Mercedes Gullwing at Goodwood Festival of Speed
Tomorrow is the first time I’ve had the chance to visit Goodwood Festival of Speed for a number of years now and boy do I miss the sights, sounds and smell of the cars! I haven’t had the chance to photo cars as much as I’d like and I miss it. I’ve had the privilege of photo’ing the Mille Miglia, The Corthay Excellence Run, The Ralph Lauren RRL Rider’s Tour and various events at Goodwood in the past and I love the variety of where (two or) four wheels can take you. Cars offer a variety of shapes, colours, locations; there’s just so much on offer. However because there’s so much on offer, it can be overwhelming. So here are a few tips;
Close up with a wide angle lens
Wide angle lenses can exaggerate features. By zooming out and getting close, physical features and lines can look incredible. Purists may bemoan the potential distortion is not want the designers had in mind which they spent days and years on, but a more practical negative result can be a tiny car behind to a huge detail. Elements physically close to a wide lens will appear far larger than anything behind them; just look at the size of the bonnet compared to the rest of the car in the image above.
If you want to get close up to details, then you’ll need a macro lens. A car’s got all sorts of details that can look magical; the hood badge, the stitching on the steering wheel or seats, a detail on the wheels. The macro will let you get up close and personal with all of these.
Lastly, if you’re after some action shots, you’ll need a zoom. The zoom will let you fill the frame with the car otherwise there’s the danger you’ll have a tiny car on what may otherwise look like an empty track. And if you’re going to do some panning shots, bring your tripod.
Panning is moving the camera and keeping the subject in the frame. Sounds simple enough, but like most things, there are various elements to think of. Motion is captured, or not, with shutter speed. The faster the shutter, the more motion will be captured and vice vera, a slow shutter speed the more blur you’ll get and the more of a sense of action you’ll achieve. A fast shutter where all motion is captured can often look stale and just a bit weird with cars looking like they're parked. So have a think of what you’re trying to achieve, be it blurred background, blurred wheels etc etc...
Here are two shots from the same trackside location but with different shutter speed. The first shot was taken at 1/160 and the second 1/50; see the difference a slower shutter makes? The slower the speed, the more the feeling of action and motion with less of the image in focus. And don’t forget to a) put the camera into Servo Mode so it tracks the cars as they motor by and b) use Burst Mode. While I’m not normally one to suggest firing off as many frames as possible, but to take time and consider your shots, when cars are screaming past you, you need as many chances at success as possible. I suggest being careful in your selection of AutoFocus (AF) point and make sure to keep the point on the car as it goes past. You don't want the AF point fixing on anything other than the car; otherwise you're in danger of having a lovely image of the track or spectators in the background.
When you select the AF point, have a think of where in the frame the car is going to be. Generally speaking fronts of cars are more attractive than the rears and think about where the space in the frame is. Is the car moving into or away from space? Moving into space can feel like the car is on the start of, or mid, journey. Taking an image of the rear of a car leaving the frame is like saying goodbye to someone you want to be best friends with.
Lastly, consider the direction of the car and the lateral movement. Do you want the car going left to right or vice versa? Generally we read left to right and our eyes are thus trained to look in that direction and in cinema the good guy appears from the left and generally moves across the screen, to the right. Cinematically moving right to left is used to create and highlight difficulty or used with bad guys. However, and depending on what access you have, the best spot for you may dictate the direction of the car.
Fun fact: almost all of the movement in the movie Lawrence of Arabia goes from left to right. David Lean said that he did this to emphasize that the movie was a journey.
Taken at 1/160
Taken at 1/50
It can be difficult to get a clear paddock or stand to take an image of a car in it’s full glory without lots of other people in the background, so have a think about the details (and the macro lens). However don’t be afraid to build the passers by and other potential ‘obstacles’ into the shot. Here are two shots which do just that. One including a camera crew in the background (I hope I didn’t ruin their shot) and another of a pit crew working on the near car which helps frame the driver of the car behind.
Composition is going to be affected by location; if you're on a straight, the background to the shot is likely to be a stand. If you're at a corner, use that to your advantage by using the bend as a leading line. However be careful! If you're on the outside of a bend, remember you may be in danger if a car loses control and crashes.
Experiment with angles and the height of the camera. Go low! Go high! You may surprise yourself with what you see if you do. Also cars look heroic when taken at a low angle and looking slightly up.
Good luck and happy hunting!