Creative Compositions for Motorsport Photography

Creative Compositions for Motorsport Photography

Creative Compositions for Motorsport Photography

Motorsport photography is more than just taking snapshots of cars on the track. Anyone with a camera (even a phone) can do that. It’s an art form that showcases the dynamic, action-packed, high-speed nature of this sport that we all love.

One of the best ways to bring your motorsport photos to life with interest and intrigue is to use one (or a combination) of creative composition techniques. Let’s take a look at some of the compositions you can use to enhance your photos.

Slow Shutter Speed Panning

Creative Compositions for Motorsport Photography - Panning

The best tool in our arsenal to encapsulate the action and drama of motorsport as photographers are panning with a slow shutter speed.

I’ve already covered the basics of panning and how to use it in motorsport photography in this blog post. Once you’ve mastered the art of panning, you can start to use it creatively to enhance your photos even further.

From using incredibly slow shutter speeds to using your background and foreground elements to enhance the feeling of speed and motion in your photos, there are a number of ways you can use panning creatively when composing your motorsport photos.

For an in-depth guide, check out my How to Master the Art of Slow Shutter Speed Panning blog post.

Rule of Thirds

Creative Compositions for Motorsport Photography - Rule Of Thirds

It’s a simple one but often overlooked; using the rule of thirds is an easy but effective way to enhance the composition of your motorsport photographs.

If you are not familiar with the rule of thirds, it is very simply dividing your frame into nine equal parts using two horizontal and two vertical lines. Most modern cameras have this grid built-in as an option when you look through the viewfinder, to allow you to keep it in mind while composing your images.

Positioning your subject, usually a race car or driver, at the intersections of these lines helps create a balanced and engaging composition.

Another thing to keep in mind is to make sure you give your subject (particularly the race car) somewhere to go in the frame. An easy way to do this is to keep the nose (front of the car) pointed towards the centre of the frame.

Learn more about this technique in my post, Mastering the Rule of Thirds in Motorsport Photography Composition.

Negative Space

Creative Compositions for Motorsport Photography - Negative Space

Negative space is leaving an empty, distraction free area around your subject to bring greater focus to it. In motorsport photography, it can also be used to convey a sense of speed and motion.

This is best done when focusing on a single car (or bike) and letting the absence of distractions in the surrounding area highlight its movement through the image. You just need to make sure that the negative space complements the subject without overwhelming the frame.

A simple but effective way to use negative space in your photo is to shoot from a low angle and include a lot of sky in your frame.

You can dive deeper into how to use this technique in my What Is Negative Space & How Do I Use It to Convey Motion in Motorsport Photography blog post.

Leading Lines

Creative Compositions for Motorsport Photography - Leading Lines

One creative composition that you will see used quite a lot in motorsport photography is Leading Lines, and for good reason.

Leading Lines create a visual pathway that directs the viewer’s eye towards the main subject of your photo. These can be natural or man-made elements, which there is an abundance of at race tracks, including the painted track lines, barriers, or even shadows.

The main thing you want to keep in mind is that you compose your frame so these leading lines draw attention to where you expect the car (or bike) to be. You can further enhance Leading Lines when you use this creative composition in conjunction with other techniques like panning or negative space.

Explore more about this approach in my Using Leading Lines to Enhance Your Motorsport Photography post.

Dutch Tilt

Creative Compositions for Motorsport Photography - Dutch Tilt

Some people love it, some people hate it, but Dutch tilt, or Dutch angle, involves tilting the camera to create a diagonal horizon line through your frame. This unconventional angle can add an extra sense of speed to your photos.

The biggest thing to keep in mind with Dutch Tilt is that there is a very fine line between a dynamic creative composition and it just looking like you were falling over while taking the photo. That said, when done properly, it amplifies the sense of speed, chaos and movement through the photo.

For detailed instructions, refer to my What is Dutch Tilt and How Can You Use It to Convey Speed in Motorsport Photography post.

