With the rising popularity of #IAMTHESPEEDHUNTER and the continued increase in photography submissions, we thought it was time to start a new chapter in the Speedhunters story. As you can probably guess from the title, this is the beginning of our own photography guide. The main difference between this guide and the million other guides online is that this one will revolve around the Speedhunters universe. By the time we’re finished, this will be the definitive guide to photographing cars.
We want to start this off by saying that this is a guide, and not gospel. There are many varying methods to certain aspects of photography, and we would advise that you take what you learn from here and add it to your own learning process. Most importantly, if you have a different way of doing things, share it with us in the comments below.
Further to the above, we want to make this guide accessible to everyone. For example, we may speak in broad terms on occasion so if you want us to elaborate on something, let us know and we will oblige.
Let’s begin then shall we?
The most obvious requirement for photography is a camera. Nearly everything these days appears to be equipped with one, but if you want to further your skills properly, you’re going to need a capable camera that is up to the job.
I would nearly always recommend a person to buy a Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera when looking to advance their photography skills. A DSLR is based on a traditional 35mm film camera with interchangeable lenses. There is a huge market of used and new DSLRs available to you and there is almost always a camera to suit everyone’s budget. I primarily shoot Canon, so most of my experience is based around this brand but if you stick to the big brands (Nikon, Sony etc…) you’re not going to go too far wrong.
You also have the option of mirrorless cameras with interchangeable lenses. Although these are more than capable, they’re not exactly cheap but they are more than up to the job.
Once you’ve decided on your budget and what you will primarily be using it for, you can begin searching the market for the most suitable option. Don’t get too sucked in by megapixels as contrary to popular belief, a high megapixel (MP) count does not always equal a higher quality image. As an example, the ageing Canon EOS 1D MKII N’s 8.2MP would result in a far superior image compared to a 12MP point and shoot for example. There is also a lot of jargon involved in the DSLR industry, here are just some of the terms used and what they mean to you:
MP – Megapixel: The amount of pixels a camera is capable of capturing.
FPS – Frames per Second: This simply means how many images the camera can take in a second. The speed of your memory card will determine for just how long this burst will last.
ISO – International Standards Organisation: At the heart of your DSLR is a piece of digital film called a sensor. The ISO determines just how sensitive your sensor is to light. The higher the number, the more sensitive. There are drawbacks however for using a higher ISO, as the resulting images will contain significantly higher noise levels (which manifests itself as small coloured dots across the image), will be slightly softer and the colours will be a little muted also. You should always try and use the lowest possible ISO for any given situation.
CROP SENSOR – A lot of modern DSLRs will have what is known as a crop sensor. Most consumer DSLR’s will have a crop sensor, with Canon usually being 1.6x and Nikon 1.5X. This refers to the magnification of a lens’ focal length onto the small sensor. A 100mm lens will become a 160mm lens on a 1.6x crop and a 150mm lens on a 1.5x crop. Some professional level DSLRs feature a full frame sensor. This is a sensor with zero crop. This is a good thing.
Once you’ve picked up a body, you will more often than not need a lens. Most cameras, even used ones, will come with a cheap ‘kit’ lens which is fine for mucking about on but is definitely the weakest point of your set-up. For relatively small money, you can buy a 50mm F/1.8 lens new from any decent retailer. The body of this lens maybe cheap and the AF slow, but the quality of the glass inside is absolutely fantastic and will really help you get the most from DSLR. Here are a few terms that may help you when buying a lens:
FOCAL LENGTH – This is how much ‘zoom’ a lens has. The lower the number (measured in mm) the wider the field of view and vice versa. 50mm would be considered the most honest focal length. Under 50mm would be considered wide angle and over 50mm would be considered telephoto.
APERTURE – The dreaded F/Number. Talk of aperture numbers usually scares the bejesus out of most photography newcomers but it is actually quite simple. The aperture (latin for opening) is simply a measure of how much light a lens can let in. A lens like the above mentioned 50mm F/1.8 will allow in huge amounts of light where as a lens with a maximum aperture of F/5.6 will allow a lot less (over three times less in fact). Contrary to what might seem obvious, a small F/number results in a larger opening and big number equals a smaller opening. The aperture also dictates how shallow or deep the depth of field is.
