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.