Cycling, Photography

Photographing a Cycling Event – My Way

Most of you know that for the last three days I have been photographing the Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic.  It has been fun, but also very tiring, especially yesterday when it was so hot.  Thankfully it wasn’t today, with the temperature expected to reach 41C (105.8F).  The photos I am going to use were mostly taken yesterday at Williamstown.

Straight from the CornerOne of the type of shots that you want to get is the cyclists coming or going around corners.  I have shown you lots of them over the past few days.  They can be hard to get and you have to have nerve to get them.  Sitting on a corner while cyclists go past can be scary.  They get close.  Most accidents happen on corners, so you may be putting your life in danger as well, so you need to be very careful.  You also need to be careful that you don’t go out too far and cause an accident, it could be an expense experience for you.  I have public liability insurance in case something like that happens.

At an event like this,unless you have accreditation getting on the corners can be almost impossible.

Accredited MediaYou can see the photographers here, they are wearing navy blue media bibs.  I had one of these as well.  To get accreditation you need to apply, and you usually need to be someone who has experience at photographing events like this.  I know that when the event is on next year that there is a good chance that I will get accreditation again because I have done it for the last few years and there hasn’t been a problem.  To get accreditation you need to start with club racing and work your way up.  The more experience you get the more likely it is that you may get accreditation.   There will always be events that you can’t get accreditation for unless you work for a paper or some other media organisation.

In the image above they were getting ready for the finish.  When that happens they all huddle in a group inside those barriers and photograph them as they finish. Only those with bibs are allowed to do that.

Off the GroundTaking photos of cycling from as close to the ground as possible is also one thing that many do.  There is something about an image of a cyclists going past and you are looking up at them.

The Front Straight

To get an image of people going past like this you have to move the camera with them.  They are moving so fast, around 40 to 50 kph, so if you don’t pan, then you will just get blur.  I have plenty of those.

It would be easy to put it on a fast shutter speed, but I use a flash to take these photos.  It isn’t as silly as it sounds, the flash helps to cut through the shadows.   I have the flash set on the strongest setting.   Unlike most sports flash is perfectly fine for cycling.  Apparently the cyclists don’t even notice it.  You can see how much the flash has helped in stopping the shadows from being so harsh.

Cornering with the Sun BehindThe flash has helped a lot here.  The sun was so bright yesterday, and shadows were always going to be a problem. I have found that you have to change the metering on your camera.  You can’t take matrix metering images, it just doesn’t work.  You will often find that the cyclist will become a silhouette with too much light behind.  I use spot metering and spot focusing.  I decide where I want to focus and what I want metered.  That way you can get a well exposed cyclist and the background doesn’t matter so much.  

Entering the First CornerThis group have gone over the start/finish line and are about to enter the corner as they head around for another lap.

When photographing cycling I always use shutter priority.  I set what shutter speed I want and then  let the camera work out aperture.  It isn’t usually a problem.  There are things I have found, you can slow the shutter speed down to 1/60 or 1/100 of a second and you will get that blurred background, but you have to be able to pan with the cyclists.  I don’t know about other photographers, but I like to be able to see a clear face.  I want the face to be in focus. I don’t mind if nothing else is, but I like to see the face.

When they are coming towards you, you need a faster shutter speed.  Because I always have the flash on my camera it means that I can’t get a faster shutter speed than 1/250 of a second.  So the above image would have been shot using that shutter speed.

I want to give Mitchelton Wines a plug here.  They were the main sponsors for the Bay Cycling Classic, and you can see their name everywhere in the above image.  They also do a VIP area, where the VIP’s and the media are allowed.  I got to sample their wines and they were very nice.  It was also good because there was food there as well and much needed water.  I drank so much water over the days when I was photographing this event. So I would like to thank Mitchelton Wines for their support.

More CorneringThis is the women who have just come around another corner into the front straight.  I just put this in because I get the impression you like the images of the cyclists going around corners.  I have so other great ones and if you want to see them I might do another post with them in a week or so, but you have to tell me if you want to see them.

PresentationsAt the end of the day there are presentations.  As this was the last day it was presenting the winners with their prizes and trophies.  They all get champagne, or sparkling white wine, which is what we are supposed to call it.  They open it up and spray it everywhere.  The winner of the Elite Women’s, Melissa Hoskins, decided to spray her podium pals instead of the crowd.

