Should Amateur Photographers Compare Their Results To Pros’?

Posted on 21 Sep, 2014 by Scott Jones
Jorge Lorenzo full gas Silverstone 2014


My own experience of using camera bodies like the D300 and D300S is that for motorcycles at speed, models like the D3 and D4 have a noticeable advantage for their more sophisticated focus systems. I have photographed cars and motorcycles and I have found cars to be much easier when it comes to getting images that meet a minimum level of competence. I believe this is because cars are much larger than motorcycles, and cameras have a large subject to work with when it comes to autofocus. Also, from the same distance away, a car presents a larger amount of data to work with. I suspect cars are going slower in corners, too, so they are easier to catch in focus in those circumstances. For the shooter, tracking a larger subject is also easier and thus increases the chances of a successful image.

So I think the car shooter’s strategy might be less successful for motorcycle racing photography. Personally I am happier using a D4 and D3X than I was using a D300 for track images of MotoGP. In pit lane, that was a completely different story, and I found that the D300 and D300S worked beautifully.

And to be fair to the D300 and D300S, I did get useable images from both at trackside. I simply got better results with a D700 at the time, and I get much better results now, a few years later, with a D4 and D3X. I expect my own experience has much to do with this, as I was using the D300 and D300S with less experience than I now use the D4 and D3X.

The observation brings me nicely around to the final thing I want to say on this issue of fair comparisons. More important to this question than the levels of access or gear is the level of experience.

The fellow first mentioned above, while an avid photographer, works every day at a job that had nothing at all to do with photography. His work with a camera is limited to the occasional trip see MotoGP or his national series, so though he loves motor sports photography and enjoys doing it, he only gets to practice a handful of times per year.

In my view, this is the main reason why he, or anyone in a similar situation, should not feel too poorly if their own images don’t match those of a working pro.

Since I started doing MotoGP photography in earnest, I have done many tens of thousands of exposures. I have then spent many hours processing the images, studying what I’m doing wrong, trying to figure out how to do better. I have studied the images of others whose work I admire. I have experimented and refined my technique, both with the camera in hand so that the original captures are better, and at the computer, editing images to make something usable out of images that resulted from mistakes in the field.

If you really wanted to feel lousy, the thing to do would be to hand your gear over to a pro MotoGP shooter and convince him or her to spend the weekend on the spectator side of the fences. I’d wager the images the pro would create with your gear and your access would be much different because of technique and, perhaps even more important, judgment.

For example, if you convinced Gigi Soldano to try this experiment with mid-level gear, his photos from the weekend would be wonderful, I have no doubt about that. They’d be different from those he creates meters away from the track. But they’d still be fantastic because he brings something to his images that goes far beyond the track access and the pro Nikon gear he uses.

So if you’re getting discouraged because your photos from the last GP you attended don’t look enough like those you see from the professionals, please don’t think that spending a lot more money on pro gear is going to solve the problem overnight. Neither is finding a way inside the spectator fence. The only thing that will substantially improve your images is increasing the intelligence and grace with which you operate your camera. By this I mean knowing where to point your camera, when to point it there, how to adjust its settings so you get the image you want, and then knowing how to move the camera (or how to keep it still) while making your exposures.

The surest way to acquire these qualities is though a lot of thoughtful practice. Not mindless practice, where you go out and generate thousands of images without having a goal for each situation. But thoughtful practice, wherein you have a specific idea of what you want the next image to look like, and you try to create it. You then look at the results carefully on your computer, paying attention to settings, looking for what worked and what didn’t, so that you have a better idea of how to come closer next time. The more you learn, the luckier you get, and without realizing it, you’ll be creating a much higher percentage of sharp, competent images.

By then, an image just being in focus won’t be enough. You’ll have lots and lots of those. By then you’ll be wanting more from your images. And that’s when photography starts to get really interesting…

Photograph: ©2014 by Scott Jones / PHOTO.GP – All Rights Reserved

Camera Info: Nikon D4 with Nikon 500mm f/4.0


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  • Mikeevstog 2014-09-22

    If anyone wants to they can compare my days shooting as a fan (2009 -2010) to the season I had photo access for MotoGP (2011) and World Superbikes (2011 – 2012) nothing beats experience, I used the same camera’s throughout a Canon 5D and Canon 7D. While shooting as a fan I mostly used my Canon 70-200mm f2,8 and a 2x extender, while I had accreditation I would hire a 300mm f2,8 and also used a 400mm f5.6 (MotoGP Brno).

  • Scott Jones 2014-09-22

    Thanks very much for that, Mike!

  • Jeff 2014-09-22

    I’ve only been shooting for two years at Irish road races and short circuits. Had a few lucky, in focus, shots at the beginning of my hobby, then quality deteriorated badly with too much farting around with the camera. I researched everything I could about settings, equipment and technique. Upgraded to a 7D and 70-200 F4 non IS and practiced, practiced, practiced, Whilst the number of keepers from a meeting has increased 10 fold, I’ve become very critical of my own work and discard 90% of images,

    Whilst I’m technically proficient, I’m absolutely certain that investing in a 300mm F2.8 and occasional use of an extender would improve my image quality no end if I could afford the glass. (At Irish road racing, quite often you’re close enough to the action without requiring accreditation or long lenses). But where us amateurs fall down is, I believe, in the artistic end of the shots. I just wish I could “see” an angle, situation, composition, idea that you pro guys see. Theres nothing worse than seeing a portfolio of the same shots time and time again.

    Without you pro guys, we’ve nothing to compare against. I love it when I nail a shot (nearly) perfectly and wonder if I could pass that off as a Scott Jones or Stephen Davison

    Keep up the inspiring work!

  • Scott Jones 2014-09-22

    Thanks for the comment, Jeff. I image road racing is a great place to practice as it eliminates the distance issue and you have more time to think while working.

    As for seeing perspectives, this is where experimentation and studying the work of others comes in handy. Trying to create images similar to those you admire is a great learning experience. AND it leads to ideas for creating images that are not in the manner or style of others. This is a great way for your own style to emerge.

    One of my favorite quotations is from Miles Davis: “Sometimes you have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself.” I think this is the same with photography and many other creative work.

  • Gadgetguy 2014-09-22

    The big thing is having a basic understanding of photography so as to be able to learn from the images of the more experienced photographers and then use this info to your advantage in your shots of what works and what does not.
    You can also pic up on using foreground interest to shift composition so as to hide things like our lovely Silverstone backgrounds if you dont have the jaw dropping backdrops of some tracks along with how dropping your shooting position and point of view alters so much.
    Pro’s work gives you a great idea of what works and what does not as for most of us if you have not seen it by now then it more than likely…..

    A/ Does not work!
    B/Does not sell.
    C/Finding unique angles like that your going to be worth a mint!!!!

    On the subject of gear i still think that its more about how you use it than what you have but do think the pro cameras make it easier to get consistent results and are built like tanks to be used every day in harsh conditions but they all do the same job regardless of cost,you just adapt your shooting to your equipment.

    Not only should people compare their work wiith pro’s pictures but also take advantage of social media and the openness of people like yourself and Tony Goldsmith with some of the blog posts and other articles you share that have been kept secret and never discussed in motorsport photography before,

    Keep up the good work.

  • ianmacey 2014-09-23

    Great article with lots of informative advice. I have been using a Canon 450D and kit lenses since 2010 and two of the factors that have helped me improve are 1. learning the art of composition and 2. understanding my camera and lenses strengths and weaknesses.

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