Cyclocross Photography - A Guide To Taking Great CX Images

Cyclocross- Muddy Fun For Riders And Photographers

Cyclocross offers an opportunity for a photographer to have some fun in the winter mud. CX photos can show a story that's more than just a rider on a screen like the trail of mud above
Cyclocross offers an opportunity for a photographer to have some fun in the winter mud. CX photos can show a story that's more than just a rider on a screen like the trail of mud above | Source

Cyclocross Photography Tips. Techniques And Skills To Take Great Photos

Cyclocross is the new rock and roll!

Across the globe cyclocross is gaining in popularity due to it's ease of access and simple format. Cyclocross is also a great opportunity for the sports photographer to obtain some unique cycling photo's due to the varied and often technical nature of cyclocross events.

Cyclocross is a branch of competitive cycling which is growing rapidly in popularity due to it's accessibility and being immensely good fun at a time of year when riders are looking for opportunities outside their usual summer racing schedule.

Cyclocross combines the speed and fluidity of road cycling with the rugged and more technical aspects of mountain biking over the often quieter winter months. Throw in a potential double helping of mud and the possibility of plenty of accidents it has the potential to be a dream event for a sports photographer.

Cyclocross is one of the few sports you'll get to photograph where you could have professional athletes in the same event as complete newcomers to the sport. It's a sport that everyone can be involved with no matter their age or relative fitness levels which gives an inclusive element for a photographer to capture.

The winter sporting nature can also be captured in the conditions with elements of mud, wet weather and on occasions, snow. This not only challenges the rider but the photographer to use their camera to the best of it's abilities whether it's a compact, bridge or more complicated DSLR.

Please be aware all images (except one where cropped as stated) are untouched photographs as taken by Liam Hallam of Atkins and Hallam Photography and should not be reproduced without permission.

Get low down and shoot up at riders

Cyclocross riders tend to concentrate on the ground that's around 10-20 meters in front of them so they're mostly looking downwards towards the floor. Therefore if you're aiming to capture a riders' face whilst racing it makes sense to shoot from low down to the floor.

Go low for great facial images and expressions and be creative. In the mud it's not always practical to lay down on the floor. However a sheet of tarpaulin may help you and can be picked up from supermarkets and garden centres for a few dollars. Lay it on the floor and you can then potentially lay or kneel down safe in the knowledge you're not going to be caked in mud.

Events are often in public parks- making for some interesting crowd participation and the occasional bizarre photo

As races are often in unrestricted public parks the locals can make for some interesting shots. This lady started to walk across oblivious to the action just as Dieter Droger of Dirtwheels rode through
As races are often in unrestricted public parks the locals can make for some interesting shots. This lady started to walk across oblivious to the action just as Dieter Droger of Dirtwheels rode through | Source

Dressing Right For Cyclocross Photography

The cyclocross racing season generally runs from September through the January/ February depending on the region and local racing calendars.

This means that as a photographer you could start the season taking images on a blazing hot summer day. Although later in the racing season the weather gets colder with wintry conditions involving lots of rain or even snow and frost. Therefore a cx photographer must be prepared for the elements as if you're not comfortable, nor will your photos be!

A Winter Kitlist For Cyclocross Photography

If you're stood round in cold, wet, or even snowy, wintry conditions you need to feel comfortable to be able to take some great images

Every outdoor sports photographer should ideally own some of the following

  • Good quality waterproof jacket- Ideally loose fitting to fit over other layers to keep you dry in the worst of conditions
  • Waterproof Trousers- All that mud can get kicked up by the riders and covers a photographer up close. A good quality pair of waterproof trousers can be a life saver when stuffed in a bag compartment to keep you dry in the event of a storm

  • Warm Down Jacket- In the middle of a cold winter a photographer has to keep warm and a good quality down jacket is a photographers best friend. Light to carry but ultra warm for those cold days.
  • Sturdy Walking Boots- you're going to have to wander around in the mud to get some great shots so a good sturdy pair of waterproof walking boots is a sound investment for any outdoor minded sports photographer.

Cyclocross Photography is an opportunity to try something different

During a cyclocross race you'll be passed around 6-10 times by each rider on the course so you have the opportunity to take a large number of photographs. This allows you to try new perspectives with your camera throughout a race to see what works and what doesn't.

You don't have to have the rider in full within the centre of the shot for it to be a great image. The image below shows just half a rider and no bike- yet it works. You can see in the background the curve that the rider has come around and his face shows exactly where his direction is- even if the bike doesn't appear to be going in quite the same direction as the rider is looking. A great cyclocross photography tip is to focus on the action- wherever it is happening.

Traditional style cycling shots work well of rider and bike. Especially if you're looking at selling images to riders

Every cyclist likes to see a traditional image of themself, riding the bike- especially if they have a new bike. It also makes many a photographer money and friends. Featured Carl Dyson of Clay Cross RT
Every cyclist likes to see a traditional image of themselves, riding the bike- especially if they have a new bike. It also makes many a photographer money and friends. Featured Carl Dyson of Clay Cross RT | Source

There's always a trade off between what the rider wants to see and what a photographer wants to show

If you're taking cyclocross images with a view to making some money from riders it makes sense to ask them what they like to see.