Experimenting with Angles and Perspectives

Creative Compositions for Motorsport Photography - Experiment With Angles

The best thing you can do as a motorsport photographer to add creativity to your compositions is to experiment with different angles and perspectives.

By varying the angle at which you capture your photos, you can emphasise different aspects of the action, such as speed, power, and scale.

By getting down low, you can emphasise the speed and power of the vehicles, making them appear more imposing and dramatic.​ Alternatively, by getting up high and photographing from elevated positions, you add context and highlight the complexity of the on-track action.

Conclusion

There are a number of creative compositional techniques that you can utilise, either individually or in conjunction with each other, that will significantly improve your motorsport photography. The next time you are trackside, try to experiment with these different methods but be sure to review your photos and refine how you use these techniques.

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.

Why You Should Start A New Lightroom Catalog Each Year

Why You Should Start A New Lightroom Catalog Each Year

Why You Should Start A New Lightroom Catalog Each Year

Each race weekend often entails capturing, sorting through and editing a selection from thousands of photos. And while Adobe Lightroom (particularly Lightroom Classic) is one of the best tools for managing these vast collections of action shots, it also needs a little bit of management to keep your workflow efficient and organised.

If you are also using Adobe Lightroom to not only edit but organise your back catalogue of photos, one of the best practices that you can have as a motorsport photographer is to start a fresh new Lightroom Catalog each year.

Benefits of Starting a New Lightroom Catalog Annually

Improved Performance

It’s no secret that large Lightroom Catalogs can become sluggish over time, especially with the volume of high-resolution images we capture in motorsport photography. Simply starting a new catalogue each year is a great way to keep Lightroom running smoothly, reducing lag and improving your editing speed.

Over the years, Adobe has continued to optimise Lightroom to handle large catalogues. However, there is a noticeable performance difference when working within very large databases​. Starting a new one each year is a great, near-instant way to speed up your workflow, especially if you are trying to sort and edit photos within the tight schedule of a race weekend.

Enhanced Organisation

Starting a fresh new Adobe Lightroom Catalog at the beginning of each year or at least every motorsport season allows for the simple chronological organisation of your back catalogue of photos. This structure helps maintain a clean, streamlined workflow, which is beneficial not only when dealing with numerous images from various events throughout the year​ but also when you need to dig into your archive to find particular images from events years ago.

Simplified Backup and Archiving

Annual Lightroom Catalogs simplify your archival and backup processes. When combined with good file management processes, you can easily archive each year’s catalogue with its associated image files, ensuring they are easily accessible if needed.

I’ve found that archiving my photos and Lightroom catalogue files onto large NAS storage devices with built-in redundancies (along with some of my other backup processes) ensures that my photos are both easily accessible and protected from potential system failures and data loss.

Preset And Meta Tag Management

Starting a fresh Lightroom Catalog each year helps you manage your presets and meta tags more effectively. It can be very easy, especially when you are just starting out in motorsport photography, to try different ways to automate and organise your workflows.

A new catalogue gives you a fresh slate. It removes outdated or seldom-used items, keeping your workspace uncluttered and your tools relevant to current streamlined processes.

Things To Remember When Starting A New Lightroom Catalog Each Year

Naming Your Adobe Lightroom Catalog

One of the most important things to keep in mind is naming your Adobe Lightroom Catalogs so you can easily find the right one when you need to dig into your photo archives. Creating a new catalogue at the start of the year makes this easy by simply including the year in the name – something like Lightroom2024 or Motorsport2024.

Keep in mind that maintaining consistent naming and folder structure ensures continuity and a smooth transition between catalogues each year.

Transfer Presets and Meta Data Templates

Another tip to keep in mind is to make sure you back up and re-import your presets and metadata templates as needed. Each time you create a new Adobe Lightroom Catalog, you get a clean slate, which is great for cleaning out anything that doesn’t fit into your current workflow. But make sure you import (and for metadata, update) so you are ready for the first race of the new season.

