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Night time dirt track racing


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mj t , Aug 09, 2008; 12:52 p.m.

hi Stephanie . . .

Ralph provided some great advice. However, I would like to provide a slightly different perspective and I will use Ralph's sample photo to prove my point. It all has to do with shutter speed. (BTW Ralph, you wrote, "I shoot with a f/stop of 1/250 ..." :)

The first thing that jumps at me is the chroma noise. But that's the fault of the D2x, because they dont handle ISO's from (including) 800 and up.

The second thing that jumps at me, which is actually more important than my first observation, is that the shutter speed is too fast. When it comes to shooting both motorcycle and automobile (and truck) racing, one of the most important attributes you want to portray in the final image is the feeling of m-o-v-e-m-e-n-t. If you look at Ralph's example again, you will see he's used a shutter speed fast enough to stop the spinning of the wheels. To my eyes, it looks as if he shot these two racers standing still.

As Ralph mentioned, panning is a great technique. Keep the shutter speed slow enough to portray movement, but fast enough to capture the subject without blur. Every shot that my clients choose to pay for, considering my racing photos, are the shots that portray movement.

Let's talk about blur for a moment. One thing that will assist you is to use a monopod - a monopod, because it has one leg, will allow you freedom of movement, but helps tremendously with respect to keeping your camera steady. I'm confident, Stephanie, that your first sample is blurry because of camera (or hand) shake, not necessarily that you didnt have the focus set on the subjects. I do think that the cars are in the correct depth of field, but if you look closely, there is ghosting on all the objects in the photo, which all points to camera shake.

A monopod will help tremendously to keep the camera still. I use one at all sporting events, be it football or motocross racing or ... ad nauseam. Your second sample shot has a lot of potential. It was shot at a shutter speed of 1/30. I probably would have doubled the shutter speed and, as you did, using the panning technique. Again, the issue with the second shot is camera shake. The only other thing I would have done with the second shot concerns framing - the car's rear end is too close to the right edge of the frame. You could probably crop this image and it still be "usable". But you have the idea correct - with forward moving objects (such as a race car), you want some empty space in front of it.

I'd like to touch on one other thing - lens choice. You mentioned that you cant yet afford your next lens, but I find, to be successful, for night time shots, is to have a fast lens. What is a "fast lens"? It's one that has a wide maximum aperture. A lens rated at f2.8 is faster than a lens rated at f4.0. Think about how your eye works - as you go from a well-lit room to one that is darker, the iris of your eye opens up to allow more light to enter into your eye. The same is true of a lens' aperture blades. A smaller f/stop number means the aperture blades of the lens (think iris of the eye) open up more. If you can get a faster lens, then you can use a lower ISO and more appropriate shutter speed.

Ralph Berrett , Aug 09, 2008; 02:58 p.m.

Stephanie Walker, if you are shooting with SB-800 with your set up manually at f/4 at 1/250 - 1/500 at IS0 800. The other way to shoot this is set your camera to shutter priority with a shutter speed of 1/250-1/500 with an ISO 800. Your camera system has so little weight, I would not bother with a monopod. The other tip I would suggest shooting the cars as they head into turn one or turn four this will give you a nice 3/4 view and a nice grouping during the early laps. I also recommend keeping both eyes open because these corners can be a hotspot for cars banging into each other so cars will try to cut through the infield. I preffer to shoot RAW over JPEG because the greater exposure latitude, which will comes in handy pulling details out of your shadows and blacks.

mj t, I have to correct you slightly, the shutter speed had nothing to do with freezing the wheels. It was the flash. Most dirt tracks have poor ambient lighting. So one tends to shoot flash because it is the most effective means of a quality capture. The side effect is that it freezes the action. If the field is well lit like a stadium for supercross, or for the NFL (my experience), then yes you can capture the motion blur of a pan. If you look at the example you will see blurring of the wheels and background with panning even at 1/250 while there was ambient light, but when the sunsets the flash freezes the action.


mj t , Aug 09, 2008; 10:05 p.m.

