Photographing rally racing


A lot of people are into autocross and rally racing, and even more are into photography. This article fuses the both of them, into a fantastic guest article written by my good friend Alecu.

If the thought of hanging out in a cloud of dust and flying pebbles, as hundreds of horsepower blast past you, you don’t wanna miss this article… 

When photographing rally racing, there are a few things you have to keep in mind:


1. Safety

There is nothing more important than your safety. Yes, we do want to come home with nice photos, but nothing is worth the risk of something happening to you. The drivers are extremely tense and focused on the race, and their last worry is the public. Furthermore, they are not responsible for any events that may occur.

Under no circumstances should you position yourself on the outside of a turn, or any other potentially dangerous spot (even if there are no “forbidden” markings placed there). The organizers usually make sure that there are no spectators in dangerous areas, but you should make sure that you are avoiding any possible problems.

2. Schedule

Usually these races are organized far from cities or main roads. The access roads are being blocked some time before the event.

So, it is very important to know the area a bit, choose an interesting spot early on. Study the timetable, there might be a both-ways stage, which doubles the fun for the same amount of effort.
Should you want to get to more than just one stage, you need to study the schedule and the map, and try to optimize the route, in order to get to as many stages as possible. You might need to sacrifice seeing the last cars of one stage, and hit the road to the next one.


3. Gear

You will walk around quite a lot, for sure, so, adecquate footware is mandatory. Get ready for dust, mud, boulders or shrubs. Something waterproof would be advisable, both for you and your photogear.

Oh, an you might need some photography stuff… I’d strongly recommend a dSLR with a wide-zoom lens, perhaps ultra-wide if you wish to be extreme, but you can use whatever you have, really. Creativity and composition are what makes a good photgraphy, a DSLR only makes it easier to achieve.


4. Technique

Not unlike buying a house, the three most important things are Location, Location and Location: where you are going to stay on the side of the track. My advice is the inside of a turn where drivers put the cars sideways through a controlled drift. It is just as much entertaining on tarmac as it is on gravel (watch out for the dust), and, in theory, it is a safe place to be.

Should the driver miss the drift, he will normaly go out on the outside of the turn, not the inside. But then again, keep in mind that anything might happen, so you should always be alert. Another good place would be a little donw the road from a spectacular turn. The cars will appear sliding in your shot, maybe some smoke or dust from the tyres, a very good opportunity for spectacular photographs.

Try unusual angles. From ground level upwards or from some hight downwards. The photographs taken at eye level seem common for the sole reason that that’s the normal angle for one to look at things. You’ll have to go for a drop of inspiration and take shot without looking through the viewfinder, in order to get these unusual angles (If you have one of those ‘flip & twist’ LCDs on your camera, that’d be a serious advantage)

Panning vs Time Freeze


The are the two techniques that seem the most appropriate, as far as I am concerned. Panning means a photography taken with longer exposures (I made some with 1/80 second), in order to have a sharp car and “moving” background. The effect is guaranteed: the sensation of speed that the photograph reveals is fantastic. All you have to do is set a longer exposure (you’ll have to experiment until you get what you want under the given conditions), and follow the car with the camera with a continuous motion. My advice is to begin the following before pressing the shutter release, and keep it going a bit after the exposure is finished. A bit of exercise will get you excellent panning photos.

The other option would be to use a very short exposure time, while increasing the sensitivity and opening the aperture as much as the conditions allow you to (meaning the max ISO with acceptable noise and a aperture which allows you to have satisfyingly sharp results). This will outcome in 1/500 or shorter exposures, which allow you to immortalise still smoke or dust.

Single Shot Vs Burst

I can’t give a definitive verdict. Some may say it’s “better to get one good shot rather than four pour ones”. In fact it mostly depends on your gear. If your camera has high fps capibility you could try to shot in burst mode, if not you should concentrate in getting one good shot per passing.


5. Have Fun

Remember to be creative and find the most interesting angles and approaches. And make it fun. It’ll be a day spent out, you should enjoy yourself as much as you can!

This article was contributed by Alecu Grigore. He runs the excellent Romenian photo blog, ‘Frames‘. Thanks Alecu!