How To Clean Your Camera Gear

How To Clean Your Camera Gear

How To Clean Your Camera Gear

Motorsport photography subjects our camera gear to some of the harshest conditions possible – especially off-road and rally photography.

The inherent nature of what makes motorsport so appealing to photograph, also means our camera gear often ends up covered in dust, dirt, tyre debris and, on the odd occasion, champagne.

So how do we go about cleaning our camera gear? And even more importantly, stop all the dirt and debris from getting inside our camera. Because, let’s face it, there is nothing worse than getting a series of great shots, only to find sensor dust spots on every single one of them.

Let me take you through how you should clean and maintain your camera gear after each motorsport event.

Firstly – How Dirty Is Your Camera Gear?

First things first, if your camera gear is visibly covered in dust and debris, you really want to avoid opening it up, especially dismounting lenses.

Much like the rain, the weather sealing on pro-level camera bodies and lenses does a pretty good job of preventing moisture, dust and dirt from getting inside your camera. But the second you dismount your lens, that seal is broken, allowing anything on your camera to get inside.

If you’ve just shot a rally, off-road event or even speedway, I’d strongly recommend giving your camera gear a proper cleaning before you even consider taking off your lenses.

For other motorsport events, this is a little less crucial, and a simple wipe over might be all you need to do before packing up your gear for the day.

So do you need to clean your camera gear? Let’s take a look.

Camera Cleaning Tools

Rocket Blower

Something every photographer should have in their camera bag is a rocket blower.

A rocket blower is designed to allow you to direct “clean” airflow to blow away loose dust and particles from cameras, lenses, sensors, and other delicate surfaces.

The best way to use a rocket blower is to position your camera or lens so that the loose dust or particles can easily fall away when dislodged. Facing them downwards allows gravity to assist in dust removal. This is especially important when using them to help clean your camera sensor and the mounting end of your lenses.

Just be careful when using a rocket blower inside your camera. While the airflow from the rocket blower is really good at dislodging dust stuck on your sensor, make sure it does directly touch the sensor, which could damage the sensor.

Microfiber Cloth

I’ve got several microfiber cloths in my camera bag, just because I’ve accumulated them from camera manufacturers and other photography brands over the years, but you should always have at least one with your camera equipment.

Why? They are the only thing you should be using to wipe dust and smudges (usually fingerprints) off the delicate glass elements of your lenses and filters.

I know it’s very easy just to grab the corner of your shirt to quickly dust off the front of your lens (I’m guilty of this one, too), but the other fabrics can (and do) scratch off the element coatings that lens manufacturers use to reduce glare and reflections in your lenses. Or worse yet, properly scratch the glass.

The best way to use a microfiber cloth is to apply light pressure and move the cloth in a gentle circular motion to remove dust and smudges.

Sensor Cleaning Swabs

I want to start this one with a disclaimer – Anytime you touch your camera’s image sensor, you run the risk of damaging it. It is a very sensitive component of your camera. So, if you aren’t confident about the process, you might be better off getting your local camera store or camera manufacturer’s professional services team to clean it for you.

With that in mind, a sensor cleaning swab is a specialised tool used to clean the image sensor inside your digital camera. The electrified nature of the image sensor means that it does tend to attract and accumulate dust and other contaminants over time, leading to visible spots or blemishes in your photographs.

Sensor cleaning swabs are designed to effectively remove this debris as safely as possible.

There are several different styles of sensor cleaning swabs, most of which are fine, but I would avoid any that use a “sticky” element to remove dust and dirt, as this will leave residue on your sensor, which could either damage the sensor or make it even more likely for dust and debris to get stuck back on the sensor.

Keep in mind that sensor cleaning swabs are single-use items, so make sure you purchase a few and leave a couple in your camera bag, especially if you have multiple cameras, as most motorsport photographers do. You don’t want to remove dirt from one camera only to drag it across the sensor of your other camera.

Compressed Air

In most instances, the rocket blower is more than enough to dislodge dust and dirt from your camera. However, for more heavy-duty cleanings, especially for rally and off-road events, a can (or two) of compressed air is very handy.

Back to my point earlier in this post, if your camera is very dirty, compressed air is a very good way to quickly remove a lot of dust quickly. That said, I only ever use compressed air on the external surfaces of my camera gear, making sure all the internals are covered, either by keeping the lens attached or using the lens caps etc.

The nature of compressed air, the air pressure, the moisture and the temperature, can damage the internals of your camera. Especially if you accidentally freeze part of your sensor.

So, while it’s not something I keep in my camera bag, I do usually have a can of compressed air in the office if I need it. And, if I know, I’m going to cover a gravel/dirt-based event, I’ll make sure I pick one up to have with me in the lead-up.

Mr Sheen and Soft Paint Brush

Full credit for this tip has to go to the team at Nikon Professional Services, who helped me out during a particularly dusty rally event, even despite using Canon gear.

Very fine dust can be super tricky to get off your camera before taking off your lenses, even with compressed air. That’s where a small amount of a multi-surface polishing agent like Mr Sheen (available in Australia, the UK and a few other countries) and a soft paintbrush come in handy.

Basically, Mr Sheen (or any other multi-surface polishing agent) helps the brush collect the fine dust, getting off the camera.

Start out by spraying a small amount of Mr Sheen on either the bottom of the camera or the grip (basically away from any of the buttons and openings), and then dab the paintbrush in it and wipe it over the areas where you are having the most issues with the dust and dirt. The brush will allow you to get the dust and dirt out from all the small gaps and seals, especially around the buttons and dials.

