Results tagged “photography” from spare cycles

Tour of California Tearsheets


Road Bike Action Tearsheets

Road Bike Action Tearsheets

Road Bike Action Tearsheets Road Bike Action Tearsheets

Road Bike Action Tearsheets

My Tour of California shots made it into two issues of Road Bike Action. Several of my shots ran in the Tour of California gallery in the June issue (gallery includes photos from both me and Bettini), along with a Table of Contents spread. They also ran a shot of Vanderkitten's Jenn Reither at the Tour of California Women's Crit in the July issue, which also features a special on cycling for women.

Cycling Photography Tips 101: The 300mm


The 300mm lens is one of the most venerable of the cycling shooters' lenses. In particular, Canon's 300mm f/2.8 IS is ultra sharp, has excellent bokeh, and is a dream to shoot with. You'll love your photos, sponsors will love your photos... but your wallet might balk at the $4000 price tag. Sites like can get you one for special occasions.



Photo: Mitch Clinton, a much wiser and better photographer than me, who isn't stupid enough to do what I'm doing above

Yes, that's me doing something very stupid. I embarrass myself here so that you can know that much is learned through mistakes, mistakes we made last week.

Canon's 300mm f/2.8 weights 5.6lbs, which is far more weight than your camera mount is meant to support. Never let your camera body have the bear the weight of the lens. When you're carrying it around, always use the strap on the 300mm, not the strap on your camera body. If you try and carry it by both, it's likely to become separated.

Not all 300's are as heavy as Canon's f/2.8, but I thought I'd lead with this one as Mitch sent such a nice illustrative photo.

#2 Use Gaffer tape to cover the switches

This is a general tip which I'll repeat in other lessons

The 300mm has far more switches than you need. They are very easy to accidentally switch to the wrong position. Nothing is worse than going to take a shot and discovering your camera won't focus. By the time you figure out that the autofocus tripped to manual, the shot is gone. Get some gaffer tape and cover any switches you don't use all the time.

#3 Don't get too close

The 300's virtue is that it gets in real close to riders, but get too close and you'll soon discover that you have no depth of field to work with. It's also really, really hard to point a 300mm at short range. Make sure that you give yourself enough room that you can frame the rider from a distance.

#4 Think about scenics as well

A lot of people use the 300mm lens to get tight shots of riders. These make nice profile photos, but personally I love a good landscape that shows off the ride in addition to the rider. I actually get plenty of bang for the buck using the 300mm as a scenic lens.

Is there a mountain in the distance? Try and see if your 300mm can frame it with a rider in it. Stuck in a pretty field? See if your 300mm can collapse it into your frame:

Blossoms - (c) Ken Conley
Photo by Ken Conley

#5 The 300 is great from a car

You may feel stupid shooting out a car window with a 300, but when you have to get a shot of a rider that's 10 cars away you'll love it.

#6 Monopods are for wimps

Actually, I'm a wimp, but I still won't use a monopod as cycling is about catching the moment... which you're likely to miss if you're busy futzing with your monopod. Sometimes the action will be down low, up high, around a corner, who knows -- but you don't want a monopod getting in the way while you're running around figure out where it is.

First print ad

Bicycling Mag20080926_6471 Bicycling Mag20080926_6472
Bicycling Mag20080926_6473

It's better to be lucky than good and also have good friends to back you up, so thanks to all of those (especially RBR-extraordinaire Thien) who helped get my first print ad: a three page foldout on the inside cover of Bicycling magazine. And thanks to Look for making a bike that's a whole lot prettier than the P4. There were free issues at Interbike, so you can guess why my suitcase was heavy coming home.

Selecting Spots


LighthouseI get asked from time to time how I select the spots that I shoot. There are some tricks that use, but really you only get to choose the first spot you shoot. If you're not part of the race caravan, you're forced to drive around the race, so you can really only stop at points where you can find a road that intersects the course ahead. Thus, you can choose the first spot that you shoot, and from there it all falls out fairly naturally what you get to shoot. If there's something I really want to get a shot of, it often means that I'll bet my entire day's reel on that one location. Such is the case with tomorrow's route: it's only 2.5-3 hours long, so I'll have to head to the finish immediately after my first stop.

