Isle of Man TT – Being Part of the Story

Being a new visitor to the TT can be a challenge. It is a long and complicated course and difficult to get around. Had it not been for the amazing generosity and willingness to help of the Manx, my experience would have been limited at best.

I did not arranged for transportation in advance. I didn’t even really want to rent a car, the thought of trying to find my way around the island in the midst of closed roads, right hand drive and not being able to pronounce the names of the roads I was supposed to follow would be more challenging than shooting.

I was and continue to be extremely lucky. I met some people the first day while I was walking around to introduced me to others and they were helpful beyond description. Also I couldn’t have gotten around without Rob Cummings, long time Isle of Man resident and former work colleague of my good friend Bruno Desrochers.

Rob gave me a tour of the course on his BMW and as a marshal, he took the week off from his day job and each race day he would drop me off on the course and then pick me up at the end of the day when the roads opened.

Monday, I wanted to go to Ballaugh Bridge. We had been there on our course tour, but I have to admit on Monday, somehow it looked different. With the overnight storms it was a challenge to get there. One of the main roads was closed due to an accident. This time it wasn’t some visiting moto tourist pretending he is racing, but during the storm a tree fell on a parked car.

Once the course is closed it is really closed. Even with photo credentials you cannot even walk across the street.   Only between races and if they are willing, the Deputy Sector Marshal (DSM) can escort you across the street.

There were a few other photographers there when I arrived. I set up with David Traynor who has been shooting the TT for more than 20 years and knew every spot on the course. During the morning all of the photographers moved around on the same side of the course to get different angles of the riders lifting off over Ballaugh Bridge.

Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017Supersport and sidecar

James Hillier landing hard and compressing his read tire.

Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017Supersport and sidecar

Most riders took flight on the bridge the sheep on the hillside seems pretty uninterested.

Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017Supersport and sidecar

Over the Ballaugh Bridge accelerate and then a sweeping left. 

During the break between races, the DSM escorted David and I across the street and give us specific instructions. On the left, don’t go beyond the drain pipe and on the right go no further than the Ballaugh sign.

After shooting with my long lens to get shots of the sidecars lifting off coming over the bridge I moved to get wide shots. I was along the bridge next to the Ballaugh sign. I think it’s every photographer’s natural tendency to unconsciously move around to try to frame the shot and I am no different, but I kept glancing over my left should to make sure that I didn’t exceed what the DSM had told me.

You can hear the sidecars coming for at least 10 seconds before they appear. I would look up see them coming toward the bridge, count to 4 and then start shooting. While the Canon 1Dx autofocus is great, I don’t believe any autofocus is good enough to pick up something going 60 mph 10 feet from you. I set the focus to manual got it dialed in and shot!

I had lots of shot with nothing but bridge. But then sidecar #43, the Lawrance Brothers from New Zealand came be sliding along the wall. Miraculously not only did I get the shot but I got 3! In a truly remarkable moment, David Traynor who was still shooting long, decided to take a shot of me shooting.

Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017Supersport and sidecar

David Traynor’s shot of me, well me AND the Lawrance Brothers.

Given the speed and movement of the sidecar, my guess is that the shots are within about 1/100 of a second of each other.

Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017RST Supersport and sidecar races

Lawrance Brothers #1

Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017RST Supersport and sidecar races

Lawrance Brothers #2

Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017RST Supersport and sidecar races

Lawrance Brothers #3

I didn’t flinch, I kept shooting and when I stood up the crowd on both sides of the street applauded. The DSM came across the road, put his hand on my shoulder smiled and said ‘bet that cleared up your constipation, eh mate.

I am sure there were a couple hundred people who saw it, a few showed me cell phone snaps of it. Someone offered to buy me a shot of brandy and a couple from the neighborhood invited me over for tea (I am sure it was TT Tea).

David posted it on Facebook and it has been shared over 850 times. I guess that counts as trending somewhere.

I have never had a desire, nor any intention of being part of the story at the TT, but sometimes it happens.

Check out a few of my other shots in Motorcyclist Magazine.

 

Isle of Man TT – Practice Day 1 – All Dressed Up and No Place to Go.

Today, May 28 is a big day, rich in history in the world of motorsports. The Monaco F1 Gran Prix begins shortly dating back to 1929 about 5 hours later in Indianapolis there is the 101st running of the Indy 500. Pre-dating both of these major events is the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy (TT) where the initial lap record in 1907 was 38 mph. The courses each have their challenges are dramatically different, Monaco is just of 2 miles of twists, Indy is a 2 1/2 mile oval and the TT is 37 3/4 miles of twists turns and roads that haven’t changed much since 1907.

