How To Get Started In Motorsport Photography?

by May 2, 2021

So you want to get started in Motorsport Photography? Having worked as a motorsport photographer since 2012, I’ve had many people ask how I manage to get that elusive photographer access to all these racing events and what it takes to become a successful motorsport photographer.

It’s an exciting career: racing events always attract fans lining the fences, and the glitz and glamour on social media add to the exposure and the buzz. You get to be right in the middle of the action, see the races up close and personal, and take stunning images, all while experiencing some of the world’s most breath-taking racing moments.

To help you kickstart your own motorsport photography career, I’ve put this comprehensive guide together. Be warned, however: being a motorsport photographer is a fantastic job, but nothing in this world comes easy, and you need to be prepared for some challenges.

First Things First: The Fun Factor

Before we begin, here’s a disclaimer: taking photos at race tracks gives me a great opportunity to capture images at unique and interesting angles, it’s fun, it’s fast-paced, and it’s often adrenaline-inducing. But it isn’t a walk in the park.

Often, people assume it’s all about the fun, or that it’s an opportunity to take better photos; a lot of folks think there isn’t anything to it – I’ve heard people say, “Oh, I could do that if I really wanted to – after all, you’re just taking photos”.

The reality is, there is a lot of hard work that goes into being a motorsport photographer, both from the technical side of things and in managing to make a name for yourself. If you want to make a career out of it, it’s nowhere near as simple as rocking up and taking some snaps.

A lot of fans out there don’t see the early starts, the late finishes, all the running around, and all the tight deadlines to meet. Yes, it’s a great career that I’m very passionate about, but it’s far from plain sailing – both on the way to becoming a professional and maintaining that status when you’re there.

Ready for the long haul? If I haven’t discouraged you already, here are my tips for getting started in motorsport photography.

Take Photos (Lots of Them)

There is only one way to find your own unique style, whether it’s in motorsport photography or any other type of art or skill, and that is to create.

As a photographer, the first step is to take a lot of photos. Having your own style is the only way to stand out from your competition, and the best way to develop it is by taking as many images as you can, as often as you can.

It’s a way of getting your name out there and being recognised by both racers and potential clients. Take lots of photos, work out what you like about them, what you don’t like about them, and how you can improve. The more images you take, the more you can track your progress and hone your skills.

As you go along, don‘t work in a vacuum. Look at other people’s photos, too, and work out what you like and don’t like in their work; study their angles, their composition, figure out what makes their photos stand out. This will give you a better understanding and perspective, and allow you to be more objective about your own work.

Practice To Get Better

Just like honing any other skill, practice makes perfect, so keep on attending events and snapping away.

Don’t worry if you don’t have access to the big events yet: even if you keep going back to the same circuit, most of the permanent race tracks I’ve been to offer some great photo opportunities from the spectator areas, and you’ll find new and interesting angles the more you keep shooting.

Another good way to build your skills and your portfolio is trying to find local events that you can shoot regularly. Look for local hillclimbs, motorkhana’s, rallies – there are all sorts of events out there to help you keep shooting and finding new and creative ways to capture them.

When you’re just starting out, the event itself doesn’t matter as much as the opportunity to practice and improve.

Practice To Not Get Worse

As well as teaching you the skills and the knowledge, once you’ve become a proficient photographer, practicing helps keep your eye in. You might find it surprising, but even after doing this for years, if I’ve had a few weeks off, it takes me a session or two to get my eye back in, and get back to my usual quality.

After the off-season, it could take as long as a day to get back into the swing of things properly and getting my pans smooth again. I always try to shoot something similar – usually mountain biking – before the first big motorsport event of the season, just so I can get back into the routine.

Having time off is fine, but even the best athletes in the world have to keep practicing if they want to stay there. By all means, take a break every once in a while, but if you don’t keep at it, you’ll get rusty faster than you imagine, and it will show in your work.

Share Your Best Work Online

Social media is everything these days, and sharing your work with others is both easier and harder than ever.

On the one hand, it’s easier because all it takes is setting up an account across various platforms and sharing your photos with the entire world. On the other hand, just about everyone is trying to do the same thing and standing out from the crowd can sometimes seem near impossible.

However, much like with your work itself, you will succeed if you produce quality.

As a photographer, you simply must take advantage of social media. There are some great photo-specific social media services like Instagram, Flickr, and 500px for sharing your work to showcase what you can do.

As for sites like Facebook and Twitter, you’ll find your photos have a very short life span outside of the few people who see them initially, so you’re better off putting more effort into the photo-specific social media sites (unless you can create interesting and engaging captions for your images, too – but that’s a topic for another day).

In many ways, as a photographer, your Instagram account can look like your CV, and it can be the first thing any potential client sees.

