OK, not quite what you were expecting when you put ‘High Speed Photography’ into google or another search engine, but the principals are the same using a high speed of around 1/800 sec you can freeze even an F1 car at full speed down the straight. But that would make for very boring photgraphs of a stationary car on a stationary background. That is something anyone can do, the time you start to struggle is when you hit the stops on your camera and everything then becomes blurred, or if the car is passing you on the straight then keeping the car in frame becomes the challenge. First time I tried that was what was happening, I would get the front of a car or the rear of a car in the image, all perfectly in focus and sharp but just missed the car, that is where learning the art of panning comes in. If you watch professional F1 photographers at an F1 Grand Prix, you will see them practicing their panning before the cars are even on the track. Panning is actually quite easy once you have practiced a little and can yield some great results in your images bringing the image to life and imparting a sense of speed into the image, afterall cars are supposed to move fast not be stationary.
Fernando Alonso’s Scuderia Ferrari passes the Pit Wall (f/16, 1/160sec Iso 100 @ 250mm)
The more practice you get at panning the slower a shutter speed you can use, the first image above is taken at 1/250th of a second, the second image is stopped down to 1/160th of a second. The key to successful panning is not moving your arms, but moving your body from the waist as this gives you a smoother movement by keeping your head and arms still. The other important thing is to make sure that your camera is in continuous focus mode on my Canon cameras this means putting the camera into Al SERVO AF mode, otherwise the camera will focus as you press the shutter button for the first time, then as the car gets closer it may slip out of focus, and using the continuous shooting mode, enables you to shoot off a couple of frames as you track the car.
Sebastian Vettel’s Redbull Racing Car speeds down the Pits (f/11, 1/320sec Iso 100 @ 300mm)
Panning is actually easier when you are zoomed into the subject, for all the images above I have used a Canon 70 – 300 L IS lens, when you zoom out it actually gets more challenging as the target is smaller and therefore harder to keep in the same place in the frame. For the next couple of images I used a 50mm f1.4 Lens to give a sense of the crowd and combine that with a sense of speed.
Fernando Alonso’s Scuderia Ferrari wins the Chinese F1 Grand Prix (f/14, 1/80sec Iso 200 @ 50mm) (Click to view larger)
Sergio Perez – McLaren Mercedes at the Chinese F1 Grand Prix (f/14, 1/80sec Iso 200 @ 50mm)