As for figuring out where that spot may be, there's a variety of ways of figuring it out:

  • luck, e.g. driving past it on your way to somewhere else
  • previous experience with the route
  • other people telling you about cool spots
  • big KOMs
  • Google searches, e.g. name of town + "bridge" if there's a river. Image search will often show you a photo of that bridge

For tomorrow, I'm relying on a combination of luck + other people. While driving around Tybee Island, I decided to tail some Slipstream riders to see where they were headed. We came upon a lighthouse and I decided in my touristy nature that I'd get a shot. Later, while talking to some people about good spots for tomorrow's route, someone mentioned that there was a lighthouse on the course. While I originally wanted to get some nice river delta shots framed, I couldn't find any good vantage points in my brief survey. Hopefully by tomorrow afternoon you'll see a new version of the lighthouse above with riders in front.

During the Tour of California, there was two pieces of gear that really stood out as missing from my lineup: a proper rain cover and a battery grip. Getting rained on continuously perhaps exaggerates the overall necessity of a rain cover, but having gone through the same experience at Sea Otter and elsewhere, as well as having to deal with non-functional buttons the next day, I decided that I was done with plastic bags.

If you are going the plastic bag department, I highly recommend building up a stash of Apple Store bags. They make a bag that is about the right size for a 70-200mm lens, they're double-lined, and they have a drawstring. I didn't have a big stash going into the Tour of California and soon found myself raiding plastic bags wherever I could find them.

As for the battery grip, it wasn't that I was running out of battery juice -- I usually shot with one set in the morning and would switch to a fresh set before the finish. No, it's that a battery grip adds a shutter release button for when you're shooting portrait. If you're shooting a finish portrait-style and you're lined up shoulder to shoulder with other photographers, you can really start annoying people if you stick your elbow to press your regular shutter release. I found myself going to great lengths to curve my hand around the body of my camera so I could keep my elbow at my side.

So, now I have two new pieces of gear. The first is a Canon BG-E2N battery grip, which was fairly easy to choose: the Canon Wireless E3A grip is almost 5x as expensive and doesn't even extend your battery life, all for a feature that my Eye-fi does for almost as well for $99. I'm not a huge fan of the battery grip just yet: it adds the extra shutter button but I can't reach the little rocker knob while using it. As I use that rocker knob to select my autofocus point, I find the compromise of shutter over framing a bit much.


The second piece of gear is an Aquatech SS-200 rain cover, which fits my 70-200 f/2.8 lens. I ordered mine from B&H as Amazon doesn't offer these items directly. B&H also includes the all important information about having to order a camera-specific eyepiece with your Aquatech. Choosing the Aquatech over other rains covers was also fairly easy: every pro I've seen with a rain cover uses an Aquatech. They are far more expensive than other covers and you have to purchase a separate rain cover for each lens configuration, so be prepared. Another photographer I met managed to create her own rain cover using the sleeve from a rain jacket, which would be my route if I weren't as lazy.


Tom Boonen - (c) Ken Conley
Photo by Ken Conley
Back in the day I wrote an article, Shooting cycling photographs with a Canon Digital Rebel, which by now is laughably quaint. Hopefully not too many are stuck trying to shoot with an original Canon Digital Rebel, which is incapable of doing important sports-related tasks like focusing. I've taken much better photos since then with a combination of a Canon 30D and 40D, so I thought I'd update my beginner tips for the modern age.

Shooting head on is both difficult and easy: difficult in that the rider is moving at you very fast so your margin for error is very little, but easy in that you don't have to move your camera very much at all. Here are some rules I use for getting the most pro out of my SLRs (NOTE: these are my rules, not the rules):

