Optimising Your Cameras For Motorsport Photography

by Jan 16, 2024

The art of motorsport photography is an intriguing blend of speed and precision.

To be able to capture the essence of motorsport requires more than just a quick reaction to press the shutter button. The sport’s high-speed and unpredictable nature demands an in-depth understanding of your camera’s capabilities and how to optimise them to photograph anything that plays out on the race track.

Let’s take a look at the tools at your disposal to capture all the action, so you can tell the full story of any motorsport event you attend.

Advanced Camera Settings for Motorsport

Advanced Camera Settings for Motorsport

Autofocus Modes

When capturing high-speed action, your autofocus needs to be as responsive and accurate as possible. While autofocus systems continue to advance with each new evolution of camera body and lens technology, fine-tuning how your camera uses its autofocus will go a long way to maximising the amount of sharp photos you capture each time you are at the race track.

For an in-depth look into the settings and options you can adjust with your camera, check out this post. 

Continuous Shooting

Taking advantage of your camera’s continuous mode (burst mode) is a great way to ensure that you don’t miss any of the action. Not only does the higher frame rate increase your chances of capturing that perfect moment, but should anything unpredictable play out in front of you, you will give yourself the best possible chance of capturing the moment.

Just keep in mind that the more photos you are capturing in quick succession, the more likely you are to run into an issue known as buffering.

Metering Modes

While the “pros” will tell you that you should always use manual exposure, there is a time and a place to use the camera’s inbuilt automated modes, particularly shutter priority mode.

That said, if you are using shutter priority, then you need to make sure your metering is set up to ensure you get the ideal exposure each time. I’ve found that my exposures with spot metering and center-weighted average metering modes are too subject to variation, particularly with white and black race cars. So, I tend to stick with the average metering mode.

The real pro tip is to understand the scene that you are capturing and use the exposure compensation to either under-expose or over-expose what the camera thinks is the ideal exposure to ensure you are capturing the shots that you want. If you are shooting toward dark tarmac, you might want to under-expose the image a little. While if you are shooting backlit, you might want to over-expose the image a little.

Using Back-Button Focus

Using Back-Button Focus

Do you want to know the best way to control how and when your camera uses autofocus? It’s by separating the autofocus from the shutter button. That’s where back-button focus comes in. Check out this post to learn about using back-button focus in motorsport photography.

Just be warned, using back-button focus does take a little getting used to. I would suggest testing it out at an event or even just a few sessions where you don’t necessarily have to deliver images to customers while you get comfortable with how to use the different buttons.

Choosing The Right Lenses

Even more so than any of the settings you configure in your camera, the lenses you choose to use will have a huge impact on how you photograph motorsport events and the quality of the photos you capture.

That said, it’s not about having dozens of different lenses. It’s more about having a select few lenses that cover a range of focal lengths to be able to adapt to different shooting scenarios. To find out what lenses I recommend you need for motorsport photography, check out this post.

Understanding Lens Stabilizer Modes

Understanding Lens Stabilizer Modes

Equally as important as it is to use the right autofocus modes to ensure sharp photos, using the right lens stabilizer modes can have a huge impact on the quality of your photos.

Yes, that little switch on the side of your lens with two or three modes has a purpose and can help give you the best chance of getting sharp photos each time you are trackside. While this post is written specifically about Canon’s lens stabilizer modes, the fundamentals apply to all camera and lens manufacturers. In fact, the way that the three different setting options work is universal; the only difference is some of the manufacturer-specific terminology.

The Advantage of Carrying Multiple Cameras

No doubt you’ve seen professional motorsport photographers carry two (sometimes more) cameras with them each time they are trackside. From not missing a shot, to keeping your sensor clean, there are actually a few reasons why you should incorporate a second camera into your kit, especially if you want to take your motorsport photography more seriously.

When you are just starting out, that doesn’t mean buying two of the latest and greatest cameras. But as you progressively upgrade your gear, hang on to your older camera and continue to use it as part of your workflow.

Wrap Up

The speed and unpredictability of motorsport make capturing photos of it a unique challenge for even the most recent high-end cameras. However, with a few considerations and changes to the configurations, you’ll give yourself the best chance of capturing sharp photos each time you are at the race track.

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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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