Just make sure you don’t get Mr Sheen on any of the glass surfaces. It can leave a streaky residue.

Anti-Bacterial Surface Wipes

I always keep a packet of anti-bacterial surface wipes in my bag because the cleanliness of cheap hotel rooms is often a little bit dodgy – especially those near race tracks.

However, where they come in handy from a motorsport photography perspective is when you are caught up in the podium celebrations – particularly the spraying of champagne.

When champagne drys, it turns into this sticky goo that is a real pain to get off your camera gear. I’ve found that these style surface wipes are really good at getting that off your camera gear.

Just don’t use them on the glass surfaces of your camera and lenses. They do leave a streaky residue.

If you do end up with champagne on your lens, a slightly damp microfiber cloth is your best option to remove it. But really, make sure you get to it before it starts to dry.

Professional Cleaning

How To Clean Your Camera Gear - Professional Cleaning

If all else fails, see a professional.

It goes without saying, that if you are working professionally as a motorsport photographer, you should probably be a member of your camera manufacturer’s professional services program.

One of the services they offer, which are often complimentary as part of your membership, is camera and sensor cleaning. I’d strongly recommend that you take advantage of that service.

At the end of each season, immediately after the last event, I basically drop off my entire camera kit with Canon Professional Services (because, for me, they are located on the way back from the airport). I get them to do a full clean and service any non-urgent issues that have popped up with my gear during the course of the year. Then I can pick it all up a week or two later, ready for the next season.

Tips For Cleaning Your Camera Gear

One of the most important things to keep in mind when cleaning your camera gear is to be conscious of how dusty/dirty the environment you are doing it in.

As with changing lenses, anytime the internals of your camera are open and exposed, there is the possibility of dust and dirt getting inside your camera, which could make the problem worse than it originally was.

Try to avoid using tissues, paper towels, or any abrasive materials when cleaning your camera gear. They will most likely damage your lens coatings.

This is more of a preventative measure, but if you are planning on storing your camera gear (especially over the off-season), use silica gel packs in your camera bag to absorb moisture and prevent mould growth, especially in humid environments. This will save you a lot of issues later.

Cleaning camera gear requires patience. Rushing through the process can lead to mistakes, which can make the issue worse and potentially damage your gear.

Conclusion

As motorsport photographers, our camera gear tends to end up in the harshest of conditions of any genre of photography. This makes it especially important to make sure you have good processes for cleaning your gear, if solely for the purpose of keeping dust and dirt out of our image sensors.

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 Clean Your Camera Gear

How To Clean Your Camera Gear

Motorsport photography subjects our camera gear to some of the harshest conditions possible - especially off-road and rally photography. The...

read more

Capturing The Action: Overcoming Camera Buffering In Motorsport Photography

Capturing The Action: Overcoming Camera Buffering In Motorsport Photography

Capturing The Action: Overcoming Camera Buffering In Motorsport Photography

Have you ever been photographing trackside, and then all of a sudden, something major plays out in front of you, so you hold the shutter button down in hopes of getting as many shots as possible, only to hear your camera slow down and struggle to take photos? You, my friend, have hit your cameras buffer.

It’s the worst feeling, sitting there waiting for your camera to clear the buffer while something, usually a significant crash, plays out in front of you.

The first time it happens, you might think there is something wrong with your camera. But after you’ve experienced it a few times, you start to understand what it is and when it is most likely to happen.

What Is Camera Buffering

Camera buffering is when you hit the limit of the temporary storage capacity (buffer) of your camera by taking multiple images in rapid succession. This can happen more frequently when you capture photos in burst mode or continuous shooting mode.

Your digital camera doesn’t write photos directly to your memory cards. Instead, it writes the image to a temporary internal storage, known as the buffer and then transfers that image to your memory card to make room for the next photo you capture. As a result, when you take multiple photos in quick succession, the images fill up the camera’s buffer faster than they can be written to the memory card.

With that in mind, buffering happens because the camera’s image processor is recording images faster than the write speed of the memory card allows it to receive the data and clear the images out of the buffer. While the buffer can hold a small number of files while they are being written to the memory card (the number of images and the size of the buffer varies from camera to camera), once the buffer becomes full, the camera slows down or stops taking new shots until it can transfer the images from the buffer to the memory card.

What Causes Buffering And How To Fix It

Now that we’ve discussed the fundamentals of what buffering is, what causes it? Well, there are actually a number of factors that could cause you to experience buffering with your camera.

What Causes Buffering And How To Fix It

Large File Sizes

It goes without saying that the larger the file size of the photos you are capturing, the faster the buffer is going to fill up.

If you are capturing photos in your camera’s full, uncompressed RAW format, the file size is going to be significantly larger than shooting in the compressed JPEG format. And as a result, it’s going to take fewer photos in quick succession for your camera’s buffer to fill up if you are shooting in the RAW format and longer for those files to write to your memory card.

In addition, the bigger your camera’s sensor (the more megapixels it can capture), the larger the files are going to be, both in RAW and JPEG. Keep this in mind you are photographing a motorsport event with two different cameras. One might be more inclined to hit the buffer during those high-action moments than the other.

Slow Memory Card Write Speed

The speed at which the camera can transfer the images from the buffer to the memory card depends ultimately on the write speed of the memory card. The slower the write speed of your memory card, the more likely it will become the bottleneck, causing buffering delays regardless of how modern and fast your camera is.

