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High Speed Action Photography

Updated: Nov 17, 2018

What's so interesting about these shots anyway? Read on to find out...

Brands Hatch, Kent | Hawthorns Corner 2015

Capturing action shots was one of my first reasons for really getting into photography when I was younger; I’ve followed speedway throughout my life and have been a ‘biker’ since I could get on the road at 16 years old, minus the long beard and troublemaker stereotype the connotation may have (although I did once grow a goatee to my daughters dismay).


“It's great to capture world-class riders in action, you don’t get to see them as closely as you do with a long lens just spectating, and to capture them in their professional prime, on the brink of adhering to the track is something special.”

Most of the speedy shots I take are from the legendary Brands Hatch circuit, so I know the best places to position myself from experience. However, nowadays you’re normally on the spectator’s side of the fence, which makes it extremely difficult to find places to take these shots. I’m not a professional photographer who’s able to get passes to go anywhere on the inside of the track which is a shame, but I’ve been happy with some of the shots I’ve achieved.



Challenges Faced


I like to start taking a few initial shots of where I intend to take them, to try and get some idea of exposure, but the key is experience and knowing the sport; you tend to know which line motorcycle racers are going to be on, so you can prefocus and prepare the camera for it.


The fiercest challenge of course is keeping the subject in frame, particularly when panning. Say a motorcycle is doing 80mph for instance; and you’re doing a pan shot with a very low shutter speed, say 1/160th of a second, what you want to achieve is a blurred background to give the appearance of a high speed shot; yet the rider needs to be fairly sharp, with blurred wheels on the bike to emphasis it's speed. It may take 7 or 8 times dependant on how practiced you are, especially with longer lenses as you get much more movement.


30 years ago with my film camera focusing had to be done manually, only having a 24 or 36 roll of film to use, and not being able to see if you've captured anything worthy until you got home and developed them, making it crucial that you got the settings right. Arguably, there was more skill involved then than now days, therefore transferring that skill over to new digitalised technology can only help you.



Brands Hatch, Kent | Breaking into Westfield Corner 2015


Being able to see in some photographs the speed on their information display is quite exhilarating, they’ve gone past you in the blink of an eye and you're able to capture that in a still moment.”

Tweaking


Once your back home, blowing the photographs up on the big screen is your real chance to see whether or not you’ve got anything worthwhile, sometimes it can be disheartening, you may have travelled miles for the day and sometimes it just doesn’t happen for you, and you don’t get what you want, you just need to be patient.

But when you do find those gems its really rewarding, I sometimes feel I can tweak them slightly in order to show their value and emphasis their beauty, make them tip top.

Personally, at times I like to crop the photograph to enhance the action, as it makes the image appear more dynamic, and on occasion black and white may change the look of the photograph, but this doesn’t always work and is dependant on the image.

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