Setting the Scene – The Biggest Dirt Track in North Carolina
During this photo tour, I wanted to teach my photographers the essence of action shots – what better place to do this than Horsepower Park in Morganton? Forget about football or NASCAR – we’re talking about monster trucks and off-roading on a grand scale.
This epic arena stretches for 80 acres, and it is the largest dirt track in the whole of North Carolina! I thought the size of the arena, and the spectacle of the monster truck rally would really help the photographers understand the potential intensity and fun surrounding action shots.
Luckily enough, I am friends with the park owner. This meant close-up access and gave me the chance to take my photo squad into usually inaccessible locations. If they thought we would be simply using zoom lenses from the stadium – they were greatly mistaken!
The event was fantastic, and the photos we took were mainly of the huge monster truck, "The Scarlet Bandit". This is a famous truck, driven by one of the most prominent female monster truck drivers in the world - Dawn Creten. It was truly something else to watch her perform, and the immense truck fly around the track.
Creating the Composition – Forget the comfort of the stands!
As mentioned, my group of photographers and I ditched the stands and headed out into the field. Yes, literally into the center field with the powerful trucks roaring around us! If you want to get the best action shots and perfect composition; sometimes you have to be willing to go that extra mile and move outside your comfort zone.
Also, whilst a zoom lens is incredibly handy, if you can get closer to the main subject, this can allow you to experiment with different compositions, and create angles that may not be possible from further away.
Creating a close-up action shot
This is what I intended by taking the group out into the field – to show them the power of close-up action shots. You can see this in the featured photo above. The monster truck looms large in the center of the photo, and this immediately draws your attention.
From this angle, you gain a sense of the size and scale of the truck. However, you can also see the cheering crowds which give some sense of the occasion, and the spectacle that is unfolding. Some of the best action shots will concentrate on the subjects, but still, tell a story and place that object within a setting.
Whilst we were out on the center field, I must admit our enthusiasm almost got the better of us; I think the safety officer feared for our life as he kept warning us to stay back and be careful!
It's all about the timing and shooting mode
Of course, aside from positioning the subject, an important aspect of this composition is focusing. When shooting action shots, it is mostly advised to use shutter priority mode. In this shooting mode, you control the shutter speed, and the camera takes care of everything else.
Fast shutter speeds are required so you can capture the fast-moving subjects perfectly, without motion blur. Also, shooting in continuous shooting mode, or burst mode, can give you a margin for error, and ensure you capture the shots you want.
As you can see, the monster truck itself is completely in focus. A fast shutter speed was used to achieve this. However, you can still see some motion blur on the flecks of mud that are flying towards us (yes, my face and camera were orange afterward!). This actually works fantastically – the motion blur of the flecks help to convey the action and the powerful movement of the monster truck.
What Makes This Photo Stand Out?
What’s not to love about this photo? It perfectly conveys the action, mayhem, and fun of monster truck rallies. The truck takes center stage and grabs your eye immediately. Also, the use of a fast shutter speed helps capture the chaos and landslide of mud flying from the movement of the tires.
You can really gain a sense of the action, and the power of the vehicle. Subtle compositional features like the cheering crowds in the background, and the relatively low angle from which the photo is taken also add to its overall impression.
I love this photo but exploring Horsepower Park with the group was also such an amazing event. We got some brilliant shots – the only downside was that my face wasn't fully clean for a week after – that mud is hard to clean off!