Photographing MotoGP Races

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The following tutorial on Photographing MotoGP racing has been submitted by Dave Wild. Read more of Dave’s blogging at Public Energy. You can see more of his photography at his Flickr Account (his MotoGP images are here).

Motogp5
June’s MotoGP in Donington, UK started with horrible grey skies and lots of rain. I was prepared for the weather but I hadn’t done my homework with regard to taking photos. I was starting with just a few thoughts on what to expect but I experimented throughout the day and discovered what worked and what didn’t.

In general, the bikes move very fast so you’re going to need a fast shutter speed to capture them without blur. When you look at motorsport photographs, the photos tend to be either

  • very sharp photographs
  • photos where the subject is sharply in focus and the background is blurred
  • and sometimes where the photographer has the main subject blurred to accentuate the speed


Previewing shots and zooming to check focusOf these three types, I find the first type the easiest. Using a very fast shutter speed you can get a good clear focused shot of a fast moving object. Some people advocate pre-focusing where you think your subject is going to be, but with Moto GP where the bikes are nearing 200 Mph, that was too difficult to get good results for me.

What I found to be easier was to set my camera’s focusing mode to continuous so that I cold focus on a bike by holding down the shutter release half-way and track the bike around the track until it was where I wanted it to be then press the shutter release the rest of the way to capture the scene.

Review Your Shots with Zoom – Upon first inspection, my first few shots taken like this looked pretty good on the LCD screen and I took a few more. When I used the camera to review the image and zoom in though it was obvious that the subject wasn’t that sharp really. So for the next few shots I’d take a few with a faster shutter speed and then review them on the LCD, zooming in as far as possible to see how sharp the image is. Making the shutter speed faster and faster until I was happy with the sharpness. If I didn’t review the images by zooming in to check them I could have got home with a lot of blurry shots.

My day at the Moto GP was a very gloomy one weather wise, and I had to increase the ISO setting in order to get enough light for the very fast shutter speeds being used. Bear in mind that if you are zooming in a lot, your aperture will shrink and less light will be entering the camera. At a Moto GP it’s likely that you’ll be far enough away from the bikes to make using a zoom lens a necessity.

Moto-GPShooting Through Fences – It’s likely that you’ll be separated from the track by a safety fence – these are typically mesh fences to allow spectators to see the race but you look at them at just think that they’re going to ruin your chances of getting some good photos.

The first photo here shows the fence that was between me and the track and the second one shows a photograph zoomed in of a bike on the track.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that not only could I zoom in quite clearly on the bikes behind the fence, I could track them without the fence mesh getting in the way and ruining the shots. Sometimes, mainly between bikes when I was trying to pick up a new one, I would suddenly get  the lens to try and focus on the fence, but this happened infrequently. This is really handy because it means you’re not restricted to getting right to the front and popping your lens through the mesh!

Motogp1Incorporating Blur – After getting shots that were very fast shutter speeds that were sharp, I had a go at getting some where I tracked the bike with a slightly slower shutter speed in an attempt to get the bike in focus but blur the background slightly to get a sense of movement. These shots were much harder to get right – especially as I was holding the camera by hand. This final photograph is one taken using this method – you can tell that the shutters speed is a bit slower because the spokes inside the wheels are blurred and so is the background. Compare this with the very first shot where you can clearly see the spokes within the wheel and even the holes on the brake disc.

I think this blurred-movement method would be made much easier with a monopod or a tripod. Due to being in a crowd, a monopod is probably more acceptable to keep your fellow spectators happy.

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

  • Cash

    I guess in the last section, the background blurs because of the movement you give to the camera, while tracking the bikes, is that right? Do you mean to say that the shutter speed was that low?
    I am a bit confused in the effects created by panning, and by the last technique…..

  • MotoGP Fan

    Thanks for this post. But it’s MotoGP. Not Moto GP. No space there.

  • Paul

    Nice post.

    I think to really help people it would be good to see the settings used to ‘stop’ the motion and also to ‘blur’ the motion…

    To that end, the ones I could see in the provided Flickr set were:

    B&W was shot… 1/100th, F/22, ISO1600 @ 300mm
    The top colour photo was… 1/3200, f/5.6, ISO1600 @ 300mm

  • Bear in mind that the ISO was due mainly to the horrible gloomy weather – I think on nice sunny day you could reduce that significantly.