All are amazing motorsport events and each have pushed the technology. Speed at around 200 mph,it seems is one of the few things that they still have in common.

Intense competition and amazing driving skills are required all each event, but only at the TT will you have drivers that are not full-time professionals. The top 20 drivers are seeded and go off in numeric order, but the rest (about 60) are based on qualifying times.

The race is a way of life here on the Isle of Man. With a population of about 86,000, the TT brings in an additional 40,000 arrive for race week. International fans arrive all with a common bond.

I arrived a few days ago and had great plans on how to prepare, but I quickly realized that no amount of planning would have adequately prepared me to shoot the race.

Just walking around on the Promenade in Douglas, I met a few people who introduced me to others and so it went.

My dear friend and primary US driver Bruno referred me to his friend Rob Cummings who has been living here for 30 years. Rob picked me up late Saturday morning for a course tour. Of course the tour at the IOMTT was on a BMW K1200K – there is no replacement for seeing the 37.75 mile course on a moto, even though we were at most going half of race speed, even though we did hit 105 mph on the mountain.

Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017

By late afternoon it was time for me to head back up to the Grandstand, pick up my final credentials and wait for the practice session to begin. And wait for the practice session to begin. And wait for the practice session to begin.

On an island not unlike Kona and Lanzarote, there are microclimates. There can be bright sunshine on one side and rain on the other. At IOMTT the decisions are simple, if the medical helicopters can’t see to land on the mountain, is no practice or racing.

Unlike with race days, which are scheduled Saturday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, when a weather cancellation will mean events are rescheduled for the next day. With practice however, there is no rescheduling and drivers, mechanics and fans need to wait until Monday night.

Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017

From the onset there were doubts about whether there would be practice, technical inspection is a must before you can go out to the parc ferme.

Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017

The bikes are lined up and the riders and team members are pacing waiting for word on the start.

Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017

While most drivers are out in the open, TT favorite Michael Dunlop keeps his ride under wraps.

Perhaps the most recognizable driver at the TT is Guy Martin, who’s thick accent often needs sub-titles to be understood.

One of the things I am most looking forward to is watching the side cars races.

Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017

IOMTT via a Galaxy Far Far Away

No race related activities today, just everyone hoping today’s sunshine holds through tomorrow and beyond.

The Best Seat in the House: Part 1 – A View from the Back

I am back home from another great weekend of shooting, this time at the Ironman California 70.3 at Oceanside. Over the years this event has been the unofficial beginning of the North American long-distance triathlon season and as such always draws an impressive international field to appropriately do battle over the rolling hills of the Camp Pendleton Marine Base course.

Probably the one thing that makes me most recognizable to the athletes is that not only do I shoot from the back of a motorbike, but I am sitting backwards.

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2013 Hawaii Ironman, thanks Sebi Kuhn for the photo!

For the athletes who know me, this is certainly not an unusual sight, but for spectators and others I see around the course, we are constantly getting comments like: You must really trust your driver! And the answer is: YES, as a matter of fact I do. I have to, not only for my safety but also for the safety of all of those around me. Being on the course among the athletes is a skill that should not be understated and is certainly not for the inexperienced. It is hard to imagine anything more risky than an inexperienced driver with an inexperienced passenger.

I sit backwards because I believe there is really less movement than constantly twisting side to side to get the shot.  Here is my view of the course:

2013 GoPro Ironman World Championship - Kona Hawaii

2013 GoPro Ironman World Championship – Kona Hawaii

In late March there was a tragic event at the Flanders Classics Bike Races where a rider who with four other riders crashed was struck by one of the race Motos and later died from injuries. There have been a number of articles including one by Casey Gibson who has been shooting cycling from motos for decades. Included in the articles are comments about limiting the number of motos on the course and about driver training. Although there are a few groups of professional drivers that support races, in the US the drivers at Triathlons are for the most part staffed by volunteers.

Now that the 2016 triathlon season is well underway I feel it is important to talk about the attributes of the types of motorcycles are best suited for race use and even more importantly the skills and communications required to safely work as a team on the course. While my comments are from the standpoint of a photographer, similar issues must be considered for race marshals and spotters.

My hope is that this blog may also serve as guidelines for volunteer Moto Captains as they are recruiting drivers.

There are really two schools of thought on how photographers and drivers interact. One is that the driver is your chauffeur. You tell him where you need to be and he takes you there. The other school of thought, which is how I like to work; as teammates!

