Putting the telephoto away…

The real strengths of Micro 4/3 rest in shorter focal lengths, 12-45mm being a particularly well covered range with plenty of high quality fast glass available. It would make sense, then, to experiment with any lens you may have in your kit bag, there is no rule that says motorsport must be shot with the longest focal length you have available.

The most obvious area to experiment with your other kit would be in the paddock, Formula One aside you will normally find plenty of areas accessible that offer up interesting photo opportunities. Track days also offer a good chance to wander around and check out the cars close up.

The shot below was taken using the Holga ‘Digital’ 25mm f8 lens in the car park during a Mini track day. Due to the nature of its construction every lens produces slightly different photos, it may seem illogical to bolt such a thing to a relatively high-end camera, but it’s great fun to use. For best results, crank the ISO right up and don’t worry about technicalities such as trying to shoot in focus.

Olympus E-PL2 + Holga 25mm f8

Many non-competitive events (such as demonstration days or themed events) have completely open paddocks for you to enjoy, these are often rich in photographic opportunities with an almost overwhelming array of interesting angles and things going on. I spotted the rally car below through a pile of tyres and used a Fisheye to enhance the ‘through the tyre’ view.

Olympus E-PL2 + Samyang 7.5mm Fisheye

You will frequently find car displays at events, fortunately from a photographic perspective these are often neatly lined up rows of interesting cars. If you have a fast lens you can blur out any distracting backgrounds to keep the focus on the subject in question.

Olympus E-PL2 + Olympus 45mm f1.8

Public grid walks aren’t too common but it’s worth checking the timetable of events before you leave home to see if there is one scheduled during the day. These are usually very very busy so it pays to be waiting at the gate in good time, most people head straight for the front of the grid to see the most popular cars, so I will always head straight to the back for a slightly less stressful experience.

Olympus E-PL2 + Olympus 45mm f1.8

Some events even open up the garages for the public, it goes without saying that you really need to keep your wits about you and keep well out of the way of the mechanics when they are busy. It’s well worth spending some time around the garages though as there are some wonderful photo opportunities to be found, particularly during endurance racing.

Panasonic G3 + Olympus 45mm f1.8

Motor racing circuits are often interesting places themselves, fences and signage can offer up some nice lines and compositions if you think outside of the box a little. The wonderful thing about Micro Four Thirds is that it’s no hassle to pack all the little primes, having the 14mm f2.5, 20mm f1.7 and 45mm f1.8 in your bag takes up no more room than a single DSLR prime lens.

Panasonic G3 + Olympus 45mm f1.8

Finally, there is nothing to say you can’t shoot some track action with slightly wider lens. I find the 45mm f1.8 in particular to be quite a nice focal length for a wider shot. All too often there is a need amongst photographers to get in as tight as possible, ignoring the wider scene.

Panasonic G3 + Olympus 45mm f1.8

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Britcar 24hr

The Britcar 24hr Race at Silverstone is fast becoming one of the worlds big 24 hour races. As well as around 70 cars on track to enjoy watching the access for spectators is incredible, the paddock is completely open for the whole weekend and the rear of the pit garages are left open so you can watch teams frantically working away on the cars. I got to use the full scope of my Micro 4/3s equipment, everything from the E-PL2 with 45mm 1.8 to the G3 and 100-300mm. I will be explaining techniques for using less obvious lens in the future, but for now you can see a gallery of images from the day, night and following morning here.

G3 + 100-300mm, AFS, Shutter Priority @ 1/160, 188mm

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Exploring Shutter Speeds

Aside from focal length the most important tool you have at your disposal when shooting motorsport is shutter speed. A quick and simple change to that one setting can completely transform the image you capture. It also plays a huge part in how difficult (or easy) motorsport shooting can be. Before I go into depth the one thing I will stress is that practice and experimentation are absolutely everything, there are no short cuts when it comes to motorsport photography and crucially in this day and age – no easy way to replicate good in-camera technique when you get home and start playing around with photoshop.

The basic side-on pan is the best way to demonstrate shutter speed, so I popped out and shot a bunch of Minis all moving at roughly the same speed from the exact same spot…

Shutter Speed: 1/320

A shutter speed of 1/320 is about as fast as you can realistically shoot cars moving at 60mph whilst still showing some signs of movement. It doesn’t look terribly dynamic, but it’s obvious the car is moving and it is very easy to achieve.