This can present itself if you buy a newer camera (especially with a larger file size) but continue to use your older memory cards that you’ve had for several years. Something that is more common when using SD Cards as while the card format has remained the same, the technology within them has continued to improve, leading to faster and faster write speeds.

Just keep in mind that different memory card technologies have different write speeds. This is particularly important to note if you are using a camera with dual card slots.

Most current mirrorless bodies from Canon, Nikon and Sony (at least from the middle to the top of their range) will offer dual card slots. Typically one is for a CF Express (XQD) Card, and the other is for an SD Card. And while there are many benefits to recording photos on both cards, the SD Card is always going to be significantly slower (even the latest generation of highspeed (SDHC) high capacity (SDXC) cards) than the CF Express (XQD) Card. It’s just the difference between the two technologies.

I’ll put together a post shortly about the different memory card technologies as well as recording images to two cards at the same time and how they can affect your motorsport photography.

Memory Card Formatting And Maintenance

Have you noticed that your camera is buffering more often than it used to? That might be associated with how you format and maintain your memory cards.

If you move and/or delete your photos off your memory cards without formatting the cards, little trivial artifacts of data remain on the cards. While this may seem insignificant, when your camera writes the next photo to the card, it needs to record the image in and around these small remnants of data. Slowing down the process of writing the image to the memory card, regardless of how fast it is.

The best thing you can do to not only ensure the best performance out of your memory cards but also extend their lifespan is to format the cards within your camera once you’ve downloaded the photos to your computer (and made sure you’ve got sufficient backups).

While your could format your memory cards in your computer, that has a tendency to introduce other data artifacts. So I recommend sticking with formatting the memory cards within the camera itself.

Also, make sure that you avoid getting dust and dirt in or on the pins of the memory cards. When this ends up in card slots, this can reduce the contact between the camera and the card leading the data read/write issues. This could present in slow write performance and buffering but could also lead to data corruption and losing your photos.

While less of an issue with modern cards, with older CF (Compact Flash) cards, you also have to be mindful not to bend the pins in either the camera or the card reader, which could also cause similar issues.

Slow Camera Bus Speed

Occasionally there can be an anomaly in the way camera manufacturers design and build their cameras where the bus speed isn’t sufficient enough to allow images to transfer at the full write speed of the memory card.

One example that comes to mind is the Canon 5D Mark 3. When writing to the CF (Compact Flash) card, the camera would operate at its optimal performance. But if you used an SD Card, no matter how fast it was, you would most certainly hit the buffer because of a limitation in the bus speed of the SD Card slot.

You could get around this by not using an SD Card slot, but it did take away the benefits of using a camera with dual card slots, like always having two copies of your photos.

Camera manufacturers do their best to future-proof their camera bodies, but they are limited to the technology available at the time. So if you have an issue where you hit the buffer regularly on an older camera (particularly DSLRs), buying the latest and fastest memory card may not be the instant fix you are looking for.

Burst Shooting

Shooting in burst mode or high-speed continuous mode is something we do a lot of in motorsport due to the highspeed action-packed nature of the sport, but it is also this capturing of rapid series of images in quick succession that is most likely to cause your camera to hit the limit of the buffer regardless of how good your camera is or how fast your memory cards are.

Higher-end cameras like the Canon R3, Nikon Z9 etc, are built with this in mind and feature larger buffers to give you more time before hitting its limitation, but regardless of the camera, if you sit on the shutter button too long enough, you will find the limit.

I typically leave my cameras in burst mode or high-speed continuous mode so that if something unexpected happens, I can capture it, at least until I hit the buffer. But I’m also mindful to only hold the shutter button down briefly to ensure that I don’t capture too many photos at any one time so that the buffer is as empty as possible just in case something unexpected does happen.

Overheating

Did you know temperature can impact the performance of your camera? While more common when recording long segments of 4K (and 8K) video footage, large continuous bursts of large photo files (RAW files) can cause your camera and memory cards to heat up – particularly when using CF Express cards.

You might have already noticed this temperature either while holding your camera while taking a lot of photos in quick succession. But when using CF Express cards, you’ll also notice it after you’ve downloaded photos onto your computer. The card can and will get significantly hot both when writing and reading large amounts of data. This will be exacerbated when your camera is out in direct sunlight on a hot sunny day trackside.

When the cards do start to heat up, as a method of protecting itself from overheating, your camera will slow down write speed which will also trigger buffering.

So keep in mind that high temperatures can impact the camera’s overall performance, including buffering. If you find this happening, particularly during a hot day trackside, put your camera in the shade while not using it to reduce its temperature.

Wrap Up

As a motorsport photographer, more so than any other genre of photography, you are almost certainly going to experience camera buffering at some point. Being a high-action sport, we tend to push that element of cameras harder than most other photographers.

But by understanding what buffering is and what can cause it, you can take steps with both the equipment that you use and your shooting technique to minimise the impact that buffering can have while trackside.

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 Clean Your Camera Gear

How To Clean Your Camera Gear

Motorsport photography subjects our camera gear to some of the harshest conditions possible - especially off-road and rally photography. The...

read more

How To Configure The “Oh Shit” Button On The Canon R3

How To Configure The “Oh Shit” Button On The Canon R3

How To Configure The “Oh Shit” Button On The Canon R3

Regardless of what camera you are using, things can unfold in just a fraction of a second in motorsport. So being able to react and adjust to the action happening out on track as you see it is essential for motorsport photographers.

