Motocross Photography Tip Sheet for AV Motoplex

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Two things are needed to get good action photos: basic action-shooting skills, and some knowledge of the activity you’re photographing.  Knowledge of the facility that you are going to be photographing at helps too!  The skills include panning, determining peak action, follow thru focusing, prefocusing and developing a sense of timing.  Knowledge of the activity comes with research, actually going there and lots of practice!


Usually, the best action lens is going to fall into the telephoto focal length, which means anywhere between 100 and 300 millimeters.  A telephoto lens will allow you to stand on the sidelines of your favorite sporting event and capture nice close-up shots.  However, for AV Motoplex, you can get down on the track, and will want a much wider angle lens… even as low as 22mm. Most shots will be within the 100mm range.  Very fast panning is needed when you are close with a wide lens and usually a single shot at these wide angles is required.  Timing is everything.

Camera Settings

Shutter Priority Mode (Tv).  You are either trying to freeze the action, or to blur the action.

To Freeze the Action - Set your camera to continuous shooting mode – ideal for catching a sequence of rider-in-the-air shots.  At least 1/500 sec should be used.
To Capture Movement with Blur - Keep your camera on continuous shooting mode and start with 1/100 of a second while panning, and adjust as needed for effect (may need a slower shutter speed).   Pay attention to your background (solid colors, such as clear sky won’t show panning streaks).  Turn your body into a solid tripod, arms close to body, rotate from waist.  Start panning before you take the shot and continue panning afterwards.

Focus Mode – Predictive/Continuous Autofocus (AI Servo on Canon, AFC on Nikon)

Drive Mode – Continuous/ Multiple frames per second

Auto and Sports Mode Action Figure – Very basic, lacks control but works, and is good for beginning action photography.

Focusing - Catch the rider early so your camera has time to focus and track.  Pan with the action and press the shutter as the rider gets close to the peak.  Continue panning after you release the shutter.  It takes some practice to keep the rider completely in the frame with tight shots.  Look at your shots and make adjustments.  If panning left to right, keeping the rider in the left half of the frame makes a centered image.  Use the reverse for right to left.  When using a wide angle lens and you are close to the rider, that situation requires only one shot and very fast panning.  It is critical to obtain focus on the rider as he/she approaches and let the continuous focus do its job.  Press the shutter as the rider passes directly in front of you.  It takes practice to get the timing down.

Where to Shoot

Before the event starts, walk around the location and look for suitable shooting locations, taking into consideration access to subjects, the background, the lighting and your personal safety!
Suggestions: (some apply more to a Race Day vs a Practice Day)     Start Line - 1st Turn - High Vantage Point (include spectators) - Low Vantage Point (more dramatic), Hills, Jumps, Curves

Other Tips – from David

Background distraction is a huge challenge at AVMotoplex.  The motoplex has multiple distractions in the background such as the freeway, power lines, the fair sign, workmen watering the track plus other riders.  Try large apertures with telephoto lens to blur the background.  It takes some thought and planning after you arrive to get a shot without background distractions.  After you take a shot, look at the background and not just the rider to see if the whole scene works for you.

I think the two best places for shots are the flat areas after the ramps where you can catch the riders in the air and the riders throwing dirt coming out of turns.  Riders with come up a ramp and get airborne and sometimes even stay in the air all the way to the down ramp.  One idea is to use a wide lens and catch the entire sequence and use Photoshop to layer the images.  Catching the riders head on leaving a turn is more dramatic in his opinion that shots from behind.

Look at the sun position and the way the light falls on the riders.  In my opinion it is better to have to riders face and side nearest you in light rather than shade.  Late afternoon has lower light angles and comes from the Southwest and the track viewing is from the West unless you walk onto the track.

Consider bringing a stepstool or small ladder to stand on.  At AV Motoplex, only 10 photographers at a time are allowed on the track.  There is a 5-6ft chainlink fence around the perimeter and a step ladder is handy when not allowed on the track.

Know where the riders travel around the track and stay out of their path.

More Tips – from Sue

Try shooting with both eyes open… one on the viewfinder and the other open to see what is coming.  Bring sunscreen & water.

Have Fun!  Ask lots of questions!  Be Safe!  Practice, Practice, Practice!!!

By Sue Craft & David Wilkins

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