  • @Cash, yeah, a low-ish shutter speed – like the 1/100 – in order to keep the bike in focus you have to follow it smoothly with the camera – thereby blurring the background but hopefully keeping the bike sharp. – It takes practice though – especially if you’re zoomed in quite a way which will just exagerate any hand shakes.

  • barry sheene

    That was the stupidest thing I ever read. Oh, duh, do you need as fast shutter speed to photograph a moving bike? Of course! Why didn’t I think of that! Too bad there was NOTHING useful in the article like his ISO settings or shutter speeds, Fstops, etc. Oh, and you can focus through a fence? Wow! What a ridiculous article. I can’t imagine who it was intended for.

  • Hi Barry – thanks for your constructive critique – feel free to submit something better if you’re up for the challenge – we’re always looking for people who are able to provide lessons and usable tips and not just anonymous critiques.

    Dave has never claimed to be an expert in this – but was kind enough to share how he found his day at the MotoGP and to share what he learned.

    This is a site where we learn together – and that means that authors are not high and mighty experts – but rather are learners too.

  • I was at knockhill for the BSB on Sunday and was lucky enough to get close to a guy from double red, by zooming in on his 30D i could poach his cameras settings. This proved a good tactic as some of the shots i got were really crisp. I’ve not processed them all yet, so i’ve no examples to show yet…sorry.

    From my time taking pictures at MTB races and MX the most valuable piece of advice i was given is to move the focus to the AE lock button if you shoot with a 20D or 30D, this way you can lock the Exposure with the shutter release and then change your focus and composition. this makes a huge difference if you have a lot of grass or sky in your images.
    On the 20D this is custom function 14. Nikons have this as default i think – any Nikon shooters want to clarify? –

    Also when panning, if a monopod is not feasible i use the Armco or the fence and rest one elbow on it and use that as a pivot.

    Oh and at British races make sure you have plastic bags and cloths aplenty, you’ll need them for protecting your kit from the elements.

    Here are my settings from Sunday:
    Manual – for stopping the action.
    ISO 200, 800, F5.6, Servo mode, partial metering.

    Aperture priority – for capturing the motion.
    ISO400, F4, Single shot, partial metering

    I’ll post my results when i get a chance to process them.

  • sheddy

    Nice post – as a keen motorcyclist and (very) amateur photographer who visits his local club races in search of that elusive top-draw action shot, I read this post with interest – I’d love to hear some more advice on shooting motorsport!

    In my experience a monopod is definitely the way to go, especially with long focal lengths as it makes the tracking a lot easier than a tripod, even one with a pan head. I’ve found that tracking the bikes with the shutter half pressed is definitely the best way to get a sharp shot and although it may sound obvious zooming in as far as you can on the LCD once the shot is taken is great advice. I know from experience -the first meet I went to consisted of mostly blurred shots…

    I’d be keen to hear of anyones’ experiences on shooting motorsport with a VR lens and the advantages (if any) as I’m seriously considering getting one for my D70.

  • Cash

    @Fraser and Dave, thanks for taking the time to clarify my doubts…..I am not sure if I can try these techniques out directly at the races, but will certainly practice these on vehicles in the street and see how good results I can get……so those photo lenses might have to wait a bit…….as a hindsight, as Dave says, a photo lens decreases one’s exposure……i.e. easier to use longer shutter speeds…better panning effect…(being optimistic!!)
    Thanks again!

  • Thanks for clarifying on the settings, Paul & publicenergy.

  • Ramón Burgos-Ruíz

    I don’t know about the rest of you, but I can’t wait for Barry’s sensational photography!
    That said, thanks Dave for thinking about others and providing tips and your take on MotoGP photography.

  • I got some nice shoots in Jerez this year.
    Look them at http://www.jacalvo.com
    (there’s a direct link in the home page to the Jerez gallery)

  • Shirley

    I appreciated this article. As an amateur, I have had difficulty with motion shots. I am not into this sport, but I thought it was geared toward people like me.

    Thank you!

  • David

    Thanks Dave! Inspiring article – to sheddy above – a VR lens is really helpful for handheld, especially in low light.

