Formula Continental at Sonoma Raceway

Learning to Photograph Race Cars

On a recent lark to the Sonoma Raceway to watch the SCCA Regionals, I brought along the Sony A6500 camera. I want to test out the limits of the camera, and in reality, my photography skills. 80% of the 1,241 photos taken on Sunday were bad. And by bad I mean out of focus, blurry, or the intended subject wasn’t front and center. I put the rest worth keeping into a photo album. I believe in photos that are straight out of camera (SOOC). I do minimal photo management, currently just tags and some captions. The images aren’t modified or even cropped. I mostly do SOOC out of laziness. It takes too much effort to make a bad shot look good. And generally, there is no way to do it without spending a lot of time and greatly modifying the image. I like SOOC because it forces me to get better in the moment, better eye for the shot, better skill with the camera, etc. I also hate the acronym SOOC, but it stuck for various reasons. If I want to do artificial images, I can play around with midjourney.

Camera Settings

The first attempt is in full Auto mode and to focus on composition. 95% of these images were out of focus or too blurry to keep. Clearly the camera can’t figure out what I want it to do. Not surprising.

The second attempt used Scene:Sports mode. I can still focus on composition, and hope the camera handles the rest correctly. These shots were generally better. The camera chose 1/2000 shutter speed and changed the autofocus tracking to something more dynamic. Most of the photos are from a series of bursts. Sometimes I couldn’t pick just the one best of the series, so I posted the whole burst. Unfortunately, in a closer analysis of the images, the autofocus system is clearly focusing on the track surface or the kerbs, not the moving cars. The focal plane is also very tight, so at full zoom, the depth of field is very shallow. The result is the some part of the car might be in focus, but not the whole car. Rookie mistake overall. Again, the point is to see what the state of the art in the camera software can do without manual override.


The best place to take photos is as close as you can get to the cars. I have a refurb 100-400mm lens for the camera. I can zoom in from pretty much anywhere. There were other photographers in some of good positions I wanted to shoot. Welp, looks like Turn 9 for me. Turn 9 is real high up, but it has a great view of the entire track. Even at 400mm, it’s a long shot.

Next Time

Next time, I’ll try the camera on Shutter priority mode. And I need to re-read the manual in order to figure out how to tune the camera settings for tack sharp shots of the cars at speed.