Category: Photography

October 4, 2011

LGF Remix (Playing with Lightroom 3)

I purchased Lightroom 3 yesterday, so naturally I played around with some of the LGF photos that I had already processed. Most of the edits I did were things I could have accomplished in Lightroom 2, though 3 feels a little more 'responsive'. The main improvements are the much, much better noise reduction options, better post-crop vignette options, and grain additions. Also, you can now add an image watermark without having to install plugins. When I get more time, I'll play with the lens correction features.

When I edit my reel, I usually try to spend < 30 seconds per photo; because I was playing with LR3 I got to pull a little more out of these photos than usual, so I thought I'd share the remixes.

Down - (c) Ken Conley
Kings Ridge Tree - (c) Ken Conley
Kings Ridge - (c) Ken Conley
To the coast - (c) Ken Conley

March 22, 2011

Paved Mag Issue 2


Paved Magazine issue 2 is out with a photo I took at San Rafael Twilight on the cover. Paved is a great mag, especially if you like cycling photos, so buy a copy!

March 18, 2010

VeloNews Race & Ride Guide


Cover by yours truly.

February 20, 2010

Sportvelo Training Camp 2010

Sportvelo Training Camp

Dan Smith's Sportvelo training camp is my usual warmup for the season -- with the camera, not the bike, though I did have an embarrassingly out-of-shape ride with them on their final day. I shoot a lot less in the winter, so the training camp is a good chance to start finding my flow again.

This camp was especially "rough" as I got a brand new Canon 7D. This was literally the first time I took it out shooting. The control system is very different from the 40D, and I definitely had some issues early in the day finding the right controls to move through. That said, the new control system for the 7D is much better, even if I still don't know what half the buttons do yet. The on/off and scrollwheel lock are no longer the same button, and both have been redesigned to not be so easily "bumped" while the camera rests against your body.

The biggest improvement is the new AF system. There are a lot more AF points to select from, which also means more sensors to precisely track a moving rider. I found the focus to be much more snappy and responsive, even in my rustiness and unfamiliarity with the camera. Another nice touch shows up when you go to review the photos: the camera draws boxes where the AF points focused, which means that you can tell more easily whether or not your shot is going to be in focus or not. For cycling this is important: there's a big difference between the AF hitting a rider's face and hitting a rider's shoulder, and this shows you when you missed.

Photo gallery

February 9, 2010

Procycling February 2010

Procycling Feb 2010 Procycling Feb 2010 Procycling Feb 2010 Procycling Feb 2010 Procycling Feb 2010 Procycling Feb 2010 Procycling Feb 2010

I got eleven photos in the most recent issue of Procycling, in both the Joe Parkin interview and a Levi's Gran Fondo article. The Joe Parkin interview was especially fun -- it's not often that I get to shoot less than a mile from my house at the local coffee shop. If I screwed that up I would be packing my camera bags up for good.

It's a bit of a surprise -- I knew I had been picked up in two articles, but I didn't expect them to be in the same issue. It's harder for my work to appear across the pond due to my more limited time commitments, so this is a nice way of ending the dry spell.

It wouldn't have been possible without some American writers pointing out my work. Thanks Gary Boulanger and Jason Sumner!

I just finished reading Joe Parkin's A Dog in a Hat, from VeloPress. I highly recommend it as a semi-dark, yet funny and unsentimental look at being an American bike racer in Belgium in the 80s. I meant to write up a full review of it, but this will have to do until time frees up.

May 7, 2009

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.

February 27, 2009

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.

February 3, 2009

RBA Jan/Feb 09 Armstrong


This one is actually from the previous issue but I forgot to post it. You should be seeing a lot more Lance photos here soon enough. Thien pointed out to me that I am now officially a "Contributing Photographer" to Road BIke Action (an upgrade from occasional freelancer), which I was honored to see. You should pick up the current issue because Bay Area photographer Larry Rosa has a sweet 2-pager "Last Shot."

September 27, 2008

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.

September 20, 2008

Interbike Prep

2009 Catalog Vanderkitten TearsheetI'll be doing Interbike for the first time this year, so it's only fitting that it's become the biggest event on my calendar this year. All those Friday nights at Hellyer Velodrome and the SF Twilight Crit have been to tune up my flash work for Cross Vegas and the USA Crits Finals. The main event, though, is actually shooting the tradeshow. I'll be taking photos for the Virtual Tradeshow Booths on MTBR and RoadbikeReview. Needless to say, I've been stocking up on batteries as I've never had to shoot all day, then shoot a race. That's Vegas, Baby!