Many will tell you that you need a fast camera to shoot sports, and for most sports that is true.  I purchased the D300s because it took 7 frames a second.  I don’t use that many frames a second for cycling.  I do if I am shooting other sports, like netball, but not for cycling.  They move out of the frame too quickly and you get too many blurred images.  I pan and take one, then get ready for the next the one, picking my next target.  I find I get a much higher success rate that way.

Someone came up to me at an event recently and asked what camera I had and did I have a problem with shutter lag.  That is the time it takes for the camera to actually take the image once you have pressed the shutter-release button.  This person did cycling photography with a film camera many years ago and wanted to get back into it.  He had a camera that was a few models down from mine.  That is something you need to consider if you are going to photograph sports.

I think that is enough.  It isn’t everything, but gives you a look at how I photograph races like criteriums.  I hope you have enjoyed seeing the criterium racing here in Victoria.  It is becoming a bit of a tradition.


  1. arnoldthearmadillo says

    Very interesting stuff, you would have to have sharp reflexes for this sort of work..

  2. What an informative post! Thank you for taking the time to organize and write this for us.

  3. Reblogged this on carbonaddiction and commented:
    Ever tried to get great cycling shots, and failed miserably? Well, maybe this post will help you. Leanne has spent most of the week shooting at the Bay series in Victoria…

    • It did go through Rob, I have started moderating my comments, I didn’t like some that were coming through. Glad you like the images.

  4. Paul says

    God, you’re good, Leanne!
    The first photo is a classic.

  5. Hi Leanne. I’d like to see your thoughts about the ‘ethics’ of publishing photos that identify individuals. I feel perfectly comfortable looking at your photos of individuals here – I think because they are involved in a spectator sport. I like taking photos of people in public, but I am nervous about publishing my photos of them – I think because they are not involved in a spectator sport. Or are they! Does their being in public make them (or leave them) open to being published without recourse? Before you answer, think about the photos I have taken in cemeteries, and those of public memorial staples and stones! I think they are beautiful, and I want to publish them; but I am afraid I would be unable to justify what I had done if someone took offense from them.

    • I don’t know where you come from Brad, but in Australia our copyright laws state that if you are in a public place you have no right to privacy. What is a public place can be debatable, but I would imagine that as long as you aren’t taking photos of people that are lurid, embarrassing or something that would be horrible then I don’t think you need to worry.
      The other reality is to, are the people who are in your photos every likely to see them? I would put them up, if someone comes to you and says I don’t like that photo please take it down, then you can always do that then. Good luck.

  6. Great photos of the cream of Australia’s cycling talent. I only wish they would run more cycling races at this level up in NSW. Thanks for the tips too. I wish I had a few of these hints in my kit bag when I went to the MTB worlds at Stromlo a couple of years back.

    • I am surprised that they don’t have them in NSW, I wonder why? The bay crits have been happening for years.

  7. Nicely done, as usual. What about behind-the-scenes stuff? Did you manage to get shots of racers between races? Any of the team crews? The bikers resting in the evening? How about all the other ‘stuff’ that goes on during the days of racing? Were you on contract Leanne? Were you hired to cover the race or there for your own interest? D

    • I normally get some stuff like that, but I didn’t this year. Not really sure why. I just my own thing. This is one event that I usually do for my website, but this year I made the decision to do it just for the blog. If you go to my website you might see them from 12 months ago and there might be some of those shots there.

  8. I appreciate the tutorial on shutter speed Leanne, and the photos are great as always. Enjoy that heat! Been below 32F 24 hrs a day for days here.

  9. Thanks for liking my post. You are a brilliant photographer and I sure will learn a lot from you. Thanks for posting some tutorials. Will try them out.

  10. Thanks for the clear explanation of your technique. I was particularly surprised about the flash, but it definitely works well.

    • That is one great thing about cycling, being able to use the flash, it is one of the few sports where you can.

  11. love these shots…would love to see more!!!

    Leanne…I read the fellow above…Brad’s comments and you know I was wondering the same thing…the legalities of taking photos of people and then posting them online??? Would you consider doing a post on what you know/feel?

    • I can do one Heather, but the biggest issue is copyright is different in each country, but I can do one on what is generally considered okay.

