Bike Racing - The Right Shot at The Right Time

August 22, 2020

You like bike racing? Road, mountain, cyclocross? All of the above? Yeah, me too. I pretty much grew up on a bike, and can vividly remember being so stoked when I rode my little brown tricycle all the way up a neighbors steep driveway when I was about 4 years old. Ever since then, it seems I've always been on a bike, around bikes, selling bikes, fixing bikes...you get the idea. I like bikes. 

So, naturally, I take a lot of photos and videos of bike related events, as there are a lot of them here in the Metro Vancouver area, on the West Coast of Canada. 

Shooting stuff at these events is super fun, and challenging, as you have to be in the right spot at the right time to get the desired result you're looking for. For road racing, the most exciting style of racing is the Criterium, which is a race consisting of a closed loop course where the racers complete a certain number of laps. The action is fast, flat out and changes from lap to lap. Perfect for sports photography. A cool benefit of the races being a series of laps on a closed course, is that you can walk around the course, getting shots from different vantage points. I usually walk around the course to see where the best action is possibly going to be, and then, as the races progress, move to those spots to snap photos. I've found that the best spots for Criterium style races to be are just at the exits to the corners, particularly the slow corners. Why these spots you ask? Well, as the racers exit the corners, they then put all their effort into accelerating out of the corner to make a move on their opponents, which makes for great photos and videos. Here's an example of that type of shot:

A dramatic shot of the bike racers accelerating out of the corner. Settings for this photos are: 1/1600 sec. f/4 70mm ISO 200

    

Another awesome type of shot that you can get at road races is the Panning shot. This one can be tricky, as it involves using a technique known as "dragging the shutter", and to do this, you typically need to set you camera on manual, adjust your ISO as to your light conditions, open up your aperture, and slow you shutter speed. There is no "one size fits all" setting for his, as it totally depends on where you're shooting, so you'll have to play around with your settings to get the right levels you need for the shot you're trying to accomplish. Here's an example of that type of shot:

A panning shot of a bike racer speeding past the camera. Settings for this shot were: 1/100 sec. f/6.3 70mm ISO 3200

As for Mountain Bike races, the challenge is a bit different, as the course are usually, well, on the side of a mountain. The courses are all very different, but can be broken into two main categories: Downhill and Cross Country. Downhill involves racers racing one a time, speeding as fast as they can down a track made specifically for the racing. These tracks usually involve jumps and high speed corners which, as a photographer, is where you want to be. So, you have to scope out the course before hand and see where the best jumps are, and where the best corners are. For jumping shots, it's kind of cool if you try for a wide angle panning style of shot to add some jazz to the image, along with a slightly slower shutter speed to add that motion to the shot, but if you're shooting a jumping shot head on, you're probably going to want to shoot with a wider aperture, and faster shutter speed to get that shallow depth of field and a sharp, crisp shot. For high speed cornering shots, they are like the panning shots. You want to create that aspect of motion in the shot to make sure the viewer gets the sense of speed. Bottom line is, make sure you are in the right spots to ensure you can get the desired results you are after. Here are a couple of examples of those types of shots:

Downhill Mountain BikingDownhill Mountain BikingSettings for this photos were: 1/320 sec. f/4.5 18mm ISO 200

Downhill Adaptive Mountain BikingDownhill Adaptive Mountain Biking1/800 sec. f/4 93mm ISO 1600 Downhill Bike Racing - Head on ShotSettings for this photo were: 1/800 sec. f/4 120mm ISO1600   Downhill Mountain BikingDownhill Mountain Biking High Speed Corners1/60 sec. f/4.5 190mm ISO 100

Shooting Cross Country Mountain Biking is like the criterium road racing style of shooting, the course is a closed loop and you pretty much do the same thing; scout the course for the good spots where there will most likely be some good action. In cross country, or XC, mountain bike racing, there will be some cool stuff like drops, hills, jumps, and steeps, so make sure you make note of where the cools spots are and shoot accordingly. Here are some shots of some XC racing taken at cool spots along the course. 

XC Mountain Bike Racing Settings for this shot were: 1/1000 sec. f/4 70mm ISO 1600 XC Mountain Bike Racing Settings for this shot were: 1/800 sec. f/4.5 170mm ISO 1600

XC Mountain Bike RacingSettings for this shot were: 1/1000 sec. f/5.6 21mm ISO 3200 And that brings us to Cyclocross. Cyclocross racing is like mix between road and mountain biking. It's super popular in Europe, particularly amongst the Dutch, and is growing in popularity here on the other side of the world. Any climate that has cold, wet Autumns and Winters is perfect for Cyclocross. Ha! No, seriously, the wetter, colder and muddier the course, the better. I think one of the major challenges of cyclocross racing is to see if you can stay upright long enough to make it around the course ahead of your competitors. Just imagine riding your road racing street bike with skinny knobby tires on slippery mud. A challenge, right? That's Cyclocross, and it's SUPER entertaining to watch, let alone shoot photos and videos of. 

I would say one of the major challenges of shooting Cyclocross racing is keeping all of your equipment clean and dry throughout the course of the day. Rain gear for you and your gear is a must. Covering the race is just like XC mountain bike racing and road racing. Closed course again, so scout the good spots and shoot away. Now, since there aren't alot of jumps and wild riding stuff going on in a Cyclocross race, you have to catch the action that is cool, like racers doing drops, hurdling over barriers, cornering through mud, that sort of thing. I've found that it's more of an intimate sort coverage, looking for details and textures. The action is slower, so it offers up shooting opportunities that reflect that. Here are some examples of what I mean:

Cyclocross Bike Racing - The GritSettings for this photo were: 1/800 sec. f/4 70mm ISO 800 Cyclocross Racing Settings for this photo were: 1/640 sec. f/4.5 190mm ISO 1600 Cyclocross Racing Settings for this photo were: 1/1000 sec. f/4 120mm ISO 400 So there you have it. Of all these styles of races, I find that the most fun to shoot would be Cyclocross. The environment, the crowd, the weather, and the effort these racers put out just makes for a phenomenal day of bike racing. 

Go out and shoot some Bike Races!

 

Oh, and some of these photos are available in my shop, so if you're looking for Cycling rlated artwork for you space, please check it out: JWPhotography Online Shop
 


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