PRIME – This is a lens with a fixed focal length i.e. Canon 50mm F/1.8.
ZOOM – This is a lens with a variable focal length i.e. Canon 17-40mm F/4 L.
IS/VR – Image Stabilization/Vibration Reduction: two names for what is essentially the same technology. IS/VR is a feature built into a lens to help counteract camera shake. IS is Canon’s variant whilst VR is a Nikon trademark.
AF – Auto Focus: Electronic focus assist. There are three main types of auto focus which I will go into in more detail in a future post.
DISTORTION – Wide angle lenses suffer from what is known as ‘barrel distortion’. This is an effect (desired by some, despised by others) where the corners of an image begin to bend towards the centre and where lines that are normally straight become curved. As a personal note, barrel distortion is something I do my best to avoid when shooting cars as the distorted perspective alters the shape of the car detrimentally.
(A note on lenses: Cheaper zoom lenses tend to have a variable aperture. For example, a Canon 18-55 F/3.5-5.6 will have a maximum aperture opening of F/3.5 at 18mm but this maximum aperture is reduced to F/5.6 at 55mm. More expensive lenses tend to retain the same aperture at either end of their focal length i.e. Canon 24-70 F/2.8 L)
Personally, if I was starting all over again, I’d try pick up a used Canon 5D MKII with a 24-70 f/2.8 L. I’d work with that for a while until I figured out how I like to shoot and what I like to shoot, and then build from there. If I was on a tight budget, I’d definitely consider a Canon 40D or 50D with a Canon 35mm f/2 lens. The 40D is one of the best cameras I’ve ever owned, so I’m sure the latest evolutions are just as good.
Now that you have an approximate idea of what you are holding and hopefully a better understanding of what to look for when shopping for equipment, we can move onto the next part where I will talk you through the basic operations of a camera.
This has really got me intrigued. I'm kicking it real old school here. I have a Konica Minolta Dynax/Maxxum 5D. I don't really know that much about it other than we bought it way back in 2005. It was the last DSLR that KM made before going under. According to Wikipedia it is 6.1MP, shutter speed of 1/4000 sec, has a 23.5 x 15.7mm sensor, runs the Sony/Minolta Alpha lens mount, and is really dated compared to modern DSLRs, but it suits me since I can't afford to fork out thousands for a new camera.
My external flash is pretty average, but it was made in 1989 for a Minolta Dynax 7000i, so the fact it works on a camera made 16 years after is pretty good on its own. I've noticed it doesn't like rechargeable batteries too much, as it can't quite draw enough juice to charge the capacitor quickly, so will switch to Li batteries from now on.
My lenses: One is a Factory KM 55mm lens with 18-70mm zoom, macro of 0.38m/1.3ft, and F/3.5-5.6. Its handy for Pit work and close quarters. The other one I normally use is a Sigma 72mm with 28-200mm zoom, F/3.8-5.6 and no macro. I use this one for the Night Drags with a fairly high ISO just so I can get some decently lit photos, and just edit out the noise afterwards. Probably not the best way of going about it but I'm getting there.
I have got the standard 55-100 Nikon D3100 lens, would they be good for taking rolling shots of cars and at car shows?
How do you get such realistic colors in your photographs ? I own a Nikon D3100 and I can make some beautiful pictures with it, but I don't get how to get this colors
Great segment. Ive requested before a segment on equipment and techniques and had no response so very happy you have gone with this!!
Great article.. I shoot with a Canon Rebel EOS XS, which is more basic than anything else from what I read. Just starting to take my photography a little more seriously although I don't speak the jargon. This is a good article for setting the basics and I'll definitely be coming back to look this over and take notes. Thanks!
Great article for people who just started photography. I started off with the first NEX 3 and taught myself how to shoot in first aperture mode, then shutter mode then manual. Then i got myself a 60D with a Sigma 17-50 lens F2.8 and a Video Rode mic, that was a great camera for my video work and car photography but i hated the size and weight. So i sold that and my NEX 3 for a new NEX 6 with the kit lens, Sigma 30mm f2.8 lens and a couple of legacy lenses from Olympus that i use for video on the NEX. I say start off with a 50D with a Tamron/sigma 17-50 f2.8 lens and a Canon 50mm f1.8 lens imo.
