How To Shoot Cars: How The? What The?!
No spectator access

We’ve all had to deal with less than ideal situations whilst taking photographs. It almost seems that every time we go out to shoot, some all-powerful being comes up with new ways to make our lives that little bit more difficult. Previously we’ve been dealing with the technical side of photography but for this post, we’re going to deal with the, um, reality of what happens out in the field…

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I’m sure if you’re new to the game (we all were at one point, remember that) you’ll often find yourself with limited access at most motorsport events. Believe it or not, even as accredited press, this happens more often than you would think. You can’t stand there. This area is off limits. This gate is locked. You can only access here between sessions. Eau Rouge is probably one of the most iconic corners in the world. As such, everyone wants to shoot there.

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With a long enough lens, shooting from the public areas is actually pretty straightforward. But what if you want to get a little bit closer to the action?

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My advice is to always scout the area thoroughly beforehand. Try and seek out every little nook and cranny to see where you can gain an advantage. During the weekend of the Belgian Grand Prix, the gate which photographers would usually use to access the bottom of the red river was locked. The same gate also stands at around ten feet high. Whilst certain agency photographers were willing to risk someone else’s camera gear and climb over, I most certainly wasn’t. Rather fortunately, I found a break in the fence nearby where I could poke a lens through.

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The result was more than satisfactory. Especially considering that the alternative was to get nothing at all.

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As always, I made sure to get wide and tight shots from the same position, just to ensure variety and to know that I had exhausted the location before moving on.

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This isn’t something unique to Spa. It’s the same at every race track the world over. There are always great vantage points to be found. However, you might not realise how good a spot is with your eye alone, so it’s worth waiting for a car to pass through and fire off a couple of snaps.

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I use this shot a lot when talking about ‘limited access’ . It’s for good reason though as it’s still one of my favourite photographs. Taken from the public area at the top of Flugplatz, I shot over the top of the catch fence with people casually walking around and past me. I never would have seen it only I tried looking through the lens whilst taking a breather walking back to the road. Always be on the lookout.

If you don’t have it, MacGyver it
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If you’re fortunate enough to travel to take photographs, you will know that it’s not always possible to bring everything with you. Worse are the times when you forget that something all-important. When situations like this arise, improvise. Shooting the JapCrap Caddy beneath the constant high Scandinavian sun was a challenge. With the sun being high and harsh, the light was particularly difficult to control. When I first set this shot up, the side of the car was fine but the front was plunged into darkness. With no remote flashes or collapsible reflectors with me, we set about searching the area for something suitable.

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You can just about make it out on the right of this image, but inside one of the cabins at the karting track was a large white board, usually used for drawing or writing instructions on. With it cleaned down, we managed to use it as a perfect reflector to get some light on the front of the car. Problem? What problem? Use friends as mobile light stands, use tree stumps as tripods. Do whatever it takes.

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I think this is a situation that a lot of you can relate to. Either at a museum or car show and you want to get that one picture, but people are constantly in your way.

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I wanted a clean shot of the rear of this 917, but the two guys on the left were absolutely drooling all over it. They were crawling over every inch of it in detail, but from my perspective, they were simply in the way. Now, if I was on a commission to shoot this for Porsche, I ‘d have little problem telling them to jog on, but as I too was only a paying visitor, I had to try a different plan. The plan is 100% effective and guarantees you the shot you want.

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I call this plan, patience. I simply sat with my legs crossed in the middle of the museum floor. It was probably only around twenty minutes, but it felt like years. I could have gone away and came back, but I was determined. I’m far from a tolerant or patient person but in this instance, I had no other option.

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Another option, and a particular favourite of mine, is the combination of a neutral density filter and a long exposure. It’s more time-consuming but does have its benefits. Funnily, most people will avoid walking in front of the car once they see the camera and tripod. The same people would happily stand in front of you if you were shooting freehanded. Go figure.

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When shooting at Gatebil this year, we had to utilise every inch of space to find a suitable backdrop for each feature car. Often this would mean that we could use a location but would have to frame it tightly to avoid any unnecessary clutter in the background. This particular shoot wasn’t a whole heap of fun, for one main reason.

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This was the main entrance for cars and spectators. There were literally hundreds of people passing in a constant stream, most of which stopped for a quick look at the car. Again, patience played a key part during this exercise. The shot previous literally has people on the extreme edges of the frame but you would think it was the quietest road in all of Norway.

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Getting a driver’s eye view is always a challenge. In my opinion, there’s no one in the world who can touch our very own Larry Chen for remote camera shenanigans. If you’ve actually tried your hand at this, I’m sure you’ll join me in agreement regarding how difficult even the simplest of shots can be. If you haven’t tried it, you’ll have an all-new appreciation for just how good Mr. Chen is.


