In today’s digital age, if you raced on Sunday there is probably a picture of you somewhere on the interwebs by Monday. Most likely it is out of focus, too dark and cuts off half your face. And we don’t care because we love looking at pictures of ourselves fighting it out for the ultimate prize. But once in awhile you come across some images that make you stop and appreciate the shots for their elegance and precision. Even if they are of somebody else. These are not snapshots from a drunken boyfriend’s iPhone but rather the work of a professional. If the race took place in the Northeast, there is a good chance the man behind the image is Anthony Skorochod.
Anthony is a full-time paramedic by day (and night) but that doesn’t mean his time behind the lens is that of a hobbyist. This guy is a pro. In fact, take a look at that sweet looking FaceBook profile picture you’re sporting these days. If it has “cyclingcaptured.com” embedded in the image, you can thank Anthony for the shot.
Over the past six months In The Crosshairs has concentrated on what goes into placing at the top of a cyclocross race. The offseason is a great opportunity to “think outside the tape.” To kick things off we tracked Anthony down to learn what it is like being a professional cycling photog.
CXHairs: When did you first pick up a camera?
SKOROCHOD: I was never really in to photography in my younger years, I was too focused on doing what young folk do, i.e. having fun. I first started shooting after I had my first child.
I got in to cycling photography back in 2004 when my oldest son first started racing with the Air Products track cycling program at the Lehigh Valley Velodrome, which is now the Valley Preferred Cycling Center. I started with an Olympus Zoom point and shoot camera. Needless to say, my shots never came out very well, that’s when I realized I needed to upgrade.
CXHairs: What got you interested in shooting cycling?
SKOROCHOD: After my son’s first year of cycling at the velodrome, he realized he loved the sport. I didn’t know a thing about cycling, but I did realize I wanted to support my son in his endeavors. My wife and I were his biggest fans and I wanted to photograph him coming up through the ranks. In 2006 he joined team Vortex and began coaching with Bob Biese. He went on to racing road as well as track, and I followed him everywhere with my camera. This is when I upgraded my point and shoot camera to Canon’s Rebel line, the Digital Rebel XT was my first DSLR camera.
CXHairs: Have you ever raced a bike?
SKOROCHOD: I myself have never raced a bike, I am too out of shape [laugh]. I do plan on getting myself in shape over the Spring and Summer and I would like to race cyclocross this coming season.
CXHairs: Do you do other sports photography? Weddings? Bar Mitzvahs?
SKOROCHOD: No, cycling photography is what I specialize in. I am a Paramedic by trade and have been working full-time in EMS since 1990. Needless to say, one cannot physically or mentally work in the field for their entire EMS career, it’s just too stressful and not to mention dangerous. I am lucky after all these years I have not been in an ambulance wreck, shot at, or stabbed. I’ve come close a few times, but have always emerged unscathed. Eventually I plan on retiring to “desk duty” and after that I’d like to fall back on photography as a career after retiring completely from the EMS field.
CXHairs: It looks like you shoot Road, CX and Track. What are the main differences for a photographer among these disciplines?
SKOROCHOD: They are all pretty similar, but do have some differences. Shooting Track and criteriums are probably the easiest. On the track, you are confined to the inner part of the “concrete crater” if you will, or even indoors at some of the other indoor event centers. At criteriums, the race is more or less in a short circle.
The similarity is that the racers pass by you often and you get the opportunity to get a lot of great shots and can focus on different riders every time they come around. However, at Road races, the Peloton comes around only a few times (or even at some road races, if you are not riding in a car or on a motorcycle- you will only get one photo opportunity). What stands out about cyclocross is probably the weather. Cross is probably the most challenging to shoot. Unlike track and sometimes road, a Cross race isn’t cancelled due to inclement weather. The photographer AND his gear need to be up to the challenge.
CXHairs: How do you choose your spots to capture race images? I’m assuming for track you are pretty limited. But road and CX must present certain challenges.
SKOROCHOD: A lot of photographer’s images start looking the same after a while. You see a lot of tight crops on mainly the upper portion of the riders body and not too much else. It doesn’t matter what spot you choose to shoot from, after a while all the shots start to look the same. By just looking at the image and not knowing where the race was held, the shot could have been taken anywhere.
Shooting cycling, I’ve had the opportunity to see parts of the country I would have otherwise never seen. Yes, tight crops are required but also I like to get the background into a lot of my shots. By looking at my shots, I like to be able to recognize the venue.
As for Cross, every CX race has common elements. Shooting the sand pit, run-up, and barriers are required. My favorite, as well as my customers favorite shots are shots of the riders in the mud. The muddier the rider is the better!
CXHairs: Do you have a favorite cycling discipline?
SKOROCHOD: Absolutely. Without question, hands down it’s cyclocross.
CXHairs: Do you find the personalities of the racers different from discipline to discipline?
SKOROCHOD: Yes. You have your “Roadies” and your “Trakkies.” I’ve seen somewhat of an “Elitist” attitude in these two disciplines and competition is extremely fierce not only between riders, but also between the parents of the younger riders. I follow dozens of rider Blogs and I see road and track riders trashing each other every day. But in cyclocross, it’s mainly about the Cross community as a whole. Yes, Crossers are fierce competitors as well, but they seem to be more of a “Family.” I can approach Tim Johnson and Ryan Trebon and have a casual conversation with them a lot easier than Lance Armstrong, ha!
