How do you photograph #MaximumAttack? That’s a good question, and it seems recently I have been receiving plenty of emails asking me about photography advice. I discussed this with head honcho Rod Chong and he came up with the idea of me talking a little bit about my 25 favorite photos from the #MaximumAttack book. Hopefully this will give you guys some inspiration to go out there and do some Speedhunting of your own.
I just love the darkness; it forces you to play with the existing light. What you are actually seeing is two cars here: an Audi R8 that is about to crest the hill and some other car, probably a McLaren, with one broken tail light. This picture is what photography is all about: why you ask? I’m sure you guys have been hearing rumors that photography will soon be replaced by video, because you can always pull still photographs from video. Really? I’d like to see a video camera do a five hour exposure. This photograph required a not-quite-as-long two second exposure, but you get my point. For night photography keep a tripod and remote cable release handy.
Shooting into the sun is so wrong, but it’s so good. Perfecting a backlit image is something that I will be chasing for the rest of my life. Look for interesting shadows in your subject. It also helps if there is smoke, water, dirt or anything you can shoot through. In order to get natural vignetting, shoot wide open, although it does require shooting at extremely high shutter speeds.
Use your legs and body to compose your image, don’t use your zoom. In other words move around as much as you can. Find interesting angles. Push your limits and push the limits to where you can go. Remember, there is no
spoon zoom. Don’t be afraid to get dirty. If you’re afraid of heights, take up knitting. I climbed a 50-meter-high scaffolding for this shot.
Sometimes a different vantage point sets YOU the Speedhunter apart from every other ding dong out there with a camera. It’s not special any more to have the most expensive gear. Besides, one can only carry so much. The best camera is the one that you have with you.
Cars get repetitive, so why not shoot some of the battle-hardened warriors that are behind the wheel? After all, the people are the ones who make car culture interesting. Mad Mike was definitely not going for a Sunday drive, he was strapping in for some carnage.
Background is key: the photos you shoot while Speedhunting should be technically sound even if you were to remove the cars. Mind the horizon and mind your composition. Sometimes it’s better to concentrate on what the background should look like rather than focusing on shooting the cars.
Manual focus every once in a while. It’s not always fun if your photos of cars are in focus. Mix it up and sometimes you’ll be surprised with the results. These kind of shots require very high shutter speeds, hence the frozen individual droplets of water.
Sometimes you HAVE to manually focus in order to catch your action shot. These rally cars were basically appearing out of nowhere; the only thing you can do is set a focus point of where you think they might be and fire away when you get the inkling that they will be coming around the bend. There’s just something special about being able to see the underside of a car.
Shoot as much as you can, and when you think you’ve shot enough, shoot a few more. Just be glad that you don’t have to shoot with a film camera any more. I don’t care who you are or what kind of reflex you have. There’s no way you will catch decisive moments without shooting excessively.
At the end of the day you’re only posting your best photos. There’s no point in showing people your outtakes. Plus how else would you get cool sequence shots like the one of Fredric Aasbø doing a gangster backwards entry and pulling out of it with ease?
Practise your panning. This is another one of those things that I will never be able to perfect, but practice definitely helps. Go outside and pan something: pan cars driving by, pan your grandpa with his walking stick at 1/4 of a second so it looks like he’s going at warp speed.
Beware that panning at different focal lengths produce significantly different results. At this point of the track the top fuel dragsters are already going over 100mph. Although the shutter speed was about the same as the Mclaren MP4-12C.
Use a high shutter speed to your advantage. It’s not cool if all your shots are pans either.
Force yourself to freeze the action: after all the light is there, you should try and use it to your advantage.
Can’t find anything to shoot? Go to ANY local motoring event and buy a ticket. Circle track, drag racing, autocross, you name it, you find it and shoot it, to death. Even if there was nothing going on I would call my friends and see if they were meeting up in a parking garage or if they were testing their cars somewhere. That’s how I got one of my favorite shots of Matt Powers very early on in his drift career.
Don’t be afraid to underexpose your photos. Force your audience to draw their eyes to the details. Use the digital camera’s lack of dynamic range to your advantage.
Learn to overexpose. A picture is worth a thousand words so use your camera to tell a whole damn story.
Don’t be afraid to experiment. It costs you nothing to format a card, but you can only gain knowledge from trying new things. I first started to play with remote flashes inside of cars. It made for some interesting photographs.
I eventually moved on to remote cameras. Sometimes it’s the only answer to being able to photograph in an area that is otherwise dangerous.
What do you mean I can’t shoot from the hood of a race car? Of course I can hold on to the hood scoop!
Experiment with special lenses. Try using fisheyes, macros and tilt-shifts or any other kind of non-traditional lens. I was always against the distortion that the fish eye lenses produced, but after years of using them I always make sure I have one with me.
Catch a flash. It’s easier than you think. You don’t even have to time it right, just keep that shutter open. You can even just use the Bulb setting on your camera.
Learn experimental post processing techniques. It’s so easy to use photo editing software now, but you don’t even necessarily need a computer. Some of the newer cameras do sequence shots ‘on the fly’ in the camera.
Don’t be afraid of the elements. Use trash bags, use duct tape. Do whatever it takes to be able to shoot in the elements. You should be able to photograph in pretty much any condition; as long as you can see light with your eyes, you can take a picture of it. I was standing in ankle-deep water for these shots of Eau Rouge, but it was totally worth it.
At the end of the day it’s about how much time you spend and how much risk you take. If you are willing to risk your DSLR on the front of a fire breathing race car then more power to you. How important is it to you to hunt that speed? How seriously do you want to take your hobby? It’s entirely up to you. Just one more thing: make sure to have fun while you’re doing it. Any questions?
That remote flash thing is a brilliant idea and an awesome shot! Is that your own invention Mr Chen?
