Sunday the 25th of September will see the 49th running of this event and my first attempt at photographing a cyclo-cross event. So it’s in at the deep end. Having looked at the route the idea is to set off nice and early so that I can get past Helwith Bridge (the start and finish point) before the race start at 09:30 and to park up at Ribblehead. From there the idea is to walk to the foot of Whernside and to place myself at the bottom of the steps in plenty of time to scout out some potential shots before the leaders get there. This is forecast to be at about 10:45. From looking at the race schedule they are looking at about a two hour window between the first and last rider. The idea is to use this window to fall back over Whernside and down to Ribblehead. This should give me a chance to get pictures of riders carrying their bikes, slogging up the hill and then tearing down it on the other side. Weather and legs permitting.
So that’s the plan but I need to make sure I have the right kit to make it work. After the problems I had with the flash last time out I have made sure I have a couple of good sets of batteries. Along with the flash will be the D300 with an 18-50mm /f2.8 and a 70-200 /f2.8. Whilst Whernside isn’t a hard walk I will also be taking a full set of waterproofs and an umbrella. To carry all this I’m going to go with a normal 45 letter Karrimor rucksack. It’s a bit overkill but will easily carry everything and should allow easy access as well. Add a few sandwiches and that should be it.
The great unknown is going to be the weather. Up to now the forecast has covered everything from sunshine to rain. I think this will be the key to how things turn out and there are pros and cons to both conditions. If it’s raining then the obvious issue is keeping the camera dry and water drops off the face of the lens. This can be managed by keeping the wind to the back and using the umbrella. The pro to this weather is that it will show just how hard an event it is, with mud streaked riders out on the dales. If it’s dry it will make the job a bit easier but if the light isn’t there then things could very easily appear very flat. This can be managed by picking the angle of the shot and also by use of the flash to balance things out.
With regards to perspective it would be good to try and show just how steep some sections are and also to try and capture things from unusual angles. The run down off Whernside offers some good spots to get below the riders and shoot up at them.
On the day I got to Ribblehead at about 08:30 and the weather was dry but there were a lot of dark cloud about and the top of Whernside was hidden in this cloud. I set off and on the walk in met up with some guys from a camera club in Barnsley who had covered other cyclo-cross events before. So after a bit of chat we set off together.
We set up shop at the first gate on the climb up Whernside near Bruntscar. This was bit lower than I had planned to be but if gave a good opportunity to get some nice shots of riders coming through the gate there. Whilst we were waiting for the first riders the weather closed in and we had a couple of heavy showers. I don’t know the guys name but on of the Barnsley lads gave me some advice about using the flash in these conditions that I think really paid off the day went on.
As the first riders arrived we all started to snap way. I had turned the power down on the flash after a few test shots but his turned out to be a bit of a mistake. The test shots had been static but eh movement of the riders caused the images to be slightly blurred. Turning the power back up appeared to resolve this issue. After about he first thirty riders I switched positions and go some shots looking up at riders from a ditch at the site of the track.
After about he first thirty riders I switched positions and go some shots looking from a lower angle from a ditch at the site of the track.
The next move was to switch to the 70-200 lens and try and get a different perspective of the string of riders snaking their way up the side of Whernside. I think the idea behind this was a good one but the execution left something to be desired.
Using the same lens I trekked up the path and got a couple of close ups before switching back to the 18 to 50.
By now I found myself alone with a couple of hundred riders as I continued to trek ever higher stopping to catch my breath and take some more pictures. At the next gate I got some more shots of riders framed by the gate but his time I had the flash right and got more of the images sharp than I had managed at the first gate.
From there it was walking up the hill and stopping to take shots all the way to the summit. By the time I had cleared the steps the mist had set in. this made the light tricky and some of the images were a bit blown out, but some were ok.
At the summit there was a checkpoint so I had a chat and got a couple of images with riders checking in that were a bit different. The staff here told me there were about fifty rides still to come through so it gave me chance to get some shots at the top of the decent. I got a few shots of riders going through a puddle before I came across a rider struggling with a puncture so I stopped to give them a hand. By the time that was done there were only a couple of riders left to go through. Then it was time to sort the gear out and enjoy the walk back to the car.
Back home I processed the pictures and published about a third of what I had shot. The main issue was that things just weren’t sharp enough. I think this was down to a mix of not having the flash set up correctly and shooting at to low a shutter speeding in an attempt to get more depth of field. Under the conditions I should have gone for just concentrating on the riders and left the background to sort itself out.
Considering this was the first cyclo-cross race I have covered I was quite happy with the outcome. From a photographic point of view I should have gone with my instincts and shot with the lens wide open to capture the action. From a none photographic point of view a good set of breathable waterproofs would be a major investment as would a waterproof rucksack with easy access.
After doing a bit of searching the Ortlibe D-Force looks like a good choice for a winter rucksack. It’s just over 30L in size, is fully waterproof and is accessed by a full length waterproof zip that is protected by your back when in use. For me this could double up as a commuting backpack for my cycle to work. So I will let you know what I think about it once I get my hands on it. On the waterproof front I got lucky and was provide with a Haglofs Endo jacket made out of the new Gore-Tex Active Shell fabric. Due to the recent heat wave here in the UK I haven’t had chance to test it (and that’s not a complaint) but I’m sure this weather isn’t going to last and I will let you know how the jacket performs in the not to distant future.
Ok then I know this has been a bit of a ramble and thank you if have stuck with it. I know it’s turned out to be a bit more of a dairy entry than a photography article but I see it as a start. Now that I’ve done one write up and got it on line I can start to work on refining things, much like the process of becoming a better photographer. Any way I’m going to end things here and with a bit of luck the next post will be along shortly.
A full set of images can be found in the cycling category on the Smugmug section of my site or simply by clicking here.