Had a bash at a Motorsport Photography Guide...


Active Member
Firstly, hello. First time posting in this particular forum, been having a good browse for the past hour and really enjoying the pics here.

Secondly, over Christmas I tried to put down in writing a lot of the stuff that I had in my head regarding motorsport photography. I've only been doing it for 12 months but I absolutely love it and have played around with lots of different techniques. So here goes...

These are obviously only what I personally have found to work for me, and I certainly don't claim to know everything about motorsport photography, but as there really is no "wrong" way of doing things this is what works from what I've had a play with.

I’ve made no mention of ISO settings here, individual users will know how far they like to push their ISO settings so I’ve left that out. With panning in particular I’ve never moved from the lowest setting available to me (ISO200) as I’m working with very slow shutter speeds. But obviously if it’s overcast or if you under a canopy of trees at a rally etc you can always bump the ISO up to compensate.

Suggestions/comments welcome! This is based on one season of DSLR motorsport photography, so I’ve got as much to learn as anybody else.



There are various methods of panning, but here are some basics to get you started, you will probably find you then adapt this to suit your own style….

  1. Set the shutter speed to 1/320 as an absolute maximum, any faster and you won’t get the blurred effect.
  2. Change the focus mode to “AF-C” (also known as ‘AI_Servo’, or whichever setting on your camera will continually re-focus as you pan) if possible, this will force the camera to continually refocus, important when a car is about to pass at 80mph.
  3. As a dry run track a car as it passes, find a good level of zoom so it fills the viewfinder nicely when in front of you.

Shooting (Side-on Pan)
  1. Track the car through the viewfinder at the earliest possible opportunity
  2. Hold the shutter release down half-way to initiate focus
  3. Continue to track the car with the button half-pressed, the camera will continue to refocus
  4. Fully press the shutter release at the point where you want to capture the car
  5. Continue to track the car in a smooth movement

The most important thing is to ‘follow through’, there should be no pause or abrupt end once you have taken the shot, continue to pan smoothly and you are more likely to get the shot.

How far do you go with the shutter speed? Well that depends entirely on how successful you are with it, here are some examples...

1/320 - blurred car wheels, slight blurring of background, reasonably easy to achieve

1/250 – good blur in wheels and background, offers best balance of result/difficulty


1/80 – completely blurred background, hard to achieve

Shooting (3/4 Pan)

The above examples are for cars traveling side-on to you, as they are not moving towards or away from you during the actual image capture the vast majority of the car should remain sharp. If you are shooting cars at a different angle you should consider that during a pan the movement of the car may fall outside of your area of focus.



Which you prefer comes down to personal preference, whilst the first image is sharper the second image could be said to be more dynamic and highlights the sense of speed. If you prefer to keep the whole car sharp you should stick to around 1/320-1/200, anything slower will start to blur the rear of the car.

Close-up Pans

Another option to consider is to zoom right in (if your lens allows) for some detailed panning shots. As only a section of the vehicle is completely in the frame you are panning faster and it is very difficult to achieve a smooth pan. With this in mind it is better to play it safe and stick to around 1/320 – 1/250. If you are hoping for a detailed wheel shot it is better to aim for 1/250 – 1/200 as this should blur the wheels enough for the brake disc and caliper to be visible.


Head-on / Rear Shots

There are two completely different ways to approach these kinds of shots:

1. Very fast shutter speeds

This one’s simple to explain, just choose shutter priority mode and select a shutter speed between 1/800 – 1/2000, basically as fast as your lens will allow before the viewfinder gets too dark. Fire away, no panning or any particular technique is needed, the shutter speed will be more than fast enough to freeze the car.