For those of you using the Canon R3, one of the tools that we have at your disposal to be able to adjust to these split-second changes is to configure a Register/Recall Shooting Function button on your camera. Colloquially known as the “Oh Shit” button, due to the nature of the words that usually come to mind just before you press it.

What is the Register/Recall Shooting Function button?

Canon’s Register/Recall Shooting Function button on the R3 is a custom function button that can be configured with specific shooting settings, overwriting whatever settings you are using at the time.

Typically configured in place of the AE Lock button, the Register/Recall Shooting Function button allows you to quickly change to a predetermined configuration of settings by simply holding this button should something unexpected play out in front of you.

Why use the Register/Recall Shooting Function button?

If you’ve been shooting motorsport long enough you’ll know that crashes are almost always unexpected. But they do happen, you are usually panning. Having a Register/Recall Shooting Function button (or “Oh Shit” button) configured will allow you to rapidly adjust to whatever may play out in front of you during an on-track session.

This is an extremely handy tool to make sure you always get the shot, no how or what happens out on track.

How do I use the Register/Recall Shooting Function button?

I have mine Register/Recall Shooting Function button (or “Oh Shit” button) configured to switch the camera to Tv mode with a shutter speed of at least 1/1000th (up to 1/2000th) with everything else in full auto.

That way, it doesn’t matter how arty I am trying to be at the time, the camera will automatically choose the right settings (or close enough to them) to capture the unexpected action playing out in front of me. Then I can adjust the images, as I see fit, once I get them on the computer.

This covers me regardless of whether I’m doing super slow panning shots, or playing with shadows or high-key overexposed shots right before the incident plays out in front of me.

How to configure the Register/Recall Shooting Function button on the Canon R3

How to configure the Register/Recall Shooting Function button on the Canon R3

To set up the Register/Recall Shooting Function button on the Canon R3, you need to adjust the button configuration slightly. It’s a very similar process to the Canon 1DX, but with some subtle differences that you need to look out for.

Within the menu, you need to navigate to the Custom Functions menu (the brown/orange one signified by the camera with the lines underneath) and look for the Custom Buttons options.

Once you are in the Custom Buttons menu, the display will walk you through what the buttons are on your particular camera and how they are configured. To configure the Register/Recall Shooting Function button, we need to change one of them.

Most motorsport photographers tend to use the AE Lock (Auto Exposure Lock) signified by the(asterisk) because we don’t tend to use that function. As such on the Canon R3 you might need to scroll through the buttons for a little while to find it.

We want to do is go into the AE Lock configuration by pressing the Set button and then, by using the camera wheel scroll down until you get to the Register/Recall Shooting Function, signified by the camera icon with an arrow pointing to and away from it. Again, it’s buried in the vast array of options available, so you will need to scroll for a little bit to find it.

The next step is to press the Info button to configure the recall settings you would like to use.

By using this setting you can overwrite all of the settings you have configured, from simple shutter speed, ISO and aperture, to how exposure and autofocus are configured, so you will see a lot of options.

The more confident you are with how you use your camera, the more of these settings you can play with. My suggestion is the following:

  • Shooting Mode – Tv
  • Shutter Speed – 1/2000
  • ISO Speed – Auto
  • Metering Mode – Evaluative metering
  • Exposure Comp – 0
  • White Balance – AWB
  • AF Area Selection Mode – Expand AF Area
  • Subject Tracking – Off
  • Subject To Detect – Off
  • Eye Detection – Off

This will allow your Canon R3 to do all of the calculations in getting a balanced exposure for the unexpected action playing out in front of you and you can just focus on capturing it.

Switching the AF mode also has two benefits. Firstly it’ll give you are more broad setting to allow you to quickly grab onto the subject/subjects of the incident. But it also gives you a quick visual while reference while looking down the barrel that you’ve pressed the Register/Recall Shooting Function button. Handy if you are also using Back Button Focus and you accidentally brush the wrong button.

I’ve also found that, while subject tracking is very good on the Canon R3, being able to control your focus point with the autofocus override settings while an incident is playing out in front of you will give you the best, most controllable results. That way subject tracking doesn’t grab another car (not involved in the incident) and focus on it at any point.

To lock in the settings, press the Menu button. Then press the Set button to change the AE Lock to the Register/Recall Shooting Function button instead.

You should notice the icon in the Custom Controls menu should now have changed to represent the Register/Recall Shooting Function button.

To confirm the settings have been correctly configured, set up your camera with a slow shutter speed (and any other settings you might want to use) and then press and hold the AE Lock/* button to see the settings change either on the top screen or in the viewfinder.

Tips for using the Register/Recall Shooting Function button

Just keep in mind that the settings from the Register/Recall Shooting Function button are only applied while the button is held down. By releasing the button, you’ll quickly revert to your original settings and camera configuration.

Conclusion

The Register/Recall Shooting Function button on the Canon R3 is a valuable tool in allowing you to rapidly adjust to whatever may play out in front of you while capturing the action trackside.

As we all know motorsport is often unpredictable, which is part of its appeal, so being able to call upon a specific set of settings in a simple press of a button is essential for all motorsport photographers.

Have a go at setting up the Register/Recall Shooting Function button on your Canon R3 to take advantage of this the next time you are trackside. And remember to experiment with different settings so that you can find the optimal configuration that suits your shooting style and preferences.