...i am going to follow this, ilove taking auto pictures, but im not sure on if my cameraisnt good. or i need different lenses. Its a canon 20d. Any help would rock...
Personal experience(Canon user) if you're on a budget the best DSLR body would be a Canon 7D for motorsport and automotive photography. Its not a full frame camera, crop sensor of x1.6, however it has pretty much got one of the best autofocusing systems on the market(19pt focus). Plus the x1.6 zoom helps to reach out further with a telephoto lens to far off parts of the track that normal full frame camera's(5D) could not achieve. The 7D also comes with a built in flash, strong weather seal body and the ability to be paired with a greater variety of lens over the more expensive full frame cameras. My eq is Canon 7D, 50mm F1.8 for details, 24-70mm F2.8 pit work, 18-135mm F3.5-5.6 for panning and long shots. Also the 70-200mm F2.8 is a great lens.
I like this, I always use Speed Hunter as examples in school ..... It teaches a wide variety of things .... I'll catch my self saying "i didnt know that" From what I've herd Nikon and Canon are the ones to go for so I ended up with Nikon and its true, if I would of bought a "digital" camera I would of made a mistake... GOOD JOB!! keep it up ....BTW im going to need one of those camera straps to replace mine ;)
Paddy, I have a Rebel XTi (350D), an was wondering what body you recommend. I've been shooting for about 3 years now and I cant decide whether to go with a top of the line APS-C sensor camera (7D) or a "cheaper' Full Frame DSLR (6D, 5D II)
I've been shooting with a Nikon D90 for the past 2 years, self taught. Car shows, races, toys, whatever I can find that's car related, I'll shoot it. Just shot my first official photo job at the Honda Grand Prix of St Pete. I look forward to this guide series. There was a guide that DSPORT made last year (not sure if it's finished or not) that I have, but I always want to learn more. Always good to compare different techniques. Thank you for this.
Paddy, great write up. I have been wanting to get into the photography world for a long time now and this article has made me start towards buying a dslr. I have found a Canon Reble XT. It comes with a good amount of accesorries etc. Would that be a good camera to start off with? Someone please help me. Thanks.
Had a gig shooting a two day dance show a while back. Day one my 5D2 broke, then later in the afternoon the 1D2n started messing up as well. Shot day two entirely with a Rebel T3 sans issue.
There are exceptions to everything, but just because it isnt a pro body doesnt mean its worthless. If I lost all my gear tomorrow and wasnt shooting for a job, I'd rock the cheapest body I could find in good condition and pair it with a decent normal prime like sigma 30 1,4 or a canon 40mm 2,8 or even the fantastic plastic 50 1,8 .
Thank you Paddy, I'm looking forward to this series. I have a Nikon D3100 that I love taking to car shows/races and other events, and I'd like to be able to use it more effectively (especially in relation to cars).
I picked up a Nikon D80 and a 18-70mm 3.5 about 2 years ago and been out as much as a can ever since. Paid £250 and it has been great for learning with and understanding how to shoot at events and shows.
i would say Sony NEX 7/6 is a great compliment to Canon range with a addition on the metabones lens converter that pretty much turns the nex 7 into a full frame Mirrorless camera
Damn @PaddyMcGrath you just opened up a whole new can of worms!
If I were to start new, I'd get a 24-105 f/4 over the 24-70 f/2.8
It's worth less than half the price. You lose a stop but you can zoooooooom a bit more.
College students, listen! You are broke! Get the 24-105!
Rich college students, listen! You are rich, I accept donations!
Don't forget film. Good negs will have resolution in the 20-30 megapixel range, plus the dynamic range is amazing and you don't have to worry about white balance.
This is not a photography guide, but rather a guide on blindly wasting money on camera gear. Like seriously? a 24-70 L lens to get yourself "started"? Hell, you might as well tell a beginner to buy a Hasselblad.
To all beginners out there: cap yourself at 1K USD for buying a camera+prime lens. Anything that costs more than that will be too complicated for you to handle. Recommend that you first learn how "light" works. Then, you can start manipulating it your subject. I mainly do studio with OM-D and 45mm (crop factor 90mm), but this philosophy works with cars as well.
