My mission is to take great motorsport photographs: here’s how I got into pole position

 Motorsport photography by David Handley.
Motorsport photography by David Handley.

My Mission

Motorsport photography by David Handley
Motorsport photography by David Handley

Mission: Capture pro-quality motorsport images from behind the spectator fence at Oulton Park
Photographer: David Handley
Location: Wrexham, Wales
Kit used: Nikon D3300, Nikon AF-P 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6E ED VR

My lifelong interest in photography started when I first saw my father’s holiday snaps at the tender age of eight. Over the years, I’ve tried various genres, but at the moment, I’m enjoying action photography, more specifically motorsport.

The biggest challenge is keeping up with the racing cars or motorbikes while panning. They travel at such high speeds that I often capture half a car, or miss it completely and capture just the tarmac!

When I won a Nikon D3300 in a photography competition, I thought I would see how it coped with action subjects. I purchased the Nikon AF-P 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6E ED VR, after having read some positive reviews, and have been pleased with the results.

My best shots

Motorsport photography by David Handley
Motorsport photography by David Handley

All of the images here have been taken at Oulton Park in Cheshire. The circuit is a great venue for photographers wanting to capture on-track action, because it doesn’t have a great deal of high safety fencing, which allows for some unobstructed views of the circuit, such as this shot taken at Knickerbrook corner – a great spot for some exciting action. The benefit of shooting from this vantage point is that the corner is slightly higher than the spectator position and, by kneeling down, you can capture an eye-level view. The low angle gives a bit more impact to the picture.

I used AF-C to continuously focus on the car as it approached and a fast shutter speed of 1/1,000 sec to prevent motion blur. Although my 70-300mm lens allowed me to get close enough, I still needed to crop into the image slightly to get a better composition. I also cloned out some bright red bins and some speakers, which were distractions.

Motorsport photography by David Handley
Motorsport photography by David Handley

Having taken a number of shots of individual cars, I wanted to capture an image that conveyed the intense competition of a race. This shot was also taken at Knickerbrook. There is always the possibility of someone coming off and, if you’re lucky, you can capture the right front wheel lifting off the ground. My settings remained fairly similar and, once again, I had to crop into the image slightly. An 80-400mm lens with a full-frame equivalent focal length of 120-600mm would have been ideal. But, for now, my 70-300mm and its full-frame equivalent 105-450mm is certainly usable enough.

Motorsport photography by David Handley
Motorsport photography by David Handley

For this shot, I experimented using Aperture Priority instead of my normal Shutter Priority and set an aperture of f/7.1 to achieve a greater depth of field. In order to do this, I had to increase the ISO to 800. As it was a dull day, I added a little exposure compensation to boost the exposure. In post-processing I cloned out some bits of rubber that were on the track and made a few minor adjustments to the exposure, contrast and clarity. I finished off the image with a little sharpening.

Motorsport photography by David Handley
Motorsport photography by David Handley

Lodge Corner is another popular spot with photographers. Although it is one of the slowest corners at Oulton Park, the motorbikes still come round at incredible speeds. I find it difficult to keep track of subjects here, because a safety barrier obscures your line of sight as the racers enter the corner. With a little practice and not zooming in too far – so there’s plenty of room for the subject to move within the frame – I have been able to capture some good images here.

My motorsport photography tips

  • Make finding a suitable background your priority when you visit a race circuit. A messy, cluttered background will spoil what could otherwise be a winning shot.

  • Learn how to pan with your subject. This will help you maintain accurate focus, frame a good composition and – if you’re confident enough to begin slowing the shutter speed down – add a real sense of speed.

  • Be patient and practice. If you don’t get it right there’s usually another lap to follow. And don’t worry about what you’re shooting to begin with. Even a track day is an ideal opportunity to master your craft.

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