The National Hot Road association’s Racing season is well under why and even our here in the Rocky Mountain West cars show and racing season is around the corner…
The old racer’s expression “There’s no substitute for cubic inches” can be translated that into advice for photographing drag racing as “There’s no substitute for millimeters of focal length.” My guess is that some of your best action images will be captured with zoom lenses that have a 200-300mm maximum focal length and maybe sticking a 1.4 extender in your pocket is not a bad idea. The above image was photographed at Bandimere Speedway on a race weekend. Camera was a Canon EOS 1D Mark IIN and an EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM lens with an exposure of 1/250 sec at f/11 and ISO 200.
But there’s more to drag racing than that. Unlike other forms of motorsports, you can sometimes get close enough to the action to photograph it with a wide-angle lens. For images in the pits bring a wide-angle zoom; I use the EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L II USM. The key word when shooting in the pits is safely, so be sure to read my non-photographic recommendations on this subject.
The essence of drag racing is head to head competition between two cars going full tilt down a quarter-mile of straight smooth track. That object on the pole in front of the cars is called a Christmas tree whose colored lights count down to begin a race. For action shots at the Christmas tree, I usually shoot a short burst of images using the camera’s continuous mode. Exposure is critical because there’s no time for bracketing so right before a race I to shoot a few tests and make exposure adjustments all day long by looking at the histogram.
Photographing any sport requires at least a rudimentary knowledge of the rules so you’ll know what’s going on to capture the peak of action. You can photograph drag racing without knowing the difference between a “Christmas tree” and a Chanukah bush but you’ll get better pictures if you do a little research or ask a friend about the sport before making any images. Visit the National Hot Rod Association’s website for information about the sport and read their publication National Dragster.