Car Racing Photography Tips: Preparing for the 2024 Australian F1 Grand Prix

4 April 2022

Grand Prix fever usually hits Australia once a year, but lately, we’ve been starved of this particular spectacle. The good news is, the GP is returning to Australian shores after a 2-year break! If you are planning on spending some time by the track and don’t want to waste this opportunity, here are our tips on how you can capture brilliant car racing photographs.

The right gear makes a big difference

There’s a reason professional car racing photographers, and other sports photographers for that matter, use professional-level camera gear, and it’s not just to look the part. It is almost impossible to capture pleasing car racing photos using your smartphone, so if you are taking your Grand Prix photographs particularly seriously this year, your kit will look something like this:

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Mirrorless camera - Not only does a mirrorless camera feature a large image sensor, resulting in impressive image quality but it has the manual adjustments necessary to master the car racing photo techniques that we will discuss later, as well as compatibility with lenses and other essential accessories.

Top tip: To really give yourself an advantage look for a mirrorless camera with a speedy continuous shooting rate, which is measured in frames per second (FPS).

Telephoto lens - To get you closer to the action, you should mount a telephoto lens on your camera. The focal length and aperture rating of the lens will largely depend on your personal preference as well as budget but we recommend a 300mm lens at the least, with a maximum aperture as fast as you can afford.

Monopod - The monopod is a must-have accessory for sports and car racing photography. While a tripod is great for keeping your camera perfectly still and eliminating camera shake, a monopod provides some protection from shake but also allows you to be mobile and move your camera freely, as is necessary for fast-paced shooting.

Use a rain shield: Whenever we shoot outdoors we run the risk of having to deal with unpredictable weather conditions; this is heightened when we factor in being in Melbourne! To make sure your camera and lens gear are safe and so you can keep taking photos, unperturbed, we recommend using a waterproof cover, such as the AquaTech SSRC sport shield.

Take a closer look at a car racing photography kit

How to make the most of being trackside

With your car racing photography gear by your side, let’s discover what techniques you can use to create a pleasing portfolio of car racing photographs.

Exploit the motion of the cars:

Want to emphasise just how fast these magnificent F1 cars are travelling around the Albert Park track? The best way to show this is to capture just enough blur while retaining many of the important details in your images. For motion photography, start with a shutter speed of about 1/250th and adjust this accordingly; don’t be fearful to use Shutter Priority mode if you want to make things a bit easier.

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Use the panning technique:

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Just as above, panning is a great way to emphasise motion in car racing photography. Panning involves you moving along with the car and firing your shutter as it passes, which will hopefully result in a sharp car and blurred background. There are a few tips to help you improve your success while panning, which are as follows:

  • Pre-focus your lens before the car arrives to save time
  • Use a shutter speed of about 1/200th of a second
  • Pan in a smooth horizontal motion

Freeze the cars as they pass by:

If you just want to capture tack-sharp images of cars as they are whizzing by, the key is to use a very fast shutter speed. We recommend starting at 1/1000th of a second and adjusting this accordingly. Have you tried to use a fast shutter speed before but ended up with dim, underexposed images? The key is to understand how shutter speed works in conjunction with Aperture and ISO, with these three settings being known as the exposure triangle. 

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Opening the aperture of your lens will let in more light but will also alter the depth of field of your image while increasing the ISO of your camera increases its sensitivity to light to allow a faster shutter speed but also introduces more noise in your images. It takes a bit of practice but eventually you will learn how to balance all of these settings to produce great exposures. Here’s some reading to get you started.

Anticipate where the cars will drive:

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If you are not used to taking photos of very fast-moving subjects, you may be in for a shock when you first point your lens at a race car. You tend to have very little time between them appearing to your corner of the track so you can take a photo before they are leaving your site around the next corner. To save you from missing too many shots of your favourite car, we recommend watching a few cars pass by and making note of where on the track they drive. You can then frame this area, pre-focus your camera, and be prepared to fire as soon as the next car appears in your frame.

Top tip: The continuous shooting mode of your camera comes in particularly handy for this technique. With this mode activated, you can hold down your shutter as soon as the car appears in frame, and your camera will take multiple shots in a quick burst. You have every chance of one of the captured photographs being the winning shot!

Take some ambient shots:

While the exhilarating action takes place on the track, you should always spend some time firing off some photos of the other parts that make the race so exciting, so your photographs can tell the full story. Use a wide-angle lens to take some shots of the crowd all dressed up in the gear of their favourite race team, or if you are lucky enough to get a close view, take some photos of the pit crew in action or the cars lined up on the starting grid.

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