Photographing Drag Racing

The NHRA National swere in Denver just a few days ago at Bandimere Speedway.

There’s an old racer’s expression that says, “there’s no substitute for cubic inches.” Translating that into advice for photographing drag racing action it becomes There’s no substitute for millimeters of focal length. My guess is that some of your best action images will be captured with zoom lenses that have a 200-300mm maximum focal length and maybe sticking a 1.4 extender in your pocket isn’t such a bad idea.

yellow.racer

The above image was photographed at Denver’s Bandimere Speedway. Camera was my old workhorse Canon EOS 1D Mark IIN and an EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM lens with an exposure of 1/250 sec at f/11 and ISO 200. But there’s more to drag racing than burnouts. Unlike other forms of motorsports, you can sometimes get close enough to the action to photograph it using a wide-angle lens. For images in the pits bring a wide-angle zoom; I use the EF16-35mm f/2.8 L II USM.

yellowThe essence of drag racing is head to head competition between two cars going full tilt down a straight smooth track.

Tip: Photographing any sport requires a rudimentary knowledge of the rules so you’ll know what’s going on and in what sequence to be able to capture the peak of action. You can photograph drag racing without knowing the difference between a “Christmas tree” and a Hanukkah bush but you’ll get better pictures if you do a little research about the sport before trying to make any images. Visit the National Hot Rod Association’s website for information about the sport and read their publication National Dragster. The website has a link to locations where you can buy a copy.

For action shots at the Christmas tree, I usually shoot a short burst of images using the camera’s continuous mode. Exposure is critical because there’s no time for bracketing so right before a race I to shoot several test shots and then make exposure adjustments all day long by looking at captured image’s histogram. OK, we can call what it is—chimping.

For more on the use of long lenses for motorsports, please see my Geared Up column in the July issue of Shutterbug magazine that will feature my favorite telephoto and long zoom lenses for DSLRs and mirrorless cameras.