How To Photograph Motorsport In The Rain
If you photograph enough motorsport events, you’ll inevitably end up shooting one in the rain. It’s just part of the sport, well… unless, of course, you exclusively shoot NASCAR on ovals.
Putting the NASCAR thing aside. Rain is one of those bitter/sweet opportunities for motorsport photographers. Absolutely nobody enjoys standing out in the rain, especially in the bitter cold of winter. But it does present so many extra elements that you can use in your photos to make some of the most memorable motorsport photos you might capture in your career.
From the reflections to the spray, the rain allows you to create the most dynamic photos to showcase the speed and aerodynamic effects of the cars that are truly unique to motorsport.
So let’s delve into the art of photographing motorsport in the rain.
Tips for Photographing Motorsport in the Rain
Let’s start with the basics… While standing out in the rain can be inconvenient for you as a photographer, water and camera gear really don’t tend to go well together.
Sure top-tier cameras from all the leading camera manufacturers have a level of “weather resistance” as they like to put it in the brochures. At the end of the day, anything electronic with interchangeable parts (lenses and flashes etc) is going to be fundamentally open to the possibility of water leaking through and causing short circuits and other electrical issues.
Case in point – the very unexpected rain shower during the Roar Before the Daytona 24 Hour night practice session earlier this year (2023 if you are reading this in the somewhat distant future) caught everyone off guard. A number of photographers tried to push through and capture cool photos. However, the downpour caused some people’s camera gear to stop working, while others didn’t have any issues. Regardless of the make or model of the camera and lens.
The weatherproofing in modern cameras is very good, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t take much for water to short out an exposed flash hot shoe (especially the newest ones that also connect microphones etc). At the same time, the rubber seals over the ports and rubber gaskets on the lenses can be damaged extremely easily simply by using them as intended. All reducing their effectiveness in stopping water from seeping in.
To ensure that you can continue to photograph motorsport in the rain without risking your camera gear, you need to protect it.
Preparing Your Camera For Wet Weather
The best way to protect your camera gear from the rain is to use some sort of rain cover. Let’s have a look at the options.
Easily the cheapest and most readily available solution is to use a plastic bag. I’ve seen people use a variety of options, from garbage bags through to small shopping bags that you get from the local grocery or convenience store. The more robust the bag, the better the protection they offer, but at the end of the day they are all better than nothing.
The most effective technique I have seen for using a plastic bag is to use one that is made of slightly thicker plastic. More in the style plastic bag that you might get from a retail shop. For the best results, put your camera in the bag with the lens pointed towards the bottom of the bag. Secure the bag around the lens hood with either an elastic band or some tape (electrical tape works well) to limit the possibility of water getting in and then cutting an opening flush with your lens hood to shoot through. That way you can operate your camera from the open end of the bag and then wrap it around the camera when not in use to prevent water from getting in. Obviously, if you are using a larger lens, you’ll need a large garbage bag.
That all said, I tend to stick with specially designed-camera covers. Both ThinkTank and AquaTech sell covers specially designed to protect your DSLR and lenses from the weather (also handy in dust storms).
I find that the specifically designed covers are much quicker to get onto and off your camera (very handy in changeable conditions). They are also more secure, especially when carrying around multiple cameras. Making them much less likely to just open up and expose your gear to the weather, defeating the purpose of going to all the effort to cover your cameras.
Pro Tip: At the moment (at the time of publishing this tip), neither ThinkTank nor AquaTech (or anyone else for that matter) has developed a rain cover to specifically suit the newer Mirrorless cameras. I am told they are being worked on. That said, we can adapt the DSLR versions to suit Mirrorless cameras.
What I have done specifically with my ThinkTank covers in the interim with to enlarge the eyepiece opening in the neoprene to suit the newer cameras. A little trim with a pocket knife was enough to make it easy to put on, while still secure. And instead of using the eyepieces from ThinkTank, I’ve purchased the Canon Eyecup specific to my camera (Canon R3 at the moment), which keeps everything secure.
