What Makes A Good Motorsport Photo

by Jan 13, 2024

Anybody can take a photo of a car on a race track. Modern cameras and smartphones make this quite easy. But what makes the art of motorsport photography really stand out is the ability to take a good motorsport photo.

If you want to be a motorsport photographer, you really need to understand the difference between capturing an image of a car or bike on track and creating a photo that showcases what makes motorsport stand out – speed, emotion, and action.

It sounds simple in theory, but there is a bit more to it than you may think. It isn’t just about attending racing events and clicking away. It’s about having a knack for telling a story in your images, capturing both action and emotion and choosing techniques, angles, and compositions to capture the essence of motorsport.

Showcasing Motion In A Still Photo

Showcasing Motion In A Still Photo

The key thing to keep in mind is that motorsport is a sport of high-speed movement. That’s the major thrill of it.

So how do we bring that thrill into our photos? Well, first things first, we use a technique known as panning to bring motion into our photos.

I’ve delved into the details of what panning is and how to do it in this post, but in short, it is where you move your camera in time with the subject of your photo (in this case, typically a car or bike) to blur the background of the shot with motion blur while keeping the subject sharp.

Another technique is to hide the moving components of the cars. Shoot cars head-on where you can’t see the movement (or lack thereof) of the wheels – this allows the viewer’s mind to think there is movement in the shot, especially if there are if there are a group of cars together battling for position.

Finally, think about how and where you capture your photos and give the race car or motorcycle. Are there sections of the track where cars bounce over kerbs? Where do bikes have their greatest lean angle? Do they drift and slide through corners? Kick up dirt? Do the brakes glow? Or does it spit flames from the exhaust? All these elements can contribute to showcasing motion in your images.

Composition

Beyond the basics of motion, how you use composition in motorsport photography is equally important.

Honestly, anyone can take a photo where a car looks like it’s parked on a piece of tarmac or dirt in the middle of the frame, that’s easy. What separates good motorsport photos from very average ones is putting the scene, the car, and the action into context.

When you are just starting out, one of the easiest composition techniques to remember is to stick to the Rule of Thirds and avoid placing the moving vehicle smack in the middle of your frame. This technique alone creates more dynamic and visually appealing photos.

Once you mastered the Rule Of Thirds, you can look to add other techniques to your repertoire, like including Negative Space, Leading Lines and Dutch Tilt, into your photos. 

Just remember that all rules may be broken, and by all means, experiment and improvise as much as you want to discover your own unique way of photographing speed. But utilising these fundamental motorsport photography composition techniques will allow you to build a solid foundation when you’re just starting out.

Personalities And Emotion

Personalities And Emotion

There is more to motorsport than just the cars/bikes on the track. What about the behind-the-scenes elements? The personalities and emotions of the drivers and crews?

After all, motorsport is a sport, and there is a huge human element that is often overlooked by amateur photographers. Be it the concentration on a driver’s face or the celebration of the pit crew, all of these photos add depth to your motorsport photography.

Even if you don’t have access to the garages and the pitlane, make sure you spend some time in the paddock, to capture photos of the people in motorsport, which you can easily do at most motorsport events. 

Just be mindful that there is a lot going on in the pits and paddock, so make sure you don’t get so caught up looking down the barrel of your lens that you end up in the way of something important going on. But capturing these emotions brings the viewer closer to the heart of the sport, telling the complete story of the race weekend with your images.

Post-Production

For the most part, a good image can survive a bad edit, but a good edit will never salvage a truly bad photo.

In professional motorsport photography, editing is an important aspect of making your photos stand out in your own unique style. However, in most cases, less is more.

In fact, when it comes to working for magazines and news outlets, which are often where motorsport photos end up, they are looking for an editorial-style edit. That is, something very simple that does not subtract from the authenticity of the photo.

On the other hand, teams, drivers, and sponsors are a little more open to creative expression in their edits.

However, keep in mind that for motorsport photographers, especially in the day and age of social media, being able to get photos to customers quickly is another key aspect. Big complex edits are not conducive to the quick delivery of files, particularly during an event, so you need to make sure you showcase what you can deliver in the confines of a race weekend.

I find that keeping my edits to a minimum and utilising my Lightroom presets allows me to process and deliver my photos very quickly. A key skill you’ll need to master yourself as you take your motorsport photography more seriously. 

Wrap Up

Once you start looking at stepping up your trackside photos from average snapshots to good-quality motorsport photos, there is a lot you need to learn and consider. However, with patience, practice, and a bit of experimentation, you can very easily start to step your photos up to another level. 

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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