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Photography Question 
Shawnna C. Gee
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/23/2006

Taking pictures of a Nascar Race

I will be attending the Nascar Race at the California Speedway soon and I wanted to know if anyone had some tips on photographing cars flying by you at 165 mph? We will be in the 3rd row so the cars will be in our face! I have a Canon 30D with an 18-55mm lens and a 75-300mm zoom. Thanks!

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2/12/2008 9:24:58 AM

W.    Hi Shawnna,

you will probably use the 75-300 for the race(s), and the 18-55 for the paddocks (if you have access).

A car whizzing past at 165mph would require a supershort shutter time to 'freeze', which, in turn, would require enormous quantities of light: something like 3 suns...
Obviously, you haven't got that.

'Panning' tracking the car and exposing while you do that won't work at those speeds.

So to get racing cars in focus your best bet is to shoot them head-on, Tv 1/250th.
Use a tripod!

Have fun!

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2/12/2008 10:05:16 AM

Jon Close
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/18/2000
  You can't use a tripod, or even a monopod in the stands. Down close (3rd row is still about 30-50 ft from the track) you'll probably use the 18-55 more. Panning that close and that fast is not impossible and is recommended. Another thing that panning does is blur the debris fence so that it is much less a distraction in your photo. To keep the camera from autofocusing on the fence, use manual focus and prefocus on a portion of the track in front of you where you anticipate triggering the shutter. Use the 75-300 to shoot the cars coming at you from the turn, or going away down the straight.

Be sure to use hearing protection.

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2/12/2008 2:08:53 PM

Excellent counsel, Jon. But that kind of panning requires an extremely delicate, experienced 'touch' from the photographer, that very, very few posess. Prepare for 99% non-keepers. But, hey, that's what we got digital for these days, eh?

Have fun at the track, Shawnna!

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2/12/2008 5:44:28 PM

Pete H
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/9/2005

Don't listen to the nay sayers.
Panning is not only fairly simple, it is done all the time! Far from impossible. I am NOT a sports photographer. Last year at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway I shot a few snaps.

Here are a few tips that might help you.

1) High shutter speed. 1/500th or better

2) Don't always try to take the shot when the car is at right angles to you. At right angles to you, this is the highest speed relative to you. Try a few as the car approaches you and moves away.

3) "Pre-meter" or expose for the cars..use spot or center weight. Lock in the settings and stay on full manual. Don't worry about the background being properly exposed..That is not your subject of interest.

4) Shoot in continuous mode as the car passes you..use the highest frame rate you have.

Here are a few shots from a NON sports shooter that I took last year. 165 MPH? LOL..These guys were zinging by at well over 200 MPH!

all the best,


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2/12/2008 8:19:11 PM

Nice pix, Pete!
As small posts in a forum!
But will they hold up to scrutiny when printed at 10"x6"?

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2/13/2008 3:22:12 PM

Pete H
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/9/2005
  The will indeed W. I could probably make them 16x20 w/o a problem.

Actually, I find the pics I posted quite boring myself. LOL I just posted them as a illustraton only. I've just never found that type of photo very interesting. No story in it; but alas, that's me.

..and yes; it does require some practice as you pointed out..but anyone can do it.

all the best,


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2/13/2008 4:53:22 PM

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