Mad Mike’s RX8 was the perfect test vehicle for my first attempt. With no side windows, I was able to mount the camera directly to the roll cage and have the camera outside the car. This gave me a solid attachment point. With help from Kei Miura, who triangulated the camera with cable ties, the set-up was remarkably sturdy. The camera was triggered by a timed remote, set to take a photograph every x amount of seconds.

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The other option is a suction mount. When shooting solo, I often use this set-up on the front and rear of my own car for tracking shots. However, instead of a timed remote, I’ll use a PocketWizard to remotely trigger the camera whilst driving. It’s all about experimenting but you need to be willing to accept the chance that if a camera comes loose, it can get very expensive, very quickly.

It’s not the size of the dog in the fight…
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To echo a previous statement, we all start somewhere. None of us are born with everything we need and we need to get creative to find workarounds. For instance, I don’t have or have access to, a studio large enough to hold a car. Instead, there’s a particular multi-storey car park near where I live which is almost always abandoned during weekdays. It’s not light tight but it’s the best I can manage.

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Is it perfect? No. Absolutely not. But from this damn cold and dingy car park, I’m learning new things every time I go there. That’s the important thing.


My final piece of advice is stop worrying about your camera set-up. The best camera you can own is the one you have right now. It can be a $30,000 Hasselblad or your iPhone. Any camera is better than no camera.

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You don’t even need thousands of dollars worth of software – there are plenty of free and cheap alternatives. Stop making excuses and shoot. What’s stopping you?



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Very interesting article.
Thanks for sharing your experiences :)


hmmm, is this a hint at a free for all #IAMTHESPEEDHUNTER? no theme, just shooting. Maybe this time you guys will finally use one of my shots...

I love what you said about having patience, it is the honest truth. Sometimes, you do need to be a little rude to get that shot, but usually people are happy to get out of the way.


Great article, these are my favorite articles on Speedhunters at the moment.

One thing I would like to see covered is Night Shooting, mainly how to shot at night at Le mans! Iv been for the last few years, and will be again this year. Iv walked easily 50-60 miles each year there, and found some fantastic spots, but just can't seem to get the setting balance right. Cars are too fast, with the massive contrast between the bright headlights and dark body, then you usually have a very small window on view to work with.

Any help?


benpopham When shooting at night, you need to utilise every source of available light to capture the cars. Sometimes this comes in the shape of using the headlights from the car behind illuminating the car in front or waiting for the car to pass through a section of track which is illuminated. I usually shoot wide open, that is with the aperture set to the lowest number, with as high an ISO I can get away with whilst panning as slowly as I possibly can. By doing this, I'm allowing the most amount of light possible onto the sensor and hopefully catching those areas that are usually hidden in shadow.


bigeastbay If you're a follower of #IAMTHESPEEDHUNTER, make sure to check out Bryn's editorial for January which is coming shortly.


@BrtrdCrpthn You're more than welcome, thanks for reading!


I wonder what suction mount you're using? I've been looking to get one myself, but the quality varies widely and I don't want to use an inferior one. I'd rather pay somewhat more for the suction mount than losing my gear because the mount wasn't good enough.


PaddyMcGrath benpopham

Thanks Paddy :) All very helpful. I will have to do a lot of staying up all night to get the hours in practicing.

Keep up the good work.


Great stuff. One of my favourite things, and equally one of the most frustrating, is shooting at auto shows. Even on press days there are still enough people around to cause problems, but with a bit of patience or ingenuity it's worth it to have great shots of some of the latest cars.

Club motorsport events are also great as you can capture some really unique vehicles and find some great spots without the issue of tens of thousands of others trying to do the same thing.


benpopham You'll just need to experiment as much as possible to find something that works for you. I find the slowest corners generally offer the best results too :)


Is that a Mk2 Escort sedan you were shooting? Potential feature when?

Also, which ND filter do you use? What would you recommend as a first timer type thing? Pentax K-7.


OMG - Patience is indeed the key... Many a moment sat on the floors of the halls of shows in a zen-like state to await a break in the crowd, or at least that the 'tunnel vision' members of the crowd can use some fisheye as it were and notice my intent to capture said car... But I try to breath, be patient, and just remember they too are the car lover and there for the same purpose... On the fly camera rigs FTW also lol... Good read peeps :)


Love the iPhone case!


aussieANON I shoot with a K7. Awesome to see another Pentax user! Choose the filter based on how long you want the shutter to stay open. You will probably have to experiment a little with different shades. The other thing is you will need a steady tripod. Get a remote for your camera and have a go at it. Also, get a good, quality one. Sigma, BW, etc... make good ones. I had a crappy one that made all of my photos soft looking.


aussieANON It was for a feature for Classic Ford, 2.1 Pinto fast road build. Very cool car. I'm lining up an even more impressive Escort for Speedhunters at the moment though, so watch this space...