Shutter Speed: 1/200

At 1/200 you start to get some nice background blur and can see a reasonable amount of movement in the wheels of the car. This is quite a nice sweet spot as it’s still relatively easy to get sharp shots at this shutter speed but you get a nice sense of movement.

Shutter Speed: 1/125

Once below 1/200 you start really sense the speed of the subject. Wheels will be completely blurred and the background features will begin to merge into one.

Shutter Speed: 1/80

Below 1/100 you are starting to get into challenging territory, good technique is required to consistently achieve sharp shots from this point onwards. Note how the wheel spokes are completely blurred and the vehicle really stands out from the blurred background.

Shutter Speed: 1/50

Once you reach 1/50 things start to get pretty tough (this particular shot isn’t as sharp as I would have liked). Scroll back up to the 1/320 shot to appreciate just how little detail in the background there now is.

Shutter Speed: 1/30

At 1/30 life starts getting really difficult. I’ve intentionally taken this shot just before the car is parallel to me, you can see that although the front end is sharp the rear end is quite blurred. This is unavoidable once you reach these kinds of shutter speeds.

Shutter Speed: 1/15

Here is an extreme example of the loss of focus I was describing in the 1/30 image. At 1/15 with a car heading towards you at an angle only a very small area of the car will be sharp. I personally work on the basis that I only keep these kind of shots if a recognisable part of the car is still nice and sharp, that would normally be the front end as with the example above.

Most of the cars photographed in this feature were travelling below 100mph. For cars travelling much slower you would need to start at a slower speed than 1/320 to see much evidence of movement, conversely if you were shooting cars travelling at 200mph you would see plenty of movement at 1/320 and by the time you reached 1/30 you would probably be thinking about giving up! As I mentioned at the start, practice is everything and everyone will have a different comfort level, I learned by gradually reducing my shutter speed, once I was getting 4 out of 5 sharp at 1/320 consistently I would move down a notch to 1/250 and so on.

The key thing to note is that moving to Micro 4/3s has made no difference to me (once a days worth of teething troubles were ironed out), I’m now back to shooting at the same keeper rate I was achieving with my Nikon D90 and 70-200 2.8 VR. The biggest difficulty for me has not been AF speed, but combating wind. The D90 kit was heavy so would stay fairly stable during challenging conditions, the G3 and 100-300 weighs hardly anything in comparison so is easily affected by gusts of wind. A monopod can easily eliminate this problem, but I prefer to shoot handheld so have just quickly learned to hold the camera/lens even firmer to reduce the influence of the weather. Happy shooting!

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Mini Action Day

Another weekend, another event. Thousands of Minis (old and new) descended on Castle Combe Circuit for the annual Mini World Action Day. As well as the usual G3 + 100-300mm combo I even tried the Holga Digital lens for a few static shots, it’s a fantastic cheap lens well worth having in your collection, I bought mine here. I spent most of my brief time at the event shooting a shutter speed guide for this blog which I hope to have ready to publish next week. You can see a gallery of images from the day here.

G3 + 100-300mm, AFS, Aperture Priority @ f5.6, 228mm

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Images: Fiesta WRC

  • Panasonic G3 + Panasonic 100-300mm f4-5.6 / Focal Length: 171mm
  • Shutter Priority (S) at 160th second / ISO: 160 / OIS: On
  • Focus Mode: AFS / 1 Area Focusing / Focus Priority: Off
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Micro Tip #5: AF Area Modes

The various AF Area modes exist for you to tell your camera where it should focus on a given subject. There are anywhere between 2 and 5 options on Micro Four Thirds cameras, but in keeping with most of the advice I have given so far on this site, it makes sense to play to the strengths of the system and keep things simple.

The obvious option to go with would be one of the tracking modes, but in my experience the camera simply cannot keep up with a fast moving object such as a car, instead, select Single Area/Point AF mode. In Single Area mode you select the focus point and the camera will attempt to focus in that area only. The great thing with Micro Four Thirds bodies is that you can place the focus point anywhere in the frame, even right in the corner or along the edges, opening up plenty of ‘interesting’ framing opportunities when tracking a fast moving vehicle.

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Rallyday 2011

Yesterday was finally my opportunity to put everything I’ve learned over the past few weeks into practice. Rallyday brings both classic and modern rally machinery (and drivers) together to demonstrate¬† their abilities at Castle Combe Circuit. The weather was appalling at times (as you can see below!), but the little G3 held its own and performed far better than I expected. You can see a gallery of images from the day here.

G3 + 100-300mm, AFS, Shutter Priority @ 1/160, 108mm

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