New Cyclocross Season

September 24, 2017

Yesterday was the first meeting of the new Central Cyclocross League's 2017 season and marked the start of my third year of photographing cyclocross.

Last season I published over 25,000 photos. That's 'published' 25,000, I took many more; even with the best equipment it is not possible to shoot for a whole day and not get shots that were out of focus, poorly composed or where you forgot to change the exposure settings. As an example, of the just over 3,000 shots I took yesterday, I deleted just over 500 which were not up to scratch. So I probably took well over 30,000 photos of cyclocross last year.

I was lucky enough to be invited to the CXL's annual awards night at Milton Keynes at the end of last season. I was able to display a number of 15 by 10inch prints of some of my favourite shots from the year. It was great to socialise with many of the people I have gotten to meet through the season. I get a lovely warm feeling when I'm taking photos and one of the cyclists rides past and shouts out "Hi, Garry."

I thought it might be interesting to see what goes into photographing a cyclocross event and my experience so far.

The work begins the evening before the event as I charge batteries and get my gear together. I tend to take the same gear so I will have my Canon 1D MkIV which is my main sports camera and my 5D MkII which is a full frame camera I use for everything not sports. I fond it essential to have two cameras so I can have one on my 600mm lens and the other will have either my 24-105 or my 70-200. It means I can swap cameras at a few seconds notice and don;t need to swap lenses all the time which takes a while and opens up more chances to get dust in the camera.

I will sometimes take a Go-Pro video camera as I started experimenting with video last season (still not had enough time to actually do anything with the footage), and maybe I'll have a compact camera on me also. During the summer I bought a Fuji X-T1 and brought that along yesterday to test it out.

I'll pack some wet weather gear and usually get a pasty or two and some drink the day before.

I try to arrive at the venue at least half an hour before the start to give me a little bit of time to see the layout of the course and choose a few key places to shoot from. 

I then spend the whole day shooting, usually from 10am until about 3.15. I couldn't do one of these races as I am about the unfittest person I know, I'd be surprised if I could last 15 minutes without the use of an oxygen tent. Photographing an event for five or six hours is no mean feat in itself though. I have no idea how far I walk but carrying that 600mm lens everywhere sure takes it out of the thigh and shoulder muscles. Then there's all the standing up and kneeling down all day. By the end of the day I am thoroughly knackered!

I try to get a few good positions around the course and it helps if they are within reasonable walking distance. On some of the courses I'm sure there are more opportunities for some good action shots but the course is so big it would take too long to get there and back during each race.

I favour long shots where the cyclists come direct towards me which enables me to get those close-up shots with my 600mm lens. I'll try and get shots at the jumps as riders either carry their bike over the jump or bunny-hop. I like to get images around a bend so the riders are tilted at an angle. Getting them coming up a steep hill towards you make for great facial expressions and I would be lying if I didn't look for places where riders might come off. Not that I ever want people to crash but they do make for some great images, especially in the wet. I like to get shots that other people aren't taking in an effort to try and make my work stand out from the crowd, so I can often be seen holding my camera high in the air or lying on my back shooting riders as they thunder past me inches away.

I have long been interested in iPhone photography so you may have seen me taking cyclocross shots with my phone. I like to try and push the boundaries with my phone so I will use different apps, for instance, slow shutter apps or rapid fire apps to try and get something a little different. I don't post my iPhone shots on the website as blueShark Images is primarily about selling my work, but I do post them on Facebook and Instagram.

As soon as the last event is finished it's back to the car and a journey home. Depending on whether it's a Saturday or a Sunday depends on how long I have to process the images; if it's a Saturday, I might spend from say, 7pm until 3am processing shots. I did this yesterday with CXL R1 and I still needed another 90 minutes on Sunday. If the race is on Sunday then I'm in bed at 10pm so have to spread my processing out over the following evenings. This can take some time as Mondays I run a choir and have no processing time after work and Thursdays I run my local camera club. Recently on Wednesdays I like to relax with a bit of wargaming.

Firstly, I go through the whole lot and delete all the ones where the exposure was wrong, the focusing was off or the composition was rubbish. Even with a camera and lens which costs around £12,000 combined, it's not possible to get every frame in focus. Once I have deleted all the errors I then load the rest into a file rename programme which sorts all the photos into time order - bearing in mind I shoot with two cameras and therefore two collections of images with two different file-naming protocols, I need to combine them together so the whole day's shoot is in the correct order. I then rename the whole lot in numerical time order.

Some photographers post images online straight away, without any editing. I am different in that every single image I post online has been individually edited. I load all the reasonable images into Lightroom which helps save time editing. I will usually make adjustments to the contrast and the vast majority of my shots will be cropped, even if just shaving a sliver off an edge; I love the close-in action preferring to see the rider rather than the field around them, but I guess that is just a style type of thing which I've developed over years of American football and cycling photography.

Editing a single image might only take a few seconds but 2,500 amounts of a few seconds soon adds up, consequently that's why it might take a few days sometimes before the shots appear on the website.

Once the images are edited I then export them out as 800 pixel images which is what I load onto the website. I then have to go into the 2,500 photos and split them up into their individual races. I try to take photos at the start of each race which is helpful when it comes to sorting them into their individual race folders. It can take an hour or so just to sort them out. It's not so bad with the final senior race as the seniors are the only ones riding, but some of the other races have different categories of rider all out on the course at the same time. So, for instance, you might have novice men, novice women and under 16 boys and girls all out on the course at the same time. They all start at different times a minute or two apart but within a lap they are all mixed up. Sorting them out can take a bit of time, so apologies if you found yourself in the wrong race, it can sometimes be difficult working out exactly who should be in what race.

Now all the photos are hopefully sorted into their individual races, I need to upload them onto the website.  I use professional photo selling software to run blueShark Images so uploading and producing the web page galleries is reasonably simple. The website takes all the photos and puts a watermark on them. But it still takes an hour or two to create and load all the images.

Once the images are uploaded and the galleries created I need to let people know where they are. I'm sure there is lots I could do on social media to publicise the fact that the images are available to view (and to buy) but I've never been that good with social media. I probably need to do more but never seem to have the time to find out how to do it.

So, if you wonder how your image is shot and why it takes so long to see it, now you know.

If you like what you see, please think about sharing it. There are share icons on this page and all the galleries and you can share individual shots by clicking on them and using the share icon above the photo.

If you see me in a  field somewhere, say hello!


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