Back in September, I did a quick blog about shooting a night race at Richmond International Raceway. Since last Sunday was the Daytona 500 (Congratulations, Jamie McMurray!), I figured I’d throw out some more photo tips about shooting races. I’ve been to the Daytona 500 twice now. I'm not a huge NASCAR fan, but I have been to several tracks, enjoying the time with my son and son-in-law. The boys and I make it a “guy trip” and try to attend everything we can. Daytona is a fun place to enjoy with 200,000 of your best friends. There are photos everywhere. Old race cars, crazy fans, new race cars, the flyover.
Although NASCAR tracks are probably the least restrictive of all the sporting venues, there are some rules. You can bring in a backpack, but it is size-restricted and must be see-through. You can buy these very fashionable backpacks from vendors outside the track for about $20. I hang my camera around my neck and fill the backpack with a couple of lenses, batteries, and additional memory cards. I carry in a monopod with my seatpad (no metal on the seatpads). I get lots of looks from the security staff, but have never had any problems getting through.
Each track has seats where you can see the track unimpeded by the catch fence, but you’ll probably be up high and farther away than you’d like. Bring the longest, fastest lenses you can get, so you can get photos down into the action. The picture below is an official pointing to a missed lugnut. This mistake cost Carl Edwards dearly. My long lens caught it all. This picture was published on a racing website.
If you are at a track the day before the race, you can get into see the sessions. Since the drivers are in and out of the garage, adjusting their cars, you can get individual drivers by themselves on the track. Many of the tracks have distinctive features that can tell your viewer exactly where the picture was taken. Here's an easy one since I lined up the car with the Martinsville sign between turns 3 and 4.
Last year, through a special arrangement, I got a press pass at Martinsville and went into the pit area. The pass allowed me into the garage area for a different view of the race teams. This is why we carry multiple lenses! Switch to a wider angle lens and shoot away for photos that most fans can't get. Martinsville is a great track for photos because you can capture the entire track in your viewfinder. The fans are friendly at every track I've visited, but especially at Martinsville.
If you go to a race, NASCAR or otherwise, make sure to set the fastest shutter speed possible to freeze the action. Then use a slower speed to capture motion. Try panning to keep the car in focus with a motion-blurred background. And, generally, try all kinds of different techniques. See what I mean - there are pictures everywhere at the track. Go, Tony Stewart!