  • Great post! As a motorsports blogger, I recently picked up a Panasonic DMC FZ-8. I figured it was one of the better point and shoots, with lots of frames per second and quick shutter response. I made the right choice, but as a neophyte photographer, what a steep learning curve!

    Last weekend, I spent 2 days at the Steelback Grand Prix in Toronto shooting and had some results that I’m really happy with from the pits. The on track stuff is going to take a lot of practice, but it’s fun practice!

    You can see some of my pics from last weekend here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thegarage/sets/72157600719247303/

  • Merryl

    Thanks for this post. We went to the Philip Island GP last year and my 14yr old son was closest to the fence, so he took my camera and did the shooting. At that stage I hadn’t graduated to a DSLR -just had a decent Kodak point and click. He took some fabulous photos by simply pannning – even won 1st prize in the junior division for photography at the local show. I was very proud of his efforts as he persisted with checking his results and correcting from there. So to all who are trying this for the first time – practice, practice, practice!

  • fairgrieve

    I realise this is an older article but to chuck in a good tip someone gave me. When you’re panning to get the subject in focus with a blurred background, place your feet where you think they’ll be at the end of the pan, then swivel from the hips only to the starting position. Hold the camera as tightly tucked in as you can, then pan from the hips only. You may need a few practice shots but it will make a big difference to the end result.

  • i’m going to have my first attempt at shooting bikes at a track tomorrow so this has been helpful, i shoot a lot of weddings and portraits so this will be a new and fun challenge 🙂

Some Older Comments

  • Bryan July 7, 2013 10:11 am

    i'm going to have my first attempt at shooting bikes at a track tomorrow so this has been helpful, i shoot a lot of weddings and portraits so this will be a new and fun challenge :-)

  • fairgrieve March 24, 2011 12:02 am

    I realise this is an older article but to chuck in a good tip someone gave me. When you're panning to get the subject in focus with a blurred background, place your feet where you think they'll be at the end of the pan, then swivel from the hips only to the starting position. Hold the camera as tightly tucked in as you can, then pan from the hips only. You may need a few practice shots but it will make a big difference to the end result.

  • Merryl July 14, 2007 01:11 pm

    Thanks for this post. We went to the Philip Island GP last year and my 14yr old son was closest to the fence, so he took my camera and did the shooting. At that stage I hadn't graduated to a DSLR -just had a decent Kodak point and click. He took some fabulous photos by simply pannning - even won 1st prize in the junior division for photography at the local show. I was very proud of his efforts as he persisted with checking his results and correcting from there. So to all who are trying this for the first time - practice, practice, practice!

  • Gary July 12, 2007 04:33 am

    Great post! As a motorsports blogger, I recently picked up a Panasonic DMC FZ-8. I figured it was one of the better point and shoots, with lots of frames per second and quick shutter response. I made the right choice, but as a neophyte photographer, what a steep learning curve!

    Last weekend, I spent 2 days at the Steelback Grand Prix in Toronto shooting and had some results that I'm really happy with from the pits. The on track stuff is going to take a lot of practice, but it's fun practice!

    You can see some of my pics from last weekend here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thegarage/sets/72157600719247303/

  • David July 6, 2007 10:55 am

    Thanks Dave! Inspiring article - to sheddy above - a VR lens is really helpful for handheld, especially in low light.

  • Shirley July 6, 2007 03:24 am

    I appreciated this article. As an amateur, I have had difficulty with motion shots. I am not into this sport, but I thought it was geared toward people like me.

    Thank you!

  • JACalvo July 4, 2007 05:10 pm

    I got some nice shoots in Jerez this year.
    Look them at http://www.jacalvo.com
    (there's a direct link in the home page to the Jerez gallery)

  • Ramón Burgos-Ruíz July 4, 2007 09:16 am

    I don't know about the rest of you, but I can't wait for Barry's sensational photography!
    That said, thanks Dave for thinking about others and providing tips and your take on MotoGP photography.

  • Andrew Ferguson July 4, 2007 08:39 am

    Thanks for clarifying on the settings, Paul & publicenergy.

  • Cash July 4, 2007 06:30 am

    @Fraser and Dave, thanks for taking the time to clarify my doubts.....I am not sure if I can try these techniques out directly at the races, but will certainly practice these on vehicles in the street and see how good results I can get......so those photo lenses might have to wait a bit.......as a hindsight, as Dave says, a photo lens decreases one's exposure......i.e. easier to use longer shutter speeds...better panning effect...(being optimistic!!)
    Thanks again!