I use a Hoya ND8 but as Derelict says, it depends on your needs.


Great article Paddy! I have to say that one of the most challenging and yet rewarding shows that I shot was Players two years ago using just a 50mm and 135mm prime. Sitting and waiting is worth it some times!


Good read Paddy! Although the time between those Porsche shots was actually only 8 minutes according to the camera data :P


D_Atkinson That was just between those two shots :) There was more before the first, but I figured nobody wanted to see the top of some old guy's ass cheeks. It honestly felt like FOUR DAYS waiting.


"Stop making excuses and shoot. What’s stopping you?"
Best line in the article. :)


PaddyMcGrath Derelict
Pentax 4 lyf. 
I've got a good tripod, and who needs remote shutter when you have 2 second self timer.
I was just thinking of having a play with longer exposure stuff in daytime, like as you do with car shows, also with the cliche beach rockpool misty water type thing. 
ND8s seem pretty cheap. I guess I'll have to ask a Pentax specific forum though. 
Thanks lads.

And yes, more escorts are definitely needed. And not the expensive female type.


aussieANON PaddyMcGrath Derelict pentaxforums is a great source but screw on filters are universal. Just check the filter size for the lens you plan on using and get one that you want.


"My final piece of advice is stop worrying about your camera set-up. The best camera you can own is the one you have right now. It can be a $30,000 Hasselblad or your iPhone. Any camera is better than no camera."
Too true. I struggle with this daily, but I also take great pride in everything that I have produced with my measly Canon T3 and cheap lenses. As far as media access goes, I've found being patient and persistent always pays off. I often hear people say, "I couldn't get media, so I didn't take my camera." I will never be found leaving my camera behind. There are always breaks in the fence to exploit and great vantage points to be had.


guilherme_atencio I'm just happy you made it that far!


PaddyMcGrath bigeastbay
#IAMTHESPEEDHUNTER year end wrap-up???? Best of??


midgeman PaddyMcGrath bigeastbay We had planned on one, but we're working on something much bigger instead. Be sure to keep an eye out for Bryn's editorial which is due very shortly.


I call this plan, patience. I simply sat with my legs crossed in the middle of the museum floor. It was probably only around twenty minutes, but it felt like years.
Done this so many times! Yet to have anyone trip over me thankfully.


how do you feel about photoshop? i know to many photographers that they dont like to alter the pics and to keep them as natural as possible. unfortunately i don't own a dslr yet and with the many filters available on photoshop, you are able to create that distortion without an expensive lens. i dont want to start a flame war like bags vs no coilovers or photoshopped vs not but sometimes you have to use what you got when resources are limited right? btw i love the contrasting shots with the people in the musem pics and the gatebil shots... you definitely have nerves of steel!


The tips on the spectator access section are truly valuable. I remember shoving half of my upper body through a hole in the fence during a drag-strip event, or trying to stand in any ridiculous place that would put me closer to the track when attending a drift event with a few friends.
But I have something equally valuable that Paddy forgot to mention: even if you don't have press access, go wearing motorsports related clothing. Shades, jackets, hats, anythings. Once I went to Interlagos, during what I thought was an open to the public practice day, to scout a few locations to shoot from. Turns out it wasn't open to the public, and I found myself standing alone with my camera and a hat from last year's event. The photographing equipment alongside stuff that looked like "official clothing"'  was enough for security guards to assume that I was meant to be there and even go as far as suggesting places for me to shoot from hahahaha


d_ravHave you looked into Adobe Lightroom yet? It's a software for image treating, I believe it was mentioned one or two photography guides ago. It has a lot more functions specifics to photographs than photoshop (like adjusting white balance and such), perhaps it'd be more useful to you


d_ravHave you looked into Adobe Lightroom yet? It's a software for image treating, I believe it was mentioned one or two photography guides ago. It has a lot more functions specifics to photographs than photoshop (like adjusting white balance and such), perhaps it'd be more useful to you


DaveTMy own variation of that is to politely ask models to move when I wanted a pic of just the car. Done it a lot of times, the look of confusion in their faces never changes hahahaha


AlexandreSivierod_ravawesome. now not yet, actually i've been out of the loop with all the new photo editing programs and lightroom sounds cool! thanks for the tip!


midgeman I've shot for the past year with a Canon T3. It doesn't matter!


d_rav AlexandreSiviero Yeah, I use lightroom. Best software for photo editing.


