Intro / Description
The Photography Interest Group was well represented at the Daytona International Speedway last Saturday. Kevin M., Kevin K., Lutfi E., and I went for the day and covered most of the events from practice to racing and activities in between.
The Speedway in Daytona is the home of the Daytona 500 and opened in 1959. In addition to NASCAR events, the track also hosts ARCA and other races. It’s a 2.5 mile high-speed tri-oval, and has sports car, motorcycle, and karting courses.
Saturday was part of Speedweeks which culminate next weekend with the Daytona 500. There were two practice sessions, the Lucas Oil 200 race, the Sprint Unlimited Exhibition race, and other things to see and do.
Pit Road and the grandstands from the Fanzone
Kevin K’s son, Evan scored a package deal for us that included general admission, infield parking, and Sprint Fanzone entry for a very low price. Sometimes being part of a prestigious organization like the Photography Interest Group can really pay off. 😉
Info for Photographers
This was the first time I’ve actually photographed an automobile race and it took a while to settle on a shutter speed. Luckily, Kevin M. was along – he’s a big race fan and advised us on settings. He suggested using 1/1250th sec. and at this shutter speed the car body was relatively sharp while the wheels were a bit blurry – which is what I wanted to help imply motion.
These cars run over 190 mph and if you can get to the stands in the infield, they pass by very close. So it’s a great situation to practice your panning technique. I got the best results when I picked up the car in the viewfinder well before I pressed the shutter, concentrated on smoothly following as it approached, and continued to follow through after the shot. I also had better luck when I used a focus point on the side the car was coming from and selected continuous focus. Previous experience with bird photography and keeping the focus point on target will pay off here too.
You may want to try turning off your camera / lens image stabilization to see if it works better without it at high-speed. With fast shutters, you probably don’t need it, and depending on your equipment it might actually degrade the image.
I normally shoot in aperture priority but for this, the most critical part of the exposure triangle is the shutter speed – so I switched to shutter priority. I set 1/1250th, and then controlled ISO manually to move the aperture to 1/f8. It was cloudy most of the day, so my ISO ranged between 400 to 1000.
I also found myself using some positive exposure compensation at times to bring out detail inside the cars.
It’s fun to try to catch each driver at practice, but photographing single cars can quickly get monotonous. We were fortunate to have access to several locations which helped us vary positions / light direction, and avoid back lighting most of the day. Be on the lookout for unusual / different compositions. There was a checkered flag in the foreground near turn two and it was fun to try to catch cars as they passed underneath.
Juan Pablo Montoya – car #42; Passing underneath a Daytona International Speedway checkered flag during practice
You should also watch for interesting people. Be quick, since they don’t seem to stick around very long.
Richard Petty during the Dollar General Car (Matt Kenseth, #20) inspection
Allowed, but not recommended. With all the panning you’ll be doing, a tripod would get in the way. And when crowds get dense, you’ll have trouble finding space to set yours up.
This depends on where you are at the track. We were using various camera systems with a number of zoom lenses (70-200, 70-300, 150-500, 200-600 mm – full frame equivalent). From the infield grandstands, the 600mm was a bit too long. From the main grandstands, something that long might be useful.
It’d be helpful to have a shorter zoom available too for non-racing situations in the garage and Fanzone areas. And a wide-angle or even a fisheye lens are useful for car close-ups.
Best time to visit:
Consult the speedway website for race schedules. I found that last Saturday was a wonderful day there. We got to see all the big name stars, but the crowds were very reasonable. The traffic and number of people at the track can get crazy for big events like the Daytona 500. Of course, if you’re a race fan, you probably don’t mind putting up with crowds to see that one.
Here are a couple more photos from the races:
Julian Jousse in car #94 has trouble in the Lucas Oil 200 race
The Big One (photo by tkmckinn) – A crash after dark in the season opening Sprint Unlimited exhibition race later on Saturday night
Check the weather before you go. It can be a bit warm or even a bit cold in Daytona in February. Dress appropriately, and bring sun block.
Food and drinks are a little expensive. Consider bringing in some of your own in a small cooler. Check the Speedway website for their rules on what you can bring in.
The Speedway has a phone app that might come in handy. It’ll show you the day’s schedule, maps, and other info. It also has a mode that allows you to find friends (although it didn’t work all that well for us – everyone needs to have it open and on the GPS map screen).
Entry to the Fanzone is worth doing. There are a lot of photo ops there that you won’t be able to get close to from the grandstands. The infield parking was also nice, since it allowed us to move around for better vantage points. Separate fees for admission, parking, Fanzone, etc. add up though. Do a little research, and you might be able to find a special deal like we did.
Even though I’m not a huge race fan, I had a good time. I wish I hadn’t waited this long to visit the speedway.
You can click the photos above to see larger versions on Flickr. And you can see many more photos from yesterday at the links in the table above.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – race out and make some photos!
©2013, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.