How To Shoot A Track Day
Fast, loud and hectic! Track days can be overwhelming, but here are some easy tips to remember when it’s time to pull the trigger.
Holy shit, it’s a GT2 RS with the Mathey Racing kit! And dang, is that a Demon? And over there is a… Supra, or an S2000 or whatever nerdy weeb car lovers jizz over these days. With all the car spotting and Instagramming out of the way, it’s time to waddle your crusty-ass pants over to the pit lane because you’ve got yourself a media badge and you’re not afraid to use it.
But when it comes time to perform, you freeze up… Life was a lot easier when you saw this kind of porn from afar, but when it’s time to get your dick wet, suddenly it’s too much to handle! Well relax your sphincter for a second, my dude, because I’ve got you covered… Here are a few tips on how to photograph a track day.
First, there’s the obvious… High speed action = High shutter speed. Point the camera at a cool spot and shoot fast as they pass. Ta daaa! You’ve got a crystal-clear shot of some racing action. Fast forward to later that night and you’re editing your 2 000th photo, starting to realize they all look the same… So, it’s time to get creative. You can add a bit of a narrative and drama by panning your camera with the cars as they come past. The settings depend on the lens you use, but one rule of them is that the tighter the lens, the sharper the photo. As you start to use wider lenses, the speed of the front and back of the car relative to your camera are different. This means that only part of the car will be in focus and you’re just going to have to cross your fingers that it’s the correct part. Don’t be afraid to play with framing as well. Use the foreground to add more movement to your pans or direct eyes more effectively to the car in the photo.
Wide pans add mad drama while adding context to the photo.
It’s all about the lenses… Use different lenses to your advantage and lean on their strengths. Long lenses are good at drawing attention to the subject, mid-range lenses are good at lifestyle and wide lenses add a lot of drama and context to a shot.
Most tracks try to keep you a healthy distance from the action, so having a long lens to lean on when your own movement is limited is key. The 70-200mm f2.8 is indispensable here. 200mm should be plenty to capture action on track and the wide focal length range gives you freedom to move. If you’ve spent all your money on car parts and not a 70-200mm f2.8, then bring your longest lens. Just as important is the wide lens. If you’ve found a spot closer to the track, using a wide lens could be a great opportunity to add some more elements to the photo to help tell your story. Show a bright crisp blue sky, the finish line and a handful of cars all in one photo to really give the audience a sense of how much fun they missed out on.
And bring water… Lots of water.
Go Until Someone Yells At You
You’ve gotten 1 800 photos of the straight from the pit lane. Congratulations, you’ve fucked yourself… That’s going to cost hours of your life later tonight when you’re slaving over some serious 2 AM Photoshopping. The track is huge, so use your legs and go find a new spot. Chances are hundreds of other photo nerds just like you have shot every inch of the track before, so let’s try to find something new. Use your legs, catch a ride with the track marshals between heats, climb up a nearby building… Do whatever it takes to get something unique. Go until someone yells at you… Well, within reason. Safety first or whatever.
Edit With Direction in Mind
Remember, we are trying to tell a story with these photos. This isn’t just car spotting… That’s easy and any geek with a camera can do that. We’re here to make art, damnit. So edit with that in mind. Edit as you remembered the moment, let the final product reflect the way it lives in in your mind. Add some direction to the photo by darkening the area of the photo where the car came from and brightening where it’s going. For a moody cloudy photo, add some clarity and dehaze to the sky to give it a brooding vibe. It’s all about translating the emotion of the moment for those who weren’t lucky enough to be there.
Add direction to the light! This gives the photo some direction on a whole. Car drives from dark toward light... It just makes sense.
Chances are that if you’ve read this far, you haven’t been doing track photography for long. And, in turn, you probably haven’t gone to the track to shoot on commission. So how do we capitalize from our photos? Well, I don’t really have a definitive answer, but I do have some leads… Make friends. Walk around the pitlane and introduce yourself, what you do and try to find ways to spread your work. This is a networking opportunity but be genuine. You’re a car person, just like all the other people there. Share your love for cars, be genuinely interested in others’ rides and connect with the people there. You never know, the guy in that GT3 RS might want a print of your photo later. Or, better yet, he might work at a Porsche dealership…
Regardless, use these photos to update your online presence. Add them to your website, post them on related Facebook groups or share them on DriveTribe with an article about how others can be just like you, as if you’re some sort of authority on the matter…
In the end, it’s not just about documenting the event… We are not just car spotters. We're creating fuckin' art here. This isn’t just about showing pretty shapes and colors, it’s about storytelling. You are there to tell the story of the best day ever, to convey through photos the emotions you felt as that GT3 RS came ripping past you at 9 000 RPM. And remember; if you miss a shot, take a deep breath and reset because they will be back around in a minute.