Conclusion

Starting a new Lightroom Catalog each year is a simple yet effective way to keep Adobe Lightroom performing as expected while enhancing your workflow as a motorsport photographer and keeping your image archives well organised.

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.

How To Capture The Celebration Photos

How To Capture The Celebration Photos

How To Capture The Celebration Photos

Everything we do as motorsport photographers is to capture images that tell the story of the race (and the event). One of the biggest parts of that story is the celebration photos at the conclusion.

From a simple fist pump for setting the fastest time in qualifying to huge celebrations that come with a championship victory, capturing these images is a significant part of our job of documenting the race, the event, and the overall series.

That said, these celebrations come with their own unique set of challenges. Especially in the higher, more professional levels of motorsport. So, being prepared and having an idea of what to expect will help you anticipate and capture the best possible photos.

The Different Celebrations To Capture

The Different Celebrations To Capture

In Car Fist Pump

It’s subtle and often missed, but if you are paying attention, particularly with open-wheel race cars at the end of the race or qualifying, you might just be able to capture this in-car celebration.

Obviously, it depends on the driver’s personality and the extent of the achievement. First poles and wins are often more emotional. But by paying attention to the track commentary and knowing a little about the drivers you are photographing, you can capture this elation as it happens.

If you are going to try to capture this shot, aim shooting on the main straight, after the chequered flag. Use a long lens so you can get nice and tight with a high shutter speed (1/1000th or above) to ensure you bring out the emotion in the shot.

Burnout

A far more flamboyant display which is often reserved for big race wins and championship celebrations, the burnout is a uniquely motorsport celebration.

That said, there are often restrictions on when and where burnouts can take place, sometimes by teams but often by the series. If you are looking to capture burnout celebration photos, look at old race footage (highlights packages usually) to see where they usually take place. Otherwise, areas in front of the crowd that have extra sealed run-off areas are most likely spots for burnouts to take place.

Keep in mind that you will lose the car in the tyre smoke very quickly. So, take any tight photos of the car as it starts its burnout and then move to wider atmosphere shots that showcase the location and crowd as the smoke envelopes the car.

Everything about capturing these burnout images is going to be very reactive, so having two cameras with your settings preset will allow you to get a variety of photos as things happen quickly.

I’ve found the trick to good burnout photos is to have a slightly slower shutter speed (1/320th – 1/400th as a guide) to show some wheel rotation, but it’s still fast enough to freeze the action, which can be somewhat unpredictable.

Capturing The Celebration Photo - The Burn Out

Stop Area/Parc Ferme

If you want to guarantee that you’ll capture celebration photos, make sure you are in the stop area at the conclusion of the race (and sometimes qualifying).

That said, different series have different regulations about who can access this area and when, especially if it is in the pitlane. If you are unsure of what’s allowed, it’s best to ask ahead of time. There may be a particular pit garage or breezeway that you need to wait in until clearance is given to access the pit lane.

It is also likely there may be photographers with additional access. Typically, photographers working directly for the series or with special approval from the series will be allowed into the pitlane and fenced-off areas of the stop/parc ferme area to get their own photos. They will typically have a different photographer vest or accreditation that you may not notice, so don’t assume that because one photographer is doing something that is allowed for all.

With all of that in mind, this is where you are going to get the most emotion-filled celebration photos. However, they are also some of the hardest to capture.

People are inherently unpredictable, especially when celebrating. Depending on the personality of the driver and the nature of the win, they could jump up on top of the car, they could run off to celebrate with their crew, or do nothing at all. Taking these photos is very reactive, all whilst being jammed into a relatively tight space, shoulder to shoulder, with a bunch of other photographers all crammed in around you. All trying to get the same photos, making it quite hectic. However, understanding the nature of the driver will help you anticipate what is likely to happen.

Oh, and don’t forget about the second and third-place drivers as well.

