In the final part of his four-part guide to shooting motorsports, Giles Babbidge looks at how to get prepared and produce a diverse, but cohesive, set of images.
So, here we are at the final installment of this series. I hope that you’ve found the first three articles useful and, more importantly, inspirational. Perhaps they’ve even helped you to rethink the way you tackle motorsport events?
In each part, we’ve covered the key components needed to make sure you get the most out of your time photographing all the action – everything from the appropriate method of focusing for a given situation to changing your angle of view in order to create greater impact.
At the end of Part 3, I posed the question: what is photography if not a way to communicate a message? It is from here that we begin this final part.
Where should you start when setting out to tell the story of a motorsport event? Well, clearly you’re not going to be short of ideas, nor will there be a lack of variety when it comes to subject matter – so whittling down all of this potential has to be the first step. The old saying ‘less is more’ really does hold true, and you’ll find that by having a clear direction your images (and the way they work together as a set) will be stronger. Visualising the end result is always a good tactic.
Another good plan of attack is to spend some time wandering around once you’re on site, getting your bearings and deciding whether the preconceived ideas you have in your head are actually going to work as well as you imagined. Don’t be surprised or disappointed if you find yourself having a change of heart or plan due to unforeseen limitations and opportunities on the day. This happens to everyone and, very often, you’ll come away with pictures which are more satisfying than those you originally set out to create. Remember: happy accidents should be embraced!
Stick to a theme
As I said in an earlier part of this series, having a framework in which to work is a great way to concentrate your mind and eye when presented with plenty of variety. There is no limit to the themes available to you; popular suggestions often include ‘portraits’, ‘numbers’, ‘the colour red’ and ‘emotion’.
If you are at an event all day, starting early and finishing late, why not consider setting yourself the challenge of documenting the whole process? If ever there was a time to really sink your teeth into a day-long photo project, this is it! You could, for example, turn your camera towards teams setting up, crowds gathering, catering vans feeding the masses, the start grid, action around the corners, driver reactions, spectator reactions, the podium, teams packing away their vehicles…
Of course, you won’t be able to capture everything, but you should at least be able to produce an interesting selection of images each hour throughout the day. Again, take some time to plan things, perhaps by making a short picture list based around race timings. This way, you’ll be making the most of your time, taking pictures at every possible opportunity.
No doubt you have favourite photographers, the quality of whose work you aspire to replicate. They say that imitation is sincerest form of flattery and there really is nothing wrong with seeking inspiration in the work of others. Books, magazines, websites, even Google Images search – there’s no end to the wealth of great, inspirational articles and pictures out there, it’s only limited by the length of time you’ve prepared to do your research.
So yes – borrow ideas, play with them, see how you might improve upon them and make them your own. Also, just for fun, why not try to get in touch with the photographer(s) who inspire you? Share your pictures and ask for their opinion. While they may be busy, many are more than happy to talk about photography to anyone interested, simply because it’s their passion.
Edit your pictures
By this, I don’t mean Photoshop (although that will be a factor later on in the process). No, what I’m talking about is the art of picking out those pictures which make the final cut and discounting those which don’t. At this stage you should never be afraid of being harsh on yourself; in fact, it should be encouraged. Even better, get a trusted friend or colleague to cast their eye over your photographs and take their opinion on board. You might not agree with everything they say, but at least hear them out.
When I’m editing a set of pictures, it’s typical that somewhere between a third and two-thirds of my images will be discarded. Not deleted off the hard drive (you never know when they might be needed in the future), just not put though as considerations for the final selection. The particular factors governing this process include content duplication, sharpness of subjects in the frame, most favourable composition and subjects’ expressions.
You could, of course, edit through your pictures at the time of the event, although there are two very good reasons why this may not be the best thing to do. First, you will have a much better idea of image sharpness, composition, colour and other factors when viewing your images on a larger screen in the comfort of your home, rather than simply on your camera’s smaller display. Second, if you are concentrating on that screen, there’s a very real chance that you’ll miss the action when it happens right in front of you – often without warning! If this does happen, you’ll be kicking yourself every time you recount the story of ‘the one that got away’.
So there you go. We’ve reached the end of this series and you should now be ready to head out to make some great images. As a parting thought, remember that it’s all very well talking about the stunning shots you’re going to capture, but that’s no good if you don’t go out and actually do it! And when you do, let me know how you get on – I’d love to see the results.
About the Author
Giles Babbidge is a commercial and editorial photographer based in Hampshire. He travels all around the UK and works with a wide range of clients – you can find out more about his day-to-day activities over at his website.