A Different Approach:
A comparison between advertising vs. sport photography

Photo by Jefferson Graham

I have been shooting cars for over two decades, first as an advertising photographer and more recently, photographing motorsport for Rolex. The difference between the two types of photography is striking.


When I do advertising, I bring everything to the shot and I’m almost in total control. At a race, I use all the same creative skills, but the package is reversed: I have to use the light given to me and have to wait for the moments to unfold in front of me… in short, I have no control.

One thing never changes, whether it’s a race or an advertising shoot, the cars have to have emotion and they need to look sexy; that’s our job. Now let’s take a look at these two different approaches.

For advertising, let’s imagine an action shot in the city, like one of these.

My typical crew for a shoot like this would include a producer, first assistant, second and third assistant and a digital technology manager. We also need a grip truck, motor home, rig, water truck and a car preparation/transporter (which also means you need to find a staging area not too far from the shooting spot for all those vehicles).


The first step for mounting the rig onto the car is to establish the angle and the lens draw. This can take up to two hours, but once the rig is on, you are ready to start. The police will take care of traffic control while you take care of the car. If additional light is needed, I like to use HMI lights. When it comes to speed, we often let the car just roll along, depending on the road surface. If we need to avoid vibrations in the shot we can also pull the car with a cable. There is a fine line between having a comfortable speed verses a 200-mph look in the shot.

The cameras I use are medium format with digital backs and I will often rent a second camera and lens for the job. Seeing as the car does not have to go very far, we just go back and forth until all different speeds and effects have been captured.

Throughout the day we will review the shots with the art director and client. By the end of day we have the “hero” shots organized and a rough composite of a low-resolution file. When my clients leave the set there are no surprises.

The final step falls in the hands of the digital artist to put it all together.

We then go back and forth again until everyone is satisfied.


In car advertising we work really hard to show motion, whereas at a race the motion is all around us. This is now very different: exciting moments are happening very fast, in split seconds, and maybe only once. You have to be ready to capture it all.

I recently shot the Rolex 24 at Daytona, and what makes this event particularly exciting is the length of the race: 24-hours long, thirteen of which are spent racing at night.


I also like the variety of shots needed since we cover the whole event: night shots, portraits, details, ambiance, receptions, cocktail parties etc.

The crew for this type of event can vary, but typically we have an event manager, copywriter, webmaster, photographer(s) and digital photo manager(s) on-site, along with up to five translators usually working as part of the “off-site” support team. I generally have multiple photo briefs that can include an advertising focus, a PR focus and additional requests that come through the media, event manager or copywriter.

We use all these photos to create an event image gallery that accompanies press releases posted online in the team’s “virtual media centre.” The interviews, writing, editing, image selecting and editing, the posting – this is all happening at the same ferocious pace as the race.

At these kinds of events I use everything the camera has to offer in regards to top shutter speed along with low and high ISO. For the shots shown here, I used the Canon 5D and 7D, with 600mm, 100-400, 28-300, 20-135, and 16-135 lenses, then processed the images in Photo Mechanic, Photoshop and Lightroom. During a race like this, we have to move through 1200-1600 pictures a day and at the end of the event we end up with an average of 5000-6000 pictures per photographer. Once the race has ended we make a final clean up and caption all pictures, ending up with 200-1500 selected images for the archives, depending on the client’s needs.



So each approach has its benefits and drawbacks, but in spite of all these differences at the end of the day the satisfaction is the same.

You can see more of Stephan’s work at his website.

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