I also managed to land the cover of the Vanderkitten 2009 Clothing brochure, just in time for its Interbike debut. It's technically an apparel shot though I was actually concerned with framing the "LOVE YOU" on the handlebars well, which would make it a handlebar shot. But from the traffic stats I know it's neither.

There should be more work of an apparel nature appearing elsewhere soon, which stretched the limits of my sanity. That perhaps sounds too exciting, but I will just add that my only solution for figuring out how to shoot clothing was to drape it on a bike. I'm very limited as a photographer.

August 6, 2008

Storck Absolutist 0.9 Photos


You may have noticed the Storck Absolutist 0.9 photos appearing in my Flickr photostream. I got a bit corny with the photo above going for the visual pun, "The Storck Takes Flight," aka the E.T. shot. I was looking to take a different shot as I despise catalog-y shots, so I raised the bike up and shot upwards. You'll also find a flash-fade experiment -- shooting faster than flash sync speed so you see the light wave -- in the set as well. Thien keeps telling me ever since I shot the Look Mondrian bike that I have a "Ken Conley" shot, so I try to defy him however I can.

I'm wrapping up the test riding and will start writing up the review for RoadbikeReview soon. You'll have to wait for that to get the official word, but I will say that I shattered some PRs on the bike.

I also shot the new Look 2009 line: 566, 576, 596, and 966. They are some beautiful bikes and I can't help envisioning myself pulling up to the line on a 596. That bike can split a hair. I was never much a fan of the 496, which seemed oddly chunky for a TT bike, but the 596, that's aerodynamic sculpture art. I hope to share those sometime soon.

July 7, 2008

New Road Bike Action Issue, Web site



RBA9.tdg08.Brasstown.Lowe.Levi.jpgThe latest Road Bike Action is out just in time for the Tour de France with plenty of predictions from race and industry experts -- Bob Roll, Kozo Shimano, Jonathan Vaughters, Steve Hed, Fausto Pinarello, Michael Zellman of SRAM, Ming Tan of Look and so on. With Cadel Evans featured on the cover, you can probably guess who the popular pick is, but there were some unorthodox choices as well.

Road Bike Action has also launched, which fills in the two month gap between issues. There's a lot of Tour de France bike articles going on right now as well as a daily Bobke column.

Hubris requires that I point you to the Brasstown Bald article, which features two of the photos you see here. The common -- but unsubstantiated -- rumor right now is that there will be no more Tour de Georgia's, so you may want to read up on one of the US's most (in)famous climbs. The two-page spread of Siutsou looking back at Levi and Lowe was made possible by a 300mm lens lent to me by Paul of Vero Image. I got lucky with the timing: a High Road fan jumped out to run alongside Siutsou as he looked back at Levi, who's gritting his teeth in his Captain America kit. The 300mm really makes sure you can catch moments like this. I'm pretty sure a monkey with two broken hands could take a good shot with that lens.

I also got the Last Shot with a photo of Hincapie drafting off the team car to get back on the paceline during the Road Atlanta warmups. It was my first time on moto -- I had probably been on the bike less than five minutes -- so I was glad I got anything usable there. Even on the smooth race course it was hard to hold my camera still.

May 9, 2008

Latest Road Bike Action - Tour of California 2008

Road Bike Action - Portfolio

I was happy to see this photo get the "Last Shot" honors for the issue -- I spent a whole lotta reel on a whole lotta riders trying to get the exact composition I wanted. As a freelancer for Road Bike Action, I know that I only need to take one good photo a stage -- this is a lot nicer than having to work for a team, where I have to have a gallery's worth of photos, all of riders from one team.

I setup on this corner early in the stage to see if this could be it. There were three basic things I wanted to tie together: the windmill, the tree, and a rider perfectly leaning with the curve of the road. If there were 100 more riders, I probably would have taken 100 more takes, but I needed to start shooting riders' faces instead of behinds as the rider order got higher and higher in the standings.

Road Bike Action - Portfolio

This was a painful shot to take, mostly due to poor planning on my part. I saw a tree up on Trinity Grade and figured it would be the vantage point that would get me the most fan ambiance. I tapped a fan on the shoulder to ask for help getting up the tree -- lo and behold, it was Levi's dad, who made sure I didn't crack a lens (or worse) as I climbed up. I enjoyed chatting with him while up in that tree as well as at the Tour de Georgia.

