Getting the shot: SRTUSA photographer Ben Haulenbeek on taking better rally fan photos
Ready to take your rally fan photos to the next level? We asked Ben Haulenbeek, staff photographer for Subaru Rally Team USA, to share some pro tips and a few of his images from this season before this week's Lake Superior Performance Rally concludes our 2015 national championship. After soaking up his suggestions for inspiration, be sure to tag @RallyAmericaSeries when you post those sweet shots to Instagram!
Getting the Shot
Words and photos by Ben Haulenbeek
Getting great rally photos starts with being a good spectator. Safety is first and foremost. I have seen stages shut down when spectators get out of hand and occupy unsafe areas or become unruly. Even if you’re a well-intentioned fan just trying to get a photo, they will delay or shut down a stage if you’re somewhere you’re not supposed to be. Don’t be that person!
The next most important thing for shooting a rally is to come prepared. Rally is dirty business and the race goes on regardless of weather conditions, so dress appropriately, stay hydrated, and bring the right gear.
If you want to use what the pros use, you’ll need to get a DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera. However, you don’t need to go break the bank when buying one. Unless you’re shooting professionally, there will be no appreciable benefit to going out and spending $5000 on a body. The only thing that’s really important is that your camera has manual controls. Where you’re going to get the best bang for your buck on equipment is with lenses. Not only will quality glass make the greatest improvements in the quality of your images, it will give you more flexibility and control over how you can shoot.
Once you’re prepared to head out onto stage, you’re going to want to get there early for a few reasons. The spectator points can get pretty crowded, and you’ll want to secure the best spot to shoot from and to plan and practice your photo. I never show up to a location without already having formed a concept of how I want a photo to look. A lot of the time things don’t turn out the way you envision them, that’s just how rally is, but if you start with something in mind you’ll get close and it will usually look better than just pointing the camera down the road and hoping to get lucky. Practice your shot on the course opening and zero cars: while they don’t move nearly as fast as the racecars, it will help you dial in your composition and practice any particular technique you might be trying to utilize.
When photographing rally there are a handful of basic techniques you can use to best capture the action. With all of these, it will be easiest to achieve the best results using manual controls, or at least manual-enabled modes that prioritize either shutter speed (Tv or S on most cameras) or aperture (Av or A on most cameras).
The most basic thing most people try to achieve is freezing the action. Using a high shutter speed does this, for fast moving rally cars you’ll most likely want to be above 1/500th of a second to get a sharp image; this is most useful for capturing gravel spray or a car in the air. Another very popular technique for rally photographers is panning. This is where you track the car as it moves down the road and shoot with a slower shutter speed, 1/50th for example, thereby blurring the static background; this gives an enhanced sensation of speed.
Beyond those two basic techniques, there are a few technical aspects to consider. When you can, use a shallow depth of field. This means shooting with your aperture as wide open as possible. This will blur out foreground and background objects that might otherwise distract from the action. Lens choice also makes a huge difference in the results you’ll get. When you’re going after the action, using a long focal length lens (100mm or longer) is usually the way to go: this will make the car larger in your frame and cut out any peripheral distractions. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you might want to consider a wide lends to get scenic views in the background, or to see more of the road.
Lastly, don’t forget to tell a story with your photos! The action on stage is only half of what happens at an event. If you’re at a spectator point, try getting some of your fellow fans into the composition to show viewers the excitement of being there in person. Don’t forget to look for detail shots; the service area is a great place to seek these out.
If you’re lucky enough to be at the LSPR rally this weekend hopefully this helps you capture that banger image!