How to Photograph Fast-Moving Vehicles

When I think of fast cars and bikes, two-page glossy spreads of fast machines from various racetracks around the world immediately come to mind. Do you ever wonder how these adrenaline pumping images are shot? In this video, photographer Kevin Wing lays bare some of his tricks. He’s a professional motorsports photographer and shoots moving vehicles for a living:

Gear for Photographing Moving Vehicles

Though Wing wields a Canon EOS 1Dx and an assortment of L series lenses in this video, started off with nothing more than a manual focusing film camera and a hand-held light meter. That’s right. He says,

“You don’t need the most expensive camera gear. But you do need a solid understanding of how your camera works and how to create a dynamic shot.”

Recommended Camera Settings

There are no recommendations. Wing explains,

“There are no secret f-stops or shutter speeds. Practice makes perfect.”

He, however, shares these five tips to get on to the fast track and start shooting great images.

1. Focusing and Depth of Field

When shooting head-on, choosing the right aperture is important. The right aperture will give you enough depth of field to bring the whole vehicle in focus. With motorcycles and cars, that aperture is often somewhere around f/8.

right aperture for shooting moving vehicles

Choose the right aperture to bring whole of the subject in focus

Wing prefers to shoot with a single AF-point or expanded point and in AI Servo mode. The point of focus is the most important part of the vehicle, hopefully with the highest contrast for easy auto-focusing. Pre-focusing helps too.

2. Profile Pan Shoot

Profile pan shots are images where the wheels, background, and foreground have motion blur but the vehicle itself remains sharp.

how to make a profile pan shot

Profile Pan Shot

To make such an image, Wing uses a 70-200mm f/2.8 or a 300mm lens (depending on how much open space there is). Shutter speed, depending on the speed of the vehicle and the number of potential chances he has, varies from 1/250 to 1/30 of a second. At all times, he recommends that you flow with the vehicle and keep it steady in the viewfinder.

3. Three Quarter Front Action Shot

This is the angle that you usually envision when you think of fast cars and bikes. Great for those two page spreads. Wing prefers to shoot these with his 300mm f/2.8L lens. The focus is to shoot when the action peaks at a corner and capture some motion blur in the wheels. His favorite shutter speed is 1/500 to 1/250 of a second.

¾ shot of a fast moving vehicle

3/4 Shot

4. Location and Atmospheric Shot

These shots require an approach you would normally use for shooting landscapes. Emphasize the location. The vehicle becomes a secondary point of interest. Leave a lot of negative space in the shot and experiment with the rule of thirds.

the location shot

Location Shot

“Think about creating atmosphere and drama. A real ‘wish I was there’ moment.”

5. Magic Hour and Dynamic Light

Utilize the magic hour. This tends to bring out the best in your photos.

magic hour, photographing fast moving vehicles

Magic Hour Shot

You can experiment with side lighting, straight on, back-lit—you’ll get away with good results with almost anything that you do with this light.

With these tips in mind, go out and start shooting. There are many opportunities for practice—just look for a road with a nice view and fast-moving traffic.

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