About twenty minutes later the error in my planning became evident -- the riders weren't going to show up for another half hour, and my thighs were starting to burn. I debated climbing down, but despite skipping Al's core conditioning classes, I somehow thought I had it in me to stay up there. I leaned down in a TT-like position to use my arms to support my weight, but that only made my shoulders hurt as well. By the time Nydam charged up the hill my legs were shaking and my arms were tired, but you don't need much strength to push a shutter button.

Road Bike Action - PortfolioThe last shot I got in the issue was of the Governator and Cipollini, the meeting of their glamorous personalities. I try to remember not to get too bored with podium shots because they're easier to get published. It's pretty easy to pay attention, though, when those two are on stage.

May 8, 2008

Look - Bike porn gets around

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I'm dumbfounded a bit to see my photos of the Look 586 Mondrian circulate on the Web. I originally took the photos as a last-minute favor for a post on roadbikereview. How could I turn down a chance to play with a limited edition (1 of 50) bike way out of my budget?

Now the photos are on the worldwide Look Web site as well as on VeloNews. I've always wanted to get my photos in a VeloNews article, but now I really wish I got every beam of lighting perfect. Such is the nature of hindsight and experience. Next time, next time.

April 20, 2008

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.

March 31, 2008

Latest gear: Aquatech Sports Shield and Battery Grip

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.


March 23, 2008

Cycling Photography Tips: Shooting Head On

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.

March 7, 2008

Some new prints

Levi Leipheimer - (c) Ken Conley Bixby Bridge - (c) Ken Conley

I added some for-sale prints to my gallery. It'll run you about $50 for a 10"x7" print ($130 framed).

February 11, 2008

New photos site:

Those wishing to view my Tour of California photos take note: I will be posting my photos to instead of Flickr this time around. You might see a teaser or two on Flickr, but not much more. I've outlined my reasons as best I could: in brief, I feel that I need to move my professional photos off of Flickr to keep my professional and personal life separate, improve traffic, better link my photos and Spare Cycles, and give me something new to tinker with. I can probably rattle off even more reasons, though I still love Flickr and I apologize to Flickr users that will be inconvenienced.

I've been busier than I had anticipated so is not quite what I had hoped it would be at this point, but it's a start. Suggestions are of course welcome.

January 11, 2008



Every issue of RBA that comes out is happy little surprise for me. Some more of my Levi shots get to see print, including the bottom right one, which is one of my favorites.

January 9, 2008

Integrate Fitness

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Integrate Fitness 2.jpg

My first cycling gallery installation is now in place though still a work in progress. My buddy Al is the proud new owner of Integrate Fitness in Mountain View (across from the San Antonio Shopping Center) and as part of his renovation of the place let me stick up 30+ photos. Its rather like a coffee shop installation, but a better fit for my work as Al is a cyclist and focuses on cycling clientèle, a lot of whom I have photos of from local events.

Its a fairly balanced collection in terms of clients and pros, road and mtb, male and female... though tipped a little more towards road because of the Beat the Clock series, where I've photographed most of his clients. There are also some scenics thrown in of sea turtles and Japan so that people are not constantly confronted with pictures of suffering. The plan is to rotate my collection of pro photos while expanding the photos of his clients and, of course, trying to sell a photo or two. But first I have to get the first series finished: five more prints arrived today to be framed and hung.

I've spent so much time staring at Flickr photosets over the year that I nearly forgot how much better the printed photo is. An LCD monitor cannot match the resolution or dynamic range of photos and so its enjoyable for me to see my work presented in a different -- and better -- way.

Integrate Fitness Gallery

December 16, 2007

Prints + promo sheet

Update: I've setup an Imagekind gallery to place orders. You can order both framed and unframed. As I mentioned below, I'm willing to make _any_ photo I've taken available for prints, so feel free to contact me if you don't see the photo you want. I print a proof of every image at 8"x10" to verify quality before I upload to Imagekind. Also, the offer to sell at cost still stands, though you have to e-mail me first.

My friend Al has hooked me up with some studio space to hang some photos. It will be a mixture of the some of the pro events (Tour of California/Missouri/etc) that I've done plus photos of local athletes from NCNCA events. I've avoided doing prints until now, but since I'm biting the bullet I'll extend the offer to you all: if you would like a print of any of my photos, cycling or otherwise, send me an e-mail and we'll work something out:

I'll do the first couple at cost -- we're talking professionally framed, conservation-quality prints. If there's ample interest, I may try to make some money to fund more cycling expeditions. I'm shamefully posting my promo sheet here as a reminder of some of my work from this year:


November 13, 2007

RBA 5 (and 3)


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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.

