Westminster fountain at sunset

by Jorge Córdoba

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Friend of mine goes on track days quite a bit, and since I no longer own a race-worthy car, I was thinking of tagging a long to get some fun shots of the action.

The track has a few good lookout spots, but you are probably 300-400 meters away from the action. What type of lens would you recommend for a D90 in order to get some good up close shots of the cars in motion, as well as just the overall race?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 7 down vote accepted

300-400 meters is too far away for decent pictures -- you'd need something like a 1200mm lens to get about a 10-meter field of view (which is a lot if you're shooting cars anything but side-on). And acquiring and tracking a moving target with a lens that long is nothing like fun, not to mention the difficulty involved in getting saturated colours at that distance (you'd need to do some post-processing -- haze will suck more life out of the colours than you can imagine if you're not in the desert).

You should be able to get a pass that lets you get into the marshals' area if you ask ahead of time and make it clear that you're there for photography rather than entertainment. That will let you use lenses that are considerably smaller, lighter and more agile. You'll probably still find a good use for a 70/80-200mm zoom (perhaps with a teleconverter) if you're working the corners or hills. The faster, the better if you're shooting cars head-on or tail-on -- for passing shots, you can rely on panning to make the car(s) sharp and the background blurred, but when the cars are moving almost directly toward or away from you, you'll need to rely on a limited depth of field. If you don't own such a lens, you can rent.

You will probably find less use for a wider lens except at the start and finish, but bringing a normal zoom (moderate wide to moderate tele) will cover that if you need it. If you're shooting static vehicles, something on the wide side (16-18mm) will usually add more visual interest than a normal or tele length. Again, whatever you have for a normal zoom will probably cover the territory at the wide end.

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Asking the organizer goes a long way. I got to within 20 meters at a local drift competition just by talking to the organizer. Depending on their commitment to the hired photographers, they may be more helpful than you expect. –  Vian Esterhuizen Dec 6 '11 at 3:33
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and knowing a contestant can help a lot. Let them introduce you as their "official team photographer" for example and a lot of previously closed gates and doors will suddenly open themselves for you. –  jwenting Dec 6 '11 at 9:24

Bring a monopod or a tripod with a good panning head.

I was an SCCA corner marshall aka flagger for about a decade. I spent a lot of time talking with the pro photographers who shot race cars for a living. They all had tripods but one, he had a monopod. I was talking to him about it. I asked why he didn't use a tripod. He smiled and said "I get the shots they don't get."

And if you get some flaggers doing their thing, especially when they play in traffic. Hunt them down afterwards, just look for the party, and give them your card and GIVE them shots that they star in. Sell your stuff to drivers, make friends with the flaggers.

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