Sprint Car Racing

Discussion in 'Sports' started by jenniferk, Oct 7, 2014.

  1. Curious if anyone has previous experience shooting sprint car racing? If so, what gear you've had the most success using?

    Conditions would be a dirt track with large amounts of dust and exhaust fumes during the race. Evening into late night hours under
    stadium lighting. Flash is acceptable to use by the photographer. Race will continue during rain unless track becomes too wet and then
    will be delayed or cancelled. Would be shooting from a pit area and may possibly have use of a elevated 6-8ft high platform.

    Wondering if this type of shooting it might be best to have a designated camera and lens that is up to withstanding high levels muck and
  2. I was just shooting at one of those events a week or so ago, Jennifer. My first time. I had some special access to a (rather dangerous, as it turns out) spot on the outside rail of a turn where I was allowed to shoot during hot laps and some some time trials. I am still cleaning the clay out of my teeth, to say nothing of my camera gear.

    We were expecting a clear, dry day/evening, so I didn't bring the rain-oriented cover I'd normally use in bad weather (I like the Think Tank Hydrophobia). I think next time, I might.

    I was using a full-size body with a 70-200/2.8 lens for shots on the track, and a fairly powerful hot-shoe flash once the light was going. By far the best stuff was the action while there was still some daylight, obviously.

    I was at the event with one of the sponsors (a custom race trailer dealer), so my purpose there was as much to document the scene and their presence there as it was the race itself. If you've got three minutes, here's a quick video I put together from what I was shooting that day. Used a combination of Nikon D600 and D3200 for stills and video on the ground, and a GoPro and Sony NEX-7 mounted on drones for some overhead stuff.


    In that video, stuff involving the track gets more involved after the first 60 seconds or so. But the whole thing isn't very long. Here's a still at ISO 800, 1/500th, and a 200mm lens opened up to f/5:

    There were several other photographers there - some obvious working pros. None of them were doing anything in particular to protect their gear, but there were all using quality DSLR bodies that have fairly good dust/moisture sealing, and good lenses that won't - unlike the cheaper consumer stuff - suck in all kinds of dust.

    It can really help to use a body with a sensor that's clean at higher ISOs. Modern full-frame sensors can do some pretty amazing things at ISO 3200. So with some good panning technique, a touch of flash if you must, and some care in post production, you can get good results.

    One thing to know about using a flash: if there's a lot of dust or flying mud (and there will be!) the flash will end up working a lot like your car headlights in the snow: you're going to get some fine photographs of well-lit (possibly over-exposed) blobs of out-of-focus dirt hanging in the air in between you and your subject matter.

    So you have to learn to time your shots on approaching/lead cars before that lap's airborne crud is kicked back up. Some positions along the track are better than others in terms of where that dirt goes in relation to you.

    I'm no regular motor sports shooter, but it only took me one visit to a sprint car track, and looking things over in post, to know that I'd tackle some things a little differently were I to do another. Be prepared to clean you sensor when you're there, if you expect to be changing out lenses a lot. Bring the things you'll need to safely blow/wipe your lens clean. I laughed watching me and four other guys shoot approaching cars, then duck our heads as we were pelted with thumb-sized blobs of mud, and then all of us simultaneously tilted out lenses up to check the front elements for something worth taking the time to clean. On every lap.

    The only thing louder, faster, and more dangerous is, I think, wedding photography.
  3. Here's a shot after the sun was down. Had the D600 cranked to ISO 3200 so I'd have some latitude with the aperture - things are moving quickly, and you'll need some depth of field to have any semblance of focus on these cars, in the dark, going as fast as they are. I kept the shutter open to 1/60th so make sure that the ambient light created at least some motion blur on the background (as I tracked the car) and on the tires as they spun. Then added the light from a Nikon SB-900, which can throw a fair bit of flash power for as small as it is.

    At those higher ISOs, and with all the dust in the air, and glare from the overhead mercury-vapor stadium style lights, you ARE going to need to do some work in post to bring up contrast.
  4. Thanks Matt, your detailed response is very helpful! Did you find the 70-200 lens useful for most of the races! Hoping to
    keep just one lens on.
    Did you use something along the line of an sb800?
  5. From where I was standing track-side, Jennifer, yes - the 70-200 was on the whole time. The other pros I was was watching were using the same flavor of lens (Canon equivalent or otherwise - saw a mix of bodies). On an FX-style body, that was a good choice, apparently.

    When I was shooting some video, I opted for a wider lens (a fast 35mm prime in some cases, or a 16-35/4 ultrawide zoom sometimes) for more context in the shot. But if my purpose was to try to catch the nitty-gritty of a single car passing on the track, the 70-200 was a good fit. I was cropping some, later, but that's the joy of a 24mp sensor - lots of wiggle room while retaining workable resolution.

    I had an SB-800 in the bag, but used its replacement, the SB-900 (now the SB-910) because the 900's reflector has a little more throw to it. I think the 800 would have probably achieved the same results - but bring batteries. You're going to be using the flash at fairly high power levels. Be sure not to overheat by firing too steadily for too long. Chimp your shots a lot - it can take a while to balance out the ambient/flash exposure while maintaining the blur/freeze ratio you're after. Definitely a very specific sport, photographically, and something it will take you a while to perfect, when it comes to a shooting recipe for each lighting condition.
  6. It's a very small world Matt, are you happening to go to the Championship this weekend, it is the last race of the season!

    Just watched your video, very nice work!
  7. It is a small world! But alas, it's big enough that I've got other projects that will tie up that date (it's harvest time - doing some more shooting of some big farm equipment). Hope you've got good weather and a safe stint at the track - good luck!

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