In a series of articles X Photographer Jeff Carter will be shooting at sports events in the UK and showing how to capture great images with the Fujifilm X Series without the need for a media pass.
Sports Photography as a Spectator – Autograss
In the seventh instalment of the ‘Shooting Sport as a Spectator’ series I headed to Avonbridge in Stirlingshire to photograph some oval action at the Central Scotland Autograss Club ‘Jock Rankin Trophy’ event.
Autograss is literally grassroots motor sport and it is fast and furious. The 400 metre oval circuit uses a natural soil surface and the sport provides a lot of entertainment for both competitors and spectators for minimal cost. A competitor can buy a car and race it for a whole season for less money than a factory team would spend on one set of tyres at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Drivers can race from the age of 12 in Class 1 and as they move up the classes the cars get faster and more fun.
There are 11 National Autograss Sport Association (NASA) Classes, differing by type of set up and engine sizes. From near standard 1000cc Minis through to specifically designed spaceframed single seaters with monster V8 or twin motorbike power.
Classes 1 to 7 are the saloons, with Class 1 providing the perfect starter category with no special tuning or modifications allowed, while Class 7 is for the ultimate saloons where literally anything goes.
Classes 8 to 10 are vehicles with a steel tube spaceframed chassis are either home constructed or professionally built. The ‘Specials’ classes are split into three classes by the application of an engine capacity and/or engine type limit. There is also a Junior Specials class, with a standard Vauxhall 1200cc engine and gearbox.
Each race is between four and ten laps and can feature up to eight cars. There are 52 Autograss Clubs across the UK and Ireland and action packed entertainment is standard due to the close nature of the racing.
BE PREPARED – What to Take
First thing to remember with Autograss is it will be muddy and dirty, so wear suitable clothing. Check the weather forecast before you travel.
Like all motor sport events, driver and spectator safety is paramount. While the fences are low, you are standing a short distance from the track. For frame filling shots you will need to have a long telephoto like the XF100-400mm f4.5/5.6 , with most of the shots being in the 150-300mm zoom range at Avonbridge. The XF50-140mm f2.8 can also be a useful lens, especially if you have the 1.4x or 2x converters.
If you don’t have access to the XF100-400mm or the XF50-140mm, another lens to consider is the XF55-200mm f3.5/4.8. This is excellent for motorsport with OIS and a longer focal length than the more expensive ‘pro’ lens. The AF might not be as fast as the more expensive lens but it is quick enough.
I also used the XF16-55mm f2.8 lens in the paddock and for a wider view when shooting trackside. If you don’t have the f2.8 lens the alternatives the XF18-55mmF2.8-4 or XF18-135mmF3.5-5.6 kit lenses and either will do a great job.
Facilities at an Autograss event are basic but toilets and catering facilities are usually available. At Avonbridge the catering prices were very reasonable, less than £4.50 for a burger and a coffee. So if you don’t want to take a packed lunch you can always get something at the track, but I do recommend taking a bottle of water in your camera bag.
GET IN POSITION
Remember motor sport is dangerous, so you must obey the safety rules. The 400m oval is quite compact and as long as you stay behind the rope marking the spectator area you can more around freely.
If I was traveling to Avonbridge again I would take my small 3-step folding ladder to give myself a bit more height. This is because the trackside fence, while low, appeared in some of my shots. The ladder would have give me a bit more height allowing me to clear the fence with ease.
The track at Avonbridge has a small, but significant, elevation change. At Turn 2 you are shooting down on the cars and at Turn 4 you are shooting up as they drop down the short hill.
Also the corners are best for capturing shots, with mud and dust being thrown out from the back of the cars as they fight for grip on the natural soil surface. There had been some heavy rain in Scotland the days preceding the event and the weather was changeable on the day. This meant the track was muddy and while the conditions were not the best for spectating, all the mud being thrown up by the cars certainly looks great in the final images.
SHOOTING THE ACTION – AF and Exposure
Like all motor sport, the cars are easy to predict where they will be on the circuit as they all move in the same direction.
The FUJIFILM X-T2’s AF system is superb and will track the competitors easily. I set both of my X-T2s to ‘boost’ to improve the reaction time. The AF-C custom setting is set to Ignore Obstacles (set 2) so the AF doesn’t get confused by objects such as fences or other cars that come between the camera and the competitor as I follow them.
