Photographing Motorcross

Some years ago, Dee and I assisted our daughter Karen in earning money by photographing both “Barrel Racing” and “Motorcross”. As a result we acquired quite a bit of experience at this endeavor and we wish to share some thoughts on the matter in light of the up coming outing at WW Ranch Motorcross.

Because Karen was the official photographer of the event, we were not required to pay an entry fee. Also, we were allowed to go on the track. For the outing you will have to pay a reduced entry fee. In addition to the fee, you will be required to sign a waiver of liability holding the track harmless in the event you should suffer an injury.

While at almost every event we photographed a rider was taken from the track either by ambulance or helicopter to a hospital, we never saw a photographer or spectator injured. Nonetheless, it is appropriate to be aware that riders can lose control of their speeding motorcycle.

In preparing for the shoot it will serve you well to bear in mind that a key element of Motorcross is dirt and plenty of it. The drier the conditions the more airborne dirt there will be. I normally do not use a filter as a protection device for my lenses because of the increased possibility of flare. However, I do suggest that you do so at this type of event. Use a sky or haze filter and by all means do not use a polarizer. Regular filters may be washed but polarizers consist of two parts and the dirt can ruin them as well as can washing. If you use a filter, the addition of a lens hood will help with possible flare. After the shoot, I suggest that you blow the dirt off of the equipment used. I used a hair dryer with the heat turned off.


When you photograph an event like this, the riders prefer to purchase images that show them airborne. We found that using a wide-angle lens accentuated this. Shoot this image in a vertical format and include the top of the hill at the bottom of the frame. While this results in the best selling images it is in no way the only good images.

A Motorcross event has many races and you will have many opportunities to capture great shots. The rider preferred image is best shot at the foot of a hill with the riders coming toward you. During the day you have plenty of time to change positions to capture different compositions. Another good viewpoint is on a curve.

While shooting the racing action is fun, there are many opportunities on the facility grounds. There are riders of all ages and the young ones, about 5 years old, are great subjects along with their small bikes. There are mobile garages and all kinds of travel equipment. On one occasion, a rider and family arrived in a black eighteen-wheeler. The front end of the trailer was a camper and the back end a garage.

Tracks vary in facilities, some are very austere and others are pretty good. This track did not exist when we were involved so I only know what I saw on their website. There appears to be good food service either at the facility or close by. I saw no reference to plumbing but based on the rest of the features, I assume this track has good facilities. Some tracks offer only a few portables.

A few shooting tips may be in order. When taking airborne shots, you will need a plus one or two stops. Bear in mind that gray skies are brighter than blue skies. Do some test shots and refer to shots taken as the day goes by to account for changing light. The plus compensation will blow out the sky but it will be recoverable using the highlight slider in camera raw or Lightroom development module. When shooting at curves or other normal compositions be sure to reset your exposure compensation.

When shooting the action, a minimum shutter speed of 1/250 is suggested. I also wanted a minimum depth of field requiring an aperture of f11. I shot in aperture priority so I had to increase the ISO on some occasions. You may also find it desirable to place your camera on continuous shooting rather than single shot.

When an accident occurs in a race, it is a normal reaction to lower your camera and stare at what is going on. DO NOT DO THIS! KEEP SHOOTING! If this happens it could be your best shots of the day.

Good luck and good shooting!

Leave a Comment

Scroll to Top