Shooting through the fence…

Without the privelidged access that the media photographers have, you sometimes find yourself struggling with catch fencing. The MSV circuits are not too bad for it, but there’s still the odd stretch. I was Oulton Park recently, and the entry to Lodge is a good spot, with the view back to Druids, but there is a fence. Very helpfully, MSV have put a grand stand in here, and it’s high enough to see over the fence. But, it does change your perspective – it’s nice to be as level as possible with the cars on track. So, here’s how to cope with the fence.

  1. Get as close as possible to the fence – not so your hitting it with the lens, but not far off.
  2. Use a long lens, so that the subject is not too close when you’re shooting. Basically, your maximising the distance at the other side of the fence, whilst minimising it at your side.
  3. Open up the aperture as wide as you can, ideally F4.0 or F2.8 if you have the lens.


(Taken on iPhone to illustrate)

You’ll be surprised how little influence the fence has. Panning a shot might not be ideal, you tend to loose a bit of clarity. Still, it might be fine, somewhere like Paddock Hill at Brands Hatch, where little else is possible. Here, I kept the camera still and looked to freeze the action:

Sports racer at Lodge Corner
Sports racer at Lodge Corner

Canon 80D, 300 mm, F4.0, 1/2000 s, ISO-400

Having set up to close the fence, the usual considerations take over. Keeping dry! You’ll notice the camo cover fitted. The wet weather meant it was quite dark, so to get a decent shutter speed I’m up at ISO 400. Autofocus on the 80D is stellar, but if you struggle in the dark, just pre-focus on the spot you know the car will arrive at and shoot accordingly. With one of my past cameras and an F5.6 lens I’d have had to do that on this day. Out of focus car in background gives the shot some depth. This was taken in portrait orientation and then cropped down to more of a square – works better on screen than a full portrait.

First day with the Canon 80D…

Well, I went over to Oulton Park to try out the new Canon 80D. I’m not sure I’ve ever been there on such a wet day before, which did limit what I could do. Still, with the camo cover fitted, I did manage to grab a few shots of the 750 motor club meeting.

I’d installed the partner app on my iPad, to make use of the file view and transfer whilst at the track. Whilst this isn’t quite seamless, I soon got into the routine of clicks to get it working (enable wifi on camera via Q / touchscreen – switch iPad to Canon wifi – launch app – wait for connection – view images). It did mean whilst sheltering in the car I could review, delete or save each image on the big screen. This was better than using the SD card reader as it lends itself to sorting individual images and deleting from the card, the reader is good for a bulk transfer.

The camera handles much like the 60D I had previously. Same size, similar weight, similar layout. I like having lots of buttons to access particular functions. I do tend to shoot in a few particular ways, so I don’t make loads of changes. I’ve got the auto ISO set to max 400, so it chooses between 100 and 400 itself. However, if you want to push the shutter speed, you still need to select for yourself.

The touch screen, in combination with the Q button allows you to access functions more easily than using the paddle, but you still need to use the paddle to adjust some functions once you’ve selected them.

Obviously in terms of picture quality, it is awesome and having higher resolution is great!

I’ll come back to this topic when I get a better day to play with it, maybe the coming weekend?

Very wet Island Bend at Oulton Park
Very wet Island Bend at Oulton Park
Canon 80D, 300 mm, F4.0, 1/500 s, ISO-320

This was coming out of Island Bend. Unusually, the meeting was on the Island Circuit, which misses off the Shell loop. I liked the layout, sorter lap means more laps, and you can get a great view of Island. This was in the heavy rain, with the rain cover over the lens and body I ventured out for a few minutes at a time! The hairpin is tight enough to get other cars in the background, which adds to the picture I think. The 1/500 s shutter speed was enough to freeze the movement of the splashing water, enabled by selecting a higher ISO of 320. The aperture, F4.0, is wide open on this lens, so I couldn’t go any faster. It’s wide enough to throw the other cars a little out of focus.

Why am I blogging about Motorsport photography? 

I have spent years photographing the action at numerous tracks, always for the love of it, and always from the spectator’s enclosures. As soon as I got my first car at 18, I bought a 35mm SLR and a couple of inexpensive lenses and spent weekends photographing rallies all over the country. I read all sorts of photography books and went out at the weekend to try the techniques. It was a good way to learn, and the results got better as I understood the effects of aperture, shutter speed and lighting. Back then, I never quite knew what I’d captured until the prints came back from the photo lab. I’ll include a few rally pictures, though I don’t have records of shutter speeds and aperture settings. After a few years in remote forests, I started to take interest in the more civilised circuit racing scene.

The change from film to digital has revolutionised photography. With the popularity of digital SLR cameras has come a new generation of Motorsport photographers finding their way. Over the last few years, I’ve found people looking over my shoulder at the LCD screen and asking how I get those pictures. I’ve helped them to change a few settings on their own cameras and get better results. This has been the inspiration to write this blog, to guide new enthusiasts through the complexities and achieve even better results. 

