Roz Jones gives us her top ten tips for photographing cycling races.
I have always been interested in photography, but I fell totally in love with it when I went to watch a cycling race for the first time in 2005. At the time I had a small Fuji compact and was incredibly envious when I saw other people’s photos taken with DSLRs. After using a Sony Bridge camera for a couple of years I upgraded to the Nikon D5000 and got the 70-300mm telephoto lens. I have recently upgraded to the Nikon D3S and a 14-24mm ultra wide angle lens, so can’t wait to get to some more races this year!
One of the reasons I love photographing cycling races is the unexpected. Unless you are near a big screen you may not know what is happening as the riders approach, although you can be sure that they will be going very fast meaning you have to be ready – there is no second chance! Not knowing how many riders are in the lead group or which side of the road they will be on adds to the excitement as you have to compose your shots in a split second.
My Top 10 Tips
1. Arrive Early
Getting in a good position as early as you can is crucial, especially if you are watching on part of the course that has barriers. The sun can also play a very important rule in either overexposing or underexposing your pictures depending on where you are standing. I am constantly checking and tweaking the exposure compensation to make sure the lighting is as good as can be. Having a good burst rate on your camera is essential to take as many shots as you can as the riders go past. Practise as much as you can on the amateur riders as they go past to make sure everything is perfect for the real thing.
2. Find Your Spot
If you can, check out where you will be watching on the day before the race to take some test shots; this will help you to work out the best place to stand. Once you are on one side of the road you won’t always be able to cross to the other side.
3. The Perfect Position
Make sure that your position allows you to have the riders in shot for as long as possible so you can focus and pan the shot. Standing right on the corner is perfect; you will be facing the riders head-on as they approach and your shots will be less likely to be obscured by fans.
4. Be Careful!
Probably the most important tip! If you are leaning over the barrier be ready to move back quickly as sometimes the riders come past very close to the barriers. The last thing you would want to do is to take out one of the riders!
5. Don’t Look at Your Shots
Avoid the temptation of looking at the pictures you’ve just taken as you might miss the next group of riders.
The fans will of course get very excited as the riders approach and lean right over the barriers, meaning that to get a clean shot you will somehow have to lean out further. Sometimes where the barriers join there will be a very small gap that makes it a bit easier to lean through.
7. Be Friendly
Even if there is a language barrier between you and the other fans stood next to you, be friendly and show them some of your photos. Quite often they will then make sure that they don’t obscure your shots and help make sure that others don’t either. Offer to send them copies of your photos as a thank you.
8. Get on the Road
Positioning yourself on a steep part of a climb on a mountain stage is the best. Unless you are in the last few kilometres there are unlikely to be any barriers, so if you have a good zoom lens you can stand right on the road to take shots as the riders approach. Remember to get back to the side quickly. As well as the cyclists there will be many press and police motorbikes and of course all of the team cars following the riders – they will use every inch of road as they go past.
Time-trials are also great for taking a different style of shot and gives you the chance to perfect your panning technique. Typically, most fans won’t turn up until later in the day when the riders fighting for the GC head out. This means you have plenty of time to walk a bit of the course and find a good spot.
10. Use the Scenery
Take advantage of the location. Many races cover absolutely stunning scenery and this combined with the excited fans lining the road getting ready for the race can also make for some fantastic pictures.