I first met Bruno Desrochers in November 2011 at the Ironman Arizona where is wife Chris was competing. The day before the race, we had the meeting to pair the photographers and the drivers as well as to review the race rules. As planned, I arrived early walked around looked at the motorbikes, saw a BMW R1200GS and asked who owned that bike and then started to talk to Bruno and we were paired for race day. I had always been a BMW wannabe, they are smooth and quiet, and their drivers generally care more about the German engineering than the American noise.

In addition to pre-race briefing Bruno and I spent time reviewing how I liked to shoot, a basic communications protocol, drafting rules and most the most important rule of all: No matter what I ask him to do; he is in charge!

There are a few critical rules to keep in mind:

  1. Safety first!! The safety of the competitors, the spectators and our safety;
  2. Don’t be in a position where a cyclist can draft. In other words if we are too close to the riders, they might be able to obtain an unfair advantage. If they are too close to us, they will be assessed a penalty, which at a professional level can be the difference between being in or out of the money.
  3. Lowest on our priority is getting the shot. I take a couple hundred thousand shots a year and to the best of my knowledge not one of them has cured cancer. If we miss a shot, we will take another one!
  4. Finally: Slow is smooth and smooth is fast. We plan, we maintain a schedule and we neither have to rush or panic.

Being both a photographer and now also a motorcyclist, I am very particular about what I ride and whom I ride with. I own two BMW’s and as a member of the BMW Motorcycle Owners Association, I have almost always been able to recruit a great driver from the club with the right moto to work with me on the course. Not only have I had a teammate for the day, but also in most cases have developed friends I have stayed in touch with throughout the seasons.

There is only so much I can do and I start by taking care of my own needs. Having said that the Volunteer Moto Captains, most of which are motorcyclists need to understand the roles on the course and that one size / style of moto does not fit all.

Here is Bruno and my moto, which we used in Oceanside and will use in St. George. Although we have made small changes they are significant for me. The rear passenger grab bars have been removed and the passenger foot pegs have been replaced with platforms, which give me additional stability when I sit backwards.

Ironman 70.3 California

Ironman 70.3 California

 

There were only two other motos available for the Media on Saturday morning at Oceanside, both BMW Sport Bikes, one of which was a S1000RR. Keep in mind the S1000RR was originally built to compete at the 2009 Super Bike World Championship and only later sold as a production bike with a rear seat added.   This is not something I would really even want to ride as a passenger around the course, let alone try to shoot from. The image below is from the BMW Motorcycle website. It’s a great bike, but really out of place on a triathlon course, simply the wrong tool for the job. The other moto was a S1000R, a more street friendly version of the above, but still inappropriate for being on the course with triathletes.

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 12.08.44 PM

Driver competence is my highest priority. After all, I am trusting my life to the guy in front and I want to be sure that I am sufficiently comfortable to do my job and concentrate on getting the shot, without being concerned about my safety;

  • It is much easier to drive a motorcycle fast, than it is to be smooth and stable when we are going slow, particularly when you have a passenger who may be moving around on the back; and
  • Finally is the motorcycle, is it practical and comfortable to sit backwards? Is there a top case that I can use both for stability and for a work surface and finally is it relatively easy to mount and dismount during the race so I can shoot both from the moto or get off to get a different position. Three wheeled machines are just as inappropriate as sport bikes. They are just too wide and not sufficiently maneuverable.

Communications is also critical and I use a Sena 20S Bluetooth intercom to work with my driver.

With clear communications, we can easily adjust position for the shot, make sure that we have sufficient distance between an oncoming cyclist and ourselves and truly work together as a team both to stay safe and to get the shot.

There is an element of risk anytime you get on a motorcycle. Combining the normal riding risk, with an inexperienced passenger, possibly inappropriate equipment and 2,000 cyclists on the road further escalates the risk.

The easy answer to this is to only use professional riders. Easy yes, practical no; there very few groups of professional media drivers and the cost would be prohibitive for most events.

I think a great step would be to have definitive guidelines for the moto captains as to what the specific needs are of each group of riders: Media / Spotters / Marshals. In addition, a moto meeting the day prior to the event to pair teams, practice and review race rules and protocols. In addition, to have minimum guidelines for appropriate apparel for passengers, including: long pants, long sleeve shirt / jackets, over the ankle boots, protective eyewear and of course an appropriate helmet. Open face helmets are really the best option for shooting.

In reaching out to the BMW Club of Houston to prepare for the upcoming Ironman Texas, I connected with the race Moto Captain, Jerry Matson. As luck would have it, Jerry is also a past President of the BMW Club of Houston. He sent me a link to complete a very quick Google Form about my experience and needs. Nice work Jerry!