The trick to these photos is to use a high shutter speed to ensure you capture the emotion as it plays out. Just remember that these stop areas in the pitlane often feature the harshest lighting conditions you will experience, depending on the layout of the track. You might find that everything is happening in dark shadowy areas of the lane with bright areas of the background. Make sure you compensate for this with your exposure settings and use a flash if required. I’ll often overexpose by one stop on the camera’s internal light metre to make sure the faces are properly exposed.

Podium

Capturing The Celebration Photo - Podium

It goes without saying that the podium is a prime location to capture celebration photos and is most predictable. That said, these celebrations are typically more subdued and formal than those in the stop/parc ferme area, at least for the trophy presentations.

However, this formality makes capturing celebration photos on the podium predictable and much easier. As the drivers are introduced to the podium, you can get each driver and they’ll typically give a thumbs up, wave, or some other emotive expression.

You’ll find the reactions during the trophy presentations are relatively subdued, at least by comparison, but once it’s time for the champagne spray, the drivers cut loose again. However, given the predictable nature of the podium, you can look out for little details and different aspects to photograph that others might miss. Maybe a close-up of the trophy or the reaction of the fans. All little things that will help tell the story through your photos.

Depending on where you are in relation to the podium, you might find yourself in the splash zone. It’s also not guaranteed that these celebrations will be contained to the podium. Drivers can and do run into the crowd to spray/share the champagne with their crew, depending on where and how the podium is set up. Again, just be reactive to what plays out in front of you.

Pro Tip: If you end up getting sprayed with champagne, make sure you clean off your camera gear as soon as you get back to the media centre. When it starts to dry, it gets quite sticky and becomes much harder to remove.

Keep in mind you don’t always need to shoot the podium directly front on either. Look for options to photograph it from amongst the crowd, off to the side or from above to try something different and mix up your shots.

Other Things To Keep In Mind Capturing Celebration Photos

Other Things To Keep In Mind Capturing Celebration Photos

Each Driver Is Different

The first thing you need to keep in mind is that each driver and every race is different.

Some drivers have more expressive personalities, while others are much more reserved. The more you photograph them, the more you will understand their own unique personalities. That said, each race is different as well. A driver will be much more emotive if it’s their first win or it’s an iconic race or venue. Knowing a little about the situation, either through preparation or by listening to the track commentary, will help you understand how the celebrations might play out.

Watch Out For TV Cameras

As a photographer, like it or not, TV cameras have priority. That is the golden rule of photography motorsport events, especially on the national and international stage.

Some TV crews are very good and will work with you, and if you try to stay out of their way, they will try to stay out of yours. Even politely asking you to move if required. Others will just push and shove and deliberately get in your way.

The more you work in the areas, the better you will be able to understand how the TV crews like to work and how you can both stay out of their way while still getting the shots you need.

If you are concerned by this, stand a little further back, use a long lens and work around them.

Championship

Celebrations will step up for the championship title decider. Especially if the championship is decided at the final race of the year.

As a general rule, championship winners will display much more emotion than a usual race winner. It’s the culmination of a full year of effort and that shows in the reaction from both the driver and the team.

You’ll also have many more elements to consider and include in your photos: the championship trophy, confetti, fireworks, team posters, special team shirts… So many other elements.

The trick to capturing great championship celebration photos is not to get too focused on one shot in particular. Watching, observing and reacting to what plays out in front of you is going to be key. That said in rapidly changing environments where there are lots of things at play, using features like back button focus will allow you the best chance of getting sharp photos.

Conclusion

Celebration photos are key to being able to tell the full story of a race weekend with your photos. Just keep in mind there are a lot of extra factors, as listed, that can play out in trying to get these shots. But with a little preparation and understanding of the context, you will give yourself options to be able to get the photos you need.

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.

How To Find A Job As A Motorsport Photographer

How To Find A Job As A Motorsport Photographer

How To Find A Job As A Motorsport Photographer

I hate to be the one who has to tell you this, but you won’t find a motorsport photography job advertised on your local job board or recruiting website. That’s just not how this industry works. There are just no full-time, salaried positions taking photos at the race track, even in Formula 1. Trust me, I wish there were.