I’ll also include notes on where and when to go to get the best chance of taking great photos. If you’re visiting a track for the first time, you’ll have a head start in finding a good spot to shoot from.   

I hope you enjoy the blog and take better pictures as a result of reading it!


Sony  A450, 200 mm, F3.5′ 1/400 s, ISO-200

This shot was taken during practice at the Monaco Grand Prix. We got practice tickets for Tabac and Casino Square. This was FP2, having spend FP1 at Tabac. It was a bit of a dull day, with the odd shower passing through, hence struggling for shutter speed and needing to up the ISO setting on the camera to 200. The lens was an aging Tokina 70-200 mm Pro spec lens that would have been built for a Minolta (Sony bought Minolta and use their mount, good source of lenses). As you would expect, F1 cars are pretty quick through here, so not that many shots were successful, it was tricky getting composition, and you can see even with the fast shutter speed that the scenery is slightly blurred from panning. It was also tricky because I couldn’t move about, you have a seat and are expected to stay sat in it – no standing up to give yourself more freedom to shoot. Anyway, this isn’t a bad shot of Jenson Button in the McLaren. 

Why I love Cadwell Park…

We have lots of great circuits in the UK. The really famous, historic ones, like Silverstone and Brands Hatch, get lots of attention. What about the smaller ones, the ones that are a bit off the beaten track?

Cadwell is one of the best in this latter category. Motor Sport Vision took it over, and have tweaked track and facilities each year, without getting carried away. I could talk about the cafe, toilets, access to the paddock, the new bridge, etc. But, the best bit for photographers is that there’s hardly any catch fencing – the photographers arch nemesis at many circuits. So, you get a clear view. You can also get really close in places, so you can get interesting perspectives and you don’t need massive lenses. There are elevation changes too, which lead to interesting angles, much nicer to shoot here than flat and fenced in Silverstone!

Alfa Romeos at Cadwell Park
Alfa Train steams down Park
Canon 60D, 300 mm, F4.0, 1/1250 s, ISO-100.

This shot of the Alfa Romeo 156 was taken from Charlie’s, looking down the dip on Park Straight (it’s not very straight!). The trick here is to keep focus close to the camera and throw the background out of focus with the short depth of field, which results from the wide aperture (F4.0). Timing is everything as the blue car appears into the pre-composed scene. I’ve tightened up the composition with a crop to square proportions, which works well on screen. Patience is needed here to let the race develop, and the spacing of the cars give the composition you want. All close together looses the depth that is achieved here.

I will, no doubt, share more Cadwell pictures.

From the fans perspective…

My plan for this blog is to show you how to get great photos using your digital SLR and without the need for a press pass. Digital cameras have made photography more accessible. Many more fans have a decent camera than when film and development were involved. There are loads of photography books, but little focus on Motorsport specifically. This is what I would like to focus on here.

Shots like the one below come about from a mixture of timing and technique. Club racing is the ideal place to practice, just as aspiring drivers come here to practice, so can aspiring photographers. Once perfected, the techniques can be used at higher profile events such as Le Mans and Formula 1.

Mazda MX5 Oversteer
Cheap Thrills in MX5 Racing
Canon 60D, 300 mm, F/5, 1/200 s, ISO-100

Cheap is probably somewhat unkind, as all racing is costly, but relatively speaking, club races such as the MX5 championship provide an affordable entry into Motorsport for many drivers. As you,can see, lively rear drive sports cars can be a thrill-a-minute too, as car control is developed!

At this point on the circuit at Cadwell you are close to the actions, so a 300 mm lens is plenty. I was following the cars as they crested the hill, and shooting 3/4 front panned shots across the track. Good panning involves following the car a little before and after, and in this case, he ran a little wide over the brow. Over correcting off the grass brought the tail around – nicely controlled and on his way on this occasion! As I was panning shots, I had the Canon set to Tv mode (shutter priority) with the shutter speed set at 1/200 s to give some blurring, but not wildly so. I just got away with the shutter speed shooting this with the MX5 coming towards me, and a nice effect with the dirt flying.

The Canon 80D has arrived…

I’ll be giving the Canon 80D a full Motorsport photography work out on Saturday, but here are a few first thoughts having unpacked it today.

So, this is an upgrade from the 60D for me. I skipped the 70. Why? Well, usability upgrades looked OK, but with no more pixels, I was never convinced it offered enough. As soon as the 80 was announced, with 30% more pixels, greatly improved autofocus and all the nice usability of the 70, I placed my preorder.

I’ve had a quick play in the house, just to get some basic familiarisation with the setup. A few buttons have moved, time will tell if I like the new positions. Big difference – touch screen. In an Apple world, the lack of touch was feeling archaic. I’m pleased to report it works really well too. The new autofocus is a big improvement on the 60. You can choose zones of sensors, leave it to its own judgement, or pick an individual sensor – with so many to choose from, this is going to be great for a bit of creativity at the track.

Canon 80D
Test shot of Valentino Rossi

iPad Air!

Not much more to say here, I shall return with photos and thoughts after a day shooting at the race track…