It takes a special set of skills to take great action and sports photographs. The pressure to deliver is intense as riders appear and disappear in a flash, while the weather conditions are not always favourable.
Then there’s the gear you need to do the sport justice. Ideally you’ll be shooting with a camera with a fast frame rate, while long lenses allow you to hone in on the all the emotion, anguish and pain that a day on the mountains can produce.
A few weeks ago, AP headed to the beautiful Peak District in a bid to capture all the thrills and spills of the Peaks Tour Sportive. Heading first to the punishing Wynatt’s Pass, professional cycling photographer Geoff Waugh was on hand to share his top tops for nailing the action (see box XXX).
We were incredibly lucky that it stayed dry all day – but that brings it with a different set of challenges as the photographers contended with high contrast situations, tricky backlighting and glare.
Each of the readers – who are all keen cycling photographers – were supplied with a camera and at least one lens to get their shots. As they would discover, the latest technology doesn’t have to come with an enormous price tag as all of the gear our readers used is available second hand at fantastic prices through MPB.com.
How to take great cycling shots
Advice from leading sports pro, Geoff Waugh
Select your spot
The key to a good image is invoking a feeling in the viewer. A cyclist has to look at the picture and think: I wish I could ride there / ride like that / look as fast as that. A non-cyclist might think ‘how the hell do they do that?’ – selecting a great vantage point is crucial. With road bikes, it could be corners where the rider will (hopefully) be in a dynamic position. Alternatively, head to steeper areas, where the rider will be out of the saddle to apply pressure to the pedals and will be