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 Clean Your Camera Gear

How To Clean Your Camera Gear

Motorsport photography subjects our camera gear to some of the harshest conditions possible - especially off-road and rally photography. The...

read more

How To Configure The “Oh Shit” Button On The Canon 1DX

How To Configure The “Oh Shit” Button On The Canon 1DX

How To Configure The “Oh Shit” Button On The Canon 1DX

In motorsport, things happen quickly. Really quickly! So being able to adapt and adjust to the action happening out on track in just fractions of a second is essential for motorsport photographers.

For those of you using the Canon 1DX, one of the tools that we have at your disposal to be able to adjust to these split-second changes is to configure a Register/Recall Shooting Function button on your camera. Colloquially known as the “Oh Shit” button, because that’s exactly the words that come to mind just before you press it.

What is the Register/Recall Shooting Function button?

Canon’s Register/Recall Shooting Function button on the 1DX is a custom function button that can be configured with specific shooting settings, overwriting whatever settings you are using at the time.

Typically configured in place of the AE Lock button, the Register/Recall Shooting Function button allows you to quickly fall back to predetermined settings by simply holding this button should something unexpected play out in front of you.

Why use the Register/Recall Shooting Function button?

Why use the Register/Recall Shooting Function button?

As any motorsport photographer would know, crashes are almost always unexpected. But they do happen, you are usually panning. Having a Register/Recall Shooting Function button (or “Oh Shit” button) configured will allow you to rapidly adjust to whatever may play out in front of you during an on-track session.

This is an extremely handy tool to make sure you always get the shot, no matter what happens.

How do I use the Register/Recall Shooting Function button?

I have mine Register/Recall Shooting Function button (or “Oh Shit” button) configured to switch the camera to Tv mode with a shutter speed of at least 1/1000th (up to 1/2000th) with everything else in full auto.

That way, it doesn’t matter how arty I am trying to be at the time, the camera will automatically choose the right settings (or close enough to them) to capture the unexpected action playing out in front of me. Then I can I adjust the images, as I see fit, once I get them on the computer.

This covers me regardless of whether I’m doing super slow panning shots, or playing with shadows or high-key overexposed shots right before the incident plays out in front of me.

How to configure the Register/Recall Shooting Function button

How to configure the Register/Recall Shooting Function button

To set up the Register/Recall Shooting Function button on the Canon 1DX, you need to adjust the button configuration slightly. To do this, you need to go into the camera’s menu.

Within the menu, you need to navigate to the Custom Functions menu (the brown/orange one signified by the camera with the lines underneath) and look for the Custom Controls options.

Once you are in the Custom Controls menu, the display will walk you through what the buttons are on your particular camera and how they are configured. To configure the Register/Recall Shooting Function button, we need to change one of them.

Most motorsport photographers tend to use the AE Lock (Auto Exposure Lock) signified by the(asterisk) because we don’t tend to use that function.

We want to do is go into the AE Lock configuration by pressing the Set button and then, by using the camera wheel scroll down until you get to the Register/Recall Shooting Function, signified by the camera icon with an arrow pointing to and away from it.

The next step is to press the Info button to configure the recall settings you would like to use.

By using this setting you can overwrite all of the settings you have configured, from simple shutter speed, ISO and aperture, to how exposure and autofocus are configured, so you will see a lot of options.

The more confident you are with how you use your camera, the more of these settings you can play with. My suggestion is the following:

  • Shooting Mode – Tv
  • Shutter speed – 1/2000
  • ISO speed – Auto
  • Metering Mode – Evaluative metering
  • Exposure Comp – 0
  • White Balance – AWB
  • AF Area Selection Mode – Expand AF Area

This will allow your camera to do all of the heavy lifting in getting a balanced exposure for the unexpected action playing out in front of you.

Switching the AF mode also has two benefits. Firstly it’ll give you are more broad setting to allow you to quickly grab onto the subject/subjects of the incident. But it also gives you a quick visual while reference while looking down the barrel that you’ve pressed the Register/Recall Shooting Function button. Handy if you are also using Back Button Focus and you accidentally brush the wrong button.

To lock in the settings, press the Menu button. Then press the Set button to change the AE Lock to the Register/Recall Shooting Function button instead.

You should notice the icon in the Custom Controls menu should now have changed to represent the Register/Recall Shooting Function button.

To confirm the settings have been correctly configured, set up your camera with a slow shutter speed (and any other settings you might want to use) and then press and hold the AE Lock/* button to see the settings change either on the top screen or in the viewfinder.

Tips for using the Register/Recall Shooting Function button

Just keep in mind that the settings from the Register/Recall Shooting Function button are only applied while the button is held down. By releasing the button, you’ll quickly revert back to your original settings and camera configuration.

Conclusion

The Register/Recall Shooting Function button on the Canon 1DX is a valuable tool in allowing you to rapidly adjust to whatever may play out in front of you while capturing the action trackside.

As we all know motorsport is often unpredictable, which is part of its appeal, so being able to adjust in just fractions of a second is essential for all motorsport photographers.

Have a go at setting up the Register/Recall Shooting Function button on your Canon 1DX to take advantage of this and remember to experiment with different settings and find the optimal configuration that suits your shooting style and preferences.

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 Clean Your Camera Gear

How To Clean Your Camera Gear

Motorsport photography subjects our camera gear to some of the harshest conditions possible - especially off-road and rally photography. The...

read more

Why You Should Use Back Button Focus In Motorsport Photography

Why You Should Use Back Button Focus In Motorsport Photography

Why You Should Use Back Button Focus In Motorsport Photography

Nailing focus on something moving in excess of 200km/h (that’s 125mph for those American readers) is tough. So as a motorsport photographer, you need to use all the tools at your disposal to ensure crisp, sharp photos each and every time. One of those key tools is back button focus.

