Racing Photography

Pic 1: Haoheng Hu (Vincent) working on his tire pressures before the start of session 1. Shot with nikon 24-70 F2.8 ED. Photo by Ziqin (Franck) Zhou

Thanks a lot to my friend Haoheng (Vincent) Hu for letting me get into great racing events like Road Atlanta held by NASA on June 16th, 2018. Here are some pictures I took today with some brief thoughts about racing photography.

  • Gear of Choice

The first important thing for racing photography is a huge telephoto lens (300mm+). The One I used today is the Nikon 200-500mm F5.6, and to be honest, this is hell of a lens, but I will talk about this lens in another day. After getting this huge canon for shooting, you need a great body behind it with high frame rate and fast focusing. However, one lens I brought today is the 24-70 2.8ED. Even though it will be impossible to catch any of these fast moving cars in any good way, it is a awesome choice to cover some “back-stage” scenes of the racers (Like Pic 1). Trust me, you need some wide angle shots of these hot cars when they are stopped in the garage.


Pic 2: The Z curves called 10a and 10b on Road Atlanta. 
  • Composition

When it comes to composition on the race track, it really depends on the situation you are in. Therefore, my suggestion is to get a car and drive around the track with your camera to find the possible spots you want to shot and know how to get there. Pre-composition is important because holding a 4.5 pound telephoto lens and shooting cars which move at over 100 mph will not give you much time to think. What I recommend here is some curve and use simple 1/3 rules or spots of possible passing point for cars to interact with each other. In this way, you are prepared and some dramatic stories are added to the pictures.  Pic 2-7 are the results I got by using these two techniques.

Pic 3: One car overtakes another with the other one gives sign of “point by”
Pic 4: Vincent tries to push the car in front of him in order to let him to give pass sign for overtaking
Pic 5: Cars overtake each other in the last curve of Road Atlanta
Pic 6: Car running one after another. The color of red and blue add some conflicts in the scene. 


Pic 7: Again cars overtaking each other in the scene. Very competitive and dramatic 


Pic 8: Freezing the motion of a car passing the curve with panning technique
  • Techniques

Panning and high-speed freezing are the two major techniques I use here for racing photography.

Panning is the technique of moving with the object to create relative stability, and use slow shutter speed to blur the background by moving. It is an awesome technique for racing technique because it separates the object from the background with caption of the movement of the car. However, this great technique has low chance to success for every time. Therefore, my suggestion for panning is: If you are shooting a client, shot one with high shutter speed and freeze the motion at first. Then when it comes to the second lap of the same car, try panning. In this way, if you fail, you at least will have a less happy client rather than a lost one.

Pic 8-10 are some panning shots. They may look not bad here, but I took around 30 of continuous shots of each scene and chose the best one I got.

Pic 11-12 are examples of shots done with high shutter speed. It is easy to get, and even though they are not as dramatic, but you can have more space working on the composition beforehand.


Pic 9: Panning shots of No. 35 car 
Pic 10: Panning shots of Vincent’s Ariel Atom
Pic 11: Freezing the motion with high shutter speed 
Pic 12: Freezing the motion with high shutter speed.



Racing photography is something totally different from the street shots I have done in the past two years. This is my first time trying to do it, and I am happy with these shots. After all, it is very interesting driving around the track hearing these roaring cars and capturing these great moments of motorsport.

Ziqin (Franck) Zhou

June 16. 2018


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