Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Shooting banger racing

Last weekend the family and I all went to the local Banger race meeting. There are other similar meetings all over the UK but this one was the Smallfield Raceway in Surrey, which is only a few miles from my home. Despite my close proximity to the meeting I’ve never been before and although I was pretty sure it would make for some good photos I really didn’t know what to expect.

In the end I had a great day. Banger racing is full of thrills and spills and I bagged a couple of really great shots, but I also came home with some really poor ones. I learned a couple of useful things during the day, which my help you in the future.

Camera Gear.
I’d heard the banger track we were going to would be a dust bowl, so I opted to pack my older gear. I used my Canon 40D for the body and an old Canon 70-300 zoom lens. The 40D body was the perfect choice with it’s APS-C sensor increasing the effective zoom to over 450mm. Best of all it has an awesome continuous shooting mode of 8 frames per second.

The weather is always a problem in the UK, or rather we like to think it is. It’s either too bright, too cold or too wet. Well, this day was too dark. Think big brooding skies, perfect for landscapes shots but not so good for action shots where a fast shutter speed is required.

But the biggest problem, by a mile was the fence. You can see the problem in the image on the right and this was one of the better ones.

As soon as I saw the fence I knew it would be a problem. It was a tall, black, heavy mesh fence which was great for catching flying tyres, but terrible for photography.

Camera settings
I set the camera to continuous shooting 8fps which could knock out 6 RAW images before pausing for breath. I shifted the ISO between 400 – 800 as I tried to keep the shutter speed around 1/1000th second for maximum sharpness.

Focusing was a total nightmare. Servo focus mode is essential so the camera can track a moving object and keep it sharp. Unfortunately the constant focus was the cause of a major head ache. One second I could see a sharp car in the viewfinder, then it would vanish when the camera suddenly focused on the fence. By the time The focus was back on the car I'd have missed the action. This happened again and again and again...

To minimize the appearance of the mesh fence I shoot with a wide open aperture and zoom in as much as possible. I managed to find a spot where I could get a little closer to the fence (about 2 metres) but it still appeared in many of the photos

Useful lessons.
1 Getting on a corner where the cars were coming towards me worked really well.

2 The old 70-300mm lens wasn’t a good choice. Yes the long zoom was good, but the focusing was painfully slow and the f5.6 max aperture gave me problems with shutter speed and fence issues.

3 Take a step ladder. Not being the tallest person in the world I had trouble getting a good view point. I should have packed the steps.
4 Shoot loads and loads of photos. Practice makes perfect and the later images were easily the best. You’ll also need plenty of spare memory and spare batteries.

5 Go to the pits. This isn’t Formula 1, so it’s perfectly OK to wonder round the pits and capture the action. Angle grinders, greasy mechanics and bent metal make for some interesting shots.

6 Share your work. Banger racing is pure amateur fun, so if you get some great shots send them to the race organisers and sponsors.

7 Cheap lenses will do the job, but it's so much easier to use good quality lenses.

8 Banger racing is a great day out, even without the photography angle. They award a prize for "The best roll over of the day" which says it all really!


Jonathan said...

Hi Gavin

Great article, some good shots. A few pointers though

- You only really need a shutter speed of 1/750th a second. This is suitable for racing bikes, so bangers wont be a problem. For panning, 1/125th is good as it keeps the wheels blurred.

- If you have image stabalisation, turn it off. It slows down the focusing

- if you can, get hold of a lense that has lockable focus area. The Canon 100-400L lets you change the focusing range to a minimum of 6.5mm. It will never focus on the fence.



michel said...

Good post Gavin.

It's reassuring that even the pros hit the same kind of hurdles as we do ;-)

I don't do banger racing, but my daughter participates in horse jumping competitions and i find some of the problems you faced similar in a way. I agree the faster the lens the better, especially if the weather is uncertain. I also find a monopod to be an essential gear for such events. It provides good solid support and is easily moved around (as opposed to a tripod). I even found a way to jerry rig an umbrella to the monopod which can be equally valuable during either rainy or sunny days.

I try to get the course plans as early as possible and identify spots where the jumpers will come straight at me over the jumps, and those where i can get good side shots. I try to find 2 or 3 spots maximum otherwise I find i waste time moving from one spot to the other and lose good opportunities.

Servo focusing works fine with horse jumping, as they are not moving as fast as banger racers. I usually follow the horse/jumper through the course and try to time the shot when the horse reaches his highest point over the jump for maximum dramatic effect. I find this works better than fast frame continuous shooting where according to Murphey's law, invariably the best shot is in between frames :(

just thought i'd share this as i think some may also apply to Banger races

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