Monday, September 2, 2013

Photographing a Bicycle Race - What I Learned

Learned several things the other day while shooting the 2013 USA Pro Challenge - Stage 6 bicycle race going through Windsor, CO on August 24, 2013.  I thought the best place would be the top of the hill that is south of town on County Road 17 in Weld County.  See marker below

1. Check your camera settings and battery levels

At any point along the race route you will have between 4 seconds to 10 seconds to get a shot, so preparation is critical in getting the shot.

Since you will be on-site for shooting early, especially since the roads are closed for the race, go through your camera settings.  In my case, I forgot I had the camera set for bracketing and and the ISO set to 800.  So each of my images had different exposure settings and since the sun was very bright my shutter speeds were way to high.

I had my GoPro mounted on the camera flash shoe but had forgotten to double check the battery. I had a spare but by the time the race was coming by it was too late to change.

2. Be aware of your surroundings and where the racers and other vehicles are in relation to your position

Be watchful of the events going on around you, there will be lots of noise from the crowd, noise from the vehicles, and road is still dangerous even if the road is closed to traffic.

The racers are moving fast even coming up the hill.  There are also lots vehicles that lead the racers (police cars, race marshals, team cars, photographers on motorcycles etc.)  and they are moving fast as well.  The crowd will move into the road way since the riders are slower and everyone is yelling to help motivate and cheer on the racers.  As the peloton moves by, the riders go from a possible like to a wide bunch, they expect to have the right away.

So be prepared to move with the ebb and flow of the racers, the crowd and vehicles that proceed and follow the racers.  Also, ensure your straps and other loose gear are tight to your body so you don't snag a handle bar of a bike.

3. Depending on the race course you may have one, two or three chances for photos

Plan your day around the race.  Some races will complete large circuits on some days and on other days move from one point to another.  This means you might have one, two or more chances for getting shots.  If the course is point to point, than plan one place for getting the best shots and expect to get there very early and leave an hour or so after the racer's pass by.

If the race is a big circuit, plan two or three places to take photos.  Maybe the starting line, a point along the race route early in the race and finally/possibly the finish line.  Be aware traffic will be completely disrupted before and during the race so plan for delays.

4. Location, location, and location

Plan your shots, are the racers going around a corner, on a straight away, going uphill or downhill. Each of these locations have their advantages and disadvantages.

Going around a corner try to be in one of two places; if the rider are turning left, be on the right hand side of the road at the apex of the corner; or as the riders come out of the corner be on the left side a few yards down the street to getting panning shots.   Good places for head on shots and panning, if the riders are bunched up you may not be able to get a shot of the rider you want.

Straight away, plan high speeds here and less time to shoot.  Hopefully the racers are in a long thin line giving you multiple chances to get shots.  This is the perfect time to practice your panning shots.

Going uphill, good place for head-on shots, racers are moving relatively slower compared to other points along the course. The crowds will make it tougher to get a shot of the riders but may be the better shot here are those of the crowds.

Going downhill, well, unless you are the back of a motorcycle, this will be tough.  The racers will be hitting speeds between 50 and 60 mph and in most cases will be just a blur.

5. Have fun

Have fun and don't expect to get all the shots you want.  Enjoy the event.


I recommend watching a bicycle race on TV and get an idea of what a race is like at each of the different points along the route.  Plan your gear, double check everything and get out and practice.

If you get a chance for a bicycle race like the USA Pro Challenge in your area, go.  Either just watch and plan or to take pictures and have fun.

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