I have been the lead photographer for the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon since 2003 and the number of motos on the course has varied from 1 to as many as 10, I assumed the responsibility as the Moto Captain. My rationale was simple and purely self-serving, I didn’t want someone else’s lack of understanding to screw things up for me.

At the marathon we use 6 BMW GS’s, two for photographers and four for live streaming videographers from USA Track and Field. Each of our drivers has decades and hundreds of thousands of miles of riding experience. In addition, we hold a driver / media meeting the afternoon before the event to pair the teams, discuss protocols, and have a practice ride. On race morning, it’s simple: coffee at the start and then get to work!

In conclusion, it is not about taking risks, it is about understanding and mitigating the risks. Although having motos on a racecourse will never be without risk, it can be minimized with proper planning, the right equipment, training and communications.

All of what I have included above has been derived from my level of trust and comfort. I think the best information regarding riding skills and experience must come from my partner Bruno Desrochers.

Coming up in my next blog will be the thoughts of Bruno who has driven for me since 2011 and David Ashe who drove for me for the first time in San Juan in March.

A Billion Photos a Day and Counting

Early in 2013 I heard the mind-boggling statistic that 300 million photos were posted to Facebook every day. As hard as that is to comprehend, a few weeks ago NPR had a feature about Snapchat that said 400 million photos were posted every day! Not even counting Instagram or Twitter, my guess is that if we are not already approaching the creation of 1 billion photos a day, we have to be close.

My first thought when hearing these mind numbing statistic was to wonder how long it took since the first Camera Obscura was created almost 200 years ago for the first billion photos to be shot. Now we have that every day.

My guess is that I shot about 100,000 images about in 2013, which in today’s social media terms represents about 8.6 seconds. Sometimes that really makes me wonder where this whole photography thing is going. Is one picture still worth a thousand words? Is photography still considered an art form or has it now become achieved the same status as a post-it note?

Photography has become possibly the world’s most democratic art form. Anyone can take a photo at anytime and any place! Unfortunately some people do; but just because you can, it doesn’t mean you should.

Have we devalued the photo from a thousand words, to being only one word? Sometimes I think the word is Lunch, and other times the word is Why?

We truly have amazing technology available to us, ranging from our smart phones to the state-of-the-art SLRs like my Canon 1Dx. It is so incredibly easy to pull out my iPhone and get a shot. But that doesn’t mean that all photos are created equal.

Although I philosophically struggle with this, I believe there is a place for it all, the photos of your lunch, the selfie, your pet and the weather; all along side of the image that can stand alone and tell a story. The new world of photography has created a visual diary for all of us.

Hoping that you will agree with me, I have included a few images from my 2013 travels. I hope that you will find that each can tell you a story, provide you a context and if I am lucky, make you smile.

The start of the 2013 ITU Hamburg Mixed Relay in historic Hamburg

The start of the 2013 ITU Hamburg Mixed Relay in historic Hamburg

Solaraberg Hill at Hilpoltstein at the 2013 Challenge Roth

Solaraberg Hill at Hilpoltstein at the 2013 Challenge Roth

Marino Vanhoenacker leading through the cobblestones at 2013 Ironman Frankfurt

Marino Vanhoenacker leading through the cobblestones at 2013 Ironman Frankfurt

ITU World Triathlon Series San Diego

USA’s Tommy Zafares taking the turn in the shadow of the Belmont Park Roller Coaster, Mission Bay San Diego CA. ITU World Triathlon Series

Heather Jackson floats in for the win at the 2013 Oceanside Ironman 70.3

Heather Jackson floats in for the win at the 2013 Oceanside Ironman 70.3

Saving the best for last, this final photo was taken by my daughter Liz Radtke using her iPhone 4.

Norah & Horsey

Norah & her horsey on Christmas morning.

Keeping Your Priorities Straight

One constant question about shooting sports is Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, Manual, Automatic, or What?

I don’t know that I can provide the definitive answer but I can give you a framework about how to think about your shooting.

I will go on record that Automatic is NOT the right option. As the photographer, you want to make your own creative decisions. Using the Automatic / Programmed mode on any camera means that you are turning over creative control to some engineer sitting in a cubicle in Asia. Ok, it is likely a really smart engineer, but nonetheless, whoever set up the parameters of what automatic means in your camera does not have the benefit of seeing what you are seeing, nor what you are thinking just as you get ready to press the shutter!

As I tell my students, friends never let friends shoot on automatic!

In my last post, How To Take A Great Triathlon Photo V2013, I talked about controlling the action. In today’s post I will carry that thought quite a bit further.

