10 High Ideas for Motorsport Pictures by Photographer Larry Chen

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Larry Chen is a world-renowned motorsports and automobile tradition photographer from Los Angeles. He went from a younger man rising up in Santa Monica with only a ardour for vehicles to a ardour for images, to even a paparazzi photographer earlier than discovering his area of interest for skilled motorsports and automotive images.

Chen, who has competed in novice racing occasions, began taking pictures racing and vehicles in 2004. “I simply loved it a lot as a pastime, I wished to determine a strategy to do it for work,” Chen tells PetaPixel.

Automobile tradition can also be a favourite of Chen. “I like telling the tales of residence storage builds, or next-level know-how, energy and velocity,” Chen explains.

At this yr’s Method Drift Seattle occasion. A crew member watches the opposite vehicles within the scorching pit space. Canon 1D X Mk III, Canon 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM, 1/1600, f/2.8

Chen began his images ardour with a Canon Insurgent XT and now could be a Canon Explorer of Gentle and shoots each DSLRs and mirrorless (take a look at his gear within the captions). When requested what number of automobile pictures he has taken, he solutions, “Perhaps 4 or 5 million? I’ve one Canon EOS-1D X physique with 1.3 million shutter actuations.”

One style that you’ll not see an excessive amount of of on Chen’s portfolio is crash-and-burn pictures, as he doesn’t “glorify these.”

As a result of motorsports in 2020 was pushed again, the ultimate drift occasion I shot at Irwindale had Xmas mild decorations arrange for a vacation drive-through. It made these cool photographs insane. Canon 1D X Mark III, Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM, 1/10, f/2.8
This was the world’s final main motorsports occasion earlier than Covid19 shutdowns halted all the pieces. This was throughout WRC Mexico in 2020 because the Toyota goes via a really silty space. Canon 1D X Mark II, Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM, 1/640, f/2.8
Taking pictures dawn at 11,000ft in elevation in the course of the morning apply for the Pikes Peak Worldwide Hill Climb in 2013. Canon 1D X, Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM, 1/1000, f/2

Does Chen, some of the recognizable figures in motorsport images, do smartphone automobile images? Positive. “I solely used android telephones on Instagram until I hit 100K followers; after that, it was truthful sport,” he recollects. “I at present use a Google Pixel 4 XL.”

“For the previous 15 years, I’ve been working as an automotive photographer,” says Chen. “I’m the official photographer of the Method Drift motorsports collection, and in addition the well-known Pikes Peak Worldwide Hill Climb in Colorado. You guys may additionally know me from my Hoonigan Autofocus YouTube channel as effectively.

There usually are not sufficient weekends in my lifetime to {photograph} all of the automotive associated gatherings and occasions, however you may wager I’ll positive as hell attempt my greatest. – Larry Chen

So, in no explicit order, listed below are Larry Chen’s high 10 suggestions for taking pictures motorsports (in his personal phrases)!

Tip #1. Panning photographs

Certainly one of my favourite snapshots from the 2019 24 Hours of Daytona. The sunshine streaks have been from a random spectator tenting space. Canon 1D X Mark II, Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM, 1/10, f/4

One of many first issues photographers will sort out when taking pictures vehicles is the panning shot. A panning shot is when a photographer tracks a topic’s motion with a slower shutter velocity (i.e., 1/sixtieth) than regular to blur out the foreground and/or background. The topic will be something shifting, whether or not it’s a automobile, a motorbike, or perhaps a horse. If it’s shifting, you may pan it. The problem comes when taking pictures at a decrease shutter velocity. I’d counsel beginning at a comparatively straightforward shutter velocity (1/250th) and simply work your method down as you get snug. When taking pictures my panning photographs, I discover my consolation zone round 1/thirtieth to 1/sixtieth. Everybody’s consolation zone shall be slightly completely different however when you aren’t glad together with your larger shutter panning photographs, begin dropping these shutter speeds a bit. The most important tip right here is to exhale as you shoot. Just like taking pictures a bow or a firearm, you need your digital camera to be as regular as doable when you’re firing away. Apply makes good so simply hold at it.

Tip #2. Present the panorama and environment

I’m in a helicopter taking pictures the 2016 Baja 1000 race in Mexico, chasing the race leaders. Canon 1D X Mark II, Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM, 1/15, f/13

Too typically, I see too many motorsport photographers focus an excessive amount of consideration on the motion itself. Whereas this works in some conditions, I wouldn’t focus all my consideration on simply that.  I like selection in my pictures once I shoot. It goes an extended strategy to exhibit a bit extra of the background to spotlight sure areas that make it distinctive. In any other case, it’s only a zoomed-in photograph of a automobile that might have been shot wherever. So, zoom out slightly.

Tip #3. Don’t depend on the crop

BJ Baldwin wraps up filming of Recoil 2 in Ensenada, MX with the ultimate stunt. Canon 1D X, Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM, 1/1250, f/2.8
On the set of Gymkhana 10. This section was shot in Los Angeles and had Ken Block drive with out tires to create this glowing shot. Canon 1D X Mark II, Canon EF 200 f/2L IS USM, 1/15, f/4

Just like the above level, I see this too typically as effectively. Many photographers depend on cropping their pictures as a substitute of enhancing their framing. Take the time to inform your self to use the Rule of Thirds for instance. This works with each shifting and stationary topics. So long as you’re aware of it and make an try and work in the direction of not center-focusing and simply cropping in later in publish, you’ll see a considerable final result as you shoot extra. Clearly, crop if you need to, ha-ha! I restrict my cropping principally to adjusting the horizon of a photograph.

