Art of Vintage Car Racing Photography

The Art of Vintage Car Racing Photography – Part Two

Following on from our initial article titled ‘The Art of Vintage Car Racing Photography,’ one of the best-known lensmen in American motorsport, Dennis Gray, shares his lifetime of knowledge and talent in vintage car racing photography.

Easy steps to add impact to your image:

  • Place you and your camera where spectators are not allowed.
  • Look around you to make sure other photographers are not shadowing your camera placement.
  • Get low to show off the shape of the car.
  • Show the driver’s face.
  • Slow shutter speed to show speed.
  • Use the available light to build color and shape.
  • Show the car jacked out of shape.
  • Once in post-production, try different crops.
  • In tight may be the way to go, or do you want to show the surrounding texture?

This is my thought process in capturing these images in the hope you may find the process useful.

Image 1 – Cobra Daytona Coupe

Cobra Daytona Coupe
Track: Laguna Seca
  • Location: Turn eleven
  • Camera: Nikon
  • Lens: f3.5/5.6 200/500mm
  • Racked out to: 480mm with a polarizing filter
  • ISO: 600
  • Shutter Speed: 1/800 second
  • Aperture: f10
  • Monopod: yes

Image Notes:

To start with, it’s hard to capture a boring image of a Daytona Cobra Coupe. That said I still wanted to push the image a bit.

I scouted Laguna Seca looking for a site that gave me a “fresh” view. I wanted to show the Coupe leading other correct period cars and hopefully with a 3/4 front view.

There is a period in the late afternoon when the cars entering turn eleven are backlit with possibly just a touch of light on the front as the car turns into the turn. This side light also lights up the driver’s face with a nice almost studio side light.

This is just an instant in time as the car is going through eleven at some speed. In this image, you can just see the driver’s face. The car is leaning from the G Forces. Behind the Coupe is a selection of 289 Cobras and a white with blue stripes Corvette. F10 combined with 1/800 second for detail sharpness.


Image 2 – Formula Atlantic

Formula Atlantic
Track: Sonoma Sears Point
  • Location: Turn two
  • Camera: Nikon
  • Lens: f2.8 70/200mm with a polarizing filter
  • Racked out to: 200mm
  • ISO: 800
  • Shutter Speed: 1/30 second
  • Aperture: f8
  • Monopod: yes

Image Notes:

Low camera placement to enhance the “skate board” feeling of this Formula Atlantic car as it pops up over Sears Point’s turn two.

The driver looks as though he is sitting on rather than in this car. A slow shutter speed of 1/30 second pushes the motion. The focus cursor is held on the driver’s helmet keeping him and the 30 number is some focus.

The more I look at the image, the less I mind his sunglasses. But the Go-Pro mounted to the roll bar will go to my Clone Stamp tool in PhotoShop.


Image 3 – BMW CSL 3.5 Bat Mobile

BMW CSL 3.5 Bat Mobile
Track: Mount Tremblant
  • Location: Turn 12
  • Camera: Nikon
  • Lens: f2.8 24/70mm with a polarizing filter
  • Racked out to 28mm
  • ISO: 400
  • Shutter Speed: 1/250 second
  • Aperture: f6.3
  • Monopod: Handheld

Image Notes:

I am up the little hill just past the overpass on the outside in amongst the pine trees. I can hear the CSL coming up the hill and into the tunnel under the overpass, then he pops out and is in front of me all in a split second.

I wanted to be above the car and showing his tail out attitude while taking turn 12. I am back in the trees and an area not accessible to spectators.

Nothing wrong with capturing a view only a few of us get to see. It takes a couple of laps to sink my pan with the speeds of the cars. They pop out from the tunnel and from behind the trees so quickly.


Image 4 – Two-liter Chevron Sports Racer

Two-liter Chevron Sports Racer
Track: Laguna Seca
  • Location: Turn 6
  • Camera: Nikon
  • Lens: f3.5/5.6 200/500mm with a polarizing filter
  • Racked out to: 480mm
  • ISO: 900
  • Shutter Speed: 1/750 second
  • Aperture: f/9.5
  • Monopod: yes

Image Notes:

Tight cropping in PhotoShop helps to ad impact. The camera is down low. The car is starting to climb up the track towards turn 7.

The 480mm compresses the two following cars into the back of this Chevron. The focus is soft on the following cars. The soft overhead light lets the side of the car go dark compared to the top.

When I looked at the group run times, I knew that these brightly painted cars would make strong compressed images in turn six, especially if the soft light held. When you scout the track, build a list of turns that will possibly create nose-to-tail images.


Image 5 – Porsche RS Spyder

Porsche RS Spyder
Track: ThunderHill
  • Location: Turn 4
  • Camera: Nikon
  • Lens: f1.4 50mm with a polarizing filter
  • Racked out to:
  • ISO: 200
  • Shutter Speed: 1/160
  • Aperture: f9
  • Monopod: Hand held

Image Notes:

Let me explain – this image was captured on a private day of testing at ThunderHill. The RS Spyder and I were the only two on track. I was on my knees on the track pavement to get a low camera placement, allowing me to see the driver under the mirror. If I was standing, the mirror blocks the driver for most of the turn. The low camera placement also enhances the shape of the car. I could hardly hope for a better background than the yellow dried grass behind the yellow car.

The RS Spyder was going to be on track for six laps total. I had six laps to capture an image. I moved around the turn each lap. I started shutter speeds at 1/350 second and ended at 1/100 second. This image is barely cropped to give you an idea of how close I was when he went by.


Image 6 – Ferrari 365 GTB/4

Ferrari 365 GTB/4
Track: Laguna Seca
  • Location: Exiting turn 3
  • Camera: Nikon
  • Lens: f2.8 70/200mm with a polarizing filter
  • Racked out to: 160mm
  • ISO: 800
  • Shutter Speed: 1/250 second
  • Aperture: f5.6
  • Monopod: Yes

Image Notes:

Rolex signage contributes to a “clean” background. Polarizing filter ads contrast and color intensity to the red of the Ferrari 365 GTB/4. A relatively fast shutter speed holds detail throughout the car with just a smidge of motion on the signage. With a shutter speed of 1/250 second, Rolex can be easily read.

Cropped to give less space behind with a little more in front. The “leaving someplace going someplace” cropping is not always a success – here, it seems to work.