+ Is easy to do
+ Almost guarantees a sharp image
- Lack of motion in shot
- Requires fast (expensive) lens if light is not good

1/1000 (f2.8) – Very sharp image but lacks movement and required very fast lens

2. Slower shutter speeds

This method is slightly harder to perfect, essentially you need to pan, although that sounds simple it will become clear when you try it that if a car is coming straight towards you, it isn’t actually moving very much in your viewfinder. A speed of around 1/320 – 1/250 should mean you only need a very slight pan, you can achieve this if the car is at a slight angle to you by tracking the car as you shoot, or if it is coming dead towards you then you can try forcing movement by panning from the top of the windscreen down towards the front grill. Only a small amount of movement is needed at 1/320 so as long as you can pan slightly with the motion of the car it should work.

+ Motion in shot (i.e. blurred wheels)
+ Doesn’t require a fast lens
- Is harder to achieve

1/250 (f7.0)

One added bonus of perfecting slower pans is that it helps to isolate the subject. In the following image the Caterham is blurred, helping to isolate my intended subject, the Renault 5. The slightly upwards and left motion of my pan (tracking the R5) has blurred the Caterham because that was moving right.

1/160 (f10)

Note for bridge camera users: Although most super-zooms are capable of f2.8 it’s often better to go for option 2. The sharpness of super-zooms can be lacking at the long end and you will not get a blurred background to isolate the subject, you will probably get a more pleasing result if you practice using slower shutter speeds and panning slightly.

Shooting through fences

Having a fence in your way doesn’t automatically mean you can’t shoot from that particular location. As long as you can get very close to the fence and are using at least 200mm you can shoot normally. Common sense would suggest that you need a bright day so you can use as wide an aperture as possible, but it’s actually far easier to achieve on an overcast day, I’ve no idea why though, perhaps it’s something to do with sunlight reflecting off of the metal fencing.

The following image was taken at Druids at Brands Hatch, despite the extensive catch-fencing it is possible to get reasonable shots from that location. If you look closely you can see some grey haze where the fence was captured during the pan, but it’s a useable image.

1/250 (f7.0) @ 200mm


Drifting can require a different approach to normal motorsport photography due to the unusual movement of the cars and lower speeds. As the majority of a drift occurs on a corner you will get the same focus issues as with ¾ pans, and you will also have the problem of smoke to confuse your auto-focus system.

Due to the madness that normally accompanies a drift (smoke, flames etc) you can get away with faster shutter speeds and still come away with a shot that implies plenty of movement. However if you can find an angle where a drifting car passes your position in a conventional way you can still use a standard side-on panning technique and get good results, you will probably need a much slower shutter speed (i.e. 1/100) though as the car will be moving much slower than normal.

1/320 – Relatively fast shutter speed but lots of movement visible due to smoke etc

1/100 – Car passed me without moving towards or away from me (despite pointing directly at me) therefore a standard pan was achievable with no blurring to the car


Bikes are more difficult to shoot than cars due to their smaller size, increased potential for sideways movement (particularly with motocross) and rapid acceleration. The same basic techniques applied to car photography still stand, but you may find you need to shoot at slightly faster speeds. Due to the obvious movement of both bike and rider the sense of speed is more obvious and therefore you can get away with slightly faster speeds without significant loss of a dynamic shot.

1/200 – Workable shutter speed but gives results equivalent to much slower shutter speeds when shooting cars

1/1000 – Very fast shutter speed but some feeling of speed maintained due to position of riders and mud spray.

General Tips

A few general tips to consider, these aren’t rules by any stretch of the imagination, but they may help initially…

1. Get down low.

Whilst it isn’t always easy, a shot from a low angle is generally recommended over a shot where the car roof is visible.

2. Give cars space.

It’s easy to fall into a trap where you maximize your zoom capability and miss the bigger picture. Whilst there is nothing much wrong with this image below technically, the car has no space to move into. By leaving space in front of the car it generally gives you a more appealing photograph.


3. Avoid cluttered backgrounds.

The aim of a motorsport photograph is often to capture a particular car, as a general rule anything to take your eye away from that is not good for the final image. In the image below the car is quite difficult to pick out from a busy background, as this was shot at 1/200 the background isn’t blurred enough to really highlight the car.


You can use cluttered backgrounds to your advantage though, if you use a slow enough shutter speed (in the image below, 1/50) you get fantastic streaks of colour which really highlight the sense of speed.