From experience, many riders like to see a traditional solo shot of themselves riding their bike where they're the main focus of the image (see below image as an example). These images work well if you take the image from the riders right where you will capture the cyclocross bike with it's chainset showing. These are the images that riders really like to see in cyclocross races as their bike is their pride and joy.

However as a photographer you have a dilema. What you consider to be a good shot might not showcase a rider. If you're looking to earn money from riders aim to capture them with the full bike as the priority. If you're looking at improving as a photographer and not to take money a race offers opportunities to try things out that are completely different.

But sometimes you can tell more about a race by taking a different image

The mud and tracks can tell more of a story than a  full size image of a cyclist on their bike. It's a battle between your creative urges and money-making images
The mud and tracks can tell more of a story than a full size image of a cyclist on their bike. It's a battle between your creative urges and money-making images | Source

Great lenses for Cyclocross Photography

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Standard AutoFocus Fixed Lens - International Version (No Warranty)
Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Standard AutoFocus Fixed Lens - International Version (No Warranty)

Get up close to the action with a fast portrait lens for some awesome up close cyclocross images

 
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM Telephoto Zoom Lens for Canon SLR Cameras
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM Telephoto Zoom Lens for Canon SLR Cameras

O r get yourself a professional level f4 telephoto zoom lens to really capture the cyclocross action from a great distance away.

 

Photography rules can be broken. Not all images must be perfect

If you're new to digital photography or simply learning how to use a DSLR camera- a cyclocross race could be a great Saturday afternoon in the park.

Digital cameras allow such scope with your photographs that you can take a chance on how an image may look and simply delete the file if it's not quite to your liking.

As the action is up close you could consider using a nice, fast portrait style lens and really get close to the action. Usually when you're involved in sports photography you need a good quality zoom lens. Consider something like a 50mm f1.8 basic portrait lens and really get up close to the action as the rider flies by.

Or alternately you could decide to find a central point which is a fair distance from the action to get used to perfecting your photography skills with a zoom lens like Canons awesome 75-200 mm F4 which is a great professional lens for the sports photographer on a budget.

You don't have to show the whole rider or bike for a good image

Sometimes you don't have to focus on the whole rider for the shot to work like this image of Clay Cross RT's Gareth Whittall.
Sometimes you don't have to focus on the whole rider for the shot to work like this image of Clay Cross RT's Gareth Whittall. | Source

Facebook profile images mean you can take shots from a distance that work in social media

Cyclists love images of themselves and are also very active on social media such as Facebook and Twitter. This gives a photographer an opportunity to provide images for cyclists profiles. These often don't have to be your best work however from a distance you can show perspectives and details of conditions which may get lost in tight, up close photographs.

The photography below is an original uncropped image which has then been cropped to showcase the cyclcross rider for their Facebook account.

Facebook and social media crop images for perspective

A rider from Ashfield RC take from a distance while cyclocross racing
A rider from Ashfield RC take from a distance while cyclocross racing | Source
A cropped photograph as typically shown on social media such as a facebook profile image
A cropped photograph as typically shown on social media such as a facebook profile image | Source

Look for obstacles on the course for interesting images

Courses feature unique aspects for riders to master which provide great cyclocross photography opportunities. Featured: Jake Womersley of Sportscover.com
Courses feature unique aspects for riders to master which provide great cyclocross photography opportunities. Featured: Jake Womersley of Sportscover.com | Source

Faces can tell a story in cyclocross racing

Faces show the very human element of performance in cyclocross racing. Some riders will really be an image of pain and suffering as they push themselves through muddy fields. Some riders may even look as though they're out for a Sunday morning cruise.

One of the things you'll see in every racer is a look of concentration- their eyes following where they're aiming to go on the course as their body may be struggling to make the bike follow.

There's an element of portrait photography in capturing the human element of cyclocross photography. A good image of a rider will tell many stories and have a backstory that the photographer may be able to sell to their viewers.

Sometimes you can tell a rider is suffering from their face alone

Riders often show you how they're feeling in their face and facial expression. As this rider gulps in air to stay ahead of the guy behind you can tell he's suffering
Riders often show you how they're feeling in their face and facial expression. As this rider gulps in air to stay ahead of the guy behind you can tell he's suffering | Source

Concentrate on riders' faces to show the pain, suffering and concentration

You can tell a lot from a riders face. David Fletcher of Orangemonkey- Cannondale looks cool, calm and in controlled concentration while leading a cyclocross race
You can tell a lot from a riders face. David Fletcher of Orangemonkey- Cannondale looks cool, calm and in controlled concentration while leading a cyclocross race | Source

Sometimes just the mud looks good in moody black and white

Sometimes just a track in the mud will look arty. Especially in black and white- especially when taken at ground level
Sometimes just a track in the mud will look arty. Especially in black and white- especially when taken at ground level | Source

Consider shooting in black and white for a moody monochrome look

When you're experimenting with your photography consider shooting cyclocross in black and white as the cold, miserable winter often leads to flat tones which could be improved with a moody monochrome edge.

If using a DSLR or Bridge camera you could play around with your aperture size (f stops) to let you experiment with which levels of light work for your cyclocross photography. Darker shades add a distinctly rough edge to some images but too dark simply doesn't work.

Black and white adds a distinct rugged edge to cyclocross in winter

Monochrome works well with winter cyclocross racing
Monochrome works well with winter cyclocross racing | Source

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