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Tour of the Battenkill! April 16, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Uncategorized.
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The Tour of the Battenkill is widely regarded as the largest single-day cycling event in the United States.  That’s very believable; around 2,500 racers set out on what is for most of them a 62 mile cramp-fest of paved roads, steep dirt, covered bridges and eventual dehydration.

I went there this past Saturday with my housemate/photographic mentor Lizz to stretch a bit.  Action photography is nothing I know about, but I want to learn.

We also acted as support/transportation for our friend Chris, who flew in from Colorado to test himself on this grueling course.

As classrooms for sports photography go, I couldn’t have had a better one: racers in groups of about a hundred started every fifteen minutes from early morning to late afternoon, allowing me to try plenty of different camera settings, most of which were discarded, a few of which appear here.

My favorite shot of the waiting-at-the-starting-line tension:

Every detail had been either attended to by now, or was a source of consternation for those who felt not-quite ready.  Chains cleaned and lubed, cables tensioned, just the right socks:

And then, with the blowing of an air horn, they’re off in a frenetic blur of kinetic energy and light:

That’s a blur-shot, something which took me numerous attempts to get right.  This requires a balance between all of the elements of basic photography to get the effect of motion, substance and light.  Thankfully, with starts every fifteen minutes, I had plenty of opportunity to try various settings, throw most of the results away, and still have a few keepers.  That’s one of the overwhelming advantages of shooting in the Digital Age; such experimentation with film is a) expensive, and b) difficult, as the results of one’s efforts are only visible long after the fact, so experimentation necessarily involves “bracketing” your settings and throwing away most of the results – after  you’ve paid for their development in either sweat or money.

I’ll have another of these shots at the end of this post with more details about what I did to capture it.

Lizz and I were pretty much stuck in the heart of Cambridge NY for this shoot, as the roads out of town were busy with cyclists sweating blood and gasping for air – this is a 100 km (62 mile) race along both paved roads and gravel tracks, with grades exceeding 20%.

In case you don’t ride, let me just say that that’s steep.  Really  steep!

Anyway, it was a manageable hike to the finish line, where we got to see the fruits of these folks’ labors.  It was astonishing to see packs of riders dukin’ it out 62 miles later as they approached the finish line:

To have that kind of aggression left after three hours of eating dust and hammering on it leaves me humbled beyond words.

Each of many classes and groups had its victors and surviving stragglers, but the overall champion of the day was Bruce Bird, first across the line in the Pro-1 group:

He won it, and he knew  it.  He smoked his nearest rival by over a minute.

Fuckin’ eh!!!

Congrats to Bruce, who looked as fresh crossing the finish line as he did leaving the starting line.  My head is spinning on that one.

Anyway, I’ve saved my favorite shot of the day for last, as my friend and housemate Holly asked me to say something about what I did to get it.

This is a blur I captured as a starting group passed me:

Two guys looking to get the advantage in a pack of a hundred, with nobody wanting to eat dust.

For this very fast pan, I wanted a relatively long exposure to blur the background, while still getting something in focus.  I dropped the ISO to 50 to get that long exposure in the bright light of late morning, set the aperture at f/20 because I was panning quickly and wasn’t really sure what would be in my camera’s focus sweet spot, and wound up with a shutter speed of 1/13 second to produce a shot which was two stops under exposed to avoid clipping of the highlights.  The under-exposure isn’t a problem when shooting digitally and processing in Photoshop CS5, as RAW photos can be adjusted for exposure after bringing up the levels of the dark areas with Fill Light.  Adjustments to Levels, Vibrance and Sharpness gave the displayed results.

Oh, and I was shooting at a fast burst, allowing me to discard most of my shots in favor of the ones I liked best.

And all of the “start” photos, including the blurs, were shot with my 16-36mm L-series zoom, mostly dialed in closer to the 35 end of things, and all of the finish line photos were courtesy of Gizmo, my 400mm L-series telephoto prime.

I know this is a lot of technical jargon for those of you who just want to see nice photos of Western Massachusetts, but I’m experimenting here with a different style and subject matter and am thinking out loud, while trying to share my process with others who are doing the same thing.

Thanks for humoring me here.