October 17, 2010: Minuteman Cycloross Race – Lancaster, MA

A gorgeous day for photographing cyclocross racing: blue sky with just the right amount of clouds, brightly colored foliage and of course lots of action. Not least of which could be found at New England’s first cyclocross flyover.

Held at the Bolton Fairgrounds in Lancaster, MA, hundreds of competitors showed up to race on the course that offered something for everybody: straight power sections, short inclines, tight twisty tuns among trees, a sand pit, mud, barriers and of course, the flyover.

The slide show above shows excerpts from the Juniors, Women, Cat 4, Cat 3 Masters (35/45+), Masters 55+ and Cat 1/2/3 heats. The only heat I didn’t get any photos of was the Cat 4 (35/45+) because I was IN that race and finished 17 in the 45+ and 36th overall.

Full gallery of photos of the Cyclocrossracing.com/Minuteman Cross.

Cyclocross – Bike Racing With Many Twists

What do you get when you take a road bike, replace the skinny tires with ones more like that on a mountain bike, then ride it on a course that forces you to not only get off said bike, but to carry it over obstacles and hazards? Let’s also throw in cold weather, mud, rain and an unrelenting, lung bursting, pace.

Cyclocross is one of the fastest growing segments of bicycle racing in this country. A long time staple of the European cycling scene, this exciting and colorful sport has rapidly gained popularity here in New England and the West Coast with much growth in the Mid-Atlantic and Mid-West. Many of the top-ranked racers are from Massachusetts.

Every August, certain members of my bike club start to lose interest in road racing. This turns into outright mania once September rolls around and the fall ‘cross season gets underway. This year, even I fell under the spell of cyclocross, with only one race under my belt, I am hooked!

(click thumbnail below for larger view)

At races, a home-grown carnival atmosphere abounds. Racers are urged on by cries of, “Hup! Hup! Hup!” (Dutch for “Go! Go! Go!”), the clanging of cowbells and good-natured heckling, which itself is form of sport for some cyclocross fans. You’ll even hear the cyclists yelling back to the hecklers and each other during a race.

Each race day is segmented into categories allowing an entrant to compete against others somewhere in the range of their age and ability. This means there can be nine or more races during the course of a day. Each heat can range from 40 minutes to an hour, depending on the category. This means you get to see a lot action in a short amount of time.

Because of the mostly off-road terrain, crashes are not uncommon but injuries, while not exactly rare, are usually not severe because of the much lower speeds attained. If rain is in the mix of conditions, you can pretty much be guaranteed to see some messy, muddy wipeouts.

Race courses are very spectator (and photographer) friendly: since they are laid out in a way that makes the cyclists double back in tight, twisting turns, one can often see a lot of the course from a single vantage point. You are allowed to walk right up to the edge of the racecourse just about anywhere along the route. And with little effort, you can see the whole race by moving around the course a bit.

The schedule of races is fairly full from mid-September through Thanksgiving in New England, offering a race or two nearly every weekend, some mid-week races and at least one additional race in early December. In warmer parts of the country, racing continues through the winter.

Faces of Night Weasels – click for larger view

The Science of Drag Shutter

Student intern at Umass Memorial cancer research lab

EXPOSURE INFO: Canon 40D, 16-35 f/2.0L, 1/2 sec @ f/9.0, ISO 100, two Pocket Wizard triggered Quantum Q flashes at 1/4 power, cross-lighting subjects from the sides

This was a fun assignment to shoot a magazine cover of an independent high school student who did an internship at a cancer research lab. It was also a great exercise in building up to a final shot by adapting to the conditions on site.

There were a number of things I wanted to convey in this shot. First of all, even though he was still in high school, this was serious and meaningful work the student intern was doing. Hence the “game faces” they are all wearing.

I also wanted to give some indication that the lab was pretty large – this was complicated by the fact that the space was divided up into narrow sections by the counters and shelves you see on either side of the subjects. I opted for elevating the camera position, by way of a short step ladder, to allow the viewer to see the rows of each lab section converging into the distance above the subject’s heads.

Lighting was tough. Since it was to be the cover shot, I really wanted to shoot as low an ISO as I could to avoid noise. I also wanted enough DOF to get the three subjects in focus. At f/9.0 and ISO 100 with a typical sync speed of 1/125th, the background would have gone way too dark so I let the shutter drag all the way down to 1/2 sec to bring the background values back up.

After taking a few frames to tweak the lighting ratio between the strobes and the existing light, I took a series of shots with the camera locked down tight… these just didn’t provide the drama I was looking for so I started taking more shots while slightly jiggling the camera during the exposure which knocked the background a bit out of focus. The strobes kept the subjects nice and sharp. Since you never can tell all of the consequences of doing drag shutter shots just by chimping them on the camera’s LCD, it’s necessary to capture a lot of images to ensure you get some that are good enough.

The shot I chose here is slightly cropped at the top (I left extra space for the magazine title), I punched up the vibrance and added an edge darkening vignette in Lightroom.

Outtakes That Work

portrait outtake

EXPOSURE INFO: Canon 30D, 100mm 2.8 macro, 1/200th sec @ f11, ISO 200

San Francisco, CA – The task of “culling” patently bad shots out of the mass of images you’ve made usually is a pretty cut-and-dry procedure: totally black or white images, shots of your feet, up your nose, extremely blurry or unflattering shots are easily dispensed with and you then move on to the business of finding wheat amonst the chaff in the resulting collection.

There are times when an image that, under the parameters of your assignment, is certainly not fit for delivery to your client but nevertheless has some sort of visual appeal of its own. This is one of those images.