The Big Picture | Iowa City World Cup

I don’t play photographer much any more at races. Every once in a while I’ll step in as the understudy on the MTB World Cup circuit to fill a need and shoot stills but for the most part I concentrate on video. That’s not to stay I’m unfamiliar with how the photography game works, so it was fun to don a red vest at the Jingle Cross World Cup and get back into the still life.

Stretching is key. For racing bikes and also writing about them. Time to limber up those typing fingers.

Jingle Cross on a nice day is a pain in the butt to get around for media. If you want to get that shot of the field coming up Mt Krumpit, there’s no way you can shoot the chaos of the start. There’s not enough time to travel between the start and the top of the hill.

This is my attempt to shoot the start from the top of Mt. Krumpit. That windy path was supposed to lead straight to a streak of color. Maybe next year I’ll figure it out.

Add in the extra challenge of running around a venue that has turned into a mud-induced skating rink, and travelling from shot to shot with speed becomes an acrobatic exercise.

Close up shot of the mud. Check. Moving down the mental shot list.

But we all have our secret maps in our head on how we want to get around, and everyone does the best they can to fulfill their clients’ needs and create images that you can look at later while editing and say, “yeah, that one worked.”

Toon is moving so fast at this point his tires aren’t even touching the ground.

The challenge of it all is not to forget that you have to get the easy, cookie-cutter shots in the bag before you start getting creative. Every photographer in the scrum knows how to shoot a race and get the standard looks we know are going to fulfill client needs. But once that’s done, you can start taking some risks. Start playing with angles, light, framing and all the other basics of photography that have been knocked into your brain over the years.

Sticking to the classics, here. The descent of Mt. Krumpit sets up really nice for shooting through wheels with all of the switchbacks. The shots with the downtubes obstructing views of your riders are less compelling.

And then once you do that, the game is to break those rules. Sometimes it works to magnificent results. Most of the time it looks like it’s the first time you’ve  picked up a camera.

I waited an entire lap for this shot. The goal was to have someone walking over the bridge with a line of blurred riders behind. What I got is the same result most of us get with a slow camera phone. But I really like the girl’s hoodie. So that was worth it.

With that preamble behind us, here’s my gallery. Magnificent result or first time with a camera? That’s for you to decide. For captions, the game for me was to write the first thing that popped into my head. As for sequencing, the men raced first and I just imported these photos sequentially. So scroll down if you want to get to the women’s race. Off we go …

