Written by Matthew Everingham Every week I get a couple messages on Facebook or emails asking for advice on images or tips on how to improve as a photographer. Thank these guys for giving me the idea to create this guide. A guide that should be useful for everyone from the Larry Chen’s to the Harry Nobody’s.
Some of these tips are very specific to shooting motorsport. However, a lot of these tips are universal across the creative realm and will help you with whatever you’re pointing your lens at. This doesn’t make them any less important or relevant to your quest for better shots track side, so don’t skim them. Anyway…. Let’s get in to it
10. DON’T WHINGE ABOUT YOUR GEAR.
Yes, playing with the newest gear is fun and sometimes makes your job easier, but it isn’t required to create amazing work. The guys you see rocking the better equipment usually have more experience, which is a bigger contributor to creating those inspiring shots. Put your entry level SLR or Bridge camera in their hands and you’ll see that spending big dollars does not make you a better photographer. It just makes your job easier. Sadly, most people only learn this after spending the money.
Instead of complaining about what you don’t have, think of ways to get more out of your current gear. Ultimately it’ll make you a better photographer.
9. BE INSPIRED, DON’T BE AN IMITATION.
Spending time going through the archives of more experienced photographers is a great source of inspiration. You’ll develop a better idea of what you’d like to create yourself. Inspiration is fine, but just setting out to create the exact same image/angle/colours isn’t being inspired, it’s being a Kopy Cat. Imitators suck.
8. THERE IS MORE TO RACING THAN THE CARS ON THE TRACK.
I know we’re there for the cars but the cars don’t drive themselves, fix themselves or watch themselves. Sometimes you need to STOP and look around. Look around off the tarmac. At any meet, large or small, there’s always a beehive of activity surrounding the track that could make for your next killer shot. I know how easy it is to get tunnel vision when trying to get that perfect shot. Before you know, it you’ve wasted way too much time on variations of the same shot. Stop. Look around. Focus elsewhere.
Some ideas for where to look… Pit walks, crowds, marshalls, support staff, promo girls, track buildings and even the weather could yield something. Don’t get caught up shooting only cars. There’s plenty of extra stuff going on if you let yourself look around.
7. CREATE A UNIQUE STYLE.
“Well I’d love to Matt, but damnit, that sounds hard!” This tip sounds so much harder than it actually is. All you need to do is be consistent and don’t be a sucky imitator as mentioned above. Even if you’re stealing ideas from other people, but keep adding that little bit of you in to every frame, over time you’ll notice a few consistencies across the images. It could be that you’re very punchy on the contrast, you may shoot tighter than most, or over expose your shots because ‘you like that look’. After a while, that look you like, becomes YOUR look. Your Unique Style.
Stick to shooting images that YOU like and eventually your style will reveal itself. Don’t be afraid to lock yourself in to shooting one particular way to achieve a style. A good, subtle style is the combination of many many many things happening, so varying a few things at a time won’t impact the overall look.
6. STEP AWAY FROM THE FENCE.
‘Oh wow, it’s a car driving on a non descript background…’ said no one ever. Don’t be afraid to step back from the fence and further away from the cars. Some of my very favorite shots were shot from behind barriers, behind crowds and with the car(s) being only an element in the larger picture.
5. WHEN YOU KNOW ALL THERE IS TO KNOW, HANG UP YOUR CAMERA.
I placed this tip half way down on purpose. If you’ve read this far you’re not ready to retire yet. Good Stuff! 😉 Have you ever had a conversation with another photographer who knows everything? Or the guy who explains away every piece of critism offered on his image so you’re wrong for not liking it every single time? Being a good photographer is a journey, not a destination. If you’re waiting to arrive at being ‘good’, you’re on the wrong train.
Continue your learning by researching new techniques, ideas and equipment. Or through refinement and reflection upon your previous work. What could you have done differently? Is there a better way to shoot this?
4. MISTAKES MAKE YOU BETTER.
Mistakes and Failures do not make you bad. As long as you can learn from what went wrong you’re stronger, more experienced and have a better understanding of your craft. Perhaps a reshoot under different conditions is in order? Maybe the idea is sound but you need to practice more. Occasionally, things just don’t work. As long as you’ve learnt something from the process you’re in a better position.
3. YOUR MUM’S OPINION DOESN’T COUNT.
Your friends and family will love pretty much every single shot you’ve ever taken. Even the bad ones. They’ll be amazed at what you can do…. even if in the larger picture your work is poor to average. Asking for praise is different to asking for feedback.
If you’d prefer actual feedback that may help you grow your craft submit your work to forums and online groups where your work will be judged fairly, and you may even grab some tips from the more experienced photographers out there. Check out the Motorsport Photographers Group on Facebook, or do a search for related forums.
2. TELL A STORY WITH YOUR IMAGES.
There’s more to a great image than just a sharp car or subject. Your best shots will be the ones that you think about before you even pick your camera up. Sure you’ll get a couple of fluke shots every now and then, but not enough to count on. What are you actually shooting? The champion on his final lap? A struggling competitor? Stress in pitlane? All of these scenarios if shot properly would/should have a different feel. Think more like an artist and less like a journalist (unless you’re chasing fact shots, of course 😉 ).
Try to describe the mood, the feelings, the location, the weather… any elements that adds to the STORY behind the image. A story turns a snapshot into a picture.
1. SHOOT MORE.
Nope, I’m not taking the piss. The VERY BEST way to improve is to shoot more. Shoot at the track, shoot around home, even shoot during lunch breaks if you can. Every single shot you take will help you progress as an artist and become a better photographer. Shooting doesn’t need to be restricted to the race track.
…That’s it, ten simple but effective ways that will help you grow if you commit the time to think and follow at least a handful of the tips above. It’s all pretty simple once you’ve heard it , a lot of it is common sense. But it can take years to gain enough insight to look back and simplify it to what it really is.
Feel free to post your best Motorsport pics on the Speed Nation Wall with a short description of the action. We’re always looking for great quality images from across the world. If we like it, we’ll share it across our network with links and credits. Now, stop reading and start shooting!