AlexandreSiviero This is all well and good, but remember media folk have typically signed an indemnity to be there, and as such have the access to the riskier locations on the understanding they have acknowledged the risks and as such won't hold the track or promoters liable. If you were to gain unauthorised access and got hurt, then it affects everyone negatively.


PaddyMcGrathRoughsmoke LOL you know what I'm saying exactly Paddy! +1000 scott mills points to you sir :)


Some valuable tips in here--I really like the ingenious way that camera was remotely set up :) Very cool!!


Larry Chen d_rav AlexandreSiviero i 2nd that statement... lightroom saved my life for productivity. i dnt have the time to event perfection. i try to shoot and get it right on camera, the LR presets are very versatile. 2-3 mins a photo, watermark and its done


SnoozinRichyAlexandreSivieroThat's a pretty valid point indeed. I shouldn't have overlooked commenting about safety, after all even without holding the track liable no one wants to get hurt (and  maybe put a driver in an uncomfortable position for having hurt you). So well said, even if you gain access please consider your safety in the track at all times


I have a question about how to shoot the long exposure day time pictures speedhunters uses at car shows. Do you shoot with the aperture fully closed and shutter speed set to a seconds or 2? This would be at a car show during late morning to noon in a fairly bright sun. I have a tripod, polarized filter and a Nikon d40x but I'm not sure of the techniques to do this.


AlexandreSiviero DaveT The "I paid good money for these why don't you want photos of them" face?
I'm familiar with it :)


ImraanGallo Larry Chen d_rav AlexandreSiviero  So what you are all saying is I should stop being an old curmudgeon and finally try light room sometime in 2014?


Google ND filters.


i can just imagine the looks on peoples faces as they saw you sitting there with the camera on your hands!
great guide...some very useful tips for newbies!


Ok. so I gave one, but how do you use it for a long exposure shot at like a car show that blurs the crowd but leaves the car in perfect focus?


Use a tripod with a few seconds SS.


I love articles like this. Simply looking at the photos, you'd almost never know how much waiting, climbing, balancing and more waiting was required to get the shot. It just goes to show what kind of results you can get thinking outside the box. Nice work Paddy.


Google ND filters again.


Now I can start with a phone camera xD


bigeastbay Essentially what the ND filter is doing is making the scene much darker than it actually is. This allows you to run a longer shutter speed without blowing out or over-exposing the image. I've often shot indoor shows using just a CircPol and f/16 to get the same effect as the scene is usually dark enough as it is.


Jordan_Butters Cheers Jord, need to shoot with you again at some stage this year!


is key as you mentioned, when I was trying to get pictures of this F40 at the
NEC Classic Car show in November, it was so busy in the morning there was no
chance. When I came back at about 4:30 that afternoon I could finally get the
pictures and video I needed, even at this time I had to wait to get the shots-


its also the same at car events, although as mentioned in the previous shooting guide, wearing a logo'd tshirt and the occasional "hmmmm" when you've been kneeling there for 5 mins some times helps as does chatting the owner if there about. I once got to crawl all over a few cars at events just by asking or usually being offered :)


PaddyMcGrath midgeman bigeastbay like this new plan better.


AlexandreSiviero d_rav


I have to disagree with you about the camera on a tripod, people here will still walk and stand in front of you :(


Great post Paddy!


awesome write up, you have a great attitude


The trick is to look super sexy when doing it :  :D


JoshuaWhitcombe It's around this time I may or may not get a little shouty.


Indeed, been too long!


I found a good trick for 'busy' shots, with lots of people moving around. If you set the camera on a tripod (or wall, anything where the camera will not move) and have it take a shot every 10-20 seconds. Take about a dozen photos, layer them up in photoshop then you can use the 'median' filter and it will use the most common pixels between each image, so anything that shows up in 1 or 2 images and none of the others, dissappears completely, leaving only the static object and back drop you're trying to shoot


Some great tips and a really interesting read as always PaddyMcGrath


I only have about a year of photographing and I can absolutely agree with you about the tripod and camera!  People see you with a tripod and they scurry out of the way. But when shooting free hand they just look at you and continue to stand in your way.
It took me nearly 30-40mins to get a few shots of a LF-A at the Autoshow. People would see me, stand directly in front me, and then stand there for 5 minutes. Patience allowed me to get a few shots in without the annoying crowd.


Could you also point out some of the free soft you'd recommend for adjusting pictures? There's quite a heap out there.
Also, when shooting in some parking lot, do you have to ask someone from there if you can do that? If so, then who?
I'm doing my own project about cars and sometimes I'm running into problems that would've been avoided had I known beforehand.


I did excatly the same with that 917!!! Just got back from my second trip to the Porsche Museum, next stop, the green hell next week!