time of day.
Switching between the autofocus modes allows me to adjust the other settings to get the exposure correct (which is helped by the live view EVF), while autofocus will detect and lock in on the driver’s face (even with a full-face helmet if the lighting conditions allow it).
Canon’s advanced subject detection features, including vehicle subject tracking, are very good. However, professional motorsport photographers will find that the lack of control is a limiting factor in using it.
If you are just starting out in motorsport photography, it’s a very good tool to ensure you get sharp photos of cars moving at high speed. But as you build confidence in capturing the action, I recommend learning and leaning on the other autofocus modes built into your camera to get greater control of the images you create while trackside.