Before the Shot

  • Learn your autofocus points: Don't rely on your camera to select an autofocus point because you'll end up with mostly blurry shots. Choosing your autofocus point is easy: select the point where you want the rider's head to be.
  • Turn on AI Servo: Your camera should have several autofocus modes. On Canons, you want to select "AI Servo", which tells your camera to keep focusing as your target moves.
  • Shoot between f/4-f/5.6: I generally shoot between f/4 and f/5.6 when shooting head on, which I can select using either aperture-priority (Av) mode or manual (M) mode. This lets you focus on getting a good, collapsed depth of field that will make the rider stand out. You generally worry about shutter speed when you're trying to get spin-blurry wheels, but you can't see wheels spin head-on.
  • Shoot manual if your camera sucks: I try to shoot in manual mode as much as possible as my metering gets thrown off by the color of the rider's kit. The repeated action of a time trial makes it easy to dial in your aperture and shutter speed manually and then adjust every couple of riders or so. I'll usually shoot the first couple of riders in Aperture Priority mode and select the settings I like best.
  • Longer is better: The longer the focal length you can shoot with, the better you can collapse the depth of field in just around the rider. Ideally I would shoot with a 300mm, but all I can afford is a 70-200mm with a 1.4x extender. Any longer is probably too heavy to lug around, but if you're strong and burly, go for it.
  • If you have good fps, use it: My 40D shoots near 6 frames per second. I usually end up using all of this during time trials. Even if you're a master of getting the shot in focus, so many shots in my reel have to be tossed out because the rider chose to blink at that exact moment. I also find that either I or my camera loses track for a frame, so it's good to know that you have several other good frames available.
  • Try to find a part of the course where you're sure the rider will look up/lean: I have plenty of shots of helmet tops, which get to go right into the trash. Find a course feature that improves your odds, like a crest in the hill or a nice turn. Turns have a couple added bonuses: the rider will lean, which can make for a nice diagonal composition, and the rider has to follow a more defined line around the bend, which makes it easier to predict your composition.
  • Faster riders are much faster, be prepared: Riders like Dave Zabriskie are much faster and DZ in particular likes to go early. You'll get lulled by a bunch of slow riders and suddenly DZ will blow past you.
  • (Canon-specific) Lenses: The 70-200 f/4L lens is a fantastic, relatively low budget lens for shooting time trials. I now use a 70-200 f/2.8L IS for two reasons: image stabilization and the ability to still shoot at f/4 when using a 1.4x II extender. The f/2.8 + 1.4xII setup is about 5x as expensive and isn't 5x better than the 70-200 f/4L. If money is no object, go with a 300mm prime.
  • (Canon-specific) AF Selection Mode: The 30D and 40D both have an "AF Selection Mode" Custom Function. I use this to switch over my autofocus select to the little rocker button. This way I can change my autofocus point very quickly as I'm looking through the viewfinder. Often I've been able to take several different framings of a shot as the rider approaches.

During the Shot

  • Keep that autofocus point on their face: lock your arms in good, hold the camera steady, and do whatever you can to keep that autofocus point on the rider's face as they come at you. Don't go for the helmet as that can be an inch in front of the rider's face, which will throw off close-in shots. As the rider moves past you, you'll have to start rotating faster, so be prepared.
  • Quick draw a second camera: If you have the rider on a hill, you may have enough time to get a side shot using a second camera with a wider lens (the 200mm is going to be too long for this). Do this if you can as it gives you two entirely different shots of the rider to work with. If you take a slow-speed panning shot, you'll blur the background enough to make it look like you were in a different spot.

So, to summarize, get a lens 200mm or longer, choose a good spot on course, put your camera in manual (M) or aperture-priority (Av) mode -- go manual if your metering sucks, set it between f/4 and f/5.6, set your autofocus point, put it in AI Servo mode, and fire off as many frames as you can get while keeping the autofocus spot on their face. For bonus points, quickly grab your other camera and get off a side shot.

That's it for this set of tips. If there are others you're interested, please feel free to drop me a line.

Liz Kreutz Profile


The Canon Professional Network has profiles of several pro photographers up, including Discovery Channel photographer Liz Kreutz. You may recognize her work from The Paceline. Liz was one of several photographers who was generous with mentoring at the US races I shot this year and its great to be able to read more about how she got into her career. I don't know if its still on her calendar, but she mentioned that she may be shooting the upcoming Beijing Olympics, so look for her work there.

Liz Kreutz: Rolling with the Boys

RBA 5 (and 3)



RBA5.Bruyneel1.web.jpg RBA5.Bruyneel2.web.jpg RBA5.Slipstream.web.jpg RBA3.Horner.web.jpg

Road Bike Action issue 5 came as a pleasant surprise to me. After the Tour of Missouri I thought they were only going to pick up one image: the two-page rear spread up top. They ended up picking up three more, one for a Slipstream article and two for a Johan Bruyneel article. To round out the images above, I included a photo of mine from RBA #3 that I never posted about before.



