Vintage Car Racing Photography

The Art of Vintage Car Racing Photography

When asked by SCD to do a short article on photographing vintage racing events, I, for some reason, now long forgotten, said yes.

What could I say that readers would find of value or interest? After several dry runs, this is my answer:

“Take a number of images captured at Laguna Seca, Sears Point, and ThunderHill, include a few paddock detail images, a few driver portraits, polish the images off  with a brief description of the why and how.”

The goal? To get our readers excited about capturing images at the track.

Vintage Car racing photography

If you’re looking for instructions on setting up your camera, I’ll suggest you visit Steve Perry’s Backcountry Gallery. His website will guide you through the jungle of Nikon controls. My goal, getting you looking at corners, sunlight, moving cars, then use that vision to capture interesting images.

What do I consider a Sports Car Digest image? As you, the reader, scrolls through a Sports Car Digest story, the image needs to stop you cold. The reader needs to get into the image, look at the driver’s eyes, check out the tires as they contact the pavement, think, “ Damn, wish that was me pushing that machine!!”

Unfortunately, not all my images published from an event make that cut. Never the less that’s my target.

Art of Car photography

Couple of hints to keep your weekend fun. Know the track, arrive a day early to a new track, walk both the inside and outside of the track. Keep in mind the backgrounds. Nothing like a pile of old tires or a collection of porta potties to ruin an otherwise nice image.

Keep your equipment to a minimum. Hauling two bodies, six lenses, and a bag full of “whatever” up the hill from Laguna’s turn six to The Corkscrew Sunday afternoon after three or four days of shooting will show how important packing light can be. By Saturday afternoon, I need a monopod to support my camera and long lens. Keep in mind you need strong, smooth support to pan at a slow shutter speed, and a monopod might be helpful no matter your age.

Sunblock, wide brim hat, a bottle or two of water, an easily removed jacket, shoes that grip and won’t dump you on your can. A decent bottle of wine back in the hotel room to help with editing.

Taking the best photos for car racing

Spend some time establishing the qualifications for a press/media credential from the track. Media credentials will simplify life. Note: Some sixty years ago, my first media credential was a pair of wire cutters.

Do you understand and know about the Exposure Triangle? You need to know and understand the Exposure Triangle. A good article to get you started is B&H Understanding Exposure, Part 1: The Exposure Triangle. Once you understand the Triangle, your photographic life will smooth out.

I am a Nikon shooter and updated to a z7 Mirrorless System. Any camera references are based on my Nikon camera experiences.

I set my z7 Nikon up this way:

 ISO is set automatically by the camera. Why not? The z7 and, for that matter, any Nikon is faster than I am and more accurate in setting the ISO to match the shutter and f stop. I use the manual setting. I use the f Stop to set the depth of field and shutter speed to control motion or movement in my images.

how to take car photography

One rule to live by “Capture one image each day at the track that will enhance your portfolio.”

On to twenty-seven images. Twenty-five from Laguna Seca, one from Sonoma Sears Point, and also from ThunderHill. Each image has Camera Data to give you an idea of the how and why of my shooting. I have included ‘Notes’ where I thought they might help explain the process.

The last is a list of camera gear I’ll be taking to the tracks in 2021.

27 Vintage Car Racing Images with Tips to Capture the Moment

Image 1. Blower Bentley

Blower Bentley
Track: Monterey Laguna Seca
  • Location: Turn 2
  • Camera: Nikon
  • Lens: f3.5/5.6 200/500mm – set to 200mm – Polarizing filter
  • ISO: 1600
  • Shutter Speed: 1/250 second
  • Aperture: f/10
  • Monopod: Yes

Image Notes:

I wanted to capture the driver’s face/eyes as he pushed back in his seat as this big Bentley exits out of turn two. Monterey Sunshine (Fog) smooths out the car’s contours and helps the dark green pop from the background. There are several shooting holes in the turn two fences to help vary the background and the attitude of the car.


Image 2: Ferrari F1

Ferrari F1
Track: Monterey Laguna Seca
  • Location: Turn 2
  • Camera: Nikon
  • Lens: f3.5/5.6 200/500mm – set to 200mm – Polarizing filter
  • ISO: 140
  • Shutter Speed: 1/160 second
  • Aperture: f/9
  • Monopod: Yes

Image Notes:

Rule No.1 of vintage race photography. A vintage Ferrari always sets an impact and makes an interesting image. An F1 vintage Ferrari even more so.


Image 3: Steve Schmidt

Steve Schmidt
Track: Monterey Laguna Seca
  • Location: Hot Pits
  • Camera: Nikon
  • Lens: f2.8 70/200 set to 135mm
  • ISO: 200
  • Shutter Speed: 1/250 second
  • Aperture: f5.6
  • Monopod: No

Image Notes:

Steve Schmidt waits to take his 935 onto the track. This is the best time to shoot candid images. The drivers are concentrating on what is ahead on the track and often don’t see you. If they notice your lens pointing at them, they may give you a “Hard Look,” making for a nice portrait.


Image 4. 250F Maserati

250F Maserati
Track: Monterey Laguna Seca
  • Location: Approaching turn six
  • Camera: Nikon
  • Lens: f.35/5.6 200/500 – Polarizing filter
  • ISO: 360
  • Shutter Speed: 1/500 second
  • Aperture: f8
  • Monopod: Yes

Image Notes:

The track goes up the hill from turn five under an overpass and over a rise, dropping to turn six. This 250F Maserati is just cresting the rise just past the overpass with early morning side light lighting the driver’s face.

I choose the long 500mm setting to separate the car from the trees across the valley. The 1/500 second shutter speed to stop the car and hold the detail but still let the tires show some motion. I had the focus curser set on the driver’s face to maintain the sharpness of his features.