How To Take A Great Triathlon Photo – Part II

In my earlier post of How To Take A Great Triathlon Photo – Part I –  I concentrated on Swim Start photos. Since the swim start is the only time when all of the athletes are together, it offers some truly unique shot opportunities.

As we move to the bike leg of the triathlon, the competitors are spread out and the major challenge becomes how do you get a photo without having it just look like another guy/girl) out riding is bike, albeit a very fit guy/girl, but still just another guy/girl out on their bike.

In an earlier post, I mentioned that I have rules. As sort of a tease, at that time I only mentioned Rule #1 – You truly have to know your sport!  Today we are going to jump ahead to Rule# 4Pick the background and let the action happen!  

Although I most often have a motorcycle and a driver to work with, substantially all of the photos in this post are have been taken from a fixed position. Context and composition are critical.

In the gallery below you can see that most of these images are about the context and the location. From the lava fields at Kona (Michi Weiss shot by Bob Kupbens), to the Formula 1 Circuit in Abu Dhabi, Washington, DC and the cobbled streets of Lunby, Norway.

There are also a few head on shots that help to show the intensity of the athlete.

For each of these events, I toured the course in advance and made notes of several good locations in order to have options depending on how the race developed. Even with options, you still have to get lucky.

If you look closely at these images you will see they have been shot with a variety of lens from a 15mm fisheye to a 400 mm and from a variety of angles. In addition, while most are at a fairly high shutter speed, there is one panned shot at 1/100 sec.

In addition to scouting the course before the race, the best way to practice is to head out with your favorite triathlete or Tri Club on a training ride. Find a spot to meet them (with a great background) and practice some shots.  I am sure if you brought fluids and snacks, you could get them to take a more than one pass by your selected background so you can try a few different things.

Keep in mind what is a great background in the morning, as the light changes, may be less great in the afternoon. Go out and shoot, remember the photons are free!

London Calling

So far my blog posts have all related to photo technique and for the most part, this will definitely continue. I will take some periodic departures and write about the plan and process of getting ready for the 2012 London Olympics.This will include some ITU races as well as a few other events.

Somehow I thought this post deserved a sound track, so click here and then keep reading. 1-15 London Calling

I will be working with the USA Triathlon (USAT) Team over the next 6 months and at the London games. My posts will not solely be a travel blog, my goal is to share some of the challenges of telling the story of these amazing individuals who also happen to be amazing athletes, and certainly to share some of the pleasure and excitement of working with these individuals.

Last week I traveled out to Colorado Springs to meet with USAT to begin our planning for the 2012 race season leading up to the Olympics.  For me, while shooting the Olympics is a dream assignment, the games themselves are not the story; they are the end of the story! It is a 2-hour race that caps off miles, days, months and years of dedication. I have been fortunate to have the chance to get to know the US Triathlon National Team and my goal is to help visually tell each of their stories.

It just wouldn’t be right to be in Colorado Springs and only spend time in the office. Matt Chrabot was the only team member is Colorado Springs at the moment; others are off training in Florida, Costa Rica and Australia.

One of the challenges is of course how to get some shots of Matt training without interfering with his training.

It has been unseasonably mild in Colorado and by his nature Matt would much rather train outdoors than indoors.  We met Matt at the Olympic Training Center (OTC) at the beginning of his easy ride. 25 minutes later we met Matt at Garden of the Gods, National Park. Garden of the Gods is spectacular at anytime, but the afternoon light is particularly enticing. As Matt and his friend Kevin would do loops around the park, I would set up for the next shot. We would shoot for a few minutes and then they would head out for another lap! Here is Matt enjoying a relatively easy day!

The next day, Matt had a big day planned. First he had track work at the Colorado College track, followed by breakfast, then strength training at the OTC, followed by lunch and on to 3,000 meters of swimming and then wrapping up the day with a hard ride.

Here are a few images of Matt’s day at the office.

I left Matt after his swim, but no doubt he stopped to eat again and then was scheduled to head out for a hard ride.

Keep up with Matt’s adventures on his Road to London on Twitter @MattChrabot.

My next post will be How to Take a Great Triathlon Photo – Part II.

Camera On A Stick And Other State Fair Food!

I truly believe that if you show people photos that are the same view as they could see themselves, it is worse than boring them, they will not even notice the image. Although the eye is more sensitive than any camera, we have great tools at our disposal to show off something new. I always look for places that I can remote mount a camera to either gain access or present a new angle; similarly I have frequently used an underwater housing to facilitate a low angle, but both of these typically requires credentials and special permission for access.

One of the simplest things you can do is to have a camera on a stick!

Almost every sports photographer and especially those who use big glass has a mono-pod. If you don’t have one, it is not a very big investment – get one.

My Camera On A Stick set up consists of:

  • Canon 1D Mark III;
  • Manfrotto mono-pod;
  • Canon wired remote release;
  • Kirk quick release mounts on the base of the camera and on the mono-pod; and
  • Sometimes a Super-Clamp for a counter balance.

In addition, my favorite lens to use with this set up is my Canon 15mm f2.8.

This allows me to get my camera about 3 feet over my head and with a slight downward angle, I can get a bit of a birds eye view!