Tip #4. Use all of the settings which might be accessible for you in your cameras

Full ship motion at Hoonigan’s Burnyard Bash occasion again in 2018. Canon 1D X Mark II, Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L IS II USM, 1/160, f/1.4

I get requested what my settings are on a regular basis at occasions. And I say I take advantage of all settings the digital camera has to supply. I’ll use Shutter Precedence, Aperture Precedence, Guide, even Bulb. Whichever setting will internet me the precise photograph I’m searching for, is the setting I’ll use. In a scenario the place I’m doing panning photographs in broad daylight, for instance, I’ll favor shutter precedence. I’ll begin by organising shutter velocity and ISO (often low). In most of those conditions, the aperture received’t actually have an effect on my picture all that a lot because it’ll be excessive regardless, however to maintain it as little as doable, I run as low of an ISO that I can to attenuate sensor mud.

Tip #5. Take off your lens caps

Pit cease motion at 2 am in the course of the 2018 24 Hours of LeMans. Canon 1D X Mark II, Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM, 1/15, f/9
Travis Pastrana jumps over a velocity boat on the set of Gymkhana 11 from 2020. I appreciated the water getting shot out from the boat, so I positioned myself for that. Canon R5, EF 24-70 f/2.8L II USM, 1/1600, f/5.6

I see MANY different photographers run into this situation once I’m at race occasions. The vehicles will come by, and the photographers will go to shoot earlier than noticing their lens caps are nonetheless on their cameras. I simply depart mine off and run filters on all my lenses. Most filters are fairly scratch resistant anyway, and I’ll undergo no less than a yr with them on earlier than they get too scratched up. Respectable ones will be had for lower than $30.

Tip #6. Since we’re speaking about filters, round polarizers are a photographer’s greatest good friend

From the filming of Climbkhana at Pikes Peak. Ken goes via the well-known part of the course referred to as Double Lower. Canon 1D X Mark II, Canon 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM, 1/1600, f/2.8
A Ford GT goes arduous in the course of the 2019 24 Hours of Daytona. I used to be within the grandstands because the seats are fairly colourful to supply a pleasant foreground. Canon 1D X Mark II, Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM, 1/20, f/16

Impartial Density filters and gradual ND filters are nice too. I all the time run CPL filters in the course of the day. At all times. ND filters are sometimes used, principally for once I’m panning, and I wish to shoot with a low shutter velocity and wide-open aperture. Gradual ND filters are nice for golden hour as effectively

Tip #7. Transfer round

My good friend Zac Mertens doing a fats burnout in his Chevy C10 truck in entrance of an enormous crowd throughout SEMA 2019. Canon 1D X Mark II, Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM, 1/4000, f/2.8

In case you’re taking pictures at an occasion, don’t put all of your concentrate on a single shot or single space of the observe. Transfer round and intention to get varied pictures all through the world to greatest present the general occasion. This additionally consists of the pit and paddock areas. Simply since you’re taking pictures automobile racing doesn’t imply you aren’t allowed to shoot individuals as effectively.

Tip #8. Take heed to the observe officers

On the set of Climbkhana with Ken Block as he drifts via a nook in 2016. Canon 1D X Mark II, Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM, 1/2000, f/5.6

Don’t be silly and put your self in a harmful scenario the place loss of life turns into an element only for a cool photograph you bear in mind. It’s not price it. There are many methods to shoot a tremendous photograph that don’t put your life in danger. The observe officers know greatest in terms of security, so in the event that they let you know to again off and get out, again off and get out.

Tip #9. Put on the suitable clothes

I used to be using shotgun in a drift automobile, taking pictures one other drift automobile at Highway Atlanta throughout Gridlife South 2019. Canon 1D X Mark II, Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM, 1/50, f/4

Tank tops with board shorts and sandals won’t make it easier to, particularly when you’re taking pictures one thing like drifting and something off-road. I all the time verify the climate for an upcoming occasion as effectively in case rain decides to make a go to. And I all the time put on correct socks and sneakers as I’m often standing for effectively over 12+ hours on lengthy race days.

Tip #10. Don’t be afraid to preview your photographs

I wished to concentrate on the smoke plumes coming off the tires for this shot and determined to indicate it off with this shot. Canon 1D X Mark III, Canon 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM, 1/640, f/2.8

I do that on a regular basis to assist readjust my pictures. With sure racing collection, there are sufficient vehicles so that you can apply on to assist attain the shot you’re searching for in a small period of time.

Hope you loved my 10 suggestions. Perhaps I’ll see you out at a future occasion!


You probably have any questions, you may message Larry Chen on his Instagram @larry_chen_foto, the place he’s most energetic.

And be sure you take a look at Automobile Racing Photographer Will get Crowd to Gentle Up a Picture with Telephones.


In regards to the creator: Phil Mistry is a photographer and instructor based mostly in Atlanta, GA. He began one of many first digital digital camera courses in New York Metropolis at The Worldwide Heart of Images within the 90s. He was the director and instructor for Sony/Widespread Images journal’s Digital Days Workshops. You may attain him through e mail right here.


Picture credit: All pictures by Larry Chen and used with permission





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