  • sheddy July 3, 2007 09:03 pm

    Nice post - as a keen motorcyclist and (very) amateur photographer who visits his local club races in search of that elusive top-draw action shot, I read this post with interest - I'd love to hear some more advice on shooting motorsport!

    In my experience a monopod is definitely the way to go, especially with long focal lengths as it makes the tracking a lot easier than a tripod, even one with a pan head. I've found that tracking the bikes with the shutter half pressed is definitely the best way to get a sharp shot and although it may sound obvious zooming in as far as you can on the LCD once the shot is taken is great advice. I know from experience -the first meet I went to consisted of mostly blurred shots...

    I'd be keen to hear of anyones' experiences on shooting motorsport with a VR lens and the advantages (if any) as I'm seriously considering getting one for my D70.

  • Fraser July 3, 2007 07:28 pm

    I was at knockhill for the BSB on Sunday and was lucky enough to get close to a guy from double red, by zooming in on his 30D i could poach his cameras settings. This proved a good tactic as some of the shots i got were really crisp. I've not processed them all yet, so i've no examples to show yet...sorry.

    From my time taking pictures at MTB races and MX the most valuable piece of advice i was given is to move the focus to the AE lock button if you shoot with a 20D or 30D, this way you can lock the Exposure with the shutter release and then change your focus and composition. this makes a huge difference if you have a lot of grass or sky in your images.
    On the 20D this is custom function 14. Nikons have this as default i think - any Nikon shooters want to clarify? -

    Also when panning, if a monopod is not feasible i use the Armco or the fence and rest one elbow on it and use that as a pivot.

    Oh and at British races make sure you have plastic bags and cloths aplenty, you'll need them for protecting your kit from the elements.

    Here are my settings from Sunday:
    Manual - for stopping the action.
    ISO 200, 800, F5.6, Servo mode, partial metering.

    Aperture priority - for capturing the motion.
    ISO400, F4, Single shot, partial metering

    I'll post my results when i get a chance to process them.

  • Darren July 3, 2007 12:47 pm

    Hi Barry - thanks for your constructive critique - feel free to submit something better if you're up for the challenge - we're always looking for people who are able to provide lessons and usable tips and not just anonymous critiques.

    Dave has never claimed to be an expert in this - but was kind enough to share how he found his day at the MotoGP and to share what he learned.

    This is a site where we learn together - and that means that authors are not high and mighty experts - but rather are learners too.

  • barry sheene July 3, 2007 12:06 pm

    That was the stupidest thing I ever read. Oh, duh, do you need as fast shutter speed to photograph a moving bike? Of course! Why didn't I think of that! Too bad there was NOTHING useful in the article like his ISO settings or shutter speeds, Fstops, etc. Oh, and you can focus through a fence? Wow! What a ridiculous article. I can't imagine who it was intended for.

  • publicenergy July 3, 2007 07:49 am

    @Cash, yeah, a low-ish shutter speed - like the 1/100 - in order to keep the bike in focus you have to follow it smoothly with the camera - thereby blurring the background but hopefully keeping the bike sharp. - It takes practice though - especially if you're zoomed in quite a way which will just exagerate any hand shakes.

  • publicenergy July 3, 2007 07:45 am

    Bear in mind that the ISO was due mainly to the horrible gloomy weather - I think on nice sunny day you could reduce that significantly.

  • Paul July 3, 2007 07:22 am

    Nice post.

    I think to really help people it would be good to see the settings used to 'stop' the motion and also to 'blur' the motion...

    To that end, the ones I could see in the provided Flickr set were:

    B&W was shot... 1/100th, F/22, ISO1600 @ 300mm
    The top colour photo was... 1/3200, f/5.6, ISO1600 @ 300mm

  • MotoGP Fan July 3, 2007 05:43 am

    Thanks for this post. But it's MotoGP. Not Moto GP. No space there.

  • Cash July 3, 2007 03:09 am

    I guess in the last section, the background blurs because of the movement you give to the camera, while tracking the bikes, is that right? Do you mean to say that the shutter speed was that low?
    I am a bit confused in the effects created by panning, and by the last technique.....

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