VeloNews Spread

I got my first photo in VeloNews -- the latest with Hincapie on the cover. It's a two-page "Off the Front" spread showing Scott Moninger riding past a convoy of Missouri Department of Transportation trucks. Obviously I'm happy, but for several reasons:

  1. I've had this goal for a long time.
  2. I almost didn't stop to take the photo. I was in a hurry to get to the finish line of the time trial and drove for several more minutes before I said, "Stupid, that's the shot." One illegal U-turn later I took the photo.
  3. I happened to capture Scott Moninger, who later announced that the Tour of Missouri was his final race. It's nice to be able to pay respect to him, even if unintentionally.

If you're trying to find a copy of the issue, you won't find any at the Borders in Palo Alto :).

The Canon 1D Mark III looks like a sports photographer's dream machine (10fps, highlight protection, live preview), except Rob Galbraith is reporting that it can't autofocus in hot daylight -- quite useless for cycling photography. He's tested 2 production and 1 pre-production model and came up with the same results, and other photographers are checking in with the same problem

I have unrealistic aspirations of owning one of these Mark III beasts, but perhaps it's best I can pretend that I'm holding off my purchase until Canon investigates the problem further.

Going beyond flash camera sync


image by Strobist, flash sync comparisonHere's an interesting item from Strobist for all of you cycling photographers out there: Hacking Your Camera's Sync Speed, Pt. 2.

A lot of cameras (e.g. mine) flash sync at 1/250th sec, which isn't so great if you're shooting handheld at 200mm. With a little knowledge from the Strobist article, you can push it past 1/250th of a second if you can keep the band of the flash on your subject... you might even want to do this on purpose as a way of isolating the fill flash on your subject. Tricky, but do-able, even for cycling action shots:

For instance, if I am shooting BMX bikers going over jumps, I would light the area where they hang in the air and shoot at 1/1000th of a sec with my camera held upside down. Remember, my sweet spot is on the bottom of the frame.

For more details and comparison shots, checkout the full article: Hacking Your Camera's Sync Speed, Pt. 2

Another rider front page


It's a bit of a thrill to see your photos used in the design of riders you follow. I can now add Bobby Julich's site to the list of rider sites that have one of my photos on banner rotation. (Thanks Brent)


zcover.250.jpg Zinio has a three-page preview of Road Bike Action issue 2. Luckily for me, the preview has two of my three photos. The Giant bikes in the spread above is one of my Tour of Cailfornia shots, as is the shot to the right with Levi sprinting to victory in Solvang. As you can tell from the cover, there is a long article from Bob Roll that talks about the Tour of California from start to finish, where you'll also find my shot of Levi's crash in Santa Rosa.

Al told me that he got his subscription in the mail, so I guess the issue should be on newsstands now, if its the sort of newsstand that carries road cycling magazines.

Zinio preview of Road Bike Action

I've known about custom functions since I bought my Canon 30D, but I'm an idiot for not really looking more into them sooner. I guess I was so overwhelmed by how much better the 30D is than a Digital Rebel 300D that I was content with the features I didn't have to dig out documentation to study.

I finally got to perusing through them today using the handy Ken Rockwell 30D guide, which adds some needed editorial to the obtuse custom functions. I won't reproduce his useful guide, but here's what I found most useful (in order):

13 AF Selection Mode: Wow, I can't believe I didn't know about this. This changes everything for me as to how I'll shoot cycling from now on. By changing this to '1: Direct' you can make the little rocker button above the big dial select your autofocus point. Push it to the left, you have the left autofocus point, to the center for center focus, and so on. All other ways of setting the AF point require multiple button pushes, which is hard if you're trying to follow a sprint finish. I should be able to get much better framing with this feature.

15: Shutter Curtain Sync (Flash Mode): 30Ds, by default, fire the flash when the shutter opens. Set to 1st curtain, your subject will have motion trails dancing in front of it (e.g. what you see with most point-and-shoots in 'night' photography mode). Set to rear curtain (2nd curtain), the motion trails will lead to your subject without occluding -- it's a really easy way to do good motion blur shots on a darker day. For cycling, or for most photography for that matter, I can't see why you would ever use anything other than rear curtain (2nd curtain) sync.