So, how do you find a job as a motorsport photographer? Well, the truth is, you need to make the job for yourself.

Every single motorsport photographer you see trackside is a contractor or freelancer in one way or another. Sure, some have big contracts with customers that they work on a regular basis and even with a degree of exclusivity for, be that for the day, event or season. But ultimately, they work for themselves.

This is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, you are ultimately in control of how successful you are and can pick and choose which customers you would like to pursue. On the other hand, there is very little job security, and you need to actively pursue customers and work all the time. Not to mention the backend admin side of things like bookkeeping and taxes.

That said, if you are willing to put in the work, motorsport photography can be an exciting and amazing career. But it’s going to take a lot of work and dedication.

So how do you get started Motorsport Photography

So how do you get started? I’ve already documented everything you need to know to start your own journey to become a motorsport photographer in this blog post. I’ve even dedicated an entire post to how I got my start in motorsport photography.

But the short version of both of those posts is that you are going to need a lot of passion for the sport and perseverance to keep showing up, capturing amazing photos to create the opportunities to get work.

I’ve lost count of the amount of promising, talented photographers who have shown up randomly at events over the years. But it’s those photographers who have shown up consistently to motorsport events and showcased that they deliver consistent, high-quality work at each and every event that get the paid work opportunities.

Media outlets, teams, categories, and manufacturers all know this, too. Many of them have experienced dealing with flaky motorsport photographers who have disappeared just as quickly as they have arrived at some point. That’s why there is no way to shortcut this. You need to put the work in to showcase that you are passionate and will show up consistently.

Which is why, when you are starting out in motorsport photography, you are going to need to buy a general admission ticket (photographing from the spectator areas is not going to stop you from creating good images) and cover your own costs to attend events on a regular basis. By doing this and consistently creating good quality photos that you showcase in your portfolio (be that on your own website or even just on social media), you will start to make a name for yourself as a photographer and justify being able to pursue media accreditation and paid work.

Just like chasing a seat driving in Formula 1, there are limited opportunities so it’s not going to be easy, but pursuing a job as a motorsport photographer is an extremely rewarding experience.

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.

How To Use A Carnet

How To Use A Carnet

How To Use A Carnet

Travelling overseas for your photography is super exciting, but taking a tonne of expensive camera gear with you can cause issues with customs when you land in another country. That’s where carnet’s come in.

If you don’t know what a carnet is why you need one or how it works, I highly recommend you check out this post. But in short, it’s a temporary import and export document that makes it easier for you to transport your camera gear (and other business-related equipment) across international borders.

Now that we’ve covered that, let’s take a look at how you use a carnet in somewhat simple terms.

Applying for the Carnet

The process starts with obtaining your carnet. At least two weeks before you intend to travel, you should talk to your local chapter of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC). You’ll find a list of the ICC’s National Guaranteeing Associations (NGA) on its website to see who will issue a carnet in your country.

After reaching out to your local Chamber of Commerce branch or the equivalent NGA, they will send you an application form to complete so you can be issued a carnet. Part of the application will include information about your destination and the duration of your overseas trip to help determine how much of a bond you need to pay (more on this shortly).

You’ll also be sent a spreadsheet to complete (known as the ATA Carnet General List) with a list of items you intend to travel with. In this, you will need to include all of your camera, lenses, and other significant camera gear you will take overseas. As a rule of thumb, if the item has a serial number, I’ll include it in the carnet application. If it doesn’t, as an example, things like charges, cables, spare batteries, etc, I don’t tend to include, and I haven’t had any issues so far.

To be fair, customs officials are really only concerned about you selling high-value items without paying the import taxes associated with those items. So, trivial accessories don’t really grab attention unless you have a significant number of the same items.

