When I bought my first camera in June 2017, a Nikon D3300, all I thought I might do with it is take cool pictures of cars, motorsports being one of my main interests. I had a fairly good idea that “cool” involved employing a technique called “panning” which means following a moving car and shooting with a slow-ish shutter speed, so as to blur the background and inject a sense of motion into the shot, like this, a picture I took on my very first visit to Snetterton:
1/125th – f/8 – ISO100 – 100mm (150mm equivalent)
At 1/125th of a second the shutter speed is too slow to freeze the image completely, hence the blurred people and parked cars in the background, but by following the racing car with the camera the subject of the image, the racing car, is not blurred. This is a “panning” shot and you see them all the time where motorsports is concerned.
If higher shutter speeds were used, high enough to freeze all the objects in the image, it would look like the car was parked on the track, no sense of motion, a pretty boring image, which is why all decent motorsports photographers need to master the art of panning, and why I decided I needed to do so as well.
Since then I’ve become aware of many great motorsports photographers, some of whom specialise in slow panning shots. Here are the websites of a couple who often use really low shutter speeds to achieve dramatic effects:-
These guys are taking pictures at shutter speeds way slower than I’m able to, because the slower the shutter the more skill is required to pan correctly keeping the car in focus. It’s a skill that requires a lot of practise to get right, and although I’m making some progress I’m not there yet.
That doesn’t mean I can’t have fun trying, and here are a couple of shots from my most recent outing, an Oval Track event in Eastbourne on 4th July (please ignore the heavy wire from the crash barrier which effectively ruins both these images):
1/40th – f/13 – ISO200 – 40mm (80mm equivalent)
In this shot I deliberately stepped back to include some foreground as well as background to give more contrast between the in-focus car and the blurred surroundings. I think it works, although the composition leaves something to be desired, it would’ve been better to have some foreground to the right of the car as well as the left, but it was the only spot I could find to get anywhere near the kind of shot I wanted to take. You’ll also note the shutter speed used here is much lower than the first image, 1/40th of second, which ordinarily would be too slow to take a sharp picture of a non-moving object, so in that sense I’m pleased with it.
1/20th – f/16 – ISO200 – 31mm (62mm equivalent)
In this shot I’ve dared to go even lower, 1/20th of a second shutter speed, and here pretty much the only thing even vaguely in focus is the driver (which of course was where I was aiming). So to some extent this is the image I wanted, I succeeded in my specific aim and should be pleased with this one.
But is it really “creative” or “artistic”, or is it just a bad, out of focus photograph? Have I gone too far now in my attempt to blur our everything except one specific area of interest? Would the driver of this car, were he to see this photo, say “wow, great shot”, or would he think, “hmm, something went wrong there!”.
I guess everyone has moments of self-doubt, and maybe that’s where I am right now, but currently I find myself torn between persevering with this course of action, trying to perfect this kind of shot, or whether I should direct my efforts elsewhere.
Ultimately I’m trying to produce images that other photographers, at Oval Track events in particular, are not producing. The official photographers, for example, whilst producing panning shots similar to the first in this article, don’t go mad like I do on the shutter speed, they add enough blur to get motion in the shot, but not to the same extent, and I’m sure it’s not because they can’t, but because they believe the car has to be fully rendered, sharp and in-focus, perhaps because they believe, or they know, that’s what people want to see (and from their perspective even more importantly, pay for).
Furthermore, the official photographers rarely venture into the pit area, at least not between races (almost certainly due to lack of time rather than unwillingness) so they’re not capturing the candid shots of drivers and their teams preparing their cars, they’re not capturing the atmosphere of the event, so perhaps that’s where I can offer something different?
Oh well, more Oval Track events are coming up shortly, I believe we’re at 3 different tracks over the next couple of weeks, so we’ll see what I can do differently at these!