> mj t, I have to correct you slightly, the shutter speed had nothing to do with freezing the wheels. It was the flash.

Thanks for the clarification, Ralph - I completely overlooked the use of flash.

I never use flash, which is why it slipped my mind. I never use flash for a couple of reasons:

(1) As mentioned, it freezes the action, plus it tends to "artificialize" the photo. In other words, it tends to make a photo, known to be taken at nighttime, to appear to be "artificially at day". (I use multiple D3's, so the use of flash is non-existent).

(2) As a rule, flash is not allowed at most sporting events, and even more important, it's incredibly disruptive to the players/racers/participants/etc. If I were on the field or in a car or on a motorcycle (I do road race motorcycles, so I understand), I do not want a flash potentially blinding me or taking my attention away.

Anyway, each to their own [photographic] style.

Stephanie - I would suggest borrowing, if you can, an SB800, and see how things turn out. As I mentioned earlier, a faster lens would be great (I never use flash, even at night events). I still recommend the use of a monopod - for the price, they offer a lot in the end image.

Scot Steele , Aug 10, 2008; 01:00 a.m.

The SB600 is considerably cheaper than the 800...

Ralph Berrett , Aug 10, 2008; 10:55 a.m.

mj t, I shoot the D3 now myself. I have shot off road events like the Parker 400. With the D3 I hardly touch a flash today except for studio or flashfill. Again we are talking a D40 with a consumer lens not a D3 with a 70-200 f/2.8 VR. We are also talking Dirt track. This is more the norm than exception. Just cover the World of the Outlaws. I am not a big fan of flash but if it is a choice between an under exposed blurry Sprint vs a "artificialize" the photo, most publications I know will go with the "artificialize" the photo. As for flash being a distraction to the players/racers/participants/etc it might be a psychological. I have never seen a car on a dirt track flip or crash because of flash. I have shot NBA and College Basketball where flash is used. Usually white lightnings with 1600 watts. No player that I have ever seen has run into a basket because of being blinded. I do agree with you if flash can be avoided it should be avoided.

Stephanie Walker , Aug 10, 2008; 03:45 p.m.

I would also rather not use a flash, but in my case I have no choice for what equipment I have as of now. Ralph the pictures you have taken look really good. Thank you all for the advice. I know I really need a flash of some sort and would love a new lens but I have to work up towards that. Do I have to buy the Nikon flash and lens or are there diffrent ones I can get? If so which ones would be compatible to the D40?

Jimmy Jones , Dec 09, 2008; 03:00 p.m.

Hello all. I'm new to the forum. I'm a writer for FlatOut Magazine and i'm purchasing a new Nikon D60 this week, so that I can do my own track photography. This thread is great information and I appreciate it. I'm an amateur photographer and looking to get better!
I've noticed that most of the pros at the track have a reflector about the size of a frisbee attached to their flash. Do you know where I can purchase one of these?
Jimmy Jones - Writer
FlatOut Magazine


Ralph Berrett , Dec 10, 2008; 11:19 p.m.

You are looking at Norman A400B with 8" telephoto sports Reflector. http://normanlights.com/battery_systems_compkits.asp
I knew a lot of track photographers using that system. The bad thing there is no TTL so you have lots of power but poor control.

If I were you I would look at an SB800 or SB900 for they have ttl and should work fine my photos above were using an sb800. If still have the ned for power then look at these TTL flashes from Quantum. http://www.qtm.com/Trio/

Brian Bishop , Aug 24, 2009; 11:11 a.m.

Hi guys, I found this forum looking for info on shooting dirt racing. For you guys who are set up with local tracks, how do you approach a track for photography services and how do you charge? I shot a few of my cousins car a few weeks ago and he said they were WAY better than the "official" track photographer and that I should pursue doing more of them. Any advice would be appreciated.

Brian Bishop , Aug 24, 2009; 11:14 a.m.

sorry, double post

Sample of my shots

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