I have wanted to shoot this event for several years but something has always prevented me from attending…until this year. Not even a last-minute bout of man-flu could keep me away.
I wanted to use the opportunity to expand my Durham project and capture some of the city, its locations, essence and spirit in staging a notable sporting event. Regular readers will know that I’m not a sports photographer, so I was using this objective to base my techniques and shot selections on. It also influenced some of my choices when it came to editing. In my usual spirit of sharing, if you’re coming from another photographic discipline (like landscapes) and considering shooting a race like this for the first time here are my top tips.
Go with a plan
Find out the route the course will follow (the Tour Series website has course plans, for example). Work out what shots you want to achieve and techniques involved, then try to match these up to likely locations. For example, panning shots will have the most impact when the riders are moving at higher speed, which is more likely on a downhill section. This will mean doing some homework on the course and image styles and even doing a recce before the race.
Or you could just turn up and wing it. Whatever works for you.
Learn your gear
Make sure you’re familiar with those camera modes you don’t use very often, like continuous shooting / multi-shot mode and tracking focus (called AI Servo on Canon cameras), and know how to move between them for different shots.
Or, again, make it up as you go along. You’re more likely to lose opportunities if you’re struggling to find the settings you want, though.
Scout the course…
…even if you know it well. Allow time for this on the day because it will allow you to see how the barriers and staging will affect what you planned. I captured the first of these images on one of the practice rounds and decided I wanted a wider view to capture more riders in the frame, even if that meant having the barriers in shot. The second image was taken during the race and I deliberately chose a longer shutter speed to blur the riders more and convey the sense of speed.
Take the right kit
Don’t even think about a tripod! You won’t have room for it, it’ll get in the way and slow you down. You may get away with a monopod, but I think even that would be too restrictive, unless you’re working with heavy long lens. As far as lenses went, I found my 17-40mm and 70-200mm f4 IS the most useful, the latter stating on the camera for most of the race. Zoom lenses are ideal for making quick changes to composition between shots, especially when you can’t necessarily access the ideal location to shoot from. A second body would be ideal of you have one to save changing lenses during the race.
Take test shots…
…and analyse them critically. Choose your lens, check framing and impact on empty street or during the practice laps. Keep an eye on the background. I had chosen this location before I arrived at the course and invested some time during the practice laps fine-tuning focal length, framing and timing. That meant that when it came to the race, I was ready to capture an image that conveyed the effort and power of the riders while blending elements of the cobbled street and the people of the city as spectators. In this image, I love the way the line of riders leads the eye from Kristian House in the lead back into the following pack.
Shorten shutter speed
Keep your shutter speed short of you want to freeze motion and get sharp images. A lot of the shots I rejected were OK but not quite sharp enough. As I was shooting, I thought my shutter speeds were OK but ideally I could have done with getting the speed to 1/500th, either by widening the aperture or increasing ISO. This image was captured at 1/320th on a focal length of 200mm.
Move around the course if you can, unless there’s a specific shot you’re after and haven’t nailed. You might find a great location you hadn’t considered beforehand. I captured this, my favourite image of the night, from a different location than the ones I’d planned.
Review your shots on screen by zooming in (to check for sharpness) and adjust your technique if you aren’t getting the results you want.
Particularly if this isn’t your normal discipline, use the opportunity to experiment. For example, I know my panning technique could use some work so I was really pleased to come away with these two shots. I used a slower shutter speed and tracked the riders to leave the background with motion blur and the cyclists’ faces (pretty) sharp.
I came away really happy with what I’d achieved on the night. As I finished my editing I reflected on what I would like to try next time I shoot something similar:
- Using flash, including some second curtain sync
- Adding some dynamic angles by shooting on the diagonal
- Better panning shots by practising and refining my technique before the race
Maybe next time I should also try to get a press pass…that way I might be able to keep the photographer with the orange hat out of my podium shot!