HOW TO MAKE GOOD CAR PHOTOS – Photography Ideas – PART 1

Racing Car on Track

Racing Car on Track

How do you actually photograph a car? I say: With effort and respect or not at all. And since it can all be so exhausting and a bit demanding, here for the first time I want to divide a topic into several parts, probably three or four, I’m not sure yet.


This is not the easiest exercise, and unfortunately, there are many people who are satisfied too fast when they are taking pictures of a car. I only recently experienced it again: there I was at the 24-hour race at Daytona on the slopes to catch racing cars at night in front of the glowing Ferris wheel. The Ferris wheel is built every year on the track, and it’s sort of a must-have shot to bring a racing car together.

And what do I see there? Two colleagues, both equipped with photo vest like me and thus at least accredited as professional photographers, have an Aufsteckblitz on the camera and use it diligently. My goodness, why is there a flash? To freeze movement. Apart from the fact that the flash has to disturb the racers pretty much, he staples the car almost at the track, very good to see on the rims: Every single spoke can be seen crisp and knows exactly that the car does not drive – it is as if time had stopped.

Even worse, when the flashing photographer pans the camera with the car to blur the background. No matter where you stand for the Riesenradfoto: It is always far too far away to be struck by lightning, so in the background of the flashed image in any case, the typical wiping effects, which should actually illustrate the movement of the subject. So far so good. But because the flash flares up for a thousandth of a second or shorter and hits the actual subject from close range (depending on location about ten to 20 meters), he freezes racing cars and wheels completely, and now you can see the paradox of the stationary car with stripes of movement. This is under no circumstances a good photo.

Racing Car on Track

Very, completely wrong Mitzieher, here from the 24-Stundenrennen at the Nuerburgring 2015. Also back then I had seen colleagues who flashed when moving, and then I just tried that. With expectable negative result: The result is a blurred background due to the combination of long shutter speed (here 1/50 second) and super short flash burn time (about 1/1000 or shorter), but a still standing car, which can be seen well on the rims can. The blurred headlamp track deteriorates the picture in addition, and what the driver keeps from flashing, I would rather not know.

Traveling cars from the side must be photographed with the pull-along technique, but please without a flash. At night this is more difficult than during the day (also for the camera, if one uses the autofocus), so it is best to start by day, Mitzieher practice. Incidentally, it is also worthwhile if you do not really like cars, because you also photograph trotting and galloping horses, running dogs and children, and ultimately everything that moves parallel to the camera (there are exceptions, but they come in a later episode) , Cars have the advantage that they are nice and big and therefore easier to hit. In addition, they are fast, and you can take shorter exposure times.

Racing Cars on Track

If two or more cars can be seen on a Mitzieher photo (here as at the top of the 24-hour race in Daytona 2018), then usually only one car is really sharp because their speeds are different. But the sharpness difference between Porsche 911 (right) and Ferrari 488 also makes the appeal of such a photo – because they visibly fight for positions here.

If I take a picture of a car and have a driver with whom I can communicate, three things are important: road, location, speed. The road should be (at least for the beginning) straight, like to drive as little as possible. You also have to be able to turn around safely, because with a single pass it is not enough for a successful Mitzieher. My own location should be a good way off the road (50 to 100 meters is a start), because then I can move the camera more evenly than at a short distance, and uniformity is the nuts and bolts / h before (in the city) or 80 km / h when we are on the highway. Happy with cruise control, if possible, because of the uniformity. In any case, my driver does not interfere with traffic at these speeds, and I can choose comfortable exposure times, namely 1/50 second for the 50 km / h and 1/80 second for the 80th speed.

The inverse of the car’s speed is a good start for riding, and once the first shots are made, you can work your way to slower times: 1/30 second in the city or 1/50 second on the highway blur the background even more, However, the camera also reacts more sensitive to vertical movements of the car, as they can occur at any time due to slight unevenness of the road. These are subtleties. It is important to first turn the camera exactly in the speed of the car in the direction of travel, which is difficult enough. Incidentally, the farther you are from the car, the easier it is to make the camera turn slower, which increases the hit rate. This may require even longer shutter speeds because the background does not blur so well when the camera is moved slowly. As usual in the art, there is no advantage without disadvantage.

Green Racing Car on Fast Track

I photographed this Mercedes-AMG GTR from a shorter distance, maybe ten meters, with a focal length of just 17 millimeters. Pullers from such a short distance require a faster swinging motion of the camera than if you are further away with a telephoto lens. So the car is harder to hit, but the background blurs more reliably.

There are some natural talents in the Mitzieher discipline, for most photographers, but first follows a deplorable time full of committee. You should not cheat yourself, but strictly follow a single criterion of success: sharpness. Not only sufficient sharpness, which can be accepted in valuable and irretrievable reportage or street situations, but really uncompromising crispness. The greater the difference in sharpness between the car and the blurred background, the more impressive and vivid the photo looks.

