What settings should you use for motocross photography?

When taking photos of fast paced sports such as motocross racing finding the right camera settings can be a challenge.  Every location is different, the stunts are different, lighting is different, where you stand is different, your mood is different, ok you get the picture.  It’s all different.  So what do you do to get the right shot when you’re out on the motocross track?

Setting your camera up correctly to capture motocross sports action

So what’s the right setting? As a sports photographer I’ll cut to the end, there isn’t one.  Yea sorry but every event I go to has a different combination of settings.  Now there are a few camera settings to capture motocross action that you must pay attention to.  First the shutter speed.  About 90% of my shots taken during a sporting event are done so in shutter speed priority.

Freeze the action with the right camera settings for dirt bike pictures

In order to capture the action and freeze it you have to shoot quick, motocross racing is fast (ok you know that).  Now if you want to get creative and blur the background to add a dramatic effect do so AFTER you have a strong understanding of how to capture the event. A good place to focus on is the motocross helmet and let the rest blur out.  Another guide I’ve read a lot is to set the shutter speed to a minimum of one over the maximum length of your lens.  So if you have a 200mm lens the minimum shutter speed should be 1/200th.  Now this works for off road bike pictures general photos where there is no action but for sports, no this isn’t good enough.

I shot with three different camera bodies a wide range of lenses under an even more diverse range of location settings.  The one thing I do before anything else is find at least one of my shooting locations quickly.  I set the camera up with a shutter speed of 1/1000th to start.  Now this is almost always the speed I use regardless of the lens or body I have.  Why?  Simply to get me started.  I also arrive early to the event.  Often you’ll find someone practicing or in some way moving at a speed near to that of the athletes.  This is your golden moment, start snapping away.  Ok not crazy like but start to take some photos check them out and see how the overall exposure looks.  You can use the histogram if you like but don’t lose sight of the golden setting, shutter speed.  Make sure you’re first freezing the action before anything else.  Post production can often fix or improve many mistakes, but focus is almost impossible to correct unless you’re taking bike images in the pit.

Motocross sample images

Photo gallery using simple camera settings to capture the best motocross photos with either Canon or Nikon cameras.

Photo tips and settings for motocross photographersBeginner tutorial on motocross and motorcycle photographyCanon camera settings for motocross and motorcycle photographySports photogrpahy tips for motocross photos

Other then shutter speed what’s your most critical setting for taking action/sports photos?