How To Photograph A Cycling Time Trial

Learn to use your dslr camera and it's capabilities for photographing cycling time trials. Sherwood CC Rider aboard a Trek TTX aero bike with Zipp Wheels
Learn to use your dslr camera and it's capabilities for photographing cycling time trials. Sherwood CC Rider aboard a Trek TTX aero bike with Zipp Wheels | Source

A guide to striking Time Trial Photography

A time trial is the ultimate in individual cycling performance and suffering to a competitive or recreational cyclist.

Capturing great cycling images is an art in itself, however when you capture a time trial cyclist in full flow the images can look amazing.

This article will show you how to take great cycling time trial photography. Showing you how to concentrate on photography of the aero time trial bicycles and their riders to take great time trial cycling images that the riders will appreciate and enjoy.

If you're photographing a time trial theirs a likelihood that you will want to share the images with others. Whether they're clubmates, friends, or you'd like to sell some of the images: it's imperative that your cycling photo's look good and showcase the rider.

Taking great time trial photo's is often trial and error. However the fact that it's likely that you could have around a minutes time gap between photographing riders gives you the opportunity to experiment with focal lengths, different lenses, apertures, shutter speeds and f stops to potentially capture fantastic time trial photographs.

Know the course to establish where to take your time trial photographs

Before you start it's ideal to have a knowledge of the course. Particularly you need to think about places where you'll be able to get a good photograph.

  • Look for open areas with good light sources
  • Consider flatter sections of road where the time trial competitor is in their aerodynamic tuck position for great images.
  • Try not to stand and photograph riders on steep climbs as out of the saddle riding in a skin suit will show any excess 'baggage' a rider is carrying.
  • Stay away from downhill ultra-fast sections which will give you minimal time to get in position to take a shot
  • Try to refrain from shooting images while driving- this is unsafe for the riders and any other road users

Use a fast shutter speed to freeze time trial cycling action

High shutter speeds freeze cycling action for great photo's. This rider on a Basso Astra Bicycle was shot at a shutter speed of 1/640 sec at f 4.0 with an ISO 400 using a Canon EOS 500D with a Tamron 55-200 mm lens at 114 mm focal length
High shutter speeds freeze cycling action for great photo's. This rider on a Basso Astra Bicycle was shot at a shutter speed of 1/640 sec at f 4.0 with an ISO 400 using a Canon EOS 500D with a Tamron 55-200 mm lens at 114 mm focal length | Source

Shutter Speeds and f-stops for Cycling Photography

DSLR Shutter Speeds for time trial photography

Using a DSLR or older SLR camera for cycling allows the photographer to manipulate shutter speed settings depending on how they wish to take a photograph. Generally in it's 'Sport' mode a DSLR will take photographs at a shutter speed of between 1/500 th of a second to 1/1000th of a second. This is great for freezing the time trial cyclist in action.

F-stop values for time trial photography.

Your f stop value on the dslr camera corresponds to your depth of field capabilities of your images. If you want your cyclist to be in focus and then their background to haze off into the distance consider a relatively low f-stop of around 4-6 depending on the capability of your dslr lens.

If you want to see the whole of the background in focus consider a much higher f-stop value of around f-12 or higher. As with any photography it's what the photographer feels will work best for the image. If there is a very interesting background you'd like to showcase as part of the photo consider a higher f-stop value for your time trial photo's.

A great lens for controlling f-stop values for cycling photos

Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM Medium Telephoto Lens for Canon SLR Cameras - Fixed
Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM Medium Telephoto Lens for Canon SLR Cameras - Fixed

Outstanding control of f-stops up from f1-8 for great cycling photography. The 85 mm focal length brings the rider in closer to you for great time trial images

 

Time Trial Photography: Capture riders from the side to show their aerodynamic position on the bicycle

Capture time trial cyclists in their aero position for great photo's. Bike featured is a Felt DA Time Trial Frameset with Planet X carbon wheels
Capture time trial cyclists in their aero position for great photo's. Bike featured is a Felt DA Time Trial Frameset with Planet X carbon wheels | Source

Concentrate on capturing the rider in an aerodynamic postion

While in an aerodynamic tuck position a time trial cyclist is at their most visually appealing to the viewer. Cyclists love to see photographs of themselves side ways on to really showcase their riding position on the bicycle and these cycling photographs are often some of the most striking time trial images to be seen.

Time Trial cyclists also love to check their riding position when under duress so these photographs are extremely useful to riders in checking how well their aero bike fits them and any adjustments they may need to consider.

Get up close for great time trial photography. Showcase the rider

Showcasing the rider for great time trial images. Featuring a cyclist in a Spiuk Kronos Aero Helmet with visor
Showcasing the rider for great time trial images. Featuring a cyclist in a Spiuk Kronos Aero Helmet with visor | Source

Great telephoto zoom lenses for time trial photography

Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Lens for Canon EOS SLR Cameras
Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Lens for Canon EOS SLR Cameras

For Canon Dslr's this fast telephoto zoom will help you get up close to the action and take fantastic time trial photo's

 
Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 DG Macro Telephoto Zoom Lens for Nikon SLR Cameras (Discontinued by Manufacturer)
Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 DG Macro Telephoto Zoom Lens for Nikon SLR Cameras (Discontinued by Manufacturer)

A great simple long range telephoto zoom lens for capturing time trial photographs from distance. Great for beginners

 

Get up close and concentrate on the rider

Sometimes you simply do not need to see a photograph that shows the cyclist on their bike in unison. Sometimes you don't need to see the whole bike in focus to be a great cycling photograph.

You can either do this by using a telephoto style lens which can help you really get close to the action despite being relatively far away. For many cycling photographers a great choice of lens is a 70-200 mm lens or a 70-300 mm lens which means you can get really close on the action despite being stood 20-30 feet away from the riders.

