Post & Photo by Joe Farace Follow Joe on Twitter
A lot of photographers think sports photography is about using big ticket, fast lenses and expensive cameras but this shot was created at dusk with an ISO setting of 800 using a moderately priced digital SLR, the Canon EOS 20D. Sure, the EF 500 f/4.0 lens cost $5500, so (I hear you saying it now) It oughta take good pictures. Well, it doesn’t always work that way.
The secret of making great photographs is simply knowing where to point the camera and thats harder than it sounds, especially after schlepping a nine pound lens, monopod, and camera around Californias Laguna Seca track all day. So let me tell you a secret, I don’t own the lens. I borrowed it for a short time from the Audi team photographer, the talented Regis Lefebure.
You can always rent expensive lenses like the 500 f/4 that, when purchased, cost more than a new Chinese car. Where I live, this lens rents for $50 a day. Is it worth it? You bet it is. And don’t even think about shooting racing photographs using any big lens without using a monopod. The lightweight EOS 20D body was a less than perfect counterbalance to this beast; my EOS 1D Mark IIN would have been a better fit, but where was it? It was safely tucked away in my equipment closet back in Colorado.
The first step in making any kind of racing photograph on a road course like Mazda Speedway is knowing where you should be located to get interesting shots. If youve never been to a particular track before, talk to some of the other photographers but walk around during practice and, well, practice yourself. Decide where you want to be and what lens you might want to use. A good place to shoot at Laguna Seca is near the top of a turn called The Corkscrew. Here, the cars have to break hard for a sharp left turn then go through a series of twisty (hence its name) downhill turns before gradually picking up speed. The Corkscrew, like challenging turns at other tracks has a protective barrier with holes where you can poke your lens through, so your final choice of location may be limited. Since only two or three photographers can fit a particular hole, don’t hog the space. Let others get some shots too.
As dusk began to settle during the 12-hour race, I gradually began inching up my ISO speed from its starting point of 200 at the daytime start of the race to 800 as dusk descended over the track. I follow the car, panning with the motion and instead of firing long multi-frame bursts in continuous mode, keep squeezing the shutter in rapid succession shooting short bursts with fewer and, I think, better images. I shoot runway models and racecars in Tv mode and in this case the best I could get was 1/320th at f/9.
Don’t forget your earplugs. No matter how many Janice Joplin concerts you attended as a flower child, nothing will prepare you for the unmuffled sound of a full bore race car. Earplugs are cheap, so get a couple of sets for each camera bag; that way you can loan a pair to somebody who forgets theres and as Emeril says make a friend.