The Tour of California – and how hard it is to shoot cycling

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For Stage 4 of the Amgen Tour of California, I played a small part for my news organization’s coverage, staking out a turn in downtown Modesto with a couple of cameras. If I learned anything, it was how hard it is to shoot the fast-moving sport of cycling.

I was parked under the billowy leaves of a huge tree at the north end of 16th Street in Modesto, a decent position until the clouds came about an hour ahead of the riders’ arrival. It stayed overcast through the end of the race, and I was worried that my images would be too dark.

I had my Canon zoom set wide, and I used the burst mode to capture as much of the action as I could. I also carried an aging Fuji Finepix S9000 with a busted blaster, so I saved it for some cross-my-fingers single shots. The images from my Canon were a bit dark but salvageable, nothing special. This was my first attempt at shooting a cycling race, and I was startled at how quickly the riders passed.

I had one lucky shot with the Fuji — of Lance Armstrong cruising along in the final lap at the head of a bunch of riders. It wasn’t a great image, but I’d managed to capture Lance, one of my objectives for the day.

Unexpectedly, my best images were from my tripod-mounted Flip video camera. I just turned it on and let it roll as the riders made each of their three finishing circuits. The footage was clear, and even the sound was surprisingly good. My Flip is about a year old — a standard definition model that continues to impress me with its capabilities.

I’m hoping the tour comes back to Modesto next year. I’ll be better trained and better positioned to capture the action.

2 thoughts on “The Tour of California – and how hard it is to shoot cycling

  1. Sometimes I think it takes a little bit of luck and a whole lot of practice.

    I saw an amazing photo from last year’s race in Santa Rosa. The people were blurred (both sides of the road) and the racers were clear. Since it was raining (as this year), the photo captured the moment perfectly.

    So, good luck!

    – Caroline

    1. Thanks! You’re absolutely right – practice and luck are the right combination. And I’m pretty sure the more you practice, the luckier you get.

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