Shooting Motocross at a Dirt Track

I’ve been shooting quite a bit lately for the book I’m just finishing up and I thought I’d share a few shots from a shoot I did on Monday, set up for me by my friend and neighbor, photographer Kathy Porupski at a motocross track in Dade City Florida.

(Above: Here’s a behind-the-scenes shot. You can’t tell from this shot, but my photo assistant Brad Moore is way up on a hill that the riders jump over. That’s my friend and fellow photographer Kathy Porupski holding the power back behind Brad, and I’m below them a bit farther down the hill).

We used natural light for a lot of the action shots, but we also used an Elinchrom Quadra battery back and strobe head with a 27″ soft box (or just a reflector and grid) for some of the shots, and all of the portraits. I love the Quadra kit because I can control the power wirelessly from my camera position. Brad mounted the strobe on the end of a monopod, so we were able to move pretty quickly, which came in handy when we needed to climb up a hill with the gear.

(Above: I tired this after watching Dave Black’s class on Kelby Training, which was amazing! As for focusing: I left auto focus on in Continuous focus mode, and as the riders entered the turn I looked through the viewfinder to at least get a quick focus lock on them, and then I took the camera away from my eye so I could make sure I didn’t get hit by the bike, (and so I didn’t’t hit the rider with my camera) and then fired one shot letting auto focus do its thing. It worked a lot of the time, but sometimes it missed focus, but more importantly I’m still alive to tell the tale. :)

Camera Gear
I mostly used two lens: a 300mm f/2.8 or a 14-24mm f/2.8 (I think I used a 24-70mm once, too but not for long). No special camera settings. When I had the 300mm on the camera, I was in Aperture Priority mode at f/2.8 the whole time. When I was using the strobes for the portraits, I was in Manual mode, with a shutter speed of 1/125 of a second, and my f/stop at f/13.

(Above: It was a very cloudy day, and there was literally only one small patch of blue, but to actually shoot the riders against that blue patch of sky, they had to ride on the track in the opposite direction).

(Above: Here I’m shooting my 300mm f/2.8 as the riders go into the turn and then head right past me).

(Above: At one point while we were shooting the action shots, I look over at one part of the sky and it’s really dark and ominous and I tell Brad, “We need to shoot against that sky now, because it looks like it’s leaving fast,” (The rest of the sky was cloudy, but not stormy) so Brad grabbed the gear and headed to the top of a jump with Kathy in tow, and Larry the track owner helping us out along the way (luckily, he’s a photographer himself). I also underexposed all the skies by about 2-stops to make them look even darker and more dramatic).

Above: That’s me posing with our riders. I knew that they were done when all of sudden they started literally covering me in dirt after doing 20 or so passes without getting any on me whatsoever. We had been at out for more than two hours, so I kinda don’t blame ’em. Right after this photo was taken, I reached over and tipped the red bike over so it have the domino effect and take down the other two guys. Serves ’em right. (kidding, of course).

There’s a first time for everything…
And this was my first time shooting motocross, and I absolutely loved it. In fact, I’m planning my next trip back to the track already. Thanks to Kathy Porupski for setting this up, helping us out, and just being really awesome the whole day. Thanks to Brad for risking life and limb, and for being so willing to climb up lots of dirt hills.

And a special thank you to who each day posts their picks for the Top photos of Google+ and they chose my opening shot for their Feb. 7th Top-12-Photo on G+ list (seen above). I was truly honored (and very excited to say the least!).

  1. Great photos I was taking photos last year at a MotoX event and a grass track racing even so if you’re interested have a look here 
    Would love to do a more controlled environment shoot with flash though. (I’d love to have the Elinchrom kit to play with) 

  2. Holy Shmoky Baduuuuuumba !! The crispness, the colors, the framing, the theme, the mood…Everything is just so exactly right…And I love the picture of the bike leaving metaphoring the end of the post :D

  3. Just a quick etiquette question: Do you supply courtesy prints to the models, dancers, athletes, etc that you shoot? Does it make a difference in your answer if they’re paid or volunteer?

  4. Scott love your stuff, and i have taken 2 (so far lightroom and Light it) of your training workshops.  I’m just started shooting seriously for about a year now.  We actually had the same idea about motocross about a week before you went to Dade city and loved shooting it as well.  It’s great to see what you did and compare my shots as well.
    Looking forward to DC in March and the next of your workshops to come to the Central FL area.
    Thank you for all you help and knowledge.
    Here is one of my shots.

  5. Very cool! 
    Only problem is I wouldn’t know whether I would want to shoot pictures or ride the bikes!?!
    Great shots & love the “insider secrets” or tips…muchas gracias señor.
    Have a great day & weekend!

