I will be attending a rally driving event but the weather forecast is for rain and cloud. How can I ensure I stand a good chance of getting some good action shots under these conditions? I have a Nikon D3100 with 18-55mm kit lens, 55-300mm telephoto and the 35mm 1.8 prime lens.

My intial thoughts were to use the long telephoto lens in shutter-priority mode and let the camera choose the aperture/ISO, but with limited aperture at max zoom, I'm concerned about noise/grain in the images. I have an SB-400 flash - will this make a difference?

The prime lens will obviously let in more light, meaning I can keep the ISO lower, but I won't be able to get close to the subject so may have to crop the images heavily.

Any other suggestions or tips?


Unfortunately, both your zoom lenses are quite slow. By contrast, a mate of mine uses a 400 f/4 or 200 f/2 for his action photography. You are right about the prime lens. It would perform much better, but of course you would need to crop later. If you're up-close however, it may be an option.

With your current setup, I'd say to use the speed priority as you mentioned. Depending how close you are to the action and relative speed of the cars, use a shutter speed of around 1/320th if they are quite far, or 1/800th-1/1600th if you are close up. Use auto-ISO and let the camera choose the aperture and ISO.

In open conditions like this, a flash will be no good to you whatsoever, as the flash range just won't be enough. This will be compounded by the camera being 'tricked' into thinking whatever it is taking a photo of will be lit up by the flash and will result in even more under-exposure.

Make sure you shoot in RAW (this is the only reason I don't suggest the built in 'sports' mode - I think that will only capture in JPG?). RAW means that in post, you'll have better chances of suppressing any noise and balancing grain with sharpening.

Also make sure you use continuous servo AF. I think the D3100 also has some kind of 'predictive' AF - so read up in your manual on using that. But the continuous AF will ensure it keeps the car in focus as you're panning, so helping get a better photo.

Finally, use spot metering so your camera knows to expose only for the subject under your AF point. This will help ensure you get the right exposure for the car - not the overall gloominess of the skies!

Good luck!

  • If I shoot in RAW in continuous shooting mode, is there a risk the camera's buffer might fill up too quickly and not keep up with the action? Would I best to shoot in JPG so that the camera can write the images to the card quickly?
    – Jazza
    Apr 30 '12 at 22:32
  • RAW pics will fill the buffer eventually for sure - read your instruction manual for exactly how many it can hold. But I would still recommend RAW anyway so you can work with the photos afterwards. Learn not to press the shutter until just the decisive moment so you don't get a full buffer. A fast card will help with this though - faster the better.
    – Mike
    Apr 30 '12 at 23:00

If you can't get close to your subject, don't even think about the flash.

I'd use the 55-300 wide open and at 300mm, which is f/5.6. Set the ISO to 1600 and see what kind of shutter speed you get. The more, the better. Especially if you're cropping action shots, you can't have too fast of a shutter speed. :)

Time your shots. During every activity, there are moments of less movement. I don't shoot rally racing, but I imagine there's a slight slowdown in corners.

Or take the opposite approach, and pan when the cars are travelling perpendicular to you. Pan with the speed of the car, and the background will help convey a sense of speed. Don't expect to nail every pan shot, especially without lots of practice.

If you're going to crop anyway, put the subject dead center. You can crop later, and the center of the lens is generally the sharpest. Might as well through out pixels near the edge instead of pixels near the center.


Related to panning. PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. I tried this at a airplane show, and it looks easier then it does. Maybe a tripod that gives good support, it can give you extra horizontal support. But you need to try, go outside and try it on some cars.... put it in burst mode and keep following the subject (even after you pressed the shutter!).

Further bump up the ISO, and select (shutter prio). Find some photos online related to racing and see what settings they came up with. I fully agree with the above, don't freeze the picture (its personal) but i think it terrible, the subtle blur of movement is what makes the picture (at least for me).

Checkout dpreview.com (forum).


First: panning. Second, you want to show some blur in the clods of dirt being thrown up by the wheels and other parts as the cars blast past.

You can use flash, a couple of speedlights and a wireless trigger can do a great job of filling in the light you need.

Racing photos are better when you get as close as you can. I doubt that you can safely get close enough to use the 35mm -- getting run over by a race car can really ruin your day. You may find that 300mm is more than you need.

Find out when the cars "pre-run" that area, and go practice. Setup lights, change settings, see how it works.

  • I don't have multiple speedlights, or a wireless trigger, so this isn't really that helpful.
    – Jazza
    Apr 30 '12 at 22:30

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