Trust me, even the best sports cameras available today with the most advanced autofocus systems could use a little help to ensure you get a pin-sharp photo each and every time you are trackside.

Also, check out this post if you want to find out how you can tweak your camera’s autofocus system to help even more.

So let’s have a look at what back button focus is, how it works and how you can set it up on your camera to see if it benefits your motorsport photography.

So What Is Back Button Focus?

Back button focus is a simple technique of reconfiguring the buttons on your camera to separate the focusing from the shutter so you are able to apply them individually.

By default, all digital cameras are set up so that a half-press of the shutter button triggers the auto-focus system before a full press to take the actual photo. No doubt something you are very familiar with.

However, in DLSR and Mirrorless cameras, you can change the button configuration to use one of the buttons on the back of the camera to focus instead. This method is known as back button focus.

This is achieved by changing the settings in your camera and allocating the autofocus function to a separate button on the back of the camera.

On Canon, Nikon and Sony cameras, this is achieved by reconfiguring the AF-On button. However, the process varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. We’ll dig into that shortly.

What Is The Problem With Having The Shutter Button Do Both Jobs?

There are a number of reasons why having the shutter button do all the work isn’t ideal. The first is being able to pre-focus.

In the high-speed, action-packed world of motorsport, things happen quick. Like, really quick! To maximise the likelihood of getting sharp in focus shots of a particular section of the track, you can pre-focus so the camera doesn’t need to hunt to find its target.

Secondly, there are times when we don’t want the camera to be adjusting focus continuously, particularly while taking panning shots. If you have configured your auto-focus servo mode (or continuous auto-focus, more on that here) and have your aperture nice and narrow for that longer exposure effect for motion blur, the auto-focus system might be doing a lot of extra work unnecessarily.

While panning, pre-focus on the racing line, where you know the race cars are going to be, and then focus your attention on using a smooth motion to get clean, crisp shots and not bumping around the camera by pushing different buttons.

Especially when going for those particularly cool panning shots where you are shooting through an element of the scene, like the crowd, a tree, or even just a fence, that can easily cause auto-focus to re-adjust.

I’ll write up a separate post on how to master the panning technique; watch this space.

Using Back Button Focus To Improve Composition

Using Back Button Focus To Improve Composition

Admittedly this is becoming less of an issue now that the most recent mirrorless camera now offer nearly 100% focus coverage.

However, on the older DSLRs – even the top-tier ones – focus points were heavily centred in the middle of the frame. And if you know anything about good photography composition, having your subject in the dead centre of the frame rarely makes for an interesting photo, especially in motorsport photography.

Being able to preset your focus and then re-compose your photo, even in the high-paced world of motorsport, really helps make the resulting photo much more dynamic.

Are There Any Drawbacks To Using Back Button Focus?

Switching to back button focus takes a little getting used to. As such, I have it set up on all of my cameras. Even ones I wouldn’t necessarily use at the track. It’s a rhythm and a feel thing.

In fact, these days, if someone hands me their camera, I’m so in tune with pushing the AF-On button to trigger auto-focus that it takes me a couple of seconds to remember the regular way of using the focusing. And on the flip side of that, if I hand my camera to someone else to take a photo, it will most certainly be out of focus because they don’t know to push the AF-On button.

So, with that in mind, if you don’t get it straight away, don’t get too concerned. It will take a bit of practice until it becomes natural.

Just make sure that you give yourself time to adjust so that it won’t impact your ability to get sharp photos on paid gigs.

How To Set Up Back Button Focus On Canon Cameras

To set up back button focus on a Canon camera, you need to adjust the button configuration slightly. To do this, you need to go into the camera’s menu.

Within the menu, you need to navigate to the Custom Functions menu (the brown/orange one signified by the camera with the lines underneath) and look for the Custom Buttons (Mirrorless) or Custom Controls (DSLR) options.

Once you are in the Custom Buttons/Custom Controls menu, the display will walk you through what the buttons are on your particular camera and how they are configured. To configure back button focus, we need to change two of them.

Firstly, the Shutter button. Which should be the first button selected when you enter this menu screen. We want to do is go into the shutter button configuration by pressing the Set button to change the half-press setting from Metering and AF Start to just Metering Start and press the Set button to lock in the change. This will stop the auto-focus system from being triggered by a half-press of the shutter.

The next step is to configure the AF-On button to trigger the auto-focus. To do this, use the camera wheel to scroll down until you get to the AF-On configuration and press the Set button to go into these settings. Within this part of the menu, you will notice a lot more options, but what you want to do is select the Metering and AF Start option (you’ll recognise the icon from the Shutter button menu earlier) and then press Set to lock in the change.

To confirm the changes have been applied, set up your camera with a wide aperture and then test out the AF-On button and half-pressing the shutter button to see what activates the auto-focus system.

How To Set Up Back Button Focus On Nikon Cameras

To configure back button focus on Nikon cameras, you are ultimately looking to do the same thing as on a Canon; just where these options are placed in the menu and how they are named are slightly different, even across different Nikon models.

Within the menu, you need to navigate down to the Custom Setting Menu (the red one signified by the pencil icon) and look for the A | Autofocus options.