World Cups bring out the superfans and sometimes the creepers. Toss up on which way this one goes.
Composition-wise, this one had a lot going for it. The maze of colored fencing. The triangle of bodies and the rule of thirds. But what sold it for me was the pizza. Walking up this hill was a challenge. Bringing a full pizza with you is true dedication.
I wanted to show the elevation of Mt. Krumpit. I think I got this one right.
Cars are one of those things that I try to avoid in my backgrounds at all costs. They just take you out of the photo. I was trying to frame this so the cars were the entire backdrop. After several failed attempts, this is as close as I got before moving on.
Shooting inclines slows down the action but keeps the drama intact. You can see how heavy the course is with the wet grass flying up from the tires. Toon is just stalking Wout at this point.
Sometimes you just want to let a long fast lens do what it’s supposed to do and get out of the way.
Shooting World Cup MTB events with some amazing photographers taught me that you don’t always have to be on top of the action. Some of the best shots take in more of the environment and create a sense of place. It’s a lesson I’m still trying to learn.
You don’t have to be on the track to look like your shooting from inside the tape. Do some recon. Find your spots.
I’m not going to bore you with my diatribe on what is and what is not cyclocross weather. But mud always makes for good photos.
The image right before this one I put into the school photo category. It’s a decent shot but, for me, it’s not as compelling as this shot. This photo may not be as tack sharp, but we can see the fight going on here in tight quarters.
It’s two Belgians racing for the win in the United States. Not a huge gamble, but they kinda nailed it on the flag placement.
The wooded climb of the dark side of Mt. Krumpit does not get a lot of love in photos. Especially on this day when it was super dark with the overcast skies. The white kits of the World Champ and World Cup leader were a nice contrast.
Leafy foregrounds are a staple for MTB photography. I figured this is cyclocross, so here’s some blobby haybale foreground.
This one framed up better. Hi Kerry.
After struggling with the blurred riders over this bridge, I figured I’d just shoot it straight. I dunno. Not sure what I think about this one. Would’ve liked more riders.
The long off-camber on the front side of the course is one of my favorite features. It’s a mini-Namur. It’s not the most convenient to get to, so not a lot of photographers hang out there.
This is the same off-camber shot straight on. The high and low line make for some great racing.
Like this entire post, Gage Hecht is in the weeds.
Foreground, background, leading lines, blah blah blah … I like this one.
Speaking of leading lines, I wanted to get the fence gate and the riders to work together. This was as close as I got. Also, really high ISO and grainy images means it’s time to switch over to black and white.
Camera in the grass. Shooting low angle. I like how the sponsor logo on the signage behind Toon now looks like a fish.
Bike porn, Bill. Don’t forget the bike porn. I’m bad at remembering this stuff.
I would’ve loved for this to be an empty background. Just straight into the barn behind with that little light bar at the end. But good promoters know where to stick those sponsor banners.
Soapbox time. I hate the term “first American.” It’s complete bullshit and disrespectful to U.S. racers. These men and women are fighting for podium spots against the best in the world. They believe they can be up there. We should believe it, too. Let’s compare them against the field, not create a consolation prize. That being said, Gage Hecht had a great race after competing in the Road Time Trial World Championship in Innsbruck days earlier.
Toon Aerts celebration lasted the entire finishing straight. Every photographer at the finish could post a unique Toon pose and their would still be shots left unused. I call this one “the conductor.”
This one is “the ballerina.”
And on to the women. Full disclosure here: I was shooting for Trek Factory Racing CX. So most of my shots of the women’s race were of Evie, Ellen and Emma. The shots you saw above? Those were fun to shoot but they really were practice to dial in what I wanted to do during the women’s race. I tried to shoot other riders and that’s what will be below, but for the most part, I was focused on TFR.
The ride vs run decision was a tough one on Sunday. Course conditions deteriorated quickly throughout the day. But ruts did start to form that allowed unrideable sections to become rideable. Seems counter-intuitive, but so does a sport where you push or carry a perfectly fine bike … amirite guys!
If this image had sound it would be accompanied by me saying to myself “lift your head up Evie.” Ah well. I like the spectators, here. The concentration on their faces as they watch the descent off Mt. Krumpit oozes respect for what these women are dealing with. It was insanely hard.
Muddy white kits are the soul of cyclocross.
The women’s race took shape early on. This is right before Kaitie Keough flew the coop.
A frame earlier or later and I think I’d be happier with this one. Hi Becca.
Is it an original cyclocross shot? Not really. But holy cornfields look how nicely they all lined up.
Caption contest submissions now being accepted. Possibly meme-worthy.
This is the look of a champion. The focus, the determination, the knowledge that “I may be back here, today, but soon I’m going to be up there.” (I guarantee you if Katie reads that she’s going to say I’m full of shit and that’s not what’s going on at all. I stand by my over-dramatization.)
After witnessing the speed in which Sophie de Boer was flying down the finishing stretch with one to go, I’m surprised this is anywhere close to being in focus. All in for that final lap battle.
Kaitie Keough is the coolest cucumber in the field. You can see it in the way she races. Witnessing her truly enjoying this win was so much fun to watch. What a great day.
Chasing the dream.
Cross Rules Everything Around Me.

11 thoughts on “The Big Picture | Iowa City World Cup

  1. Sven/Ellen picture:

    Wonder if she’ll take the Noble line
    I’m still not sure about these disc brake things
    Where is her chalkboard guy?
    and lastly “somebody with an obsession for ‘cross should make 15-20minute vids analyzing Ellen’s races with a catchy name and good music- Noble-ness”

  2. I’ll just say I don’t know siccum about photography but I thoroughly enjoyed your commentary on your photos.

  3. Totally Belgium! Wow, can’t believe I messed that up too! Great pictures and commentary!

  4. And only 4 laps of the women’s race makes it even more difficult to get half decent pics from different parts of the course. Excellent work. One day…

  5. I love this post! As a CX fan and a photography nerd I was really interested to read your approach to photographing a race. Great photos!

  6. Great photos! They do justice to the mud last Sat. The little girl in the hoody is our granddaughter. Is it possible to get a copy of the photo?

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