These pictorial features are designed to help you better appreciate how working photographers deal with subjects and situations, including some helpful tricks of the trade. In this issue, Camera editor Paul Burrows is at the recent Bathurst 12 Hour motor race, shooting fast-moving subjects in a low-light situation.
The famous Mount Panorama motor racing circuit at Bathurst in central New South Wales. The event is the 2018 Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour race for GT class sportcars and production cars, which this year attracted over 50 entries from Australia and internationally from the USA, UK, Germany, Belgium, China and New Zealand.
Camera editor Paul Burrows began photographing motorsport back in 1983 and his first event was that year’s Rally New Zealand, right at the start of the infamous Group B era. While rallying remains a first love, Paul has since shot F1, Supercars, Indycars, motorcycle racing and historics. “Basically, if it has a number stuck on the door,” he says, “I’m interested.”
Nikon D4 and 100-400mm f4.5- 6.3 image-stabilised telezoom hand-held. Shutter-priority auto exposure control at ISO 1600 with +0.7 stops of exposure compensation.
The Bathurst 12 Hour race is unique in track-based motorsport in that it starts in the dark, which obviously creates a number
of photographic challenges, especially when using longer lenses and with the need for faster shutter speeds to freeze movement. It’s a balancing act between ISO settings, shutter speed and aperture… all in the quest of optimum sharpness. Using the panning technique enables a slower shutter speed to be used so the ISO can be reduced. Panning involves tracking a moving subject using a shutter speed that will ensure it remains sharp while the background becomes blurred which then gives a visual impression of movement. The trick with panning is to get the speed right, otherwise the subject will be blurred, but care also needs to be taken to ensure the subject distance isn’t changing too much either, otherwise, again, sharpness will be compromised.
How It Was Done
Low light situations can be tricky for autofocusing systems so prefocusing is often the best option. With the sun coming up, there was a little more light to play with so it was possible to select a shutter speed that was fast enough to freeze the subject while panning, but also allow a smaller aperture for greater depth-of-field. Even at 120mm – which was the focal length for this image – there’s minimal depth-of-field so every little bit extra will help. Picking the right point on which to prefocus isn’t always easy as not every car will follow the same line out of a corner (as is the case here) so having more depth-offield is again useful. Panning is these situations is often a case of ‘pointing and squirting’ and hoping for the best. A faster continuous shooting speed will obviously help increase the success rate and, of course, with digital capture the missed shots don’t cost anything.
Tricks Of The Trade
If there’s time, study the action to get a better idea of the best point on which to prefocus. Pick up the subject the moment that it’s in sight and starting shooting well before it gets to the prefocused point… and then keep going for a brief time afterwards. Often it’s a frame just ahead or after the preselected point that actually looks better. In this instance, the first frame was the best one (out of a sequence of eight) and the flare created by the sun suddenly appearing from behind the low cloud adds atmosphere and an extra touch of dynamism. While lens makers work hard to minimise ghosting and flare, it can be quite effective in some situations.
Degree Of Difficulty (Out of 10)
Low light. Fast subject. Long lens. Everything is working against achieving sharpness here, including the noise reduction processing which operates at the higher ISO settings needed to maintain a faster shutter speed. We haven’t even considered any of the creative aspects such as composition, but in technical terms alone this is definitely a difficult ‘10’.
Can You Try This At Home?
You don’t necessarily need a photographer’s accreditation to get great shots at a major motorsport event. Mount Panorama, for example, offers plenty of excellent vantage points even on a general admission ticket (although these will definitely be at a premium at the big Bathurst 1000 Supercars race). Pick some lower-key events – or attend on the practice days rather than on race day – to practice and refine your skills. The more motorsport you shoot, the better you’ll get.