4. Try a Monopod

Some photographers find that monopods make motorsport photography more difficult, however they do significantly stabilize your lens which is important for both panning and standard shots. When panning it removes nearly all vertical movement, this is one of the major factors in ensuring a nice sharp panning shot. They are also hugely useful when you have a long and/or heavy lens, firstly to stabilize your lens and secondly to take the weight of the equipment away from you.

5. Go Mad
The most important advice I can offer is to go a bit mad, particularly once you are reasonably competent with the basics of motorsport photography. Whilst it is good to get some ‘record’ shots saved, I find that my best images actually come after I’ve got a few standard safe shots and then decide to experiment and do something a bit silly, in many ways this helps you to develop as you are pushing your abilities to the limit

My favourite images came from a 2 day festival where I had plenty of time to play around with different ideas. Many things didn’t work, but they can easily be deleted. After a bit of practice I managed to start getting something that resembled cars at the ridiculous speed of 1/25, eventually I started getting some shots that I really liked:


On the other hand, at the Festival of Speed I was too scared to miss anything, therefore I played it safe and ended up with my dullest pictures of the year, I hardly look at them anymore:



Active Member

Safety is ever-improving at motorsport venues, whilst this is good for spectators it can cause havoc for photographers without a press pass. As a general rule you will need up to 300mm at your disposal, making a relatively cheap lens like a 70-300mm f4-5.6 (typically around £100-150) a good starting point. Panning shots in particular are all about technique, unless you are in the habit of blowing up images to A3+ you will be hard pressed to tell the difference between a panned shot from a £100 lens and a panned shot from a lens costing 10 times as much.

Whilst as a general rule 300mm is recommended, don’t let that put you off if you only have 200mm or maybe even a bit less, with a bit of creativity you can still get excellent shots at many circuits (Castle Combe has 5 or 6 good spots, Brands Hatch has 8 or 9 and Thruxton has 3 or 4 interesting locations that don’t require massive lens, for example), only F1-spec circuits like Silverstone cause severe difficulties, but most circuits in the UK are geared towards club and national racing for which safety fencing etc is not so extreme. Rallying is also very accessible with a relatively short lens (I’ve found 50mm too long in some spots in the past), as is Motocross and Hill Climbs etc. It’s worth pointing out that not a single image in this guide has been taken at more than 280mm.

At Thruxton for example, 99% of photographers were all shooting at this moment:


The above shot has been severely cropped and it’s a little too far away for my 200mm lens. However, a second later the cars were much closer and nobody was taking pictures. Although it was a harder shot to get it shows that a shorter lens is capable if you are creative:


Image Stabilization

Known as VR, IS, OS, OIS or SSS, they all essentially do the same thing, try to eliminate movement when you are taking a photo. If you leave this switched on when panning you are going to be fighting against the camera/lens as it is trying to stop exactly what you want to do. There are two ways around this, you can either switch it off entirely, or you can try the secondary stabilization mode (if your camera/lens has one) sometimes known as ‘Mode 2’. This only corrects vertical movement, so it’s essentially doing a similar job to a monopod. It is worth checking your camera/lens manual to see if you have a setting available, if you are unsure it’s best to switch it off altogether.


An easy way to improve your photography is to use a polarizing filter in certain situations. Amongst other things it can remove reflections/glare from windows and increase colour saturation

Once attached to your lens all you do is look through the viewfinder, then rotate the filter until you see the desired effect. The strength is dictated by where you are stood in relation to the sun, if you are shooting at right angles to the sun the effect will be strongest, if the sun is directly in front or behind the effect will be hardly noticeable.

No polarizer on lens:


Polarizer on lens:


As you can see, the reflections in the light clusters and car windows have been significantly reduced (you can now see the steering wheel), and also the colour of the car is much deeper.

Whilst my examples are for static cars, the effect can also be achieved when shooting motorsport. If you are constantly shooting cars in the same place you should be able to rotate the filter until the desired effect is achieved, minor adjustments will need to be made as time passes due to the movement of the sun.

