Jamey Price Forzatography Special
Learning basic motorsport photography principles from a video game? No way. Not possible. Until now. Forza Motorsport 5 has raised the bar and raised it high. I’m not here to talk about the game itself. I’m purely talking pinpoint accuracy on details in cars and tracks that, prior to this console generation, was simply not possible for the average consumer to see and feel, and what Forza Motorsport 5’s photo mode can teach you about real world photography principles.
So who am I? I’m lucky. I travel the world photographing rare cars and awesome racing series. I’ve covered Formula One, Indycar, NASCAR, American Le Mans, Touring Cars, MotoGP, Pikes Peak, and nearly everything in between. In my travels, I’ve been fortunate to set foot on many of the tracks that have made it into Forza 5 and been able to touch, hear, and see many of the cars in the game as well. My passion for motorsport and automotive gems is engrained in who I am. Like I said, I’m lucky.
I’m also an avid console gamer. So, there I was, having a quiet afternoon messing around with the rental Audi R18 TDI on Sebring. Out of sheer curiosity, I pulled up a photo I have in my portfolio and compared it to one I had just made in the game’s picture editor. Taken at the same corner, on the same track, with the same car… shockingly, the two were nearly identical. And that got me thinking. Was it possible to apply real world photography principles to Forza’s photo mode and vice versa? As it turns out: Absolutely.
Forza Motorsport 5 vs. Real Life; which is which?
So let’s start with the basics. For clarity’s sake, all of the images here were taken by me, in the game, with a retail version of Forza 5 on my very own Xbox One. Each image has had minimal to no post processing. Photography is literally the study of light. You need light to make a photograph and, when it comes to car racing, the light means everything. While Forza 5 does not feature a day/night cycle, the game’s designers have done us a favor and given us lovely light to play with on many of the game’s tracks.
Before you can understand light, you need to understand how light is captured. While Forza does not give you a “true” camera, it does give you the basic principles of photography: shutter speed, aperture, and exposure. First, let’s look at shutter speed. In Forza, shutter speed affects how much background blur is in your photo. However, one of the ﬁrst rules of motorsport photography is to not make the car look like it is parked on the race track. This is particularly important when the car is driving across your ﬁeld of view (as opposed to towards or away from you). If you can see the side of the tires, there needs to be some movement.
Not using shutter speed to compliment your image is one of the biggest mistakes I see inexperienced photographers make. Blurring the background using a technique called panning can add a great deal of dimension to an image. The slower the shutter speed, the more movement in the background. Panning is difﬁcult in real life. It takes practice and patience. The faster the car is going, the more challenging it is, especially at slower shutter speeds.
A fast shutter speed (top) vs, a slow shutter speed (bottom)
Want to step it up a notch?Try ﬁnding something to pan through. Fans. Grandstands. Buildings. Trees. Use the right shutter speed and the wall of fans can become a blurry canvas with a screaming race car hidden in it. ! ! !
Next, let’s look at aperture. Simply put, aperture is how much light the lens lets into the camera during the exposure. This affects the depth of ﬁeld. The wider the aperture, the narrower the depth of ﬁeld. The narrower the aperture, the wider the depth of ﬁeld. Blurring out a messy background using a very wide aperture can be one of the keys to making a strong image. It also isolates the view around the subject, making the image more visually interesting. One of the things I tend to do most with my photography is shoot at very wide apertures. Race tracks are by nature very busy, cluttered places, full of sponsor boards, light poles, and scaffolding. You can’t make it go away, but you can reduce its presence using the right aperture.
Aperture width and depth of field create wildly different effects.
In the above examples, a narrow aperture (top) creates a deeper depth of ﬁeld. The car, the track, the fans; it’s all more or less in focus, and the car gets lost in the mess a little bit. Open up the aperture (bottom) and suddenly, the only thing to look at is the car.
Finally we arrive at exposure. Exposure is the crucial piece of the puzzle. In Forza 5, it’s what makes the image dark or light. In real world photography, however, exposure is not a setting. It’s a result that combines multiple variables, including aperture and shutter speed. Creating the right mix of those variables can make a scene look very different to what our eye naturally sees.
Exposure can add drama to a shot.
For instance, consider the picture above, featuring the stunning Audi R18. Germany’s best engineers sculpt it’s every twist and curve to make it go faster on a race track. Cars are beautiful. Race cars especially because each piece was designed for one purpose. In the right light, the sun playing on the chassis can be truly magical. One Forza fan disputed my image above saying I’d faked it and Photoshopped it. In reality, Road Atlanta’s turn 10a-b section when seen from the right angle is very backlit (meaning you are photographing into the sun) and that can create some deep contrast and colors if you expose for it. This is a shot I’ve done many times during the real Petit Le Mans endurance race each October.
Face into the sun, expose the image for the scene and, suddenly, you have a silhouetted race car set against a glimmering asphalt race track and nice golden light. All without ever Photoshopping anything in that wasn’t there in real life. Like I said, photography is all about light – understanding it, and how your camera sees it.
Beyond the settings, composition is of utmost importance and how you compose a shot is completely up to you. How do you present your subject to make the most interesting image? There are a variety of ways. One of the most important aspects to composition is called “leading lines”. Take any of the images above and you’ll see lines that lead your eye directly to the subject. Leading lines are everywhere. You just have to see them. It could be a concrete pitwall. It could be a grandstand. A rumble strip. A mark on the track. Clouds. Tire barriers. Whatever.
Another aspect to composition is simply your perspective on the subject. I like to think any fool could take a photo from eye level. It’s natural and easy and sometimes necessary. But, at the end of the day, changing your perspective could mean the difference between a very average picture and one that is dramatic, exciting, and creative. Lie on the ground. Hold the camera over your head. Go up in a building or grandstand. Stand on your car’s roof. Do whatever you can to do something that changes the perspective on the subject. The same is true when picking the angle of your shot in Forza 5.
When all else fails, or you’re just trying to change it up, remember: tell a story. Each race track is different. Each has its own unique characteristics. Even races held at the same track have a different look and feel. Use the track to show where you are. If you shoot enough photos of the same race car week in and week out, it all starts to look the same. So remember to show where it is that this race is being held. Even the small details matter.
Road Atlanta’s back straightaway heading toward the famous bridge and turn 10 complex.
The unique BRDC building at Silverstone
Last but not least, have fun. Enjoy making photos, whether in the game or in real life, and your passion and enthusiasm for the sport or car will be there in the photo.
Jamey Price is a freelance motorsport photojournalist based in Charlotte, NC. He has covered Formula One, NASCAR, Indycar, American Le Mans, MotoGP and many other racing series. He regularly works with Ducati, Mitsubishi and Lamborghini on a variety of projects throughout the world and photographs high end automobiles heading for auction around the world. You can follow Jamey on Instagram and Twitter @jameypricephoto and see more of his work at www.jameypricephoto.com.
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