As part of the ATA Carnet General List, you will need to include what the item is (make and model) and its serial number/s. The number of items, particularly if you are travelling with multiple camera bodies, the item’s weight, current retail value (in your home country) and country where the item was manufactured.

It’s good to have this information in advance (particularly the retail prices and weights) handy before you make the request for a carnet application, especially if you are in a hurry so that you can complete the carnet application as quickly as possible.

You can organise a carnet at the last minute, but there are extra fees attached to this, which you can easily avoid by planning ahead.

Upon completing your carnet application, you’ll be advised of how much of a bond you will need to pay to secure your carnet. The bond depends on the value of the equipment you are travelling with and where you intend to travel. It could be as much as 50% of the value of the gear, but it’s worth checking when you make your initial request to get an idea of what percentage you can expect to pay. Then, you can tailor your item list accordingly.

It is worth noting that the carnet won’t be issued until the carnet fees and bond value have been paid. Given that the bond is often a significant amount of money, this could take a couple of days to clear.

Collecting the Carnet

Once the application has been completed, you will need to collect your carnet. This will most likely require a visit to the local office of the Chamber of Commerce branch or NGA issuing your carnet. Otherwise, you’ll have to organise to have it sent to you via registered post.

Remember, the value of the carnet document is the bond that is being held. It can be quite a significant amount of money and needs to be treated as such. If the carnet isn’t completed and returned, you will most likely lose your bond.

Starting the Carnet

The carnet is not officially active until you visit your local customs office before checking into your flight to head overseas. Yes, that’s right before.

Most international airports will have a customs office where you can activate your carnet before you check in for your flight. Again, the best thing to do is ask the person helping you organise your carnet where you will find this office for your departure. It’s also worth confirming what hours they are open. In some instances, particularly at smaller airports, the office may not be staffed at all hours. You might need to activate your carnet the day before if you have a particularly early (or late) flight.

Once the first part of your carnet has been completed (the customs staff will help you with this process), it is active, and you are ready to head overseas.

Just remember that this part needs to be completed before you check in for your flight, so allow extra time to find where the customs office is and complete the document in addition to the normal time you need for checking in and going through security and immigration for an international flight.

Arriving at your destination

Upon arriving in your destination country, you’ll most likely be asked to declare if you are travelling with items for business or of high value as part of the process of proceeding through customs. Obviously, you point this out and let them know you have a carnet, and they will take you off to the side to check and complete their part of your carnet and potentially verify the items you are travelling with.

I’ve found that if you have a carnet, they want to check to make sure the serial numbers match up. But having the carnet saves you from many unnecessary issues (including having your camera gear confiscated), and you are typically through customs fairly quickly considering the paperwork that needs to be done.

Be sure to ask the customs official when they check and complete your carnet what the procedure is for leaving their country, particularly for the airport you intend to leave from. This will help when you know what to do before returning home.

Departing your destination

Again, you must complete the next section of your carnet before you check in for your flight back home. This is why checking with the customs official upon arrival is handy to see where you need to go or to whom you need to talk to complete this step.

It’s basically the same process you must complete when you depart your home country. But this is where you will likely face the most intense scrutiny to confirm what you’ve listed on the carnet is actually leaving with you. If you have all the items listed, you won’t have any issues, but they will likely want to double-check at least some of the serial numbers to confirm.

Once this part of the carnet is completed, you’ll be able to check in for your flight home. Make sure you give yourself a bit of extra time to go through all of this on top of the other things you need to do for an international flight.

Arriving back home

To complete the carnet, customs in your home country will need to complete one last part of the documentation. It’s a very similar process to what you will have completed when you went through customs at your travel destination. You need to ensure that you declare that you have business or expensive equipment, and then you’ll be directed off to the side to check and complete the carnet document.

Once you’ve done this and entered your home country again, the carnet is technically completed. But you still have a couple of steps to go.