Circular Polarizers are compatible with any lens, just make sure you buy the correct size for your particular lens. Due to the way Polarizers work the effect is only generally used on standard and telephoto lens, the effect cannot be fully replicated when using a wide-angle lens.


Active Member
Circuit Guides

If you want to get out and practice the best (and cheapest) option is to head down to your local circuit for a trackday, these are nearly always free for spectators and often offer a full days action apart from an hours lunch break. It’s worth phoning the circuit to check you can come along, but I’ve never had a ‘no’ answer yet, even on days where professional photographers are employed to take photos for the participants (i.e. Renaultsport Trackdays). The other major benefit of a trackday is that there are rarely more than a dozen spectators, so you have full use of the entire circuit with nobody in your way.

I’ve not ventured to too many circuits in the past year, but for where I have been these are a few good spots to try out, there are obviously other spots worth getting some shots from, but these are good places to head to get you started. Feel free to add other circuits.

All clockwise from the start grid:

Brands Hatch

Despite being a circuit capable of holding International Events it is surprisingly good for photographers and spectators. There are several good spots worth trying out, none of which really require a super-long lens. You could easily come away with a good days worth of shots using a 200mm lens.

Paddock Hill Bend
Interesting spot to get some fairly unique shots due to the extremely steep hill, getting shots on the actual corner can be difficult due to the fencing, but if you move down slightly you can get some good shots


There are numerous spots around this bend to get photos, and none of them require a particularly long lens. On the inside of the corner you can capture the cars braking, tackling the corner and exiting, and on the outside if you can shoot through the fence you can capture the classic Brands image with Paddock Hill in the background

170mm – inside of Druids

Graham Hill
The short straight leading down to Graham Hill Bend is a good spot for panning practice, the outside of the track has a large catch fence in the way but if you shoot from the infield section there is nothing in your way apart from advertising boards to work around.


This corner is a great spot for some fast panning action and it doesn’t require a long lens. Cars will be moving very rapidly at this point and are surprisingly close to you so you need to pan very quickly.


Castle Combe

One of the fastest circuits in the UK, and the one with the least run-off. Whilst this isn’t always good news for drivers, it makes for some very good photograph opportunities without the need for a really long lens.

Avon Rise
The quickest part of the circuit, and also the point where spectators are closest. You can easily shoot between 100-200mm along here with no problems.


If you like crash images this is the place to be, it’s not unusual to see 5 or 6 cars in the tyre wall during a race. You can get away with 200mm if you are near the end of the catch fencing, but 300mm is best.


Tower Corner
On the straight just before Tower Corner you can either shoot towards the cars or turn around and capture them tackling the corner. Either direction needs 300mm for tight shots, but you are close enough to get away with 200mm, particularly when facing the cars.



Less than half of Thruxton is open to spectators, however there are still a few good spots for photographers. You ideally need 300mm+ to make the most of it, and it’s worth pointing out that it’s the fastest circuit in the UK so it’s not the easiest place to practice.

Main spectator straight

Between Allard and the Complex is a lengthy straight which isn’t usually too busy up at the actual fence (spectators sit on the banking behind) and it’s a great spot to practice panning, the cars are generally traveling very very quickly at this point.


The Complex
This is made up of Campbell and Cobb and it the last busy spot before the spectator area ends. You can head round slightly further to Seagrave to get shots of the cars exiting the Complex, but you will need a very long lens to get decent shots from this point.


The busiest part of the circuit, the vast majority of photographers position themselves here. You need to arrive early to get a good spot but it is worth it even if you just stay for a little while.



Well-known Member

Bravo!!! I applaud you sir! :clap:

This is a great guide! :smashin:

I for one have bookmarked it, and will be coming back to it before I go to Knockhill circuit!


Well-known Member
Just what i need to know before my rally trip in Feb :thumbsup:
Thanks a lot for the tips.

