How To Photograph Speed And Motion

by Dec 27, 2023

One of the most fundamental skills you need to master if you want to be a motorsport photographer is the ability to showcase speed and motion in a still image.

Anyone can take a photo where a car (or bike) looks like it is parked on the track. But to give a still image a sense of movement, that’s the real art form of motorsport photography.

As motorsport photographers, we’ve got an array of tools and techniques that we can draw upon to achieve this. So let’s take a look at what you can do to showcase speed and motion in your photos.

Panning

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The most essential skill to master as a motorsport photographer is panning. 

Panning involves using a slow shutter speed and movement to create motion blur in your photo adding a sense of speed to the image. If you’d like to know more about the basics of panning, I’d recommend checking out this post. 

Once you understand the basics of panning, this post will tell you everything you need to know to take your panning photos to the next level.

The biggest thing to keep in mind with panning is that the technique comes down to practice and experience. While it’s the most essential skill to master, it’s also one of the hardest to perfect. So give yourself time for the skill to develop.

Hide The Wheels

Mastering The Rule Of Thirds In Motorsport Photography Composition

Alternatively, you could also hide the fact that the car isn’t moving in the photo but hiding the wheels.

Another technique for implying movement in a photo is to hide any of the elements that prove to the viewer that it is still. In the case of race cars and bikes, that’s the wheels.

The best way to do it is to photograph the car directly head-on (or directly from behind) where you can’t see the side of the wheel.

For most cars, this is enough, and you can use a high shutter speed to ensure you get nice, sharp photos. But keep in mind that for open-wheel cars like Formula 1 and motorbikes where you can still see the tyres, you should use a slightly slower shutter speed (1/800th-1/1000th) to make sure you can still see some rotation in the tyres to keep the illusion of motion.

Creative Composition

Using Leading Lines To Enhance Your Motorsport Photography

It’s easy to overlook the importance of creative composition, but it plays a vital role in conveying speed and motion in motorsport photography.

This starts with the basics of how you frame your photos, like using the rule of thirds to give the car or bike room to move through the image.

Leading lines can also guide the viewer through your photo adding to the sense of movement.

While more advanced techniques like dutch tilt can add an extra dynamic element to the photo to really engage the view and create that sense of speed.

Experiment With Angles

Motorsport Photography Camera Settings Cheat Sheet

Motorsport Photography Camera Settings Cheat Sheet

The angle at which you capture the action can significantly impact the perception of speed and motion in your photo.

Photographing race cars (and bikes) from a lower angle can make them appear more imposing, adding to the sense of speed.

A higher vantage point will provide a different perspective and, coupled with other techniques, create more dynamic photos.

Wrap Up

Mastering the art of capturing speed and motion in motorsport photography is a journey of continuous experimentation.

Utilising different techniques, understanding the importance of composition, and experimenting with angles, you can create stunning images that truly convey the speed and excitement of motorsport.

Remember, every race, every track, and every category offers a new opportunity to capture something unique and spectacular.

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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.

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