Sebring Car Races

Discussion in 'Sports' started by Eric W, Feb 24, 2019.

  1. I am heading to the 12 Hours of Sebring Car Race next month and looking forward to filling up the memory cards. I currently have a Nikon 7200 and plan on using the 16-85/3.5-5.6 and the kit lens 55-300. I am wondering if I should rent a 70-200/2.8 especially for the night portion of the race or should I consider renting a longer telephoto?

    Any other suggestions? I am going to need to practice my panning between now and the race.
  2. I'm old fashioned and many might disagree with this, but I'd suggest buying the Nikon 85mm F/1.8 lens. Sharp, fast--what's not to like? Fast primes are great for racing. If the 85 is too pricey for your comfort, if you don't have the 50mm f/1.8, you really should get one--that IMHO is an indispensable lens. Though, as noted above, I'm old fashioned. :)
    Eric W likes this.
  3. I have been trying to arrange to get to this race for the past two years with no success yet. So I was hoping you would get some good responses from someone who has been there. For the few race tracks I am familiar with, your xx-300 zoom would be good for panning on your DX body and I think it should be ok at Sebring. I have watched races on TV to try to get an idea where to shoot from but it is difficult to tell. I am not sure If the 70-200/2.8 would be long enough. It certainly would get you an additional 2 stops less of ISO which would help with "grain" in the night shots. Also the f2.8 zoom is vastly sharper than your zoom. If you chose to rent it you could always add a 1.4x or even 2x for probably not too much more.

    My favourite shots are taking head on images of cars going into corners or coming out, but again not sure how Sebring is for this. For the most part this sort of shot requires at least 400mm on DX. I think overall I would rent the 70-200/2.8 with 2x, that way you do still have a superfast lens that will get you a shot in a pinch, or be able to go long if there is enough light. The 70-200/2.8 will AF a bit slower with the 2x but resolution will still beat your current zoom. You could try to check AF speed of the combo at the store before you rent it.

    You have paddock shots covered with your shorter zoom, a flash, if you have one available could help out here.

    Generally you can never have too much length at a race track. Unfortunately the first trip to a track that you do not know. is a huge learning experience that you put towards your next visit. Take the time to scour the whole track for shooting positions, do lots of experimenting, and take notes too. That way you will learn exactly what lens you need next time and also where to shoot from to waste as little time as possible. Though with this race time is not a big problem!

    My camera always worked best with centre single point continuous AF for panning so I would "grab" the car to start the focus procedure and keep my point on the car as best as possible and then start a burst as it gets closer to my ideal shot. This way the focus would adjust as it comes by me, once past of course the AF will anticipate incorrectly since the car starts moving farther away as it passes, and the shots will go out of focus. There should be some samples in my portfolio if you want to check them out.

    Have lots of fun and please be sure to let us know how you make out.
    Last edited: Feb 25, 2019
    Eric W likes this.
  4. More on panning. You will have to experiment for best settings individually for daytime and nighttime. If you want blurry "artistic" shots you need shutter speeds below 1/125, down to like 1/30. For sharp images with some blur in the wheels you need something between 1/125 and 1/500 depending on the speed of the car. My typical settings in full sun for blurry wheels I use ISO 100, 1/250, and f10. The deeper depth of field at f10 also helps if the focus is off slightly. Keep your motion as smooth as possible only rotating at the waist. I used to make the mistake of panning with a monopod and finally realized it was throwing off the smooth pivot, so go handheld unless shooting with a really huge lens. Yes the f2.8 zoom will get heavy. I finally switched to an f4 for this reason.

    The first mistake when I shot these cars in 1999, was using autoexposure for oncoming cars. Even in the day the headlights caused serious underexposure. I used film then so the week-end was almost a complete loss. Live and learn. With digital you won't make this mistake, but if you are wondering why your images are getting underexposed, this may be the cause. This would also be my concern for your night shots if there are some bright track lights lurking in your backgrounds. Wow, this will be my 21st year of shooting this series, ALMS, and now Sportcar, at Mosport.
    Eric W likes this.
  5. Thanks for the help, and hopefully you have giving me a little head start on taking these photos. I was wondering about the monopod, although I might try with a tripod if the situation permits. All my gear will be in the car and should be accessible during the race.

    I did notice your portfolio earlier from researching old topics. I especially like your Superbike shots and got me thinking about Daytona 200 but unfortunately the 200 hundred is on the same day.
  6. Hi Eric. How did you make out at Sebring? Hopefully you caught the WEC under good weather conditions, I guess it pretty much rained during the 12 hours? Would love to here your experience and see some shots.
  7. Just got back from shooting a lacrosse game today with a monopod.
    I found that using a monopod difficult for tracking moving subjects over a wide arc of movement. It was MUCH easier to track handheld. Beyond a certain amount of horizontal panning, maybe 30 degrees, I have to rotate my body around the monopod, or lift and move the monopod, both very disruptive to tracking a moving subject. I'm still learning how to effectively use a monopod for sports.