Be sure to make your account look professional (read: no drunken selfies or blurry images of your cousin Ed’s new baby), and have a decent amount of photos to show both the quality and the range that you’re able to produce. You might not gain thousands of followers overnight, but simply having your work out there is essential when it comes to showcasing what you can do.

Many people in the racing world have successfully kickstarted their careers through social media. There is a huge array of possibilities out there on the web, so if you’re not out there, you’re missing out.

Learn To Be Patient

Have you heard the saying that “overnight success is usually ten years in the making”?

It’s certainly true for photographers: no matter how hard you work and how dedicated you are, the success is not going to be instant, and you need to be mentally prepared for that.

Motorsport photography is a highly popular and competitive field, with very few opportunities for the amount of people wanting to take them – particularly here in Australia. If you’re serious about getting into it, it’ll take a lot of hard work and a bit of luck to stand out from the crowd.

Keep working away at it, keep showcasing your best work, and opportunities will start to present themselves as you progress. The photographer who turned up to a couple of events is easily forgotten, but the photographer who’s always there will get noticed eventually.

The Most Important Thing…

More important than anything else I’ll teach you on this blog is this: do it because you love it.

There are very few people who earn a full-time income out of motorsport photography here in Australia, and frankly, not significantly more globally.

If you actually enjoy the process of taking photos, you are going to be willing to put in all the work it’s going to take to get better, and those early starts and long days won’t seem like a chore. When you‘re so passionate about something you seem obsessed with, the hard work feels like a reward in and of itself.

Sure, making money is great, but if you don’t love it, it will reflect in your work. People will see it in your photos, and they will see it in you. And for those who think they need media accreditation to take great photos? All the images featured in this blog post have been captured from general spectator areas.

That’s right – even the photo from the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix.

It’s not the media accreditation and that shiny press pass that’s going to make you as a photographer. It’s you and your work.

Do you want to get started in motorsport photography? If so, what’s inspired you to do so? Drop a comment below to let me know!

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Rhys Vandersyde

Rhys Vandersyde

I've been working as a motorsport photographer in Australia since 2012, building up my business InSyde Media. I am very fortunate that I have been able to work at all sorts of motorsport events including Supercars, F1 and WRC all over Australia and New Zealand. Also, check out my personal website where I document my travels and a few other things.

9 Comments

  1. Ashley

    My boyfriend is getting discouraged. He loves motorsport photography and have done everything to get his name out there, but nothing is sticking. Any advice?

  2. Rhys Vandersyde

    It’s not easy. But all photography careers can be like that. It takes a lot of hard work and patience. I’ll keep adding more posts here with tips and advice as I think of things and people ask me questions. I’m also considering opening up a coaching service if that might of interest?

  3. Wes Baker

    Insightful read Rhys. It’s been a journey for sure but I love taking those shots the other photographers don’t.
    I have found that some of the full time photogs don’t like helping out the ‘newbies’. Very interested in working/ learning with somebody that’s been in the game a lot longer than me.

  4. AJGr33n Photography

    This is a great read and so helpful for someone starting out. I have had many ups and downs so far as well as a number of knock backs due to not photographing for a magazine or publication. But I do it because I love it and I love to improve every time I go out by the track. I have found so far having the support of a couple of car clubs has helped me a lot with access and getting my work published more and more. Though I still seem to be stuck at that level at this point of time. I saw in your post comments you mentioned about a coaching service. I would be very very interested as I feel I am just blindly doing my best at the moment and some help and direction through coaching would go a long way.
    Kind Regards
    AJ

  5. MVFTW

    Hey ! A great write up 👍 THE question here is how to actually get paid ? How much to charge if someone hires you? Is it per hr, or per event? Or something else, what are the options? Etc etc. THANKS

  6. Rhys Vandersyde

    Great suggestions. I’ll put together an article about that over the next few weeks.

  7. Jane Knowlson

    My daughter is studying photography at university and wants to be a motor sports photographer. She is struggling to make any connections as many photographers give her the cold shoulder. She’s already the media photographer for a womens football team and has won 2 awards for her images. She has a social media account to showcAse her images and a MotoGP rider has even reposted her image of himself.
    Any connections she can make would be very much appreciated. Thank you

  8. James Pendry

    I planning to do photography at college so I can become a motorsport photographer. I’ve only been doing motorsport/car photography since 2017. I started doing it a lot last year going to a lot of events at Laguna Seca and around Monterey during Car Week, arriving at the track at gate opens and leaving fairly late. Im hoping to cover all off the major events at Laguna this year and I got an offer to get a Press Pass for the Moto America (US Moto GP) Laguna Seca round a couple weeks ago.

  9. Ben Newburn

    Solid write up! I’m hitting the decadeish in on shooting rally in the US and last year was the first where money was made. The part about being a fixture at events has paid of for me for sure. The US rally folks have seen me around their events for over a decade in various capacities including crew for teams so they know I’m about it and they trust me to tell their story visually.

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