The challenges of motorsport photography

Written by Cheryl Tay on . Posted in Cheryl Tay Blog | Blog Post of Cheryl Tay

The world of fast cars is no doubt an exciting one, but capturing the shots to accurately portray the action is tough… very tough.

Shooting motorsports has its challenges, but it is also the most rewarding for me – the high-speed action, the colourful liveries of the cars, the emotions of the spectators and the paddock and more. The photos of motor racing that you admire from behind your computer screen in the comfort of your home is attained with a lot, a lot of hard work.

Through my line of work in the motoring and motorsports world, I get the opportunity to access exciting motorsport action upclose. I started out as a writer, but along the way in my line of work, I picked up photography so I could complement my articles and portray my story better. I got myself an entry-level DSLR (the Nikon D90) back in 2008 but this year, I decided to invest more in equipment because I realised that while it is true that it is the photographer and not the equipment, the equipment does play a part. It really does.

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Besides the financial challenge of attaining more equipment, the other new challenge I faced with this set of equipment was the weight. From just one amateur DSLR body and a simple 18-200mm zoom lens, I started carrying around a professional full-frame Canon 1DX body and six different types of prime lens, including the huge 300mm telephoto lens, as well as an extra pro DSLR body as spare. All in all, I think it was at least 15kg of equipment on my back. After a few hours, the aching shoulders and back just become numb. Actually, I don’t feel the soreness until the races are over and I’m done shooting – that’s when I start feeling the pain.

Singapore unfortunately does not have a very vibrant motorsport scene due to the lack of a permanent circuit. There is a decent level of karting activity going on, and some gymkhana events, along with the occasional drift affair. I do fortunately get my much-needed regular dosage of motorsport overseas. Therein lie a few more challenges.

When you are familiar with the track, you will know which spots will get you the best shots or the type of shots you want. When you know the drivers personally, the familiarity will get you good shots too, as they give you friendlier poses for example.

But when I go abroad, most of the time I am headed to new tracks and so I spend a considerable amount of time walking the track – with heavy equipment in tow – in search of the best spots to shoot from. Some tracks will have media shuttles that can ferry you to points around the circuit that you want to go to, but most of the time I prefer to walk the whole track at least once so I can take my time to source for the angles that I want. However, time can get limited sometimes, especially when the races have just one practice session, one qualifying session and the race itself. By the time it gets to the race, ideally I should already know which spots I want to shoot from and not be attempting anymore trial and error.

The weather is another factor to deal with. It can be blazing hot one moment and the next thing you know, the clouds gather quickly and you are caught in rain. I don’t mind getting wet, but my equipment must never get wet. Thankfully the times I got caught in rain I was either near shelter or I had my rain gear with me. Rain actually helps to make awesome shots with all the cars cutting into the water and causing sprays.

One of the greater challenges of motorsport photography, as with all fast-paced action photography, is capturing the moment. The cars are never going to wait for you – it’s either you get the shot or you don’t. Add in the unpredictability factor, motorsport photography does require some luck too. For example, if a high-profiled crash takes place at the corner you are at, that case of right-place-at-the-right-time would get you shots that others do not have.

Although the equipment is heavy and I suffer from backaches after, these are just little sacrifices to get the shots that I want. When you do get the shots you want, that feeling of satisfaction is just so addictive.

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*This was first published in REV.

View my photos on Flickr here.

Download my digital motorsport calendar 2013 here too.

Cheryl Tay

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Singapore’s only female full-time motoring and motorsports photojournalist. Independent automotive consultant and prominent local motorsports personality Cheryl Tay is uniquely passionate about all things cars and motorsports. She also has a strong passion to share her interest and knowledge, hence having a dream to become the ‘Oprah Winfrey of cars and motorsports’ and create a multimedia platform for her sharing. - A female in a male-dominated world, Cheryl Tay is Singapore’s only female full-time motoring journalist and motorsports blogger and she regularly writes for prominent titles in Singapore, Asia and internationally. (See full list of titles that Cheryl Tay writes for here.)

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