Racecourse Photography

In your race card programmes or in announcements over the public address system you will have been advised that flash photography is banned on the racecourse, as it can be a dangerous distraction to horse and rider. So how do you avoid taking a blurry photo of your favourite horse from the public areas at a racecourse?

In photography there are three factors that you will need to know to avoid those blurry images, these are how to adjust the aperture, the shutter speed and sensor sensitivity (ISO) of your camera, and what values to set them to. To complicate matters these three settings also have a triangular relationship to each other, i.e. change one and the other two need to be adjusted to compensate for the change. Many higher end compact cameras, and virtually all interchange lens camera will let you change these settings, but you may need to refer to the camera’s manual to find out how.

To change these settings you will need to take your camera off the automatic setting, in this setting the camera will be trying to work out how to take a photograph that isn’t too dark or too light and is focused on what you have selected. It won’t know that the subject you want to photograph is travelling past you at 35 miles per hour, which results in ‘motion blur’ where everything else in the photograph is sharply focused but the horse you were trying to photograph is all blurry.

To achieve this you will need the camera to close its shutter faster, as the longer the shutter is open the further the horse travels across the camera’s sensor whilst it is recording the photograph, creating the motion blur. Professional sports photographers use shutter speeds of 1/640 of a second or faster to stop (freeze) the action. If your camera has a shutter priority exposure mode, try setting it to 1/640 and the camera will automatically work out the other settings, all you need to do then is focus on the scene and press the shutter button at the appropriate moment. For anyone wanting to delve into the subject further, Neil Murray, an amateur photographer in Australia wrote an article  on racing photography in 2007, explaining how he achieves his results.  Many of the principles still stand but the cameras themselves have moved on a long way since then.

At Point-To-Points, especially in winter, the reality is often that the weather is overcast or rainy, and there isn’t enough light for your camera to achieve the shutter speed you want on the default settings. To make the camera more sensitive to the available light you can increase the ISO setting the camera is using, with the downside that this will start reducing the quality of the image and at the higher ISO settings produce quite a grainy looking image. You may find your camera simply can’t handle the settings needed and the British weather conditions to produce the results you desire, and the only real solution is upgrading either the lens, the camera or both.

Professional sports photography is the most expensive of the photography disciplines as the equipment needed to get consistent high quality results can cost as much as a small car, and the photographer will require at least one main and one back up set of equipment and a high power computer system to process the images at home. However when combined with the skill, experience and artist talent of a photographer the results can be stunning, such as the HWPA Derby Awards 2012 Picture of the year of Neptune Collonges and Megan Nicholls taken by Tracy Roberts (Turfpix) who is often the official photographer at the Buckfastleigh, Axe Vale and South Devon Point-To-Points. There are several excellent photographers at the Devon & Cornwall Point-To-Points and you can view and purchase their images from the links to their websites in the Website’s Photos area

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