    As for a tripod, I found that tracking moving subjects was easier with a gimbal head. Even the inexpensive Chinese gimbals are much better than trying to use a ball or pan head. I have not tried to use a gimbal head over a large horizontal arc of movement, so I don't know how easy or difficult it is.
  8. I unfortunately did not attend the WEC races, this was a 1 day event for me this year, and I will not make that mistake again. I had a great time at the races, but it was a more social than photography. A friend of mine has a couple of nice set ups which are not in the most photogenic spots. The main camp was just before the breaking zone into Turn 1. I tried early on to get some panning shots there but was unsuccessful as they were near top speed when going by. I did take some high speed shots at 1/750 or faster, but those shots were boring. The second tailgating spot was between Turn 14 and Turn 15 which was better action but the could not get high enough to avoid the fence. There was a spot just after Turn 15 with no high fence or RV's where I had some success (for me).

    I did walk to Turn 17 and then Turn 7. Where I was on Turn 17 was great viewing but to far for photo's. I had my most success at Turn 7 which is a hairpin turn. For most of the time I was there, the race was under caution. Of the series of shots on a car, one shot would be sharp. I was panning around 1/90th or 1/180th of second while panning.

    Yes the rain was a disappointment which limited how far I was willing to walk from tailgating spots. I am recovery from foot surgery and the amount of walking I did was still to much. So the threat of rain keeping me at those tailgating spots probably was not a bad thing. I am disappointed that I did walk the starting grid because of the rain. I did walk the paddocks early in the day, but most of the cars were out on the track, but I did get lucky to see them working on the Corvettes. I need to be there on Friday to walk the paddocks when they are full of cars.

    I am already thinking how to improve and get more variety of shots. Most of the photo's I took were of single cars, so I need to concentrate a little more of showing multiple cars.

    View attachment sebring-9212.jpg
  9. That is a nice shot. About the right amount of blur. I am very surprised and excited that you found a part of the track with very simple background/foreground to isolate the car. I rarely get good multiple vehicle shots..pretty hard to get nice ones. That is a good challenge to set for yourself. I have a handful of great ones with superbikes but rarely get multiple cars. Would love to get some with panning, but that is crazy tough. Nice to hear there are indeed a few places to shoot over the fence. Always wondered since it seemed so flat. I hope to be their next year and will check out the spots that you mention. Medical reasons stopped me this year too. Take it easy and recover well.
    Eric W likes this.
  10. The suitable lens will depend on how close you get to the cars. These were shot with a 70-200 f4
  11. I use a set of Fuji X-E1's (XC 16-50 & XC 50-210 lenses) for a lot of road racing thru out the year, both automobile & go-karting. The X-e's are used in manual mode to keep the point of focus while I S L O W L Y press the shutter release (during a pan) as the vehicle comes to the point of focus. If the speeds are 1/250 or 1/500, the subject will be sharp and the background slightly out of focus and many times, with "motion" blurring.
    I have attempted to put a Minolta 250mm lenes on the camera, but find the results iffy at best, better to stick to the 210 & weasel the viewing spot.
    If you are a Sports Car / Gran Prix freak like me, consider honing you skills thru out the year on various SCCA, SOVREN or other vintage car races. Aloha, Bill 2k18-Nats 2013 Port-DSCF0018  11x14 bmx.JPG
  12. I've been an amateur racer for decades and have both run and shot many tracks in the US & Canada. I'd strongly suggest that you study the track map [it's not clear but "the track map" is a hot link to the map on the Sebring website] to identify the spots best for the kinds of pictures you plan to take, remembering that they race clockwise. Sebring offers many spots from which to shoot pics of many kinds, but the track has peculiarities that profoundly affect the gear you want to use for a given shot. I rarely take anything over 200 with me to a race any more - I find the most interesting pictures in places where the speeds are lower and the action more intense.

    I don't find many stories to tell on long straights, which at Sebring are also very difficult to shoot well in bright daylight because of heat haze. And the sun is so bright that you're stuck with too fast a shutter at too small an aperture without serious optical and/or electronic filtration. If you're patient, creative, quick, sharp, and lucky, you can use that "problem" to great effect for a few unusual images - but you won't fill memory cards that way. At night, the straights harbor images that scream motion and speed, and I prefer to shoot them from a position just past the turn at the end of a straight (e.g. north of 3 and west of 17), because the cars are slowing and composition can be more precise. If you prefer to just shoot off a rapid sequence and pick the one(s) you like afterward, you'll get finer variation among the series this way with more likelihood of finding a few perfect frames.