08 ISO Expansion (ISO 3200 Enable): why wouldn't you enable this? If you can't figure out that ISO 3200 is going to be very noisy, you shouldn't own a 30D.

01 SET function when shooting: Basically, it makes the SET button actually do something, and I decided to make it jump directly to the Picture Style menu. I don't know if I'll actually use Picture Styles, but this is the easiest way to test them out.

16: Safety Shift in Av or Tv: If your photo is going to under/overexpose, this feature will bump your aperture or shutter speed to compensate and get the correct exposure. I generally don't have this problem, so I don't know if this will be useful or not. What I actually need is a safety shift for camera shake, i.e. something that keeps the shutter speed above 1/250 if I'm shooting in Av mode with my 70-200 f/4.

Strobe info roundup


I'm planning on doing more MTB work in the future and it's pretty hard to do that without a flash. You can usually rely on the pavement in road cycling to reflect enough light onto rider's faces (or something close enough for Photoshop), but try to do the same in MTB and you'll often end up with faces entirely in shadow. At the Sea Otter cross country race I saw one photographer with three off-camera strobes setup to freeze each rider as he/she passed. Another photographer had only two and really wished he had brought out that third to light up that last remaining patch.

Another reason to learn how to use your flash: catalog work pays much better than race work and most cycling magazine covers are set shots with well-planned lighting (off camera lighting, near-twilight, etc...).

I'm pretty flash ignorant. I'm waiting to order my very first external flash -- the Canon 580EX II -- and I've only used the on-camera flash most sparingly. I've been reading up on the Web and thought I'd share the results.

  • Strobist: David/Strobist has one of the best blogs among the 100+ in my feed reader. It's practically a book on lighting with strobes as various entries feature case studies of his work ("On Assignment"), tutorials, and sampling of great photos on Flickr.
  • Remotes with Dave Miralle: the Strobist has inspired me to pick up a pair of PocketWizards when the dough finally starts rolling in. Further pushing me towards that puchase is Getty Photo's Dave Miralle teaching a class on how to shoot with remotes. The creativity of where you can stick a camera if you don't have to press the shutter impresses me. Dave Miralle's video is one of many on, which is generally a useful site for all things sports photography, even if it doesn't really feature cycling.
  • Dave Black: Fill Flash Techniques: it's a short little tutorial surveying Dave Black's work and that's why I like the link. Rear curtain sync, zoom flash, gobos, and all the other basic techniques are briefly illustrated.
  • Canon 580EX II: this doesn't fit in with the links above, but I thought I'd point out why I've got an itchy trigger finger for buying this flash. Compared to its predecessors it's quieter (I hate flash recycle noise), 20% faster, and more weather-proof. It is also the first Canon flash of the modern age to feature a PC socket, which will save me the need for silly adapters when I buy my Pocket Wizards.

Good news (for me)


I just got confirmation that one of my Levi photos from the Tour of California will be on the cover of Road Bike Action issue 2. I also got several photos inside, including the Table of Contents. I don't know when the issue is coming out but I do know that it has gone to press.

With absolutely no conflict of interest, whatsoever, I encourage you all to become Road Bike Action subscribers (only $9.99).

For my Canon 70-200 f/4 lens I keep in my head some approximate equations for calculating depth of field (DOF) at f/4:

200mm: 11.5 / (100/distance)2
70mm: 89 / (100/distance)2

These equations look difficult, but if you keep to easy distances you can rough it out. For example:

200mm @ 10ft: 11.5/(100/10)2 = 11.5/100 ~= 0.1 ft
200mm @ 25ft: 11.5/(100/25)2 = 11.5/16 ~= 0.7 ft

To convert to other f-stops, you simply multiply (e.g. f/8 is twice f/4).

When shooting with the 70-200, the DOF tells you whether you're going to be shooting a lone rider, a pack, or a really-in-focus gear shift. My Tour of California photos from last year are full of examples of overly optimistic DOFs for my slow Digital Rebel and trigger finger.

