Cycling photography tips

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009
By Yokota Fritz

I'm not that great of a photographer -- I'm lousy at composition, for example, and I'm not all that creative -- but I do know a few things. If you're standing along the route of a bicycle race and want to get that great shot, here are some handy tips for you.

I know many photographers follow Cyclelicious. What are your cycling photography tips?

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You forgot to mention...pray for a sunny day. Nothing sucks more than washed out shots from an overcast/cloudy/foggy day.
Fritz, I think you covered the bases very well!

While sunny weather is nice, you can get some great photos in cloudy situations. The color saturation can be fantastic, not to get some good close-up photos of cyclists struggling. With a little work in Photoshop, you can make some of those photos pop!
Actually, of the ones above, I like the one that shows the crowd.

Frankly, up close cycling shots are a dime a dozen. Unless the rider is making an unusual face, or something else unique is going on in the photo, its just not that special. But when you see the crowds cheering, or some landmark building or terrain in the background, or even several riders so you can get a snapshot of race dynamics at that moment, then I think you have a far more interesting pic.

Fun primer! And I'd love to hear how the lens worked out for you.
I'm flattered you read this, Sabine!

I'm not at all creative, so dime a dozen is what I'm best at ;-)

Thank you also, Roger and Michael. Of course, we don't have much control over the weather.
I'm going to have to go with Sabine here. A face isn't worth much unless you can tell what it's doing and unless you have good equipment, it's actual closer to shoot a face up close than the entire rider due to depth-of-field concerns. The issue with the 'bad' photo isn't that it's further away, it's mostly just composition. Also, downhills and straightaways are great if your camera can handle it, though in those situations you generally want to frame the action head- or side-on.
@Michael: actually, cloudy days can be wonderful because the lighting is very soft. I'd take a cloudy day over noon sun anyday. You can get very nice dramatic shots, assuming that it's not too dark and your camera isn't drenched in water
Great tips and ideas. For my own part, I like to position myself at the top of a hill. For Stage 2, I found a good long straight away just after a decent climb and got some great shots. I'd set up "shop" in the back hatch of my Escape to stay out of the rain.

I think the rain enhances the drama of the whole event though. These guys were still rolling with serious speed despite much more unforgiving conditions. And water almost always adds a great organic element to photos.

Here are the ones I've published to Flickr so far along with a stitched video featuring some totally unscripted comments from my 4 1/2 year old son about how awesome it was.
Here are some other tips on bicycle race photography.

It not so much focusing on the face as getting rid of distracting backgrounds and emphasizing the subject. So with that in mind:

1.) Try shooting at aperture priority and with the lens at the widest aperture or one or two stops down with a telephoto to help get rid of distracting backgrounds.

2.) Watch your backgrounds! most amateur snaps are just that because of distracting and/or crappy backgrounds that only detract from the main subject.

3.) Forget about stopping motion. This is completely boring, slow down your shutter, at least enough to get wheels spinning (experiment!).

4.) Shoot in manual mode. Digital cameras are wonderful for making perfect (averaged) exposures. As a result, with today's dSLRs a monkey can make perfect exposures. Try something else: shoot in manual mode (if your camera has this) and check your results as you go, you'll find out how exposure works when varied slightly, and get more dramatic pictures you never thought of and be a better photographer as result.

5.) in bright daylight, use a polarizer

6.) Photographing cycling is basically fish in a barrel. With Cycling movement is predictable, unlike sports like soccer where movement can be erratic. You can lock your AF on a spot and shoot when the rider enters that spot. Another alternative is to keep flicking your finger on the shutter button halfway when riders are coming at you and start shooting when they fill the frame.

7. use a fill flash for back-lit scenes or crappy weather. Use rear sync setting on your shutter, to release the flash at the end of the exposure so a blurred trail happens behind the subject.

8.) FILL THE FRAME. again, most amateur snaps are just that because the photographer wasn't close enough or had too many distracting elements in the background.

Happy shooting.
Thanks for sharing all your tips. Good stuff and also helpful for street photographers who are trying to capture a stylishly dressed bicyclist in motion.
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