Hopefully my 18-135mm can get good quality shots and long enough :D

What if the day is a bit dull/not bright enough, just raise the iso a bit? And also my Nikon has AF-A and also AF-C, my question is if i choose AF-A will the camera choose it for me for moving obejct?



Distinguished Member
Very informative and well laid out.....Cracking images too :smashin:..

This page will be going right into the fav box.....for future ref..........:D

Cheers mate



Active Member
I think everyone on these forums appreciate the time and effort you've put into this guide - thank you very much. It's a very easy to read and extremely informative guide , and I think this thread will be referred to very frequently. :smashin: This is what makes this forum a great place to visit.

I've tried my hand at motorsport on a few occasions and loved it - from goodwood to palmersport driving days (see my pbase account) . Can't wait for the sun to come out to visit a few circuits (I'll have your guide printed out and laminated !) :clap:



Active Member
Big, big thanks....Just need to find a spare half hour to read it all!!!

I lost my motorsport photography virginity at teh Renault WRC @ Donnington last year. Out of a couple of hundred pictures I got a handful of ok'ish ones.

No doubt I will be better prepared and more informed next time round.



Active Member
Great guide, read it first when you posted it on the CS site last week. Very helpful! :thumbsup:


Active Member
Nice. How do i find out where to go to see all these motorsports? I've never been to any of the above and i would love to give it ago and practice my camera skills.


Active Member
Great guide, read it first when you posted it on the CS site last week. Very helpful! :thumbsup:

A fellow CS member! Thought it would be good to share it with some photographers to see how it goes down. Can't wait for the new season to start, March 24th will be my first of just under 30 events I'm hoping to get to this year.


Active Member
Nice. How do i find out where to go to see all these motorsports? I've never been to any of the above and i would love to give it ago and practice my camera skills.

Oulton Park is near Liverpool, have a look at the website for the circuit, that should have a calendar for 08 now or pretty soon.

Edit: Here goes actually, link should work...


Bit spoilt there, staggeringly photogenic motor-racing circuit and some very high-profile events. Best to attend the Qualifying Days (Saturdays for 2 day meets) if you just want to have a practice, much cheaper, quieter and still a full days action for you to enjoy. Saturday 22nd March looks like a good bet, British F3 and GT so some super-cool cars, £12 for the day which isn't bad.


Active Member
That's fantastic, well written, very well explained and entertaining to read, thank you :smashin:

You should make a small book out of it and sell it at the track !


Active Member
Cheers everybody, really appreciate the comments. Hopefully this time next year the re-write will be 10 times better with a few more circuits added.


Active Member
Great guide :thumbsup:

Great images :thumbsup:

Mods - Surely this is worth sticky'ing??

richard plumb

Distinguished Member
nice work. Reminded me that the season starts again soon. Might take my son with me to one or two races this year but I do like going alone so I don't have to take my eye off the track.

enjoyed thruxton but found the fencing on the big straight a bit tricky to get around. Had much more fun at club, but lots of people headed straight for that very early in the morning - with folding chairs and picnic bags set for the day. Bit cheeky IMO popping a chair down at 7.30am then wandering off, but now I know the tactics...:D


Well-known Member
Superb guide. I particularly appreciated the description & pictures of the effect of shutter speed on the shot. I've seen it explained in words before, but it's so much better with pictures as well.



Active Member
enjoyed thruxton but found the fencing on the big straight a bit tricky to get around. Had much more fun at club, but lots of people headed straight for that very early in the morning - with folding chairs and picnic bags set for the day. Bit cheeky IMO popping a chair down at 7.30am then wandering off, but now I know the tactics...:D

My first time there was for the BTCC Qualifying in October, got a spot at Club for an hour in the morning, but people with 500mm lens seemed to be getting annoyed with me panning (if you don't want me to be in your way, don't walk into the 6" of space I've left next to me!) as everyone was just taking straight head-on shots apart from me. Wasn't going to be an enjoyable day there so I headed around to the Complex, much more enjoyable around there, had people chatting to me etc and everyone respected each others line of sight, as it were.

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