Great Tips on Photographing Pro Cycling Races

The 2007 Amgen Tour of California is taking place this week on the West Coast, so the cycling blogs are back publishing cool content for the new season.

My friend Frank Steele from published a great article on photographing a bike race that comes from personal experience Frank has had taking pictures at races in Georgia including the Atlanta Olympics and the Tour de Georgia.

Frank points out that you don't have to have the newest Digital SLR to get good photos at a pro cycling race if you know your equipment and choose your shooting locations carefully. He shows off a bunch of photos he took at the Tour de Georgia, some of which he chooses because they show the problems with trying to capture action shots with modestly-priced digital point-and-shoot cameras.

Frank and I were together for the 2005 Tour de Georgia Individual Time Trial and my photos from that day are in the 2005 Tour de Georgia Album in the Operation Gadget Photo Gallery. My shot selection was different than Frank's that day. The big reasons were that I covered every stage of the 2005 Tour de Georgia, I had already taken hundreds of photos with my old Canon PowerShot A95, and I knew intuitively how much shutter lag I had to deal with.

I was also at the Tour de Georgia in 2005 with the goal of capturing what was going on behind the race, things like how the race officials supervised the race on the road and how the television camera crews captured the action. I guessed correctly that people wouldn't care about my action photography with so many pro photographers following the peloton.

My advice after taking photos at two Tours de France, one Tour of Georgia, and one USPRO Championship is:

  • If you're serious about capturing action shots, get yourself a Digital SLR with as many manual control capabilities as you can afford. These can be bought if you have that kind of money, or you can rent them from professional camera stores.
  • Use glass lenses with the lowest F-stops you can afford. These are the lenses with the fastest response.
  • Get media credentials if you have the connections and a legitimate publishing capability. I did this for the 2005 Tour de Georgia and the 2005 USPRO Championship and it gave me the ability to ride in official cars, park my car in places that spectators couldn't get to, and just be there when the key moments happened.
  • If you just want to take your point-and-shoot and get some good close-up photos of the riders, go to the stage start. Arrive 90 minutes before the start if you can. Look for where the riders "sign-in" and decide which side of the cordoned-off area will be the best place to shoot from. Focus on getting good pictures. Don't try to mix taking pictures and getting autographs.

Frank also pointed out an article from Spare Cycles called Shooting cycling photographs with a Canon Digital Rebel that was published last year. This article goes into even more technical detail about Digital SLRs and how best to use them to cover this sport.