Don’t assume that just because I am a professional photographer that I always shoot on Manual, making an individual decision for every shot that I take. I do use manual mode on occasion but much more often I am shooting in either Shutter or Aperture Priority mode.

Choosing between Shutter and Aperture Priority is really situational for me.  Since the majority of shots that I am making are in a sporting environment, my go to setting is Shutter Priority. It is simple – in sports, things move and I want to control how the action is conveyed. Do I want a sharp, crisp, freeze the moment image with a high shutter speed or do I want something more fluid with a lower shutter speed?

Although I do have a technical background, I try not to let the numbers drive my decision-making; thinking in terms of the visual outcome enhances my ability to capture what I am seeing inside my head (although some say there is not much up there to see).

If I am not in a race mode, I often switch to Aperture priority, this may be at a pre race meeting or expo, but I set the shutter speed to what ever I know I can easily hand hold (depending on the lens).  In addition, when I am out touring, I typically shoot aperture priority.  As a side note, when I am out touring I typically use my 5D Mark III, since it is just a bit less conspicuous than my 1Dx.  Also to discipline myself, my general rule is 1 camera, 1 lens and 1 shot at a time and every shot with intention.

Even when I use Shutter Priority, it does not mean that I ignore the aperture. It means the shutter speed is my primary consideration. From there and to the extent that I want to change the depth of field, I will increase or decrease the ISO.

I am sure there will be a few people reading this who are looking for numbers, so I will give you a few numbers!

Let’s say it is one of my typical days shooting and I am sitting on the back of a moto.

Paul’s Office – thanks to Matt Moses for the snap.

I will have two camera bodies, one with my 70-200 f2.8 and the other with either the 24-70 f2.8 or a 16-35 f2.8. I also have my 300mm f2.8 over my shoulder.

If I am at a Triathlon and shooting from in front (about 20 meters) of the cyclists or runners and using my 70-200 at 200mm with an aperture of f5.6, I know that my total depth of field is going to be about 3 meters, which is wide enough to get the entire bike and rider in focus and narrow enough to have it drop off pretty fast to isolate the rider. On the other hand, if I am still at the short end of that lens at 70mm, still at f5.6, I will have a total depth of field of about 40 meters. Keeping the aperture at f5.6 and grabbing the other camera with a shorter lens, if the focal length is about 50mm or less, pretty much everything is going to be in focus.

I use f5.6 as sort of a target aperture, again using the 20 meter example and my 200mm lens, my depth of field at f4.5 is about 2.5 meters and at f6.3 is about 3.5 meters.  This is a nice range to work in and gives flexibility as the light changes.

As you can see, shooting from 20 meters away, you really have a great deal of flexibility in your aperture, just keep an eye on your ISO to make sure it doesn’t drop too low and drop your aperture, unless of course you want it to.

As you get closer to the subject and your depth of field narrows, you need to pay more attention to the aperture, but still for me shutter speed is my driving consideration.

Similarly when using a longer lens such as a 300 or a 400mm. As you increase the focal length of the lens, the physics dictate that the depth of field, at any given f-stop will be narrower compared to shorter lens.

I have been lucky, many of my shots have been used as covers both domestically and Internationally. These are typically fairly tight shots with the athlete visually isolated – this translates to using a longer lens and low aperture.

OK, I have talked enough about the concepts, let’s look at a few photos.

Here is Melissa Hauschildt on her way to winning the 2013 Abu Dhabi International Triathlon. Caroline Steffen is just slightly out of the depth of field but still in the frame. I was shooting from the moto, 200 mm lens at 1/1600 and f5.6.

2013 Abu Dhabi International Triathlon

Melissa Hauschildt at the 2013 Abu Dhabi International Triathlon

With the spectacular background of Snow Canyon at the Ironman St. George 70.3, it would be a shame to have too narrow of a depth of field, and yet you don’t want to have it look like a bunch of cyclists rode through your landscape photo. This image is a 115 mm, 1/2000 and f6.3.

Luke McKenzie leading the chase group at the Ironman St. George 70.3.

Luke McKenzie leading the chase group at the Ironman St. George 70.3.

Now off of the moto and laying on the side of the road with my 16 to 35, this shot of Sebastian Kienle, Ironman 70.3 World Champion was shot at 25 mm 1/1600 and f7.1 which gives almost an infinite depth of field.

