How To Photograph Fast-Moving Cars

You’re walking around busy streets of a big city, trying to get some shots, when you realize that you want to take a picture of a road with cars passing by, because this kind of scenery is the perfect representation of the urban life.

Some cars finally enter your frame, you snap your shot and look at the screen, but all the fast-moving objects are blurred. “Why is that?” you may wonder, thinking that those were not the fastest cars in the world. Somehow photographers at the Formula 1 auto racing manage to take perfectly sharp pictures of racing cars, which drive so fast it may seem that they are flying. How do they do that? In this article you will find some crucial guidelines for you. First of all, let’s imagine that you are at the Formula 1 and you want to take a few pictures, because if you can shoot racing cars, you surely will be able to work with regular ones. When shooting fast-moving objects there are several things to consider.

Shutter speed

First and foremost, if you want to get great action shots, you will need to shoot in shutter speed priority mode (it’s “TV” for Canon and “S” for Nikon) or manual mode. Shutter priority mode allows you to set the shutter speed manually, while aperture and ISO will be chosen automatically. If you feel a little more confident in your knowledge about photography, you can shoot in manual. When it comes to photographing action, the most important setting is shutter speed, because it is the time during which your camera is going to take the picture.

Slower shutter speed will cause fast-moving vehicles to come out blurry in your image, while faster shutter speed is going to freeze the action. In order to shoot a racing car while it’s driving along the track start at 1/500 and then go higher if there is still some motion blur involved. If you decided to switch to manual mode, you will have to adjust aperture and ISO as well, so for shooting racing cars at the Formula 1 you should choose f/8 or f/10, so that your whole subject would be in focus. Unfortunately, there won’t be a lot of light let into your camera and considering your shutter speed is quite fast as well, you might need to shoot with a higher ISO to compensate.

Continuous shooting mode

The fast shutter speed will freeze the action, while continuous shooting mode is going to give you options. It allows the camera to take pictures without stopping as long as you’re pressing the shutter speed button.

When a F1 racing car is driving fast, chances are, you’re not going to get the right shot in one take. In fact you might even miss it entirely. So in order to avoid this, you should shoot in continuous mode and get multiple shots of your subject. In photography it is generally better to take a few images of one scene, so that you’ll have options and if one shot does not work, you’ll have another one. But in the case of shooting racing cars the continuous shooting mode is an absolute must.

Focusing

The right shutter speed and continuous shooting mode are important, when it comes to the action photography, but these things won’t make much of a difference if your subject is not in focus. Most of cameras have three types of auto focus : for still objects, for tracking moving objects and a combination of both. Usually, racing cars are moving all the time, so you should stick to the second option. Since racing cars are very fast, focusing manually could be difficult, although you can use a little trick: focus on one area of the track and wait for the car to reach that point, then take your shot.

Panning

If you look at pictures from Formula-1, you’ll notice that some of them have motion blur involved, in order to create a feeling of movement and speed. However, in those images the subject – a racing car – is sharp and in focus, while the background is blurred. You can achieve the same look with the help of panning.

Panning is a very interesting technique and it’s not that difficult to pull off, but it requires some practicing. What you need to do is to horizontally move your camera along with your subject. Imagine that there is a racing track in front of you and the car is going from right to left. When a racing car enters your shot, you’ll have to slowly rotate your upper body from right to left, while taking photos. You should hold your camera as steady as possible by locking your elbows and bringing them closer to your body.

The key to successful panning is to flow with your subject with both hips and shoulders. You can do this with any lens you want, but panning with telephoto lens can be challenging, especially for a beginner. In terms of settings, if you want to try this technique, you will have to set a slower shutter speed. Start at about 1/100 and experiment with different shutter speeds until you find what works best for you.

Landscape shots

You can make a racing car the main focus of your image or you can take a picture of the entire scenery including your fast-moving object. If you shoot a racing car on its own, filling your whole shot with it, then it’s going to be the center of attention, but it won’t emerge your audience in the atmosphere of the auto racing. There won’t be any feeling of anticipation and exhilaration, which usually the fans and the drivers experience. But you can change that and create the atmosphere, if you zoom out and incorporate the racing track and the grandstands into your shot along with the racing cars. By including the scenery you will make your audience think that they are a part of the scene and evoke the “I wish I was there” feeling. Usually the landscape shots are taken with the rule of thirds in mind and there is a lot of breathing room around the subject.

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