Initially, one has failure rates of well over 90 percent in this relationship. But it gets better when you practice, and a successful co-driver, who rises from the mass of failed shots, looks at me like a beautiful portrait – both give me a little sense of happiness.

BMW i8 Hd Racing Car Picture

In this recording of the BMW i8 with two joggers, first of all, I approached the jogger on the left before, if she could run off at a certain point in time, so that the car with the driver, who had just been called, overtook her at a suitable place, and second, I shortened the exposure time (instead of 1/50 it is 1/80 second), so that the jogger remains recognizable as a jogger. The jogger from the right is an unplanned bonus.

Super-ideal is when the car really gets sharp from start to finish, which is very challenging because the car is driving straight ahead and the swiveled camera is describing a circular motion. Only at one point in the exposure series can the camera sensor be exactly parallel to the car, and at all other angles one has to hope that the distance difference between front and rear will not be detrimental. Because of the relatively long exposure times, however, the camera also selects small apertures (at least during the day), so that there is a lot of depth of field in the picture. You do not have to expect any disadvantages when cropping the subject because the background is blurred by the movement of the camera.

If everything does not get sharp from start to finish, the photo can still be successful – it depends on which part shows the greatest sharpness. If the car drives into the picture so that it is a half-profile mount, then it would make sense that the grille and headlights show maximum sharpness, and that the sharpness is at least as far as the windshield.

Theoretically, you make the ideal Mitzieher way in a curve, but this is true only if the curve radius corresponds to the circular motion of the camera. Do not even try to find this ideal curve, it probably does not exist. Curves thus increase the problems more, but can also make the result look more interesting. Because of the high level of frustration factor, draggers in turns are something for the advanced. Anyone who dares to curves should be inside, because who stands outside, works with the circular motion of the camera against the circular motion of the car – a very selective sharpness can be the result.

Porsche 911 - Racing Car on Track

The two Porsche 911 drive to the left, the camera swivels to the right, so the front car can never be completely sharp. However, the very selective sharpness has landed me on the ideal spot, namely on the right headlight (ie on the eye closest to the viewer, as in a half-profile portrait with a huge aperture), and therefore this race photo is one of my favorite , But I know that not all see it that way, because the focus area is so very close. In addition, it has already disturbed some viewers that both Porsche are from the same team and are painted and foiled exactly the same.

There are photographers who do their manual focus with dragons. To do this, they first focus on a point on the roadside, then turn off the autofocus and trust the great depth of field. It is important that you re-focused for each direction, because the driver must always drive to the right, so the car in each direction is different far away from the camera. I’m self-driving with autofocus (in races anyway, because you never know exactly which side of the road the drivers take) and also use the automatic focus tracking. It makes me feel better, and my personal reject rate is also smaller. But everyone has to find that out for themselves.

A fast series shot is better than a slow one, because you get more pictures per pass. Cameras from ten frames / second are also suitable under difficult entrainment conditions: If e.g. Lanterns stand on the road, such very fast image sequences are still able to land three, four hits per trip, in which the car is not cut by the lamppost.

And since we already speak of technology: image stabilizers are helpful, whether in the camera or in the lens, which can be switched so that they only respond to vertical movements of the camera / lens, but do not try to compensate for the horizontal pivoting movement. For my Canon lenses this is the stabilizer mode 2.

White Racing Car on Track

Here’s the car that inspired me on this post: A racing car in the Radical Australia Cup wears the words “First Focus,” and I do not know which sponsor it is, but in my mind the slogan has just turned around in “Focus First” – the car needs to be sharp at least in the crucial places, and the sharpness has to stand outside any debate. This can be achieved with …

White Racing Car on Track

… exposures of 1/8000 second, but this image (almost at the same place as the upper one) I would never call autofoto. Although it is the technically correct image of a race car, it is also a dead picture that shows nothing of what makes a race car

The very high school is then the driving force in the car race. Because you can not talk about the pace with the drivers before. Because they are very, very fast on the straights. And because they brake hard before bends and accelerate sharply after bends – dragging along this uneven movement requires a bit more practice. But in the end the feeling of happiness is greater.

By the way, there are two schools of thought among the trainers: Some try to choose longer and longer exposure times and to make the background completely unrecognizable – that can be appealing, but for example in the editorial area, such a photo is sometimes considered unsuitable because the viewer / Reader / Art Director no longer learns about the context of the subject. That’s why other photographers (like me) make this context recognizable – but I have to admit that there’s a second reason for this strategy as well: I’m not quite ready yet, fast cars with 1/30 or 1/25 second are sure to to meet. I still have to practice that.

In Part 2, I write about cars that drive towards or away from the camera. Anyone who wants to create the impression of movement here has to resort to completely different methods.


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