AutoMatters+: The Key to Photographing Auto Races


Over the course of my lifetime I have photographed many forms of professional and amateur motorsports. I learned by experience that the key to shooting them is to be at the right place, at the right time and with the right cameras and lenses. If you do all of that and work on your technique, the results will surely follow.

While there is definitely an element of luck involved, there is also a lot of hard work. I spend many hours on race weekends carrying a lot of heavy photo gear and shooting thousands of photos.

Major motorsports events are usually spread over very large areas. Shooting involves lots of walking around – on pavement and sometimes through light vegetation. There are large crowds and the weather might include extreme heat, cold, rain and even snow.

Carrying everything is a tiring workout. Professional camera gear is especially heavy. Typically I carry one Nikon DSLR with an attached, very long, very heavy zoom lens and a second DSLR with a medium zoom lens. Add to that extra batteries, a flash, a monopod and other miscellaneous gear.

I need to be mobile and to carry my cameras in such a way that they will be quickly and easily accessible, and secure.

At first glance, an easy and secure way to carry a camera is with the strap that it came with. Unfortunately that is not a very good solution. The unpleasant side effects of too many years carrying cameras around my neck have been pain and discomfort. Eventually I developed degenerative disk disorder, which sometimes causes sharp pain in my neck when I fully turn my head.

Eventually I tried using a variety of camera carriers that suspended my cameras from my shoulders. These helped somewhat, but extended use of them has caused pain in my shoulders – and that’s not all.

When I shoot on-track racing action, I often find myself shooting over the protective concrete barriers and quickly turning from side to side. I get as close to these barriers as possible, mindful of protecting the camera that I am not shooting with from being damaged by the concrete barriers. Also, my cameras must be secure to allow me to move quickly.

Camera carrying systems that allow cameras to loosely hang from the shoulders allow the cameras to swing freely. One or both DSLR cameras and their fragile lenses will inevitably bang into the concrete barriers and passing people in the crowds.

Until this year I had no choice but to endure these problems, but all of that changed when I observed another photographer using a totally different kind of system to carry his DSLR. He let me try his on and I was convinced. I went to a website and ordered one. It is now an essential part of my photo gear.

That device is called a Cotton Carrier. It is available in one and two camera systems, and there is a useful accessory case, too. They call it a detachable lens pouch.

The Cotton Carrier system is like a comfortable vest. Even when fully loaded, it spreads the heavy weight of cameras and their lenses across the entire upper body, thus eliminating the sharp aches and pains that tend to accompany prolonged use of carriers that hang the weight around the neck or suspend it from the shoulders alone.

To ensure that cameras and their attached lenses will not swing around, the cameras are securely attached to the Cotton Carrier via an interlocking mechanism. Screw a special Cotton Carrier connector into each camera’s tripod socket. One receiver is rigidly connected to the Cotton Carrier vest and another to the holster. To attach a camera, simply turn it sideways 90 degrees, slide its connector down into the receiver and then turn the camera 90 degrees back so that its lens faces down. Gravity keeps it there.

One camera is attached to the vest directly above the middle of the photographer’s chest. The other camera is attached to the side holster. Each gets a heavy-duty safety strap, long enough to easily allow each camera’s use. Attach the accessory case to the side of the vest opposite the side holster. They also make the Cotton Carrier StrapShot, which fits on a strap of your backpack.

AutoMatters+ readers can receive a 10% discount when ordering from the website. Simply enter the code wagnercotton at checkout.

As always, please write to with your comments and suggestions.

Copyright © 2014 by Jan Wagner