When aiming up close try to concentrate on one aspect of the rider. The face is usually a good idea as no two cyclists show the pain and suffering of a time trial in the same way. Some can be cool and under control (like pictured above) and some riders can often look close to deaths door as they strive to drain all the possible energy out of their body in pursuit of a fast ride.

Learn how to pan for amazing time trial photography. Panning Photography for fast cycling images

Click thumbnail to view full-size
A Cervelo P4 with Zipp Disc and 808 front wheel in a panning photography shotA Mapperley CC cyclist on his Specialized Aero bicycle. You don't always need to put the cyclist in the middle of the frame as part of panning photographyA rider aboard a Planet X Exocet Time Trial Bike in a panning photography shotA triathlete on a Specialised Time Trial Bike looking fast in a panning imageA Sherwood CC rider aboard an Austrailian Teschner Time Trial framesetPanning Photography of cycling- you don't need the cyclist as a whole in the frame to show the impression of speedA rider aboard a fixed wheel time trial bike- a Planet X Carbon Track bike which has been adapted with tri-bars and brakes for legal road use
A Cervelo P4 with Zipp Disc and 808 front wheel in a panning photography shot
A Cervelo P4 with Zipp Disc and 808 front wheel in a panning photography shot | Source
A Mapperley CC cyclist on his Specialized Aero bicycle. You don't always need to put the cyclist in the middle of the frame as part of panning photography
A Mapperley CC cyclist on his Specialized Aero bicycle. You don't always need to put the cyclist in the middle of the frame as part of panning photography | Source
A rider aboard a Planet X Exocet Time Trial Bike in a panning photography shot
A rider aboard a Planet X Exocet Time Trial Bike in a panning photography shot | Source
A triathlete on a Specialised Time Trial Bike looking fast in a panning image
A triathlete on a Specialised Time Trial Bike looking fast in a panning image | Source
A Sherwood CC rider aboard an Austrailian Teschner Time Trial frameset
A Sherwood CC rider aboard an Austrailian Teschner Time Trial frameset
Panning Photography of cycling- you don't need the cyclist as a whole in the frame to show the impression of speed
Panning Photography of cycling- you don't need the cyclist as a whole in the frame to show the impression of speed
A rider aboard a fixed wheel time trial bike- a Planet X Carbon Track bike which has been adapted with tri-bars and brakes for legal road use
A rider aboard a fixed wheel time trial bike- a Planet X Carbon Track bike which has been adapted with tri-bars and brakes for legal road use

How to take great cycling panning shots

Panning shots are a great way of showing the movement of a time trial cyclist. They convey the feeling of motion in the freeze frame that is a simple cycling photograph. By seeing the moving object clearly, and the background out of focus we can portray the image of the time trial cyclist aerodynamically propelling themselves forwards on their bicycle.

To take a panning shot ideally set your dslr camera to shutter priority mode and choose a shutter speed around 1/50 of a second for taking photo's of time trial cyclists. With your camera set in spot metering mode follow the cyclist through your viewfinder, depressing the shutter slightly to focus the camera while continuing to follow the cyclists movement. At your selected point depress fully the shutter button and continue to follow the rider.

It takes some practice to do however the results can be spectacular as shown above. Plus if you're considering making some money out of your time trial photography- cyclists love the photo's as they're not the simple point and shoot freeze-frames which are often for sale at cycling events by so-called professional sports photographers.

A great camera for the budding cycling photographer

Canon EOS Rebel T1i 15.1 MP CMOS Digital SLR Camera with 3-Inch LCD and EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Lens
Canon EOS Rebel T1i 15.1 MP CMOS Digital SLR Camera with 3-Inch LCD and EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Lens

The Eos 500d/ Rebel T1i is a great beginners sport camera for taking cycling photography. 15.2 mp gives great quality and 3.2 frames per second helps not to miss any action

 
Tamron AF 55-200mm F/4.0-5.6 Di-II LD Macro Lens for Canon Digital SLR Cameras
Tamron AF 55-200mm F/4.0-5.6 Di-II LD Macro Lens for Canon Digital SLR Cameras

A great budget telephoto zoom lens for the developping sports photographer to enhance their cycling photo opportunities.

 

The Canon Eos 500d/ Rebel T1i: A Great DSLR Camera's for Cycling Photography

For those of you reading this article with idea's on the purchase of a first DSLR Camera

All of these images above were taken using a Canon Eos 500D DSLR Camera. Marketed in the USA at the Canon Digital Rebel T1i. It is a mid range Canon DSLR Camera which offers the user a range of great features to enhance your amateur photography skills. The Rebel T1i shoots a reasonable 3 frames per second and offers a range of adaptability options for your to take some fantastic cycling images.

Combine it with great value Tamron 55-200 mm lens for everything you need to begin taking great cycling and time trial photo's. Or alternately spend some series money on a lens to really enhance your cycling photography.

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Comments 3 comments

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CyclingFitness 4 years ago from Nottingham UK Author

@MickiS. Glad you love the photographs. They're some of my personal favourites and the riders really love them which is my priority. Tennis must be great to photograph although anticipating the shots must be difficult I imagine?

@dwachira. Thanks for your comment. Cycling can be really visually appealing. I'm looking at doing some video stuff in future so watch this space!


dwachira profile image

dwachira 4 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya

I wish i can watch a this cycling live, i have always wished to watch how they negotiate those bends. Thanks for sharing.


MickiS profile image

MickiS 4 years ago from San Francisco

Great Hub, CycleFitness! I like how you make the difficult subject of cycling time trials more accessible to the amateur photographer. Although I photograph a lot of tennis and not cycling, I know how hard photographing motion can be.

Beautiful photographs, too.

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