Press the Ok button to enter the Autofocus options; you want to look for AF Activation and press the Ok button again to enter this sub-menu. This is where you can choose to either have auto-focus activate on both a press of the shutter and AF-On (Shutter/AF-ON) button or just the AF-On (AF-ON only) button on its own.

To make the best use of the back button focus feature, you want to set this to AF-ON only and press Ok to lock in the change. You might notice that the AF Activation changes to off; this is correct; auto-focus will only trigger when the AF-On button is pressed.

To confirm that the AF-On button is configured to trigger the auto-focus system, within the Custom Setting Menu again, this time scroll down the menu to F | Controls.

Again press Ok to enter the Controls menu and scroll down to Custom Controls (Mirrorless) or Custom Control Assignment (DSLR). This sub-menu is similar to the Canon one, where it shows you the camera’s button layout and how those buttons are configured. You want to scroll down until you get to the AF-On button and press Ok to adjust these settings.

Within the AF-On button settings, you’ll be presented with a bunch of different options, but what you need to do is make sure it is configured as AF-On. Press Ok to lock in these settings.

If your Nikon camera has an AE-L/AF-L button (typically on the lower-end Nikon DSLRs) instead of an AF-On button, the process is slightly different. You need to go into the F | Controls menu, but this time scroll down until you see the Assign AE-L/AF-L button settings.

Press Ok to enter these options, and you will be presented with two configurations: Press and Press + Command Dials.

For back button focus, all you need to do is change the Press configuration to be AF-On. This will change the AE-L/AF-L from an exposure and focus lock button to an AF-On button, as we’ve previously talked about.

To confirm the changes have been applied, set up your camera with a wide aperture and then test out the AF-On (or AE-L/AF-L) button and half-pressing the shutter button to see what activates the auto-focus system.

In the event that you find that your camera won’t take a photo unless you have the AF-On button pressed, you might need to check your AF-C Priority Selection settings. More details on that are here.

How To Set Up Back Button Focus On Sony Cameras

Now for Sony cameras, I’ve only tested configuring back button focus on the top-tier Alpha series cameras, the A7, A9 series etc. I’ve been told the settings are similar for other Sony mirrorless cameras, but I haven’t had a chance to test them.

On the Sony, you need to change one setting and check another to ensure back button focus works ideally.

In the menu, go to Camera Settings 1 (the red one signified by the camera icon with the number 1 next to it) and look for the the AF w/ shutter option. Typically this is on menu page (AF2) 6/14, but that might not be the case on all Sony models.

By default, AF w/ shutter will be set to On, which will activate auto-focus with a half-press of the shutter. To take full advantage of back button focus, we want to change this to Off.

Now, when configuring the back button on the camera to engage auto-focus on Sony cameras, you have two options –  either the AF-On button or the AEL button. This might take a little testing to find out which suits you and your thumb placement on the back of the camera better.

To adjust these settings, you need to go into Camera Settings 2 (the purple one signified by the camera icon with the number 2 next to it) and scroll until you find the Custom Key options. Typically this is on menu page (Custom Operation1) 8/9, but again that might not be the case on all Sony models.

Here you will find 3 different Custom Key options, one for photo/still image (the landscape icon), one for video/movie (the film icon) and one for playback (the one with the play button icon). While you don’t have to, I would change the photo and video settings to match so you don’t catch yourself out later.

In the Custom Key options, you are looking for either the AF-On or AEL (or both, up to you). By default, AF-On should be set to AF-On and will work the same as I outlined in the Canon and Nikon sections. You can also choose to change the AEL button from Auto Exposure Lock to AF-On as well or instead.

To confirm the changes have been applied, set up your camera with a wide aperture and then test out the AF-On (or AEL) button and half-pressing the shutter button to see what activates the auto-focus system.

If you have any issues with finding any of these settings, consult your camera manual. And if you would like more details on how you can fine-tune your auto-focus for better results, visit this post.

Conclusion

Back button focus can be an extremely valuable tool in ensuring that you nail the focus on your motorsport photos each and every time. Just make sure you give yourself time to adjust to the feel of how it works in your hand before trying it out at the track.

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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Why You Need To Use A Polariser In Motorsport Photography

Why You Need To Use A Polariser In Motorsport Photography

Why You Need To Use A Polariser In Motorsport Photography

Race cars are great, but they sure do have a lot of reflective surfaces. That’s why using a polariser is essential when you are photographing motorsport.

I’ll give you a hot tip: I’ve got enough polarisers (polarizers for the Americans reading this) in my kit to ensure that there is one attached to every camera I’m using if I need to. That’s how important they are to motorsport photography.

Using a polariser filter reduces glare and reflections on not only the surfaces of race cars but also the racetrack as well. Resulting in clearer and more vibrant photos no matter what the sun is doing. They also open up opportunities to photograph the on-track action from more angles as it filters out much of the high-contrast light, especially when photographing backlit race cars.

Additionally, polarisers also enhance the image’s overall appearance by increasing the contrast and saturation of the sky, clouds, and other elements in the background, which can add depth and interest to the shot.

What Is A Polariser

A polariser (also known as a polarising filter) is an optical filter that you attach to your camera lens that is used to block or allow light waves to pass through in a specific direction. The filter is typically made up of two elements. One layer of polarising material that can be oriented in a certain direction to control the direction that the light passes through the lens. While the second layer is purely to mount the filter to the lens.

Also referred to as a CPL or Circular Polariser, you can control the direction of the polarisation by rotating the front element of the filter.

