3 days in a row. Standing out on a little trail next to a little creek with a few chunks of granite in the middle of it. All to photograph cyclists rolling through the woods. Yup.
Are you sick of it on the blog yet? I hope not, cause I had a really good time.
Weeks ago I went out and had a lot of fun photographing a hurdles race. It’s not my thing though. You don’t see a lot of high speed shooting on my website. My niche was always landscapes. If you’ve never noticed, landscapes don’t do too much. They hang out. They wait for clouds to show up (1-800-AZ-CLOUDS….give it a ring sometime….it works). As a photographer you wait for the right light. The right moment.
Sure, I’ve pushed my boundaries further in the past year. Off camera lighting. Speedlites. Alien Bees. Models. Portraits. Now I’m learning composites for giggles. Are the models in need of high speed shooting? Nope. Portrait clients? Not usually unless they’re puppies. Then you better be ready!
Let’s add one more to the stack. Shooting a fast paced sporting event (not football, never football) is F U N! I want more!
So, let’s talk about today……..
The Fans Were Out!
Arriving out near Thumb Butte I found my regular parking spot for the past 2 days occupied. Other spots were occupied too. There were a fair number of vehicles.
Walking out to the creek I saw so many people. Ah, the fan fest! Lots of riders from Friday and yesterday. All out to watch the pros. All out to cheer, ring bells, encourage, and enjoy! The whole scene rocked!
Of course, everyone had a camera. There were other professional photographers out there. Video guys too. Everybody looking around for a spot. I already had mine picked out. Same one as yesterday. I liked some of the results from the spot. Not all of course. Couldn’t control the light, and the sun was almost directly above us. That helped to hide the riders’ faces often which is a total bummer. If I could have setup 2 wireless hotshoe flashes on high speed sync (oh no, more money) I could have lit them how I wanted to. Ah well. C’est la vie. Work with what you got, right?
Fans had point and shoots, DSLR’s, HD Camcorders, and a few film SLRs. A nice guy who showed up after I had picked my spot (low, off trail, and out of the way of any serious wreck zone) was carrying a great Canon film camera. Looking at it at first I thought it was digital. He fired fewer shots than me to be sure. Waiting on one friend to roll through.
As more people showed up, more cameras did too. Everyone was looking for a spot. Glad I’d scoped mine out over the course of the past few days.
Finding A Favorite Shot
So, I confined myself to one location for a good part of the morning. Settled in. Hunkered down. Marked my location. Whatever. It was a good spot. And in that spot I got into a rhythm with a particular angle that I really dug. You saw some of it from yesterday’s shoot, but here are a few more.
As the riders crossed the creek they were immediately greeted by a short uphill segment. Nothing horrible, but lots of momentum lost crossing the creek. Each angled into the turn as they started chugging uphill. I literally have an image like this of every rider that went by me while I was in my little off trail pocket. By the way, I had a “jump out of the way” plan in the event somebody lost it and headed my way. Hey, you gotta have a plan, right?
Now maybe this isn’t the best bike race angle you’ve ever seen. That’s okay, don’t rain on my parade man! I really enjoyed these photos. These guys are working hard, they’re so intense, concentration is all over their faces. For me they’re super cool shots. Yeah, more light in their faces would be good. Maybe I should have had a softbox with me, the HSF plugged in, and I could totally blind each rider with a burst of flash……or maybe not. 🙂 I worked with what I had and the real estate allotted.
This morning, yesterday morning, and Friday afternoon were all fun. And I think it’s safe to say the riders had fun too. All good stuff. Of course, today was a little serious. There was money on the line you know. Money for new bicycles, traction, stitches, etc (yes, I’m funning).
As the morning progressed it was clear who was in that top 3. The rest coming through were finishing out their rides. And a few had a ton of fun with it.
One rider in particular showed us what he thought of obstacles. Not a fan. He took the middle track across the rocks and got jammed up. He didn’t dump the bike. He didn’t step off. He simply assaulted the obstacle with a huge grin on his face. The crowd erupted. Bells, hoots, clapping, whistles. You name it. His solution to the rock in front of him? Go UP!
After he finally cleared the creek bed he had the biggest grin of any rider I’ve seen this weekend. The crowd loved it, he loved it, and I got a great angled shot of him passing me as well. Biggest smile I’ve ever seen! I’ll save that image for another time!
There were other fun moments. Riders showing off a bit. Goofing around. Sticking their tongues out in concentration. Yup, all of it…….
So, I went out this weekend as a photographer. Why, what was I trying to achieve, did I get all Zen…….what’s the point?
