Crowd at FD Atlanta

What the F-Stop: Event Coverage from Behind the Camera Lens

by Sarah Forst

There's just something invigorating about the smell of race gas in the morning, the smoke produced by tires screeching, and the high pitched wail of a high horsepower engine going all out. And while I'd love to be on track owning that racket, I am just as excited to be covering it from behind a camera. From Formula Drift at Road Atlanta to 24 Hours of Nurburgring, my lame attempts at photography ("needs more blur"- thanks Jeff!) have taken me places I couldn't have dreamt about being so close to the action. And at the end of the day when I'm covered in rubber, drenched in either sweat or God's tears, and have claw hand from holding the camera grip for hours, I still have a smile on my sunburnt face. We're all familiar with swass- a condition that occurs when you're working arduously. Guy photogs complain about boxers turning into man thongs and something about oversalted nuts. It's just another hazard of covering a track day.


mediaThe golf cart saves our lazy duffs from trekking between the pits and the track. We'll stuff 5 or 6 of us like a clown car- sometimes with Wes skating alongside and holding on for dear life- and flog it up the hills. It's also useful for ramming the porta-potty or holding the door shut when someone has an inopportune dump to take.

It's the stuff that wet dreams are made of- that privileged vest that affords me access to cars I would love to be behind the wheel of. Race coverage is a funny thing. You’re drunk on race gas, high on exhaust gas, and red like a lobster. You get an asphalt facial, burnt rubber shampoo, and rock bath. It’s almost as addicting being behind the camera and these events are like family reunions for us photogs who have forged amazing friendships over our passion for cars and love of photography.

Into the smoke is not usually a good shot so once you nail a photo, you can put the camera down a little to watch the drama unfold. 
fans5 seconds of fame- the things fans will do in an effort to being photographed. Helmets should be left to the drivers.
COStrangely enough, there was a supply of hoses just below the sign...

The Equipment

Most photogs are carrying a minimum of a car loan around their necks and in some cases it’s a cheap mortgage. First choice- Canon or Nikon? Both choices offer DLSR options for about $1k which include a starter 18-55m lens. Upgrading to a better camera body offer faster continuous shooting, better autofocus, and more functionality. Camera bodies are mostly disposable but lens are worth the investment. 

Nikon camera bodies and lens are all pretty compatible since 1959. When Canon introduced the AF cameras and EOS lens in 1987, they pretty much started over in terms of compatibility. For most of us who had 110 camera at that time, no biggie since our camera investments took place the last decade or two. All bodies/lenses manufactured since 1987 are compatible and the Canon collection was so much better at focus speed around the turn of the millennium that most photographers who shot sports or auto racing became Canon aficionados. Nikon bodies and lenses are tantamount to those by Canon but if you started with Canon a decade ago, chances were you didn’t want to spend the thousands of dollars required to reconfigure all of your photography gear.  

I can go through advantages of each but just like a car, if you’re going to invest in something that costs so much, take it for a test drive. See which one you prefer for the type of shooting you’ll do and which camera feels comfortable. My experience has been mostly with Canons and I'm happy with the product and outcome but practice makes perfect. Shoot (no pun intended), the photos I take now are significantly better than ones I took years ago and I'd like to think it’s not just equipment.

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Nick B
Nick Blink
Wednesday, July 23, 2014 12:32 PM
Sometimes after spending hours in the sun you get used to the sounds of the cars coming at you and you can hear something happening before it does. This is what happened when I was shooting at Buttonwillow turn 2 earlier this year. I heard the DP car come in too hot and knew something was going to happen, looked up started shooting and got the whole sequence.

Sarah Forst
Sarah Forstlink
Wednesday, July 23, 2014 3:47 PM
Oh yeah, it's a sixth sense. You can definitely feel when stuff is about to go down either based on the car's momentum and direction or based on smells and sounds.
Dusty Duster
Dusty Dusterlink
Thursday, July 24, 2014 5:37 AM
Great article! I'd like to add something about memory cards. The best cameras still use compact flash (CF) cards. Although it seems like an older and "outdated" technology, CF cards use a parallel bus for access instead of serial like SD cards use. The end result is that using a CF card means you can take more action pictures with continuous shooting before running out of buffer space on your camera body.

If your camera doesn't use CF cards, make sure you get the highest speed SD card you can find. The speed of the card is usually marked on the label as a number with a circle around it. A 10 is the fastest write rate, and will allow more continuous shots before running out of buffer space.

Shooting in JPG only (as opposed to RAW or RAW+JPG) also allows more shots before running out of buffer space, but at the cost of fewer post-production editing options.
Friday, July 25, 2014 11:47 AM
I want to update your understanding of SD cards Dusty Duster. Class 10 is no longer the fastest SD card available. I just bought this:


95Mb/s read
60Mb/s write

We just received a D7100 (24 megapixels) as a wedding gift, and running master/slave configuration for the SD cards with the high-speed 128gb card for NEFF files and a U1 32gb card for JPEG files. 40mb per click. It currently maxes out at 5fps. I believe I need to add a battery grip for additional power and it will max out at 6fps (the stated max FPS from Nikon).
Sarah Forst
Sarah Forstlink
Saturday, July 26, 2014 8:27 AM
Great tips guys- enjoy shooting!
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