Vivid Light Photography, digital and film photography online

How I Photograph Cars
Dusk at Laguna Seca

Unlike the last installment, this image is what came directly off the camera's CompactFlash card. A lot of photographers think sports photography is all about using big ticket, fast lenses and expensive cameras, but this shot was created at dusk at an ISO setting of 800 using a moderately priced digital SLR, the Canon EOS 20D. Sure, the Canon EF 500 f/4.0 lens cost $5500, so (I hear you saying it now) "It ought'a take good pictures." Well, it don't always work that way.

The secret of making great photographs as I've often told my students is simply "knowing where to point the camera," and that's harder than it sounds - especially after schlepping a nine pound lens, monopod, and camera body around California's Laguna Seca track all day. 

So let me tell you a secret, I don't own the lens. I just borrowed it for a short time from Audi's team photographer, the incredibly talented Regis Lefebure

You can always rent expensive lenses like the 500 f/4 that, when purchased, cost more than a new Chinese car. Out where I live, this lens rents for $50 a day. Is it worth it? You bet it is. And don't even think about making racing photograph with any big lens without a monopod. The lightweight EOS 20D body was a less than perfect counterbalance to this beast; my EOS 1D Mark II would have been a better fit, but where was it? It was safely tucked away in my equipment closet back in Colorado.

The first step in making any kind of racing photograph on a road course like Mazda speedway is knowing where you should be located. If you've never been to a track before you can, and should talk to some of the other photogs. But also walk around during practice and, well, practice yourself. Decide where you want to be and what lens you might use. Near the top of a turn called "The Corkscrew" is a good place to shoot at Laguna Seca. The cars have to break hard for a sharp left turn then go through a series of twisty turns (hence its name) gradually picking up speed as they do. The corkscrew, as at many other tracks has a protective fence barrier with "holes" in the fence you can poke your lens through, so your final choice of location may be limited and since only two or three photographers can fit a particular hole, don't hog the space. Let others get some shots too.

As night began to fall, I gradually began inching up my ISO speed from it's daytime starting point of 200 at the start of the race to 800 as dusk descended over the track. Noise control on the 20D is superb, almost as good, the buzz is, as the EOS IDs Mark II. I follow the car, panning with the motion and instead of firing off multi-frame bursts in continuous mode, keep squeezing the shutter in rapid succession short burst with fewer and, I think, better images. I shoot runway models and racecars in Tv mode and in this case the best I could get was 1/320th at f/9. 

Don't forget your earplugs. No matter how many Janice Joplin concerts you attended as a flower child, nothing will prepare you for the unmuffled sound of a full bore racecar. Earplugs are cheap, so put a couple of sets in each camera bag; that way you can loan a pair to somebody who forgot theirs and as Emeril says "make a friend." 

This image of another LeMans Series prototype sports car was made using the same techniques and settings as that of the race-winning Audi R8 driven by Johnny Herbert and Pierre Kaffer above.

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