I’ve lived here for 4 years now. This race has gone on each year. Once upon a time I did a lot of long distance cycling, long distance hiking, rock climbing, etc. Seeing the men and women riding this race each year leaves me grousing at myself. “Little fat there Rich.” “90 mile bike ride in a day, yeah, you used to do that with only a minor sweat.” “Remember hiking day after day until you were 123lbs? Yeah, I do too.”
Ah yes, the inner voice scolds often.
Since I can’t ride with them (this year) I can at least capture of few of the moments. Maybe I can relay the feeling. Maybe you’ll want to come out next year and see it too. Or ride in it. Maybe next year I’ll do the 25 mile……..
I scouted the location Friday afternoon. Honestly I wanted to shoot a different location each day. Next year I’ll provide better coverage I promise. Maps in hand, and a few “slow” rides in my future to check out the course. I’ve got a few friends in the Prescott Mountain bike group, and wanted to capture them as well. They had suggestions, but poor planning on my part (I am super busy you know…no kidding) left me going back to the same well. Next year, next year.
Dealing with the light I knew I was pretty much screwed. Overhead sunlight meant getting faces was going to be trouble. Do what you can. Pick angles where reflected light plays in. Accept low quality light on the rider’s face if the overall shot was interesting. Do what it takes. That’s what was in my head.
All weekend I shot with the Canon 5D Mark II. My trusty 70-200mm f/4 IS L series lens stay on the camera all weekend. It’s covered in trail dust. The camera needs a cleaning badly! I shot at f/4 the whole event. Aperture priority the whole event. My full manual attempts Friday afternoon told me, NO! So AV it was. I shot in burst mode, and with AI Servo on the whole time. Want to kill a battery? Go AI Servo. Mmmmmm…..dead batteries!
How Close Is Too Close?
One thing I kept in mind was staying the heck away from the course. I didn’t want to get hurt. Cautious, you know? More importantly, I didn’t want to distract the riders. Of course, today’s crowd, the cheering, the bells. Yeah, a guy with a lens isn’t going to distract any more than that. But while picking my shot locations I asked myself how close, what’s the danger to me and the riders, and can I still get a good shot? Hence the 70-200. Distance doable, tack sharp lens, works well with Servo.
There were other Pro and Amateur photographers out today. Some got too close for my comfort. I moved from my sweet spot because I was super uncomfortable with the positioning of other photographers in relation to the course. Put another way, a few folks got so close in as to be on the course.
I don’t know the photographer. Heck, he might stop by this site. Please don’t grouse at me, just relaying my thoughts on this one. See, where he’s at is actually “in bounds” as far as the course itself. The best line was to the riders’ right. But they could go through the middle, and if they did they’d be meeting up with a guy, his camera, and a lens. Looking directly across from him you’ll see the wide trail area, leaving all of that real estate in bounds to riders. I bet he got some super dramatic shots!
There are a few more images I’m not popping up. One of a cyclist almost dumping over onto the photographer. Fortunately the rider caught himself within a very short distance. For all I know the shooter is working for the race planners. He was decked out. Pocket Wizards, a portable flash setup (to light the faces…..wish I’d done that), etc. He’s shooting for someone. But here’s the thing that I noticed.
Once he moved in and onto the course a few other folks did too. Point and shoots. Camcorders. A few folks filled in. And let me tell you, yesterday several riders took the line right through where these guys setup. There’s two parts to this issue. Number one, safety. Both riders and photographers could get hurt. Number 2? Rider aggravation. Seriously, photographers get a bad rap a lot. Permits, bans, restricted access. I’d hate to hear a rider say, “Some idiot with a camera jammed me up.” Maybe he’s a pro working for someone, and that’s cool. But once he got on the course it gave a green light to other folks to do it too. Made me nervous, and that’s when I moved from my location (didn’t want a front row seat to a bad wreck).
Before you start commenting here and panning on me take a breath. I’m new to race photography. Maybe this is common place. Given the fact that I’m new to this I picked my long lens. Heck yeah, I would love to have been out with the wide angle shooting from a low vantage point and up, but this is a race. I’m not getting in the way of the people who are participating. I’m also not going to give other people the green light to get on the course. My presence should be unobtrusive to the fans, other photographers, and most importantly, the racers.
Now if that explanation sucks you can yell at me all you want.
The Whiskey Row Off Road 2011 ROCKED. To all the riders, planners, support crews, friends, and families……thanks for coming to Prescott. We’ll look forward to seeing you next year! If I’m lucky I’ll get off my chunky back side and ride! 😉