Sebastian Kienle at the Ironman  St. George 70.3

Sebastian Kienle at the Ironman St. George 70.3

Off of the moto again on with some bigger glass, here is Tim O’Donnell at the 2013 Ironman San Juan 70.3.  Tim was the 2 time defending champ coming back for a 3-peat, when he had a crash on the bike. Here he is in Old San Juan, shot with my 300 mm, at 1/800 and f13.  With the beauty of Old San Juan, I wanted to isolate Tim, but also give some context!

2 time defending champ Timothy O'Donnell, USA, at the 2013 Ironman San Juan 70.3  March 17, 2013

2 time defending champ Timothy O’Donnell, USA, at the 2013 Ironman San Juan 70.3

Due to the nature of an ITU event, I really don’t shoot that much from the moto, but it is critical to use it to get from to the best locations. With the help and skill of my moto pilot Bruno, we had the San Diego course planned out. Here is Olympic Gold Medalist Alistair Brownlee in his first ITU event of 2013 running away from the field.

Not much of a background here so I shot it at f2.8.  Since I am off the moto, I knew I would get a really clean shot at 1/800 and I just lowered my ISO to 320 so I could get the aperture wide open.

Olympic Gold Medalist Alistair Brownlee running away from the field at the 2013 World Triathlon Series race in San Diego.

Olympic Gold Medalist Alistair Brownlee running away from the field at the 2013 World Triathlon Series race in San Diego.

Running hard to catch Brownlee was South African Richard Murray, just 11 seconds later. No time to check the back of the camera or change the settings – just focus on getting the shot!

Richard Murray on the run at the ITU World Triathlon Series San Diego

Richard Murray on the run at the ITU World Triathlon Series San Diego

More soon!

Cheers,

Paul

How To Take a Great Triathlon Photo V2013

Now that our Spirit of Triathlon Contest has wrapped up and race season has begun, it is a great time to go over a few of the basics of shooting triathlon. Well not just the basics, anyone can take triathlon photo – all you have to do is look at Facebook on any Monday morning to see thousands of shots from the weekend of races and training. There will be iPhone self portraits, taken at arms length while riding, and shots of spouses 100 meters in the distance appearing as a speck on the horizon. These are all fabulous ways to share an important personal and emotional moment and a great way to remember the day.

However if you are reading my blog, my guess is that your interest is going beyond the snap that looks like everyone else’s shot and want to do a bit more. Whether you are shooting one of the top pros, elite amateurs or your spouse, partner, parent or child, you want a shot that highlights the intensity of the athlete and shows off the beauty of the venue.

My 2013 race season began with the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon. It is really a great race, with an amazing pro field in a one of a kind venue. Two weeks later, I was in the Caribbean at the San Juan 70.3, another great field and a great venue. Now I am in between trips to San Diego; first for the Ironman 70.3 Oceanside and next week for the ITU World Triathlon Series events and the USAT Hall of Fame Dinner.

In San Juan, we had the advantage of being able to connect with my friend Ramon Serrano.  Although Ramon is currently living in Miami and working for American Airlines, he was back in San Juan to watch, photograph and offer unending help to whoever needed it.  Having access to Ramon and his knowledge of the locations on the island, I almost felt like I was cheating. Ramon drove us around while I tried to learn the course and gave us some fabulous local restaurant recommendations.

If you follow any of the pro triathletes on Facebook or Twitter you have likely seen some of Ramon’s photos.  He makes it to quite a few events (working for American helps with that) and he works hard to get his shots. While driving around I asked Ramon, whom I officially address as the Prince of San Juan, if he had any photo questions we could talk about. Ramon said, ‘you know, just the usual stuff, ISO, shutter speed, f-stop, angles.

2013 Ironman San Juan 70.3

Ramon & Allan Torres at the start of the Ironman 70.3 San Juan ready for their day.

With that in mind – the usual stuff, I thought it would be time to have a review of some of the critical factors in getting a great triathlon photo. Not much new here but think of it as a cheat sheet before you head out to shoot your first race of the season.

The first and critical issue has nothing to do with photography and everything to do with getting the shot! No equipment to lug around, no exposure to worry about! It’s Planning!

Here are a just a few things you must know before you shoot a Triathlon (the day before!):

  1. What time does the sun come up? (Yup, there are is an app for that, lots of them);
  2. What time does the race start?
  3. How many waves are there and what interval will be between waves?
  4. What is the expected swim time for the leader?
  5. If you are following a specific age group athlete (friend or spouse), what time do they start and what is their expected swim split?
  6. What are the locations you can use for the swim start? For the swim exit?  This will vary if you are credential or not credentialed.  Remember, just because you can get access to a certain spot, doesn’t mean there is a good shot there.

