Liam Hallam is a sports science graduate. He is also a keen cyclist and a lover of the Derbyshire Dales and Peak District.
Cyclocross Photography Tips, Techniques and Skills
Cyclocross is the new rock and roll! Across the globe cyclocross is gaining in popularity due to its ease of access and simple format. Cyclocross is also a great opportunity for the sports photographer to obtain some unique cycling photos due to the varied and often technical nature of cyclocross events.
As a branch of competitive cycling, cyclocross has grown in popularity due to its accessibility and being immensely good fun at a time of year when riders are looking for opportunities outside their usual summer racing schedule.
Cyclocross combines the speed and fluidity of road cycling with the rugged and more technical aspects of mountain biking over the often quieter winter months. Throw in a potential double helping of mud and the possibility of plenty of accidents and it has the potential to be a dream event for a sports photographer.
Cyclocross is one of the few sports you'll get to photograph where you could have professional athletes in the same event as complete newcomers to the sport, which is open to everyone no matter their age or relative fitness levels. This lends an inclusive element for a photographer to capture.
The winter sporting nature can also be captured in the conditions with elements of mud, wet weather and on occasions, snow. This not only challenges the rider but the photographer to use her camera whether it's a compact, bridge or more complicated DSLR.
[Note: Please be aware all images (except one where cropped as stated) are untouched photographs as taken by Liam Hallam of Atkins and Hallam Photography and should not be reproduced without permission.]
Get Low and Shoot Up at Riders
Cyclocross riders tend to concentrate on the ground that's around 10-20 meters in front of them so they're mostly looking downwards towards the floor. Therefore, if you're aiming to capture a rider's face, it makes sense to shoot from low down to the ground.
Go low for great facial images and expressions and be creative. In the mud it's not always practical to lay down. However, a sheet of tarpaulin may help you and can be picked up from supermarkets and garden centres for a few dollars. Lay it on the ground surface and you can then potentially lay or kneel down safe in the knowledge you're not going to be caked in mud.
Dressing Right for Cyclocross Photography
The cyclocross racing season generally runs from September through the January/February depending on the region and local racing calendars.
This means that as a photographer, you could start the season taking images on a blazing hot summer day, although later in the racing season the weather gets colder with wintry conditions involving lots of rain or even snow and frost. Therefore, a CX photographer must be prepared for the elements—because if you're not comfortable, neither will your photos!
Winter Kit List for Cyclocross Photographers
If you're going to stand around in cold, wet, or even snowy, wintry conditions, you need to feel comfortable so you can take some great images.
Every outdoor sports photographer should ideally own some of the following:
- Good quality waterproof jacket—Ideally loose fitting to fit over other layers to keep you dry in the worst of conditions
- Waterproof trousers—All that mud can get kicked up by the riders and covers a photographer up close. A good quality pair of waterproof trousers can be a life saver when stuffed in a bag compartment to keep you dry in the event of a storm
- Warm down jacket—In the middle of a cold winter a photographer has to keep warm and a good quality down jacket is a photographers best friend. Light to carry but ultra warm for those cold days.
- Sturdy walking boots—You're going to have to wander around in the mud to get some great shots so a good sturdy pair of waterproof walking boots is a sound investment for any outdoor minded sports photographer.
CX Photography Is an Opportunity to Try Something New
During a cyclocross race, you'll be passed around 6-10 times by each rider on the course so you have the opportunity to take a large number of photographs. This allows you to experiment with new perspectives and techniques with your camera throughout a race to see what works and what doesn't.
You don't have to have the rider in full within the centre of the shot for it to be a great image. The image below shows just half a rider and no bike, yet it works. You can see in the background the curve that the rider has come around and his face shows exactly where his direction is—even if the bike doesn't appear to be going in quite the same direction as the rider is looking.
A great cyclocross photography tip is to focus on the action, wherever it is happening.
Balancing the Rider's Expectations and the Photographer's Creativity
If you're taking cyclocross images with a view to making some money from riders, it makes sense to ask them what they like to see.
From experience, many riders like to see a traditional solo shot of themselves riding their bike where they're the main focus of the image (see below image as an example). These images work well if you take the image from the riders right where you will capture the cyclocross bike with its chainset showing. These are the images that riders really like to see in cyclocross races as their bike is their pride and joy.
However, as a photographer you have a dilemma. What you consider to be a good shot might not showcase a rider. If you're looking to earn money from riders, aim to capture them with the full bike as the priority. If you're looking at improving as a photographer and not to take money, a race offers opportunities to try things out that are completely different.
Sometimes your photographs will tell more about a race if you take a path less traveled.
Rules Can Be Broken; Not All Images Must Be Perfect
If you're new to digital photography or simply learning how to use a DSLR camera, a cyclocross race could be a great Saturday afternoon in the park.
Digital cameras allow such scope with your photographs that you can take a chance on how an image may look and simply delete the file if it's not quite to your liking.
As the action is up close, you could consider using a nice, fast portrait style lens and really get close to the action. Usually when you're involved in sports photography, you need a good quality zoom lens. Consider something like a 50mm f1.8 basic portrait lens and really get up close to the action as the rider flies by.
Alternately, you could decide to find a central point that is a fair distance from the action to get used to perfecting your photography skills with a zoom lens like Canons awesome 75-200 mm F4, which is a great professional lens for the sports photographer on a budget.
Shooting for Social Media
Cyclists love images of themselves and are also usually active on social media such as Facebook and Twitter. This gives a photographer an opportunity to provide images for cyclists' profiles. These often don't have to be your best work; however, from a distance you can show perspectives and details of conditions which may get lost in tight, up close photographs.
The photography below is an original uncropped image that has then been cropped to showcase the cyclocross rider for their Facebook account.
Faces Tell a Story in Cyclocross Racing
Faces show the very human element of performance in cyclocross racing. Some riders will really offer an image of pain and suffering as they push themselves through muddy fields. Some riders may even look as though they're out for a Sunday morning cruise.
One of the things you'll see in every racer is a look of concentration—their eyes following where they're aiming to go on the course as their body may be struggling to make the bike follow.
There's an element of portrait photography in capturing the human element of cyclocross photography. A good image of a rider will tell many stories and have a backstory that the photographer may be able to portray to their viewers.
Consider Shooting in Black and White
When you're experimenting with your photography consider shooting cyclocross in black and white as the cold, miserable winter often leads to flat tones which could be improved with a moody monochrome edge.
If using a DSLR or Bridge camera, you could play around with your aperture size (f stops) to let you experiment with which levels of light work for your cyclocross photography. Darker shades add a distinctly rough edge to some images but too dark simply doesn't work.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.