CXHairs: Canon or Nikon? What model?
SKOROCHOD: Currently, I shoot with Canon 1D’s. I have a Canon 1D and a Canon 1D Mark II. The 1-series is Canon’s professional line.
CXHairs: What’s your go to lens for cyclocross? Is it different for road or track?
SKOROCHOD: My “go to” lens for all disciplines is the world-famous Canon 70-200L f/2.8 IS. This is the lens (or some variant of it) that most cycling photographers call their favorite. You can get close enough, yet at the same time have enough zoom to get just about any shot. The f/2.8 wide aperture is an absolute must for low-light shooting. The IS (Image Stabilization) is an added bonus.
CXHairs: Jpeg or RAW?
SKOROCHOD: I mainly shoot Jpeg. My cameras usually get the White balance right and the only thing I have to worry about is exposure. Depending on the conditions, I’ll either shoot in Shutter or Aperture-Priority Mode. Depending on what the sun light is reflecting off of (this confuses the camera), I’ll go full Manual and use the “Sunny 16” Exposure Rule or meter with a hand held light-meter. For night races, I’ll shoot RAW so I can have +1 or -1 stop of exposure flexibility in post-processing. Also, for indoor events I’ll shoot RAW so I can correct White-Balance in post-processing.
CXHairs: My strategy for shooting CX is to find either a run-up, barrier section, or mud bog because I know the guys will be going slow enough for me to get a sharp image. As a pro, I’m guessing your strategy involves some more sophisticated thinking.
SKOROCHOD: Yes. Generally, for moving subjects a faster shutter speed is required for sharp images. I like to use flash for most of my shots. Flash lights up the rider and just makes all the colors stand out and “pop.” When using flash, your shutter speed cannot exceed your camera’s maximum x-sync speed. This varies from model to model. On my Mark II, it’s 1/250th of a second and for my mark I, it’s 1/500th of a second. If I want to use a faster shutter speed, I have to switch the flash over to “High-Speed Sync” Mode, which significantly reduces flash output. Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO are all tied in to one another and the trick is to find the best combination of ALL three to get the best image. This does require some thought, that’s one of the reasons why professional photographer’s don’t use point and shoot cameras.
CXHairs: What is your favorite race to shoot?
SKOROCHOD: It changes from year to year and my opinion is somewhat biased. For me, weather conditions make the race memorable. My favorite Road Race last season was the Univest Gran Prix in Souderton, PA. The remnants of a Hurricane rolled in half way through the race and I got some fantastic shots in the rain.
Last year my favorite race was the USGP Mercer Cup in NJ. The course was wet, thick, deep, sloppy mud from start to finish. I got my best shot of the year when Tim Johnson won Day 1 of the race and got off his bike and raised it above his head to cross the finish line. Tim is using a few of my images on his website, including that image.
CXHairs: Any favorite racers?
SKOROCHOD: Tim Johnson. I met him at the Whitmore’s Landscaping Super Cross Cup out in Long Island. He’s one of the coolest dudes you’ll ever meet.
CXHairs: Ever been crashed into or inadvertently become part of the race?
SKOROCHOD: Nope, one of the jobs of the photogs is to stay the hell out of the way. I won’t jump in front of a racer or impede a race just to “get the shot.” I see photographers do that all the time. That just annoys me and pisses the racer off.
CXHairs: Craziest thing you’ve seen at a bike race?
SKOROCHOD: I’ve seen a lot of crazy things at races, especially Cyclocross races. That’s one of the reasons I love Cross so much. The crowd is just as much part of the race as the race itself. One of the crazier things I’ve seen was a guy dressing up in a gorilla suit and beating on a plastic bucket running up and down the course cheering up tired and muddy racers.
CXHairs: So we know when to put on the pain mask, what CX races do you plan on attending in ’09?
SKOROCHOD: I’ll be at most of the local CX races in the Eastern PA, NJ, and DE area. I’ll definitely be back to Whitmore’s and Mercer. Granogue and Wissahickon are a no-brainer. But, I’d like to venture a little further this season and shoot at Gloucester. I won’t travel all the way out to Oregon for Natz just to shoot (unless someone pays my way!) but if my son is good enough and if he wants to, then we’ll make the trip.
CXHairs: Cyclocross is such a great spectator sport. Any tips for the point-and-shoot or enthusiast photog when shooting cross?
SKOROCHOD: Yes-GET LOW! Don’t be afraid to bend down and get your knees dirty getting some low-angle shots. Those are the best!
CXHairs: Where can we see your images?
CXHairs: Any thoughts on folks grabbing your images and using them without attribution?
SKOROCHOD: I watermark all the images on my web site. I provide the download of smaller images (usually 640×480) free of charge- that’s my way of giving back to the cycling community. I don’t mind people re-posting the images elsewhere (like on their blogs, MySpace, FaceBook, etc) just don’t crop out my watermark. I’m giving you the image for free, the least you can do is advertise for me [laughs]. I do charge for larger-resolution downloads and prints.
CXHairs: Anything else you would like to add?
SKOROCHOD: Yes-Keep up the good work at ‘In the Crosshairs.’ I love hearing what all of my cyclocross buddies have to say!