      • Right…I should have thought about the fact that each country would have different copyright laws…post what you feel comfortable doing…if you’d rather not do a post that is understandable.

      • No it isn’t that at all Heather, I think it is a good idea, I will do one, but I only know Australian copyright laws, though I expect that they are very similar in other countries, I might have to do some research, perhaps the article/post could be more about how to find out what the copyright laws are in your country.What do you think?

      • I’m sure there would be amateur photographers who would appreciate a post on the basics of the legalities in Australia…you are busy so don’t concern yourself with a great deal of researching, I can research here in Canada when I get a chance…a post about how to find out what the copyright laws are in any country would be great, sometimes laws are worded in such a way they are difficult to understand…I shy away from taking photos of people’s faces as I’m not sure what I can and can’t do when posting on a website…please don’t go out of your way.

      • I won’t Heather, but I can certainly help you work your way through the legal system. That isn’t hard. I might do it on Wednesday, if that is okay.

      • that is very generous of you Leanne…when ever you have the time… thank you for you kindness!

  12. Spectacular (VERY!) series of shots, Leanne…all very, very exciting, and extremely well-done! (Rest now, in some air conditioning, OK?)

    Also…a beautifully-written tutorial for those interested in better shots…those ‘blurry’ things can be devastating to someone who’s trying hard, but has the wrong equipment or wrong approach. Hope they’ve been ‘set right’ by reading your practical ‘tips’!

    • The air conditioning has hardly been off, the electricity bill is going to be huge.
      I see a lot of people photographing cycling and some have gear that is not helpful at all. I have been given some advice, but most I have had to work out through trial and error. Makes you learn better that way sometimes.

  13. These are great photographs, Leanne. The whole accreditation thing’s really interesting – does this happen for all sports?

    • It does here. They are very particular who they give accreditation too. I suppose it is mainly because they are limited with how many photographers are allowed to take photos for space. It only happens for the big events. With accreditation you don’t have to pay to watch, you get one of the best seats in the house, and you often get access to the players which wouldn’t happen normally. So there can be great benefits, but it is hard to get.

  14. gtonthenet says

    Really useful information – and very good photos too! Thanks

  15. leo brady says

    great info!
    shooting action is a challenge.

  16. Beautiful photo set. Also, an excellent overview on photographing a cycling event.

  17. as an ex-club cyclist I know how fast these guys can go. Impressive shots Leanne, really like the way you have captured cycle racing.

  18. I so enjoy reading your commentary on this biking series. Your photography is remarkable. And your techhnical knowledge is so impressive. As you may know from some of my post on cycling, I love the sport. Needless to say you have captured the wonderful essence of the sport. Thanks so much for the post. I bookmarked it so I can review it again later. And you know, this is inspiring, so much that I am thinking of taking a basic photography class.

  19. Excellent – especially the ones with a rider on their own. Good light, good composition. Too hot for me though – 41 degrees…..

  20. I’ve tried taking photos of “speedy”things and have literally 100 blurred shots for one single sharp one… these are amazing and inspire me to persevere with my very amateur attempts.

  21. As someone who lives in France and is an avid follower of the Tour de France I’ve seen countless photos of cyclists over the years in the French press by pro sports photographers, and yours are every bit as good. Have you ever considered trying to get an assignment to cover the tour?
    (Thanks for visiting my blog yesterday by the way..)

    • No, no, The tour de France, would drive me insane I think. The photographers are so uppity and I don’t think I could stand it. You also have to have a lot of money, so I won’t be doing it. Might come and watch as a spectator one day.

  22. Hi Leanne! I’m not really a fan of such events – but the top image here is a real cracker – excellent shot! Adrian

  23. Thank you for the visit to my site and for the like. I have never been interested in cycling, but these shots were totally captivating. You made a very difficult shooting condition (and subject) look dead easy…….great work, looking easy is never easy!

  24. Awesome shots, Leanne! Thank you, for sharing your ‘secrets’! This article helps a lot. It wants me to get out there and try this kind of motion photography myself. I suppose during a time when there are no races, one could practice on moving cars.

    • I used to do that, go out onto the nature strip at the front of the house and take photos of cars, not a bad way to go. Or go somewhere where you know cyclists like to ride, there are several places in melbourne that are popular with cyclists and just practice photographing them.

Comments are closed.