Returning the Carnet

Once you are back home, you need to return the completed carnet to the local office of the Chamber of Commerce branch or NGA issuing your carnet. If everything has been completed correctly, they will advise you on the process of having your bond refunded. It’s another form you need to complete, but it’s really simple.

Please keep a record of your carnet number before you return it so you can include it on your carnet bond refund form.

If everything has been completed correctly, the bond should be refunded to you within a week or two of returning the completed carnet.

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.

What Is A Carnet? And Why Do You Need One

What Is A Carnet? And Why Do You Need One

What Is A Carnet? And Why Do You Need One

If you are planning on taking your camera gear overseas to work at a motorsport event (or for any other work-related reason), you will need a carnet.

Being able to travel around the world to photograph motorsport events at some of the most iconic race tracks is extremely exciting, but it does also add some extra logistical considerations. Especially when bringing your expensive camera gear.

Take it from me: a Pelican case of equipment will always draw extra attention to you as you pass through a country’s border control. So you need to make sure you have everything in place to ensure that you don’t have any issues and get your camera gear confiscated at the border. One of those things is a carnet.

What Is A Carnet?

A Carnet, also referred to as an ATA Carnet or a merchandise passport, is a document that helps facilitate the temporary importation of goods into a foreign country without having to pay duties or taxes on those goods. The purpose of a Carnet is for goods that will be re-exported out of the country you are visiting after a short period of time. Like taking your professional photography equipment to and from an international event.

As an official document, a carnet serves as a guarantee to the foreign government that the goods will either be re-exported or that any applicable duties and taxes will be paid for those items. The carnet contains a detailed list of the goods being transported, and it is validated by customs officials each time you pass through customs, both in your home country and destination country.

Carnets are issued by National Guaranteeing Associations (NGA), which are organisations authorised by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), typically your local chamber of commerce, and are valid for up to one year.

There are two types of carnets, but the only one that applies to photography equipment is the Admission Temporaire/Temporary Admission (ATA) carnet.

Why Do I Need A Carnet As A Motorsport Photographer?

As a photographer travelling internationally, particularly with a lot of expensive professional camera gear, you will need a carnet to take with you into another country for a short period of time.

Without a carnet, you may be required to pay customs duties or taxes on the equipment you are travelling with. Either when you arrive at your destination (and possibly when you return home). Additionally, you may encounter delays and difficulties when trying to clear customs, as customs officials may need to verify the value and origin of your equipment.

While you might draw too much attention if your camera gear is compact and fits into a backpack. The second you start travelling with something like a Pelican Case to keep your gear properly safe and secure, you will start to draw the attention of customs officials.

A carnet simplifies the customs process by serving as a temporary import-export document that allows you to enter a foreign country with your equipment without paying duties or taxes. The carnet acts as a guarantee that you will re-export the equipment within a specified period of time and pay any applicable duties or taxes if you do not.

If you are travelling with business-related equipment, using a carnet can save you time. Instead of being held up and being questioned about your gear, they simply check what you have, complete the carnet and send you on your way.

A carnet also ensures that you’re not permanently out of pocket and helps you avoid potential legal issues that can arise when travelling with professional equipment internationally.

Just note that not all countries require a carnet, and it’s typically only required for equipment you are bringing for professional use and not for personal use. However, it can be hard to justify personal use if you carry multiple camera bodies and lenses.

How Can I Get A Carnet?

The process of obtaining a carnet seems complicated, but it is actually fairly straightforward. But you will need to follow these steps:

Find A National Guaranteeing Association

The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) maintains a directory of National Guaranteeing Associations (NGA) on its website that will issue a carnet in your country.

Typically, your local branch of the Chamber of Commerce, the NGA, is an organisation authorised by the ICC to issue and guarantee carnets within a specific country. NGAs serve as your local point of contact for carnet applications, and they provide support to individuals and businesses seeking to obtain a carnet.