I use zone focus set to 3×3 but you can also use single point AF. I focus on the top of the windscreen (or where the windscreen would usually be because Autograss cars don’t have them, just a metal grill).
For metering I used the matrix setting to see the exposure in the viewfinder and I shot in manual exposure mode, with the shutter speed dial set to T and the rear command dial used to adjust the shutter speed. I also set the ISO dial to ‘A’ and use the front command dial to select the required ISO.
With the aperture ring adjusted by my left hand, I can adjust all three elements to get the correct exposure without taking my eye from the viewfinder.
FREEZE THE ACTION
Now you can choose to freeze the action by using a shutter speed of 1/1000s or faster but you have to be careful not to make the car look like it is parked on the track by freezing all movement in the wheels. Autograss is easier than circuit racing because even if the wheels are frozen you still have the mud being thrown up to give the viewer the impression that the car is moving.
However I prefer to select a shutter speed of 1/500s or less. Even at this speed the wheels will have some movement in them and the fast moving debris being thrown up by the tyres will also be blurred.
Selecting a shutter speed of 1/125 or less really injects a sense of movement into the image but just be careful because the track is bumpy so a car make be traveling vertically as well as horizontally when you press the shutter release. However if you nail the shot a slow shutter speed can really transform the final image.
I didn’t use a flash at this event but as long as you don’t fire the flash directly at the driver you can use flash. A good rule of thumb is to only use flash from the side or the rear of the car, never at the front of the car.
CHOOSING AN EVENT
Events take place all over the country but advertising is quite low key. The best place to check is the National Autograss Sport Association official website for an event near you. Spectators are usually welcome and ticket prices are quite reasonable, with tickets for £5 at Avonbridge, including parking.
This was the first time I had been to an Autograss event for nearly 20 years when I used to cover the sport for the Lincolnshire newspaper I worked at as a staff photographer. Autograss is very photogenic and the official and competitors make everyone very welcome.
CAMERA AND LENSES
• Fujifilm X-T2 with battery grip
• Telephoto Zoom – 100-400mm f4.5/5.6 or 50-140mm f2.8. A good alternative lens in the 55-200mm f3.5/4.8.
• Standard zoom (16-55mm f2.8 or 18-55mm / 18-135mm) for wide action shots and paddock images.
• 10-24mm f4 wide angle zoom lens can also be useful a different perspective.
• Shutter dial set to ’T’ (and locked). Shutter speed selected on rear command dial
• Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS) on.
• Metering set to Matrix.
• Autofocus – AF-C with camera set to ‘boost’ to improve reaction time.
• AF custom setting on Set 2 (Ignore Obstacles)
• AF Mode – Zone (3 x 3) or Single Point
• Drive set to CH (8 or 11 fps)
• Action freezing images – minimum 1/1000s with aperture wide open. Adjust ISO accordingly but be careful not to make the car look like it is parked on the track (frozen wheels).
• Alternatively 1/400 to 1/800 will freeze the action in the corners while providing movement in the wheels.
• Panning images – 1/250s to 1/60s will inject lots of movement in the image. Choose a suitable aperture and drop the ISO down to 200/400.
• People shots – Autofocus to AF-S and use wide aperture to isolate the subject from the background when using telephoto lenses.
PREPARING FOR AUTOGRASS
• Check the weather forecast and dress accordingly.
• Take covers for your cameras. The X-T2 / X-Pro2 / X-T1 and the majority of Fujinon lenses might be weather resistant but I always cover the equipment when not in use. It is not just water, Autograss venues, by their nature, tend to be very muddy.
• Food and drink. There are usually facilities at an event but it is probably wise to take a snack and at least a bottle of water.
• Motor Sport is dangerous.
• Stay behind the ropes marking the spectator areas.
• Obey the marshals and the officials at all times.
• Do not enter the track area at anytime without permission, especially while there are cars on track.
My thanks go to Blair Robertson at the Central Scotland Autograss Club for the warm welcome and to Christie Doran for allowing me to place two cameras in her car during the races to get a more dramatic view of the racing in the accompanying video.
National Autograss Sport Association: www.national-autograss.co.uk
Central Scotland Autograss Club: www.facebook.com/centralscotlandac/
Christie Doran Racing: www.christiedoranracing.com
NEXT MONTH: Cross Country Mountain Bike Racing