You’ve leafed through hundreds of racing magazines and seen countless race photos of the some of the fastest machines on the planet fighting for that last inch of the track. You tell yourself next time you go to a race, you’ll bring a camera and come back home with pictures just like those. But how?
1) Get a DSLR
While it’s true that equipment can wind up playing a relatively minor role for many types of photography out there, motorsports is one of the few glaring exceptions. For example, a small point and shoot pocket camera when in the right hands can potentially capture a more stunning landscape shot than a beginner can with a cutting edge DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex), but all these rules go out the window when that motorcycle roars by at close to 200mph: You need a DSLR. Or more specifically, the speed and responsiveness of a DSLR. The key features that come into play is a high frames per second shooting mode, high-speed auto focus, and near-absence of shutter lag. The faster the above the better although even an entry-level DSLR these days will do the job. A higher end, faster DSLR will just make your job easier. As for lenses, obviously the longer zoom range you have the more options are available to you but that doesn’t mean having a short lens will mean it’s hopeless. Work with what you have, and don’t spend time thinking about what you don’t have.
2) Know the Track
Unless you’ve been to the track numerous times, it’s important to explore the track as best as you can to scope out good potential spots to shoot from. If you have never been to a racetrack before at all, it’s easy to get caught off guard by just how huge a track can be. In some cases getting from one end of the track to the other can easily be a 20 minute walk or more. When it’s time to shoot the race, you want to know exactly where you can go after you’ve finished grabbing all the shots you want at a particular spot. If you’re unprepared, you’ll either get stuck in the same place the entire time or miss numerous laps (or possibly even the rest of the race) from walking around trying to find another suitable spot to shoot from. A race weekend will usually include practice sessions for the racers. You can use them as your practice sessions too.
3) Know the Sport
While it’s not necessarily imperative to have deep knowledge of the sport to get great shots, it can probably help make a difference or at least shorten the learning curve a bit. Back to the example of motorcycle races. Looking to get a picture of racers dragging their knees? A relatively tight, high speed corner is your best bet. How about a rider tucked in low under the windscreen? Stay away from braking zones where they need to sit up to prepare for corner entry. Want to grab a stand-up wheelie shot? No one will be performing any celebratory antics in the middle of a race, so wait until the end.
Although the above three tips may give you a head start of sorts, what they can’t replace is practice and an inevitable amount of trial and error. The first time out may prove to be a rude awakening, but once you get more acquainted with the speed of your subjects and the capabilities of your equipment, it will come together soon enough. Most importantly, have fun!