  6. Scott, another really cool post.  I loved the Dave Black class on KT, and it looks like you grabbed all of his pointers.  I cringed when I saw Dave take the photos of the riders taking the turn around him as he shot, and then I see that you were doing the same thing!  No way I would do that…I don’t have that many pairs of underwear! :-)  The shots of the riders with the storm clouds in the background are reminiscent of your helicopter photo with the military personnel around it.  Really great atmosphere and lighting.  Those Quadra lights are amazing.

    I think the most amazing photos are the ones of you…I think these are the first shots I’ve ever seen with you NOT wearing a leather or cloth jacket! :-)  Must have been a bit toasty on that course, no?


  7. Dang Scott, so awesome for your first time MX, but your sports stuff always rocks!!… I have been focusing my efforts on the sport of MX for 2 years and a good part is just getting out there, but I also depend on my Kelby Training membership & courses to get it to the next level. You can check out some of my hobby here if you like:

  8. Great shots.  Boy does this bring back memories.  I rode dirt bikes many years ago and loved it.  When I would get separated from the bike in mid-air, that was usually a bad thing.  Now it’s called free-style.  Who knew I was a free-style pioneer?

  9. “I’ve been shooting quite a bit lately for the book I’m just finishing up….”

    Would it happen to be about PS or LR and sports photography?  That’s what you’ve been shooting the most of it seems in the past bit (football, hockey, motorcross).

  10. Fab shots Scott, love the sky and the portraits. Perfect example to show how your KT videos work miracles when put into practice!! Great action photos too, it must have been fun; the only thing missing is the rroarrring of the bikes! :-)

  11. I’m speechless (good thing this blog requires typing)! Stunning photos – love the sky shots! And the texture of the flying dirt adds incredible depth. Never thought you could top yourself, Scott, but you’ve done it here!

    1. Sometimes at an angle like that, I like to  shoot a bit slower to get wheel motion. Usually the bike and rider will be sharp, but that little motion on the spokes and tire add a lot to an image. On a cloudy day in aperture priority shutter speed sometimes drop quickly when heavy cloud cover rolls in also if you are trying to keep iso low for best quality.

  12. Killer shots, Scott. I love shooting motocross, although I’ve been shooting just races (outdoors in the summer, indoors in the winter since I live where there’s snow and cold).  Dave’s class made me want to shoot riders with external light, and your photos are reminding me of it.  I already have my husband and best friend who’ve volunteered as models once the local tracks open back up, so I’m starting to gather gear in preparation for 2-3 months down the line. :)

  13. Great images as usual, and love the control aspect of adding your own flash…hard to do unless this is plannned for ahead of time (i.e. can’t just show up at some track and shove pole mounted flahses in riders faces and expect them to NOT roost you). Grew up riding, and reading Dirt Bike, Motocross, and got used to a little bit more DOF on shots of riders coming out of turns, so we can see, in good focus, the dirt clods the tires kick up. Do you do ‘in the field’ workshops? Just an idea if not.

  14. CAKB Scott! I want to try that, we have a bike coarse near my house, I’m going to ask them guys for sure. They definately picked the best shot, all are awesome but the PhotoExract one is tops!

  15. I love your first shot but I’m not so enamoured with the others Scott. Forgive me, but you’ve done better work. Practice makes perfect and it’s fun shooting motocross, so I know we’ll see more. Suggestion: rely a bit more on ambient light, use strobes more for fill. You’re shooting with a D4, right? Crank the ISO!

      1. That’s beneath you, Scott. I’m disappointed. I was trying to be a bit constructive , I loved the first shot and I wish I could do some of the stuff you can, but I thought you could do better than some of the others and expressed my opinion.

        I don’t do this for a living, I do it for fun and personal satisfaction. I also enjoy sharing what I’ve learned with others, on the forums and elsewhere and I’ve learned that nobody is perfect. If you just want a bunch of people to tell you how wonderful you are all the time, then maybe you should turn off commenting or moderated everything.

        I’m sorry you don’t like my images, but I try with my limited resources, bad knees and aging eyes. Just because I can’t create to your standards doesn’t mean that I don’t know what I like and dislike. For instance, to me a picture shouldn’t look like it was obviously done with flash. You obviously have a different opinion.

  16. I can appreciate these on many levels. My husband raced MX for many years when we first married in the 70’s, still follow it and shoot it, but not like this!  You are first rate!

  17. Yeah, those are amazing shots, Scott!
    I was also impressed with Dave Black’s Motocross Shots and gave it the first try one year ago. Finally, I can also confirm that this is my favorite sport to shoot! The action, roaring engines, the smell of gasoline etc. Wonderful!

  18. I am new to photography.. mom of three just tryin to get the best shots of my kids on their bikes. any suggestions? I have a canon rebel t3- basic and beginner.

Leave a Reply
Previous Post

Cliff Mautner on the Nikon D800

Next Post

It’s FREE Photoshop World Ticket Monday