October 19, 2007


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 :).

June 21, 2007

Canon 1D Mark III - not the photo-cycling dream machine yet

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.

June 1, 2007

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

May 23, 2007

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)

May 9, 2007

Three photos

I just got my copy of the next issue of and I'm happy to say that I have three photos in the issue: cover, table of contents (T-Mobile bikes), and a small photo (Levi Crash) in the Bob Roll Tour of California summary. The memory is fuzzy, but I probably did a little jig when I opened the envelope with the magazine.

FYI: I'm also credited with a photo I didn't take, but that's another story.

Oh yeah, make sure you buy a copy ;)


May 7, 2007

Canon 30D Custom Functions for Sports Photography

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.

April 14, 2007

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).

April 9, 2007

Trading DOF for hyperfocal distance, aka calculating DOF for 70-200 vs. hyperfocal for 16-35

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.

March 4, 2007

Photo spotting II


Last year a couple of my photos made it onto some rider sites -- Bobby Julich's and Tom Danielson's. This year saw a repeat of that, though I'm enough of a fanboy to find it really cool to see that one of my photos is on Tom Danielson's front page (the webmaster gave it some fun motion streaks).

This year's Flickr crop also made it to Bobby Julich's Stage 5 and Prologue summaries and one of my stage 1 crash photos got some uncredited use on Bernhard Kohl's site.

February 25, 2007

Italian Frown

Basso and Bettini

above: Ivan Basso and Paolo Bettini, frowning

February 19, 2007

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?

May 4, 2006

A couple more photography tips

Fritz of listed some photography tips while pointing out Eric Reagan's new cycling photos blog. In addition to agreeing with those tips, a few I would add are:

Figure out your shot before you take it

Riders are going to fly by you and you aren't going to have much time to react. Know where the riders are going to go on the road and setup your camera in advance. If this is a time trial or criterium, this is fairly easy, otherwise, do you best at predicting. You may also want to pre-meter the shot and dial in your settings manually so that your camera doesn't accidentally under/overexpose. Nothing like getting that perfectly framed shot only to discover that it's blownout.

Try not to shoot from the side of the road (where possible/appropriate)

Fans get in your way and your photo often ends up looking like, well, a shot from the side of the road. If you want to get a great face shot, try to position yourself where the rider is coming almost straight at you. One bit of advice given to me by an official scorer was that it's okay to step out onto the course, but make sure you're out of the way. Out of the way also means out of the way of other photographers -- I've had shots ruined by a 'pro' photographer who thought it was okay to lean on me suddenly while taking my shot.

You can use fill flash

Graham Watson does, which I guess makes it acceptable with the pros. Just be careful how you aim it and make sure you have a good flash. I've seen shots ruined by a bad flash exposure/timing, so you may be better off choosing a spot on the road where the lighting is better. I don't have a good flash, so I generally rely on positioning and using "Adjust ->Shadow and Highlights" in Photoshop Elements to try and bring out some of that shadow detail on the riders.

Send your photos to the riders

Some riders (or rider's webmasters) are good enough at using Flickr to find photos of themselves, but try sending your photos to cyclists or their teams directly. Club teams and even pro teams appreciate having good photos. You never know where they might end up.

More tips

I also have some tips in 'Shooting cycling photographs with a Canon Digital Rebel.'

March 26, 2006

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.

Continue reading "What would Graham do?" »

March 9, 2006

Shooting cycling photographs with a Canon Digital Rebel

Ekimov nears the finish-1It's easier to imagine that we could be like cycling photographer Graham Watson than it is to imagine we could be like Lance Armstrong. I cycle, I take photos, and I take photos of cycling. I know that I will never, ever, do a time trail at 50+km/h. I do believe that, given the exact right lighting conditions, Photoshop, and luck, that I might someday take a photo that looks indistinguishable from a professional photograph. After ten months of practicing and events, that hasn't happened yet, but the three stages of the Tour of California got me a bit closer. I haven't taken a lot of great photos, but I've made plenty of mistakes, and those perhaps are better learning experiences.

So, if you're a novice like me and have a Canon Digital Rebel 300D or similar and want to take better cycling photos with it, perhaps my guide to my mistakes here will help you out.

Continue reading "Shooting cycling photographs with a Canon Digital Rebel" »