The same level of planning is true for the bike and run portions of the course.

  1. What access do you have to the course?
  2. How are you going to get there? By car, by bike, by moto?
  3. What time will the athletes by approaching your shooting location?
  4. Does your location have a great background?
  5. Does your location provide the athletes an opportunity to look good? (If you are shooting the run on a steep uphill, the answer is no.);
  6. How many shot locations can you cover?
  7. What time to you have to be back at the finish line?
  8. If you do not have credentials and finish line access, where else can you tell the story? Even if you do have finish line access, is that the spot to get the best shot?

Now you are probably asking yourself if I do all of this before each race? You bet I do and then some. Since I am often shooting from a moto, I drive the course at least once, as well as meet with my driver. We talk about safety, drafting rules and how I shoot. In addition we work together to find spots on the course where we can get great shots off of the moto.

Now that you have your plan and have it written down, it’s time to think about shooting.

Just think about it at this point – pick your lens, camera bodies, flash – make sure all of your batteries are charged, your equipment is all cleaned and you have plenty of formatted memory cards.  Cleaning it before the last race is not sufficient – clean it again! Nothing frustrates me more than having something on a sensor that I have to edit out of each image.

RACE DAY – I am going to try to keep my suggestions as practical and non-technical as possible, which should be pretty easy to remember.

GET THERE EARLY – At the Ironman 70.3 Oceanside, I arrived at the race site at 4:45 AM and the real benefit was that I got Rock Star parking!

SHOOT WITH INTENTION Now repeat it 3 times, Shoot with Intention, Shoot with Intention, Shoot with Intention!  This means you have to be thinking – I know you started the day before Starbucks was open, but still you have to be thinking!

ADJUST FOR THE TIME OF DAY – In the film days we could only change our ISO every 24 or 36 frames and even then our range was very narrow compared to today.  With today’s amazing technology, you can start the day with a fairly high ISO and then work down from there. Depending on the age and level of your camera, you can sometimes start the day at 4000 ISO and be shooting in very low light.  Be sure to check your ISO a least every 30 minutes and decrease it accordingly until the light is relatively constant.

Here is a shot of smiling Heather Jackson getting ready in T-1 shot at 8,000 ISO.

Heather Jackson preparing for her day in sunny Oceanside

Heather Jackson preparing for her day in sunny Oceanside

The Oceanside Venue as the age group athletes are finishing their day

At the end of my day in Oceanside is a venue shot which was at 400.

The good news about high ISO is that you can shoot in situations you never could before, the bad news is that there may be a lot of noise in the image which will need to be cleaned up in Lightroom.

DON’T JUST STAND THERE – As I have mentioned in prior posts, if you are always shooting from a standing eye-level position, you will only be capturing the view that any spectator can see, which is really a pretty mundane view. To make your shots more interesting move around, lie down on your belly for a low angle, stand on a bench for a high angle, or move of the course to provide some additional context.

Here is a low angle shot of Heather Jackson’s coming in to the final stretch. (I love that this girl knows how to celebrate!)

Heather Jackson taking the W - this girl knows how to celebrate!

Heather Jackson taking the W – this girl knows how to celebrate!

Another low angle shot of Mirinda Carfrae in San Juan.2013 Ironman San Juan 70.3

PICK THE BACKGROUND AND LET THE ACTION HAPPEN – This is my Rule #4. Avoid visual noise in the background; this includes the porta-potties, rental trucks around the venue, or lots of road signs.

First we have a shot of the chase group at Oceanside with Andy Potts on the hunt, with rolling hills and towering palms as the background.

Andy Potts leading the chase group nearing T-2

Andy Potts leading the chase group nearing T-2

Next is Leanda Cave at San Juan 70.3, riding by one of the few unobstructed views of the ocean.2013 Ironman San Juan 70.3

Here is a shot of the run course rolling through Old San Juan.

2013 Ironman  2013 San Juan

Pros on the run course at the Ironman 70.3 San Juan

CONTROL THE ACTION – I typically shoot shutter speed priority, because I want to control whether I get a clear crisp image or a blurred. If you shoot on any of the automatic settings you have turned over your control to some engineer in a cubicle somewhere in Asia. For bike shots use for a 1/1600th and 1/640th shutter speed on the run for stopping the action; for a panning, use 1/160th or below.

First we have a shot of Andi Bocherer shot at 1/2000th.

2013 Ironman California 70.3

Andi Bocherer leads on the bike at the 2013 Ironman 70.3 California

Here we have Omar Nour riding through the Arabian Desert shot at 1/100th.