This has inspired me. My photography carrier has hit full stop due to the lack of equipment. All I got is a typically commercial digital camera. I never thought I could much with it, now however, after reading this, I just want to go outside and capture life with my camera, regardless of quality. Hopefully one day I'll debut my work in Speedhunters, and will be able to thank you guys for inspiring me.
As Flatsix has pointed out, playing around with your white balance is one aspect of it. I've spent countless hours in front of a screen experimenting with how I treat colour. I don't think I've got there just yet, but maybe in time I will.
@Dr_Mickael You could experiment with your white balance.
After reading this article and playing around, I'm already seeing improvement in my photography.. Awesome. You guys rule.
@Scott Ward A 20D is still a very capable camera body. It doesn't have quite as many megapixels, ISO capabilities, or autofocus capabilities as some newer camera bodies, but it can definitely take great pictures. What lens(es) do you have?
here is the craigslist add if anybody was wondering..
@LouisYio Seriously thinking about trying to scrape enough money together for a 24-105L to go on my 600D... I've borrowed one before and it was perfect for shooting at car shows... could also eventually flog it to fund a 24-70mm... (now i'm dreaming) ...
@LouisYio I love my 24-105, it's absolutely razor sharp. I would love an extra stop or two, but every time I think about selling it, it goes and blows me away again and again.
@LouisYio I used to have the 24 - 105, but sold it to buy the 24 -70. I wanted the speed, new model and rather than zoom i now get closer, something a lot of photographers are often afraid to do. Admittedly i shoot street photog, portraits and landscapes mostly, for zoom applications i revert to my 300 mm.
@ssbeane I shoot exclusively film right now, and I still wouldn't recommend it. I'm very happy with my results and the whole process, but there's not really many good arguments for using it these days, especially for a new photographer shooting cars.
@ssbeane I started on film, and I still shoot from time to time, but it's just becoming more and more difficult (and expensive) to deal with.
@ssbeane Developing yourself is a pain in the ass, 1 hour labs are scarce and the number of quality labs are dwindling. Film is great, I shoot some periodically myself, but its hard to recommend
@somebodysb21 Ah, I suppose you chose to ignore the next sentence after the 5DII recommendation? I did preface that this is my own personal preference, as in, if all my equipment was stolen today, this is what I would look for to start again.
@somebodysb21 True, though I personally enjoyed developing film when I did it regularly.
@PaddyMcGrath Agree with both of you, But while many crop sensor cameras are up to the job, Who wants to spend a month learning how to use it and then say right now im ready for full frame and wishing someone had recommended buying a camera to grow into, and then have a full frame camera with a crop lens? I started with a 40D which was great to learn with and had it for a year before my 5D II but never gets used now.
Great work, look forward to reading more.
@apex_DNA @Flatsix Hmm im not sure about the 20D sorry mate. You could pick up a 7D for about $1200-1500AUD. Yeh you could keep the 17-85mm lens, or you could maybe sell it and buy a 18-135mm EFS lens $350AUD. I got that one and besides the varying aperture during zooming its a great little lens. I reckon its just a great all rounder, you can reach out far at 135 and wide for in car cockpit shots at 17mm. The lens can carry quite a bit of distortion though. But if youre on a budget why not grab a second hand 550D? or got a bit more 60D-50D, all are great cameras that carry manual modes where you can experiment.
@Flatsix So 7D is the new "back-up" camera like 20D once was? How much could I sell my barely used 20D for nowadays? And should I keep the 17-85mm lens? I like the wide angle 17mm end has but would like to have more zoom...
The 7D is from the 5D mkII era. Now there is a 6D, however it seems to be more derived for videophotography rather then stills. Most pro's i know carry a 7D and a 5D. However most people I meet with only a 5D are terrible photographers, explaining their reasons for purchasing the camera because they somehow believe it produces better image because of the full frame sensor, which is an absolute load of marketing bullcrap. If people spent the $1000 they would save buying a 7D on photograpy classes, photowalks, studio course their images would be much better. A 5D is perfect for studio shooting and limited pit work, but overall sports photography 7D is where its at. If you have the money by all means buy a 1D.