I recently went to Brands Hatch to watch my brother race around the circuit in the MRO 600 category hosted by the British Racing Motorcycle Racing Club. For him the event was mostly an opportunity to hone his skills in preparation for the 2017 TT to be held in August on the Isle of Man. For me however it was a great opportunity to try something new – to capture images of very fast moving objects.
Capturing fast moving motorcycles on a circuit might sound easy. In some ways it is. You just stand there with your camera and your subject comes past your lens once every 1m 40s. Not just one, but many of them.
Even though I took along along my excellent Sigma 150-600 lens, I still wanted to get as close as I could to my subject and to get close to the action. So I headed over to Druids Corner. This is a great place to start. It is the 2nd corner after the starting grid, and a tight 180 degree bend to boot. First time round, your subjects will be bunched tightly together, jostling for position. After that, they start stringing out for the remainder of the laps. This presents a great opportunity to get a shot of multiple bikes into your frame. It is also the slowest part of the track, so less of a problem capturing great images.
Since this was my first time taking shots of racing bikes, I had no idea what settings to use. I experimented using Manual with a 1/250, f5.6 combo on 100 ASA with multiple shots. And managed to get a few cracking shots, but not always. Clearly it takes practice panning a bike as it goes past. I also tried letting the camera do the work on it’s Sport setting. This raised the ISO to around 400/500, and set the shutter/aperture to 1000/1250 and f5.6. This resulted in some great shots too, by freezing the action. Both of these settings showed me what is possible and how to get different effects. Clearly panning with a slower shutter speed (and some sports photographers will go down to 1/60 or less) results in a better sense of movement, but for those without a steady panning technique, the results can be a bit hit and miss, turning the bike into a slight fuzzy mess as your lens moves vertically as well as horizontally. Other considerations when panning with slow speed is that the bike itself may travel slightly vertically when under acceleration, again resulting in slight blur to the picture.
It’s important to consider your locations. There are plenty of places to try around Druids. I started at the beginning of the corner, on the apex and on the exit. Each gives a different perspective and produced different results. I managed to get bikes entering the corner, on the apex leaning, knee to the ground, exiting the corner, from behind and in front, both in groups and singly.
Other corners I tried included Stirling’s Corner on the GP side of the track. A location, as I found out, favoured by many photographers. It’s a slow corner 90 degrees, followed by a fast straight which has the bikes accelerating rapidly out of the corner with the occasional lifting of the front wheel.
Composition is important too. It’s good to get pictures of single bikes, but it doesn’t tell a story. Getting multiple bikes into the frame, perhaps stacked one behind the other, with the leader in focus, can give a particularly pleasing shot if taken as they enter or come out of the corner. Of course, remembering to give them space to travel into.
There are places with a clear view of the track, but quite often your view will be obscured by a wire fence, which can come out on your images if you don’t use a wide aperture and zoom into the action – effectively “seeing” past the fence. It seemed to me that anything smaller than f5.6 would result in some greyness appearing from the fence wire on your image. Look out for areas of the fence that some earlier enterprising photographer may have painted black with a spray can. This reduces the likelihood of glare coming off the fence wire, particularly on sunny days.
Interestingly, in some circumstances, I could have done with a wider zoom, perhaps my 18-300 Nikon, to get a wider shot of the action. Generally speaking though, the Sigma was a great choice for this event and delivered results that I am very pleased with. Shame about my single memory card though. I filled it up. I must remember to get another one as a spare. It was the first time I’d shot over 1500 photos in one session.
A great day out and one I will undoubtedly repeat. I only wish now that I was going to the Isle of Man TT.