What Makes A Good Motorsport Photo

by Mar 27, 2021

Photographing racing action is an art form, and the most important part of showcasing speed in a still image is including movement in your photo.

Sounds simple, but it’s harder to achieve 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. Choosing techniques, angles, and composition to capture the essence of a car or bike moving at speed.

Showcasing Motion in a Still

First things first: how do you show motion in a still image? One way to do it is to use a technique known as panning.

Panning is where you introduce motion blur into your shots. The blur behind the vehicle that it is the focus of the photo creates the effect of speed, and it can be done in a number of ways to add some creativity into your shots.

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 your angles and give the race car or motorcycle somewhere to go. Don’t just shoot the vehicles as they race past, but instead, photograph them at corners which gives the image a sense of movement, especially if it has some attitude about it – a sharp turn, a lean angle, or two wheels off the ground as the car drifts.

Focus on details like suspension compression or dust being kicked up: all these elements come into play to show movement and speed.

Composition Matters

Motion blur and angles aside, composition in motorsport photography is as important as anything else.

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 – but this is mere documentation rather than photography. What separates good photos from mediocre attempts is putting the scene, the car, and the action into context.

If you’re a beginner, remember to stick to the Rule of Thirds and avoid placing the moving vehicle smack in the middle of your frame to create more dynamic and visually appealing photos.

Sure, the rule of thirds 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 utilizing the rule of thirds is a solid foundation when you’re just starting out.

Diverse Portfolio

If you’re hoping to make it in motorsport photography, a diverse portfolio of your work is a must. Prospective clients, magazine editors, and racing teams will want to see quality, creativity, and consistent delivery.

In my experience, attending plenty of events is the best way to build up a diverse portfolio. Even if you don’t have media accreditation, there’s a lot you can do from the spectators’ side, so attend as many races as you can and hone your skills. Every time you attend a race, don’t just document it but remember that you’re telling a story through your images.

There are lots of different elements to a good motorsport photographer. You need to capture on-track action, but you also need to think of creative, interesting angles, behind-the-scenes shots, and the emotional side of the race. After all, people don’t attend races just to determine which one is the fastest car – they come for the drama, the adrenaline, the emotions running high in a close tie, the personalities, and the overall experience. All these elements go into telling the whole story of the race weekend, and the best shots will end up in your portfolio.

Out of all your current work, pick out 20-30 of your best shots for your portfolio. With each event that you attend, aim to be able to replace one of the images that already exist in your portfolio.

This will help you strive to take better and better shots; it won’t always be possible, but it’s always worth trying and it will keep you on your toes. Learning never stops, and as the old Latin saying goes, not to progress is to regress.

Post-Production

A good image can survive a bad edit, but a good edit won’t salvage a bad photo.

Editing is important, but less is more: typically, magazines and news outlets 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 key. Big 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.

Keep your edits to a minimum or have some presets ready – you’ll need to process and deliver your photos fast, and there’s usually no time to go down an editing rabbit hole when you’re working a race.

What’s your number one struggle when it comes to photographing speed and action? Let me know in the comments below!

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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