    I stopped taking traditional panned shots year ago because everybody takes the "classic car in focus over a blurred background" shot and it's a bit of a cliché unless the car and/or driver has some special allure. When I do pan an auto race, I hand hold. If the cars are passing too fast where you are, move to a slower location - a shorter straight after a series of turns is a much better choice for panned shots than the end of a long one.

    As I recall, Sebring offers good positions open to you and close enough to get some great pictures, e.g. of cars coming under the bridge between turns 5 and 6 with relatively short lenses - your 55-300 (which I assume is the 4.5-5.6) should be fine. The track is a bit slower there than coming out of the bridge between 6 and 7, so each offers a slightly different set of photo ops. The one advantage I find to fast lenses at Sebring is that there's almost always something cluttering the background from many otherwise great positions for photography, and you can use the added bokeh to turn clutter into canvas. The trade off is that you have to be more precise in focus on the subject. A wider aperture may let you capture a bit more detail in the cars themselves in low light, but (at least for me) night shots at Sebring are more about light, dark, and the story you're portraying (e.g. passing, nose-to-tail, David and Goliath etc) than they are about fine vehicular detail.

    I love to tell a story with each racing picture, and here's a Sebring tale. This is one of the 6 original alloy bodied Sebring Sprites (there were about a hundred "Sebring Sprites" made altogether, but only 6 had alloy bodies). This one was first driven either by by Stirling Moss or his sister Pat (records are not clear) in the 4 hour race there in 1961, and Paul Hawkins and Cyril Simpson drove it in the 12 hour race that year. I shot it at the SVRA Grand Bahama Vintage Grand Prix in '86 or '87 with then-owner Charlie Shields behind the wheel. Charlie had restored it faithfully and it was a killer - he was the small bore class champ in it several years running. Interestingly, these cars were never officially called Sebring Sprites because manufacturers were prohibited by their racing contracts from using a track name in a car name, and the official manufacturer was John Sprinzel Ltd.

    Charles_Webster likes this.
  13. I grew up in Florida and went to the 12hr race every year. In those days you saw the greats-- Sterling Moss, Phil Hill, even Juan Manual Fangio. My favorite cars in those days were the Birdcage Maseratis, For us, a big event was the morning before the race when the Ferrari mechanics drove the race cars through town from their garage to the track. I love the picture of the Sprite. That was my first car and I still love it. I believe it coast $1000.00 new at the time. I found one recently and asked the owner if I could sit in it, but no way could I fit in it these days.
    Charles_Webster likes this.
  14. A sort of "next year in Jeusalem" reviving of an old thread.
  15. Really missing all the various racing from around the world this spring. I see Mosport has postponed their first event in May, just hoping they can return to their regular schedule by July for my favourite live event of the year, the Mobil 1 Sportscar Grand Prix in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. This will hopefully be my 22 straight "Prototype" race at Mosport. I have been to everyone from the inaugural event in 1999.

    At least here I know that I can physically distance myself at 3 or 4 locations around the track, if required. Of course if the powers that be decide there will be no public gatherings this summer, I will be completely out of luck.



    1999 IMG_8521_1.jpg
    ajkocu and doug_johnson|10 like this.
  16. The drummer in my high school jazz band had a bugeye with a trunk rack. We took his drums and my guitar & amplifier to gigs in and on it, until he saw the light and traded it for a ‘61 Chevy Biscayne coupe after a long year.

    The real Sebring Sprites were a bit more dear than the production ones. With disc brakes, an alloy bonnet, and some serious mods by John Sprinzel et all, each of them was probably worth at least $30k in USD back then if you could buy one (which you could not do). I shot many hundreds of race photos back then on Tri-X and still have albums of prints plus some of the negatives.

    Although I really love open cars, I also loved the early Cooper S minis. So, based on the above experience with a Sprite, I opted for a 1275 Cooper S for my first new car a few years later.


    And I’ve raced 3 more since that one. Here’s the ‘66 Morris 1293 S I ran in SVRA back in the ‘80s. I’m driving it, so I obviously didn’t take this picture. My then 11 year old son did - we were at Summit Point (WV) in this shot.

    Roger G likes this.
  17. sebring-1758.jpg sebring-1704.jpg Sebring-2518.jpg Finally went through my photos from the race this past race in November. Besides the Start/Finish and Turn 7, I was able to go to Turns 3, 4 & 5. I also went back to Turn 7 at dusk to get some brake glow shows. I think I did a little better this year than last.
    ajkocu likes this.
  18. Back in the day many of the Austin Healy and Sprite race cars ended up for sale at a car dealership in West Palm after the race.
  19. Nice to see your shots Eric. I am beginning to worry about losing another season here in Canada.

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