How To Tell The Story of a Race Weekend with Photos
Each image we capture needs to be a visual representation of the story that is being told, be that a media outlet (magazine, newspaper or website) reporting on the race or a driver, team, manufacturer or sponsor showcasing aspects of the event on social media.
So how do you capture the excitement and energy of a motorsport event and turn it into a visual story that can be shared with others?
Let’s run through my best tips:
Put Things In Perspective
Firstly, you have to make sure to get a variety of shots. Every track and event that you visit is unique, so make sure you showcase that in your photos.
Tight shots of the car on track are all well and good in some cases. But when telling a more broad story, showing when and where the car is on track is often more important.
Where is the race being held? What is unique about the race track? When is the race being held? Day/night, summer/winter… Think about how you can include these in the background of your images to tell the full story.
Let’s take Mount Panorama in Bathurst as an example. What makes it such an iconic and recognisable track?
Firstly, the white lettering on the mountainside. That’s one very obvious clue as to where the race is being held. The scale of the mountain in the background of the photos can also be used to indicate the location.
Beyond the Mount Panorama signage, sections of the track are equally iconic. Skyline, McPhillamy Park and The Esses across the top as well as The Chase and the Pit Complex and Bridges across the circuit down the bottom all standout as features that are instantly recognisable to anyone who has either been to Bathurst or watched the races on TV.
Including these elements in your photos help with telling the story of the race weekend at Mount Panorama.
How does this apply to any other circuit around the world? Once you know what makes each and every circuit unique, include those elements in your photos. If it’s a circuit you’ve never been to before, then you are going to have to do some research.
What about the light? Is the race being held during the day? at night? This is another element you can use the tell the story of the race. Sure golden hour photos are a photographer’s dream but have a look at what else the light (or lack thereof) does to tell the story of the race. Daylight practice photos don’t really tell the story of a race held at night.
While you are keeping all these big-picture things in mind, don’t forget about the details. It’s easy to get caught up in photographing the big picture, but detail photos can help tell the finer points of the story. Be sure to capture close-ups of parts of the cars and drivers to help tell the complete story.
Follow The Action
A significant part of telling the story of a motorsport event is the on-track action. Motorsport is a high-speed action-packed sport, that’s the major thrill and attraction, at least for those watching it. So you need to capture this in your photos.
It’s a fine art (known as panning) to capture photos that showcase that speed and momentum. But one a motorsport photographer needs to master in order to show the action that is the core of what the fans love about car racing. And those are the people who read the stories and engage with the sponsors.
If you haven’t already, I strongly recommend you read my post to that you read my post on how to photograph speed and motion to get a better understanding of how to capture it. As you take your motorsport photography more seriously, it’s an essential skill that you will need to master.
But action isn’t limited to speed. Race starts, car’s battling for position on track, pit stops and crashes are all part of the action that makes up motorsport. To tell the complete narrative of a race weekend, you need to capture all of it.
When it comes to the on-track action, understanding the race goes a long way. Luckily, I’ve already detailed what you need to know to photograph race cars in action in this post here, including what to look for to understand how the race is playing out.
Sure there are motorsport events where the focus is a singular car at any one time, especially in rallies. But in most other instances of motorsport, there are several cars on track, and including that in your selection of the photos that you supply your clients allows them to tell the full story.
Get Behind The Scenes
On-track action is a large part of the story, but it’s not the full story. Don’t forget to capture the behind-the-scenes as well.
Drivers gearing up and mechanics working on the cars… These are all important details of the story that may not be immediately obvious when you are new to motorsport photography.
Now you just can’t wander in and out of garages as you please. Even if you are an accredited photographer. You do need the permission of the teams to enter their workspace, especially at the higher, more professional levels of the sport.
Teams are very particular about the fine details of what resides inside the engine bays, as well as brakes and suspension. So people wandering around with cameras that they aren’t familiar with is always a concern. Especially in a sport where fractions of a second can be the difference in winning.
However, it can even be as simple as getting in the way. Especially during pit stops when things happen quickly.
To get those behind-the-scenes photos you will need to develop a level of trust with the teams that you have the presence of mind not to be in the way while they are trying to do their jobs. Even when the cars aren’t on track, time can be of the essence.
Pitlane is even more strict, especially at events where refuelling takes place during pit stops. Each series has its own specific rules about what is required, but typically pitlane access is only granted to photographers that are trusted and have been working within the series for a long time. Equipment like fireproof race suits and helmets are also often required.
That said, you can still capture some of these behind-the-scenes style images from outside the back of the garage, out of the way. Just be mindful, that you don’t interfere.
Motorsport is a passion-based sport. Be sure to also look out for opportunities to capture people’s emotions during the race.
But emotion doesn’t have to be focused on somebodies face, especially if you’re capturing the drivers immediately after the race. You can also focus on body language which is another huge indicator of emotions.
One obvious example is the joyous celebration of the winning driver as they jump out of their car at the end of the race. And then again on the podium as they receive their trophy and champagne. But that’s not the only way to showcase the passion and emotion in motorsport.
Cheering fans, a crew celebrating in the garage, a dejected driver walking away from a wrecked car, rivals having words after the race… These all help tell the story of race from different perspectives.
Understanding how the race is playing out and broadly observing the situation will help you react and capture these fleeting moments of the sport that ultimately are a big part of the overall narrative.
As a photographer at a motorsport event, your objective is to capture images that convey the full story. Which in turn then allows the customers who are buying your photos to be able to use those images to tell their version of the story to their own audiences.
The high-speed action-packed nature of motorsport means that these moments take place in just fractions of a second so you need to observe and react extremely quickly to capture them. It’s a skill that only come with practice and attending events (even as a spectator).
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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