How Does A Polariser Work

Without going into a full science lesson as to how light works, it essentially moves in waves. What a polariser does is filter out light waves that are vibrating in certain directions while allowing light waves that are vibrating in other directions to pass through.

When light waves enter the polariser, they encounter a layer of polarised material that is aligned in a specific direction. This only allows only light waves that are vibrating in a specific plane to pass through while blocking light waves that are vibrating in other planes. This effect can be adjusted by rotating the filter to affect the direction in which the incoming light waves are polarised.

What it means in terms of photography is that reflections and glare, particularly from glass and asphalt, can be reduced and often eliminated from your photos. The effect of the polarisation also often leads to enhance saturation and contrast of colours in your photos, making them pop more.

When Should You Use A Polariser

There are several reasons to use a polariser when photographing motorsport. Obviously, we’ve already covered that they reduce or eliminate reflections and glare but let’s delve into the scenarios when they come in particularly handy.

Starting with sunny days. In bright sunny conditions, you are going to get a heap of reflections, off the cars, off the track, off everything. Using a polariser helps control these to ensure that you get a clearer and more evenly lit photo. Even when shooting into the sun.

Polarisers also come in handy when shooting through fences. By reducing the amount of light making it to your sensor, a polariser will allow you to use a wider aperture, especially in bright sunny conditions to help blur the fence out of the image. Also, removing any glare coming from the fence can reduce the overall impact of shooting through a fence on the final photo.

Photographing through windscreens is another key reason for using a polariser. In categories of motorsport where the car is enclosed with a roof, there can be a disconnect between the car and the driver in your images. By using a polariser to cut through the reflections of the windows of the car, you can allow a glimpse inside to see the driver and creatively capture another part of the story of the race weekend.

I will mention that this doesn’t work in all cases. Some cars, that have particularly curved front windows, particularly prototypes and Porsche’s, the curvature of the windscreen doesn’t allow the polarisation to cut out the glare fully; just helps reduce it.

Polarisers also come in handy on overcast days. While they may not help the colours to pop in the same way as they do on sunny days, they still take the glare and reflection out of race cars helping the overall quality of the image. Just monitor the light; if you find you are pushing your ISO too high, then taking the polariser off will open up two stops of light getting to your sensor.

What Are The Two Types Of Polarising Filters For My Lenses?

What Are The Two Types Of Polarising Filters For My Lenses?

Polarisers, or CPLs, come in two varieties screw-on and drop-in. Which ones you need will depend on the lenses that you have.

In most cases, when you are starting out, you’ll be using screw-on filters which are the most common type of polarising filter and are designed to screw directly onto the front of the lens. In most cases, screw-on polarizers are easy to attach and remove, but it might be worth also checking out my how to remove stuck filters post, just in case.

The size of the filter (or filters) you need to buy will be dependent on the diameter of the front element of your lens. On Canon lenses, this is easy to find; it’s with the rest of the lens information near (or next) to the front element. On their top tier “L” glass it’s next to the red ring. But it’s always signified by the following symbol: ø  – the geometric symbol for diameter.

On Nikon’s Nikkor lenses, the placement of the information is a little less consistent. But again, you are looking out for the ø symbol.

While on Sony’s lenses, the information is typically around the outside of the lens’s front element, with the filter size again signified by the ø symbol.

When it comes to third-party lenses like Tamaron and Sigma, I’m not 100% sure, but again the ø symbol is what you need to look for.

If you use a “big” lens, you’ll need the second type of filter, a drop-in. These are typically reserved for those larger lenses like the 400mm f2.8, where the front element size is just too big for a screw-on filter. Drop-in filters are normally mounted within the lens and, as such, need to be purchased from the manufacturer of the lens you own.

In terms of functionality, both screw-on and drop-in polarizing filters work in the same way, but the choice between a screw-on and drop-in polarizer ultimately depends on the camera setup you are using.

Other Things To Know About Polarisers

While we’ve already covered quite a lot about what polarisers are and how to use them. There are a few more things that you should know.

Exposure

As I mentioned briefly earlier, polarisers can reduce the amount of light entering the lens by about 1-2 stops, which can affect your overall exposure. While this typically isn’t an issue in bright sunshine, it can definitely catch you out in changeable light conditions or as the sun starts to set.

Autofocus

When using a polariser, remember you are adding extra elements of darkened glass to the front of your lens. While most cameras can account for this, it can have an effect on how accurately your camera’s autofocus system works, particularly in low-light conditions. If you find you are struggling to nail your focus, you might need to remove the filter or switch to manual focus, depending on what you are doing.

Using Multiple Filters

This is more for video shooters, but if you’re using a polariser in combination with another filter, such as a neutral density (ND) filter, you may need to adjust your exposure settings accordingly. Additionally, stacking filters can result in unwanted vignetting or distortion. As a general rule, I tend to avoid stacking filters.

Care And Maintenance Of Polarisers

Polarisers should be handled carefully to avoid scratching or damaging the filter. Typically they come in a protective case; just carry those around with you when you are trackside in case you need to take them off while you are out shooting. They’ll also help avoid putting fingerprints or smudges on the filter that can affect the quality of your images. It might also be handy to keep a soft lens cloth with you to clean both the filter and the front of the lens. Dust and dirt are all part of photographing motorsport.

Conclusion

Overall, adding a polariser (or several) to your kit will have a huge impact on your motorsport photography. Not only improving the quality of your images by reducing glare and enhancing contrast and saturation but also allowing you to shoot the action from different angles and not be limited by the direction of the light.

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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