Hot Topics

Photographing the Races: Newcomer’s Guide

I’ve had a few questions from my friends as to what I use to take pictures, and honestly guys, I don’t want to just copy and paste a response from one person to another. So, I’ll give a rundown of all my equipment and provide a few links for you if you want to purchase them on Amazon; full disclosure, I do make a small percentage of your shopping spree, so do/do not go crazy spending. 😉 Now, this post assumes that you have a starter DSLR camera of your choice. I shoot with Nikon myself and love my D3200 with my life; I will vouch for the brand quite loudly.

Most importantly, I’m going to start with the lifesource of your pictures: the memory card! You cannot go anywhere without one and everyone at some point has felt the panic when you start going through your bag and don’t see one. No one likes that stress, so always stock up on extra! My primary one is a large capacity memory card that can take a couple thousand at once. You don’t want to run out of room after three races and either stop taking pictures altogether or be forced to start deleting. I recommend SanDisk Memory Cards as they are stable with a lot of room. I’ve just had too many poor experiences with other brands and I tend to keep with what worked in the past. You don’t need to go for the most expensive one available, but make sure to buy a few and keep them in your bag at all times. It does you no good if you drive all the way out to the track or to your location, and can’t take pictures because you just don’t have how.

The next important piece of equipment is your lens. Many of the starter kits with Nikon (and I’m sure Canon does this as well) come with a camera, two basic lenses, and the other random pieces that help you maintain your equipment. If you want to shoot high-speed action photos, the basic lens in the starter kits are not enough if you’re going to be further than 15 feet away from your target(s). You will need to invest in a telephoto lens, and those can be pricey if you want to get one brand new. Nikon Nikkors are amazing but they are not cheap. I personally got mine refurbished and it works like a dream (it was only about $200 as well). That being said, do not just go out, google “refurbished Nikon lenses”, and purchase from the first, cheapest company you find. You need to be careful and specific as to whom you purchase these things from; scams abound on the internet and you need to be diligent about getting the real deal, and not cheap knock-offs. If the lens does not come with a warranty on the refurbishment, then do not get it.

You also don’t need the $4,000 “super zoom that can see a zit on your face from 300 yards out” lens that needs its own footstand to rest on because it’s so heavy, especially if you’re just getting started. Here’s a secret: most professional photographers that don’t travel the world and don’t have contracts with ten different companies that purchase their pictures, rent these things! It’s much cheaper at the end of the day to rent the lens, get your awesome pictures, and then return it. None of the photos in this post were taken with a giant lens, they’re all products of my $200 refurbished baby!

Something else that is extremely important is the bag that you carry your camera and other equipment in; to invest money into so many expensive things, and then to carry them around in a basic backpack is a bit of a risk. You want to get something that will keep all the lenses from hitting each other as you move around and will keep your camera snug in one place no matter what happens (your backpack falls off a chair, it gets jostled around, etc.). I really like the bag I have now, and it does exactly as I described above. The Neewer Pack is shockproof, waterproof, and can even accommodate a tripod for those night shots of the city skyline. I like that the slots can be customized (they have velcro on the sides) and moved around at will to accommodate for attachable flash heads, extra lens attachments, etc.

On the left, you’ll see the slots that I was talking about: they can all be taken off and then reapplied in the proper area. They’re soft and provide a great grip for all of the equipment. My bag is a little messy, but it does show just how much stuff you can fit into one of these and the price is well worth the benefits! It’s also a huge plus that you have space for your cleaning supplies (picture on the right) and that they’re zipped. It would be a minor trainwreck if all the loose pieces were just floating about as you took things in and out. Remember, the one time you stop to take things out and it’s messy is the one time there is a puddle conveniently under your feet. Don’t be like me, and keep your bag organized!

Another point that is very important to make is to keep your equipment clean, and maintenance it frequently! If you know that it’s going to be extra windy at the track or that every tree in a twenty mile radius is releasing pollen, make sure to take a quick time out and glance over your camera. Make sure you use the small brush that came in a cleaning kit with your DSLR package to brush anything out of the crevices (or use an old, CLEAN makeup brush) and never, ever, ever, never, NEVER, EVER touch the mirror in the camera or the part of the lens that connects to the camera with your fingers. Your skin oils can rain all sorts of havoc on those parts and you really don’t want to have to replace your equipment before you even get a chance to really enjoy it. Use the clean rags, brushes, eyeglass cleaning wipes (only on external places like the viewfinder and main screen), whatever; anything other than your fingers.

That’s about it for what I take with me to the track. You don’t want to overload your bag and then struggle with it the entire day. I honestly only take my camera, telephoto lens, an auxiliary lens if I am going to take some backside pictures, and my cleaning kit with me. You also want to enjoy your time at the races and not manhandle your stuff the majority of the time; that defeats the purpose of going in the first place.

If you have any questions, let me know and I’ll do my best to answer them.


2 replies »