Here are two shots I think you will enjoy.  The first is the start of the 2010 Ironman World Championship, which as luck would have it, turned out to be the single most published shot of the race.  The second shot is from the 2011 HyVee 5150 Championship.

Although the initial thought of camera-on-a-stick is to make yourself taller, it can also get you down to a level that you cannot physically access. Such is this image from the 2010 Lifetime Fitness Chicago Triathlon, where the swim is in Lake Michigan and the competitors have to go down about 5 feet of stairs to enter the water. In this case, I sat on the ‘sea-wall’ and lowered the camera as far as I could.

Extending your reach whether up, down or side ways can give you some really interesting images. For the next image, I held the camera straight out over the swimmers.

Although I said the my 15mm fisheye is my favorite lens for this, for the next shot, I used my 16 to 35mm.  Also, when holding the camera out over the water, it is really helpful to use at least one, perhaps two super-clamps at the base of the mono-pod to serve as a counter balance.

Here is Ironman Athlete and former ITU Long Distance World Champion Tim O’Donnell at the Flatirons Athletic Club in Boulder.

I often shoot from the back of a moto and it is always a challenge to get something that is a bit different.

I love using a moto to shoot, not only can I shoot from it, more importantly it can quickly get me to access points on the course where I want to set up to shoot. When paired with a great driver, and I have been lucky to have many, we work as a team to get the job done. Having said that there is nothing more boring (at least to me) to seeing every shot of every athlete look exactly the same! Using the camera-on-a-stick, I can lower the camera to nearly ground level (look out for that orange cone) to get a low-angle shot. I can also reach out and get the camera slightly above the athlete.

I first tried this at the 2010 Boulder Ironman 70.3. In advance of the race, I mentioned to pro athlete Andy Potts that I was going to try this. After winning the race, Andy later said “Paul, I may not have looked like it at the time, but every time you stuck out that stick, it made me laugh inside.’ When I use the camera-on-a-stick from the back of a moto, I also typically put at least 1 super-clamp on the bottom of the mono-pod as a counter balance.

Here is a shot of Andy from that race, followed by one of Mighty Magali Tisseyre from the Oceanside 70.3.

Finally here is a shot of me with my stick in hand, shot by my favorite partner in crime – Jon Phillips.

As with anything else it takes Practice, Practice, Practice!

How to Take a Great Triathlon Photo – Part I

There was a young couple trying to see all of the sites of New York City, guidebook in hand they saw a well-dressed elderly man, slightly bent over and with violin case held lovingly under his arm.  Excuse me sir, but can you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall? Without hesitation the man looked up, gave them a wry smile and said ‘Practice, Practice, Practice.’   I know, it is an old story and a bad joke, but it does have the side benefit of being true. If you want to do something well, really well, you have to practice, practice, practice.

Triathletes put in hours, days and months of training, maintaining equipment and planning their race season, if you want to get a great shot to memorialize their efforts, you need to practice too!

In part I of How to take a Great Triathlon Photo, I am going to concentrate of the swim. Pretty clever huh? Three sports, three part blog!

The swim start yields some of my favorite shots! The start is the only time when all of the competitors are together. Although you will likely find access to be restricted at major events, with a bit of planning you will be able to get some shots that will capture both the spirit and the chaos of the start. You have to be smart, you have to be creative and sometimes you have to get wet!

These first two images we used a camera in a bag!  Actually it is an EWA-Marine waterproof housing. The goal of using the housing is to get the base of the camera and the lens right at the water level and get be able to get the refection of the athletes in the water. There will be another more detail blog post at some point with information about using underwater housings.

Another view of the start is from overhead. Both of the following images were shot using a 15mm fish-eye, with the camera mounted on a mono-pod, which was extended over my head and triggered with a wired remote. AKA – camera-on-a-stick, again I will do an upcoming post on how to set this up and use it.

Immediately after the start, the chaos continues. Here are two shots from the Lifetime Fitness Chicago Triathlon, as well as two from 2011 Kona Ironman World Championship. Our goal with these images was to show how it feels to be in the water! The final shot in the series is by Kerry Yndestad.

Finally, you can get some really dramatic shots at the swim exit. One of my favorites is a head on shot with the water sheeting off of the athlete. The first image below is Lisa Norden of Sweden at the 2011 Madrid ITU event (shot by Bob Kupbens). The next shot is former World Champion Javier Gomez of Spain, side by side with Olympic Gold Medalist Jan Frodeno on the London ITU race, which served at the 2012 Olympic Test Event.

An ITU event often has a two-lap swim with also can present some great image opportunities. Here is one from Madrid.

The final set of images are from the 2011 Clermont Sprints. The first shot is a fairly low angle which emphasizes the athletes and the second shot is a higher angle and emphasizes the pattern and composition of the pack running into first transition.

Getting back to Practice, Practice, Practice, for each of these events, I made it a point to be at the race site during the practice swim time the day before the event to do some test shots. In addition, I will typically go to the start the day before the race at the same time as the start just to check the light. Another great time to practice is your local Tri club has open water swim practice. They are out training, you should be too!

No matter what, get there early! For Kona we were on site before 5:00 AM, and we were far from the first to arrive.