So whats the next step for us 'spectators' to do when we want media access? To get to those points where there is no fence between you and the cars? I have tried a few times before, succeeded once only but most places are wanting you to be affiliated with a magazine of some sort?
Where to from here?
Hi, Being a 18 year old middle level photographer this really inspired me to make more daring shots, or rather out of the comfort zone shots.
Being in Norway, School is in the way of my photography but I really hope to meet you Speedhunters in the Next Gatebil and get more advice :)
Thanks @Larry Chen ! Stay Strong SpeedHunters!
Great advice in here! A lot of it, I've been practicing but there are a few new tips in here for me. I'll have to look into that remote cable thingy for my DLSR..
@Larry Chen Epic, epic article. Got my creative juices flowing just in time for Japfest this weekend :))) One question - are a lot of the events you shoot quite lax (relatively speaking of course) with regards to access? The few occasions where I've had media access to Castle Combe (my local circuit), they're *pretty* strict as to where you can stand and results in getting very samey shots? Ever slipped a marshall a £5 to aid your cause?!
@Larry Chen The last photo just blew me away. Awesomeness in it's pure from!
One of the best articles I have ever read on this site, I just want to get out there and take pretty pictures of things
thanks for the photography tips!!!!
"every other ding dong out there with a camera" hahaha thats me!
great stuff! I actually had one of your long exposure shots from the image set of the first image in this article as my background for ages.
Larry seemed so nice at FD giving out stickers... the writing in this article sounds like a drill sergeant!! Chen Bootcamp!--i'd be afraid, but i'd go anyway!
Larry i have a question: When you go to some sort of event, do you have youre speedhunters article alreaddy planed out ? so that later on when you do the actual shooting you sortof try to shoot the pictures you need to make that aricle, or do you just try to take pictures that look awsome, and make an article later on ?
@CraigBowles To put it simply: lie, lie, lie. Hustle yourself a pass by any means necessary. make friend with people who run a blog or a car show or a tuning shop. Make a fancy letterhead for yourself. The effort will be worth it.
@CraigBowles BUY A GUN!!!!
Disclaimer: I take no responsibility for you actions.
PS: Don't buy a gun.
@TheNelsonGarage It's the best couple bux you can spend in terms of gear.
@DominicBurnett @Larry Chen most places we shoot are pretty strict. I don't think that's any reason to end up with 'samey' shots though.
@LouisYio No, sit there and let it come out.
@777 Do it.
@JSequoia Maybe I take it too seriously? haha.
@sean klingelhoefer Claus with a camera.
@KeithCharvonia Henceforth, you shall be known as Keith 'Ding Dong' Charvonia. Arise, Sir Ding Dong!
@SMRacing Both, sometimes I have a plan and change it later depending on what photos I get. Sometimes I just try to tell the story that I see.
@LouisYio By gun, do you mean Canons 300mm f/2.8? :)
@RodChong @Larry Perhaps I didn't explain myself very well, with Castle Combe in particular there are only a few places you're allowed to stand behind the armco when trackside as they're *very* strict, so by definition you'll always end up with pretty similar angles.. I'll do my best to mix it up a bit @ Japfest :)
hehe, i can see the ad now: "Chen Bootcamp! Maximize your Attack Mode. Shoot from dawn to dusk, rain or shine, in your sleep, down trenches and up scaffolds. So impactful you'll still be shooting in your wedding tux! Woe to the peon who forgot a spare SD card or an extra battery. Shame on the lens-changer who missed the moment!" ;-)
@Larry Chen do you allow yourself to do experimental stuff att crucial moments that you might get only once, and risk loosing that moment, or do you only experiment when you know you can do it over and over again ?
@DominicBurnett @RodChong Dominic, It's all about building rapport with the track marshals. Chances are they are doing it for free because they love racing and car culture as well. Don't be afraid to make friends with them, talk to them and smile a lot. It's hard to stand outside all day with no one to talk to. The best thing I ever did was make friends with track marshals. These guys also watch your back like you would not believe. I've left my gear bag for hours before and when I came back the track marshals kept it safe for me, It's happened to my buddies countless times including at the Long Beach Grand Prix just a few weeks ago. You have to remember that they are out there to keep you guys safe as well.
In terms of a strict track, try shooting from spectator areas, you would be surprised what kind of angles you can get. There is a reason why it's a spectator area.
Out of all the years of shooting, no security guard or track marshal has ever taken a bribe from me. I've tried. It's not worth it to them because they could potentially lose their position, you are just doing your job, but so are they. Sometimes you just have to agree to disagree and "burn a spot" Maybe get 10 shots or so and move on, but never come back.
@Larry Chen @Driveitlikeyoustoleit @JSequoia The shockwave from 80psi of boost ripping apart a 8000hp big block is something to remember!
@Larry Chen @JSequoia Changing lenses can be a frustrating process, especially when a top fuel car blows up no more than 50 feet from you as you were changing 'weapons' lol hate it sooo much!
@JSequoia damn lens changers!
@Larry Chen so the answer is really no, I guess thats the best option if you really need to capture that moment. One thing that I have learnt from reading all your articles here on speedhunters, and that I have started doing myself with great result, is to be more triggerhappy. Relating to that: Say on a day like f.eks Gatebil where there is more or less nonstop action, how many pictures do you shoot during that day ? How do you go about sorting out the goodies afterwards? Do you store the pictures directly to an exsternal harddrive, or do you keep them on your laptop until youre done editing, and sorting ?
@SMRacing It depends on what it really is. For example, if I am shooting the start of a 24hr race, I know it will only happen once so I make sure to shoot safe and get a nice story telling shot. In drifting there are many "one more time" battles so I always take those opportunities to do something different. It also depends on if I have any cameras setup in "safe" modes.