Season 1. Blog 1.
Hello and thank you for clicking on this blog, and checking what my blog is all about! I’m a published motorsports / sprint car / dirt track racing photographer, from the heart of Central PA, and I have decided to share some things I have learned along the way with my viewers, race fans, and camera pros and enthusiasts. I get questioned many times at the track, of “How did you get this shot, What settings mean or do what, How can I improve my photography, etc”. What better way to address some helpful tips to some people that are just starting out, have been shooting for a while, or friends that are just curious to what I’m up to on a weekly basis. So welcome. Enough about me. Let’s dive right into the real reason you’re here!
Many photographers, fans, and some teams have asked me about my unique style of motorsports photography(specifically sprint cars photography), and I thought that I would share a few things I do to get the shots people rave about. These are several tips I have learned over the years, and have used daily to help improve - it has never "happened overnight".
Tip #1: Focus Mode - Al Servo(Canon only) / AF-C
This step took me a little to figure out, by practicing with moving subjects, but once it's set - it's perfection. Many ask the question,"How do your wheels show movement, but the car is still?". A combination of many different settings allow this kind of movement in a photograph, but with Al Servo being set, it is probably the number 1 best tip for showing movement in a photo. This is a mode you can set on your DSLR or mirrorless style camera pretty easily. Al Servo is a term, only used by Canon cameras, and AF-C (Auto Focus - Continuous) is used by Nikon & Sony. You will need to go into various different menus of your DSLR's to actually ensure this setting is selected.
Tip #2: Auto Focus & High Speed Continuous vs. Single Shot Drive Modes
This goes hand in hand with Al Servo/AF-C mode. You always want to have the auto focus set on your lens. I use all autofocus modes on all of my lenses(if they have the option, some do not), to help ensure I'm more accurate when shooting fast moving subjects. Auto Focus helps in keeping the motion blur from handheld shooting instead of using a monopod or a tripod. I have never used a monopod or tripod so I try to be extra steady when shooting motion, due to the slower shutter speeds to get the desired motion blur background that everyone loves. Most lenses have image stabilization built in. I highly suggest turning it on to help lower the chance of the "not so wanted camera shake". High Speed Continuous drive mode allows you to take more than one shot in a row when holding down the shutter release button to take more shots of your subject. Single shot drive mode allows one shot, and then buffering to your card. For motorsports or any type of motion subjects, you will want to have the high speed continuous drive mode turned on and selected in the menu area.
Tip #3: Shoot in RAW format
I tend to see photographers at the track and they will either shoot JPEG, RAW, or write both formats to their cards (which tends to be overkill in most situations). Most DSLRS have the ability to shoot in camera RAW - however, unless you have Adobe Photoshop, or Adobe Lightroom (see image below) it's almost pointless... A normal computer imaging program will not be able to open RAW formats, but that's how I edit my photos. RAW format allows the photographer to get the best quality out of their images, if there would have been a overexposure, or an underexposure issue when you took the original image. I first found out about RAW formatting when I was shooting weddings and slowly started using it across the board as the only format I shoot in, not for just the editing capabilities, but the end result in mind. If I have any doubts about "not capturing a fantastic shot", I can always try to get the best out of it, when in the final stages of image processing.
Tip #4: Get Closer To Your Subject
Everyone asks me, if I crop my photos, and most times, no, I do not. I would rather crop while taking the photo, rather than in post production - making more work for myself. Cropping and getting closer to your subjects allow myself, as a photographer, more creative freedom, as using "blurred out" effects, paired with my settings of course, to frame the point of interest I'm trying to have your eye, as the viewer, directed to right off the bat. I prefer to get close up to my subject, before taking the photos, because you can only do so much in post production, if you don't take the greatest image to start with. Plus, not to mention, cropping in post, just removes pixels that you may later on want, when you go to print said image, making the image now smaller and less pixels than you may have wanted, possibly pixelating the printed product. (See image below)The closer I am to Freddie, the more framing I have of his face, and can make the frame of the chassis blur from the depth of field I wanted, using a wide open aperture, such as f2.8 in my camera settings, paired with cropping in camera.
Tip 5: Practice, Practice, PRACTICE
I cannot tell you how many times I've take a photo and said, "Wow, this actually sucks." I'm a very hard critic on my shots, because I want perfection in camera, as should any photographer. I want to get creative and know that I will capture great images, both at the track and away from the track - with that, I know I have to practice. It doesn't matter what your subject is - could be still life, could be action - get out and practice! Any chance you can get to work with settings inside your camera, and not shoot on AUTO modes, will help you tremendously improve your photography for motorsports and other areas as well. I can promise you that! I live by the saying "The first 10,000 shots are your worst, before you get a "good image". Now, don't get me wrong, you may get a few good ones in that 10,000 shot period, but most times than not - you will wish you would have practiced more to help improve. Just like racing, you need to get seat time, before you will win races (there are exceptions, but most times this holds true).
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