It’s not perfect, but it’s a very good interim solution to make sure your camera gear can be as protected as possible.
Preparing Yourself For Wet Weather
Now that your gear is protected, it’s time to look after yourself. While I’ve seen many creative attempts at using an umbrella while photographing at motorsport events, it’s not your best protection. Especially once the wind picks up.
You are much better off investing in a good-quality rain jacket with a hood. This will allow you to continue to shoot and move (especially panning shots) while limiting how much you get wet. Goretex is often best but there are several similar materials that limit water getting in, while still letting air circulate around you. Especially important in more humid environments, like most of Australia.
That said, no water jacket is perfect, and they all have a limit to how much water can be repelled before becoming waterlogged themselves, particularly if the rain is torrential. Having one of those cheap plastic ponchos (effectively a human-sized plastic bag) is also a good idea.
As you cover more and more motorsport events, especially if you do so during a year with it rains more often than not, you may also look at adding waterproof pants and shoes to your kit as well. I find that the Goretex waterproof shoes are especially handy, not only in the rain but when walking in the cold dew covered grass that often lines each circuit in the early mornings of winter. It’s much better than walking around with wet socks all day.
What Makes a Good Photo in the Rain?
The thing that makes motorsport photos special in the rain, is that it brings to life elements that you can’t typically see when it’s dry. You can use the spray to showcase the aerodynamics of modern race cars, plus so much more.
Photographing motorsport in the rain gives you so much extra to work with. So let’s have a look at some of the things you should be looking out for in the wet.
Let’s start with spray since I mentioned it in the intro for this section. The water ejected out of a race car while it’s running on a wet circuit offers a spectacular way to showcase the aerodynamic effects of a modern race car.
Modern wet weather tyres disperse immense amounts of water so that cars can maintain a level of consistent grip even on the most water-logged track. You may have noticed that really wet sessions get red-flagged, but more often than not it’s the visibility due to the spray from the wet weather tyres that is the trigger point for these red flags, more so than aquaplaning due to the standing water.
Touring Cars typically only have water spray out the back of the car, but it allows you to showcase how the air flows over and under the car. Most dramatically visible with the air movement behind the rear wing.
Cars that feature much more aerodynamic development, typically open-wheelers (like F1 and IndyCar), reveal even more secrets once they pass through the water spray. Keep an eye out for vortexes that really showcase how the air moves over these types of race cars.
While we are on the topic of standing water, reflections are another element of wet weather that you can use to your advantage to create stunning photos.
From a simple puddle to a waterlogged circuit, reflections offer many creative options to work with and don’t just think about the mirror effect with the cars. People, lights, features of the track… there are so many different things that you can work into your photos. Have fun with the reflections and see what else you can work into your photos.
Another thing to look out for with standing water is splashes. I know rally photographers are all over this one with dedicated river crossings and specially built water splashes on stages specifically to bring this element to that side of the sport. But it’s also something you can look out for in circuit racing.
Heavy rain either before or during a motorsport event can create all sorts of puddles and standing water that you can look to include in your photos. The most spectacular usually comes when a car runs off the track, something that often happens in the rain.
That said, don’t rule out some of the more subtle splashes that you might be able to capture around the circuit. Water often builds up in and around kerbs and in the pits. That also creates interesting opportunities for photos.
One element that is extremely hard to convey in motorsport photos is heat, especially during the day. However, once you add a little water to the mix, steam really helps bring this to life.
From the engines creating horsepower, to the brakes bringing cars to a stop, race cars generate immense amounts of heat to operate at the peak of their performance. While night racing allows you to use the glow of these items to showcase this, rain offers another, steam.
Steam is hard to capture out on track, but in the pits and garages, it’s very prevalent. One great example is looking for freshly changed tyres, which will continue to steam while in the garage. If you can line up a shot with a dark background, the heat of the tyres will be extremely evident.
This one is for those with an eye for details. Did you know that water droplets in themselves are little lenses? Look out for them on plants, catch fences, helmets etc and see if you can capture something truly one-off.
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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