2013 Abu Dhabi International Triathlon

Omar Nour riding through the Arabian Desert at the 2013 Abu Dhabi International Triathlon

WAIT FOR THE SHOT TO COME TO YOU – Patience is critical, as the athletes are approaching wait until you can tell who they are!  Otherwise, it is really a context shot.

2013 Ironman California 70.3

On his way to his 5th Oceanside win, Andy Potts leads the gang of 4 chase group.

SHOOT IN BURSTS – Shoot in bursts of 3 to 5 shots and then ultimately use the image that shows off the maximum intensity and the best biomechanics.

NEVER LET THEM SEE THE BAD STUFF – Keeping in mind that that photons are free, it is easy to get carried away and shoot a thousand or more images in a single day. At a typical long-distance race, I shoot around 4,000 (all raw files).  Edit brutally and never let anyone see the bad shots.  Take a look at my early blog post about optimizing work flow.

Follow me on Twitter @CompImagePhoto and see our #PhotoOfTheDay and some handy advice!

Now go out, shoot and have fun!

Cheers,

Paul

The Spirit of Triathlon Photo Contest – The Envelope Please !!!

In January our Spirit of Triathlon Contest began with:

Everyone who spends time around triathlons and triathletes understand there is a special spirit that surrounds the sport. Thousands of triathletes are racing every weekend and tens of thousands of photos are brilliantly shot showing off their amazing efforts.

Now two months and over 100 entries later it is time to reveal the top 20 images.

But before we even get to how well an image portrays Spirit of Triathlon, the first level of review must be based on the quality of the photograph.

A successful photo must tell a story, be visually appealing and emotionally stirring. The image must immediately draw the eye of the viewer to its key element and must leave a lasting impression.

There are three critical elements in achieving a successful photo – Content, Composition and Color.

Content is capturing a peak moment, which may be a spectacular sunrise, a close up view on the bike or a battle for the finish line. This is the story, it is not an image of random activity; it has direction, flow and meaning. Content may also convey a sense of place or time.  This is what the viewer will relate to and remember.  Keep in mind, if you are able to capture this moment and it is out of focus – admit it, you missed the shot!

Composition is a key element of a great photo. As spectators we see everything from eye-level, but from a photographic standpoint most photos from eye level tend to be fairly mundane. The best way to view something is from an angle nobody else gets to see. It is important to have a nice clean background to avoid distracting the view from the image.

Color may be the tonal variations in the literal sense, but should also emotional color. I have galleries on my website dedicated to Celebrate and Suffer – these images are for pure emotion.

With this in mind, here are the top three photos!

The winning image is entitled Swimming into the Sunrise and was submitted by Debbie Faulkner, from Nottingham, England.  A sunrise start is one of the most inspiring times in triathlon. It is the only time during the race when you have a substantial group of athletes together. Here the group has one lead swimmer, captured between strokes. Adding to the context is an earlier wave swimming back with much greater distance between the swimmers. The slight fog rising from the lake adds to the atmosphere of the morning environment so you can almost feel the chill in the air. The image is visually very pleasing drawing the viewer in to have a closer look at the group.

1 - FaulknerDe_1

The start of the 2012 Vitruvian triathlon in Leicestershire, UK. An open water swim into the sunrise, by Deborah Faulkner

The number 2 image is entitled Anticipation by Dave Martinez from Atlanta, GA and is from the Mountain Madness 70.3 race in Ellijay, GA. This is clearly a view that cannot be seen by a spectator. Hats off to Dave for being able to shoot the athletes’ view of the start.

Anticipation at the Mountain Madness 70.3 race in Ellijay, GA. by Dave Martinez

Rounding out the podium is Second Place Suffering by Terry Van Oort from Ankeny, IA and was taken at the 2013 HyVee 5150 Championship. This images features 4-time Olympian Hunter Kemper wearing is USA Triathlon race kit with its Red, White and Blue side panel. Hunter is leaning over a stanchion covered in Red, White and Blue fabric, perfectly mimicking his race kit. Those who know me know that I believe that Every Shot is a Lucky Shot. No matter how great your planning, there was no way to anticipate that Hunter will stop and rest at exactly that spot setting up the perfect background for the shot. Terry did a great job in recognizing it!

Second place suffering for U.S. Triathlete Hunter Kemper at 2012 HyVee Triathlon, by Terry Van Oort

Your Think Tank Photo gear will be shipped out to you shortly, CONGRATULATIONS!

The remaining 17 images are presented in the slide show and are in order of the photographer’s last name.

Thank you all for participating! Race season is starting and it’s time for more photos!