Chris Horner nears the finish-1 Ekimov nears the finish-1

above left: Horner's chest logo and thigh are in focus, but not much else. above right: I got luckier catching Ekimov's face, but the DOF is only about the length of his hands. If I had used a larger DOF, I wouldn't have tossed away as many shots. An alternative is to get a better camera, which I did.

My new 16-35 is adjusting my way of thinking on this. I can't extend my previous equation because at 100 ft, the DOF is infinity. In fact, at f/2.8:

16mm @ 10ft: DOF 21.4ft
16mm @ 5ft: DOF 3.52
16mm @ 1ft (minimum distance): DOF 0.12ft

At less than 5ft, it might be worth remembering, but a more useful calculation will probably be the hyperfocal distance:

When the lens is focused on the hyperfocal distance, the depth of field extends from half the hyperfocal distance to infinity. -- Photography, Phil Davis, 1972. source

Instead of trying to put one thing in focus, this is the distance to think about for putting everything in focus. For my 16-35mm this breaks down to:

16mm @ f/2.8: 15.7ft
35mm @ f/2.8: 74.9ft

This is much easier to remember and calculate than DOF. To get hyperfocal distance for other f-stops you divide (f/5.6 = half f/2.8).

This isn't field tested, but I'm thinking that it will be more useful to trade DOF for hyperfocal distance when I'm getting my 16-35mm shots. We'll see how it all works out after its inaugural run this weekend.

Thanks to the ever useful online DOF calculator

Branching out with a new lens


canon1635II.jpgThe newest lens in my small arsenal is the recently released Canon 16-35 f/2.8 II. Its bigger, badder, and more expensive than its predecessor. The Mark I was known for being a bit soft at the edge, so much so that some people have gone for the half-as-expensive 17-40 f/4 instead. The Mark II helps re-justify the 16-35's greater price tag. Of course, none of that really matters if you're shooting with a Canon 10/20/30D or Digital Rebel -- the 1.6x crop factor of those cameras cuts off all the fuzzy bits -- but lenses outlast the bodies they're attached to. One day I hope to have a full-frame camera for shooting architecture.

I was in a bit of a rush to get this lens because I want to break it in at Sea Otter this weekend. The wideness will be more useful for MTB shots and will also help me get some nice panoramas of Laguna Seca. It will also be useful for road shots where I'm standing really close to the action.

Rather than recommend the same course of action to others, I'll list the pros and cons I debated in choosing this rather extravagant purchase.


  • f/2.8 is fast and you'll need if you are planning on shooting in the woods or in bad weather
  • better edge sharpness than the Mark I, though not applicable for 1.6x crop cameras
  • 1.6mm wider than the 17-40mm f/4L on a 1.6x crop camera


  • $300-400 more than the Mark I
  • Over twice as expensive as the 17-40mm f/4L. In fact, you could almost buy a 17-40mm f/4L and a 70-200 f/2.8L for the same price.

I love my 30D


For the past several years I've been shooting with Rebels -- I even wrote a guide for using the Digital Rebel, which attempted to codify all my accumulated knowledge at its limitations. I felt like I learned a lot using the Rebel, enough to write a whole entry about it. When you're trying to manual focus a time trialist, you quickly learn to how to keep the rest of the variables under control.

This past July I treated myself to a Canon 30D and I can't say that I miss 'ole Rebel. I knew from the Pescadero Road Race and Burlingame Criterium that I had purchased a big upgrade, but it wasn't until the Tour of California prologue that I had a real comparison. Hopefully some of the improvement is due to gaining more experience this past year, but look at last year's photos in comparison to this year's. Last year, Jens Voigt came right across my field of vision and all I got was this crummy shot. This year I couldn't track him because he was riding too close to the barrier. He popped out at the last second and my autofocus grabbed him for this shot. Any questions?

What would Graham do?


I titled this entry "What Would Graham Do?" but obviously this entry is not written nor endorsed by Graham Watson, so at best it's more of a "What Does Ken Think Graham Would Do?"Why write an entry like this when most of the information here is gleaned from the "Ask Graham" section of GW's Web site? Well, after clicking 70+ times to gather this same information for my own research, I thought it worthwhile to perhaps save someone else's time in doing the same. The layout of GW's Web site leaves much to be desired. Read on if you're interested.