NGAs are responsible for processing carnet applications, collecting associated fees as well as providing guidance on carnet usage and regulations. In my experience, they know the ins and outs of the carnet process and are very easy to deal with, so make sure you ask any questions you have to get all the information you need to ensure that your travels are as smooth as possible.

If you can’t find an NGA for your country, you can also contact your local customs authorities and inquire about the designated NGA for issuing carnets.

Provide Required Documentation

The process of obtaining a carnet can sometimes require a fair amount of supporting documentation. What this includes exactly varies from country to country. You may be asked to complete the following:

  • Application Form: You will need to complete the application form provided by the NGA. This will typically require information about yourself, your travel plans, and details about the equipment you intend to travel with.
  • Equipment List: As part of the application you’ll need to prepare a detailed itemised list of the equipment you plan to bring, including make, model, serial numbers (if applicable), and values. The values should reflect the current market value of the equipment.
  • Proof of Ownership: You may also need to provide receipts/invoices as proof that you own the equipment listed on the carnet application.
  • Valid Passport or Identification: You may also need to provide a copy of your valid passport or identification document as part of the application process.
  • Travel itinerary: The application will request the country you plan to visit and the dates you intend to travel, but you may also be required to provide a more details copy of your travel itinerary.
  • Insurance Documentation: Some NGAs may require proof of insurance coverage for the equipment being transported. This can include a copy of your equipment insurance policy or a letter from your insurance provider.
  • Security Bond: Depending on the NGA’s requirements, you may need to provide a financial guarantee, such as a bond or cash deposit, to ensure payment of any potential customs duties or taxes if the equipment is not re-exported. This could be up to 50% value of the equipment.

Just keep in mind that this process can take up to two weeks, so make sure you plan well in advance of your trip.

Validate The Carnet

Once your application is approved and you’ve received your carnet, there are a few more things you need to do. Before leaving your home country, you must have the carnet validated by customs officials, which involves the document being stamped and authorised at your point of departure.

Most of the time, this can be done at the airport just before you leave, and Customs officials will need to inspect your equipment and verify that the items listed on the carnet match the equipment you are carrying. Your local NGA will be able to tell you where to go to have your carnet validated either before or during check-in for your flight overseas.

Your carnet will also need to be validated by customs officials each time you enter and exit a new country. This part is a little easier, as customs will typically ask you to declare whether you are travelling with equipment for work or business purposes and then direct you accordingly.

Remember that once your carnet is validated, it is equally as important as your passport for transiting through countries and should be protected as such.

Return The Carnet

Once you’ve completed your travels and returned to your home country with your camera equipment in tow, you must return the carnet to the issuing NGA within the specified time frame.

You will be motivated to complete this as quickly as possible on your return home so that your security bond can be returned to you. Upon return of the completed carnet, you will be asked to complete a security bond request form to have it returned to you.

Carnet Bonds

The biggest issue with carnets is the bond. Depending on where you are travelling, you may have to pay a bond of up to 50% of the value of the equipment in order to facilitate the carnet. Although, specifically, how much varies depending on the country/countries you are visiting with your gear.

Now, the bond is such that you will get the money back after you return the completed carnet to the issuing NGA, as long as all the equipment has been returned to your home country. This should be verified by the successful completion of the carnet by customs upon arrival in your home country.

That said, it can still be a significant amount of money in holding that you can’t get access to for at least a couple of weeks upon returning home.

There is also an obligation on you to complete the carnet each time you enter and exit a country. If the document isn’t completed properly each time, you might have issues getting your bond back.

As an alternative, some NGAs will offer an insurance option to cover the bond, which is less, but you’ll not get that money back at all. Something to keep in mind.

Conclusion

It does sound like a complicated process, but it will save you a lot of heartache going through customs when you arrive at your destination. The last thing you need is to have all your expensive camera gear confiscated by customs officials for illegal importation.

And if it makes you feel any better, Formula 1 teams need a carnet to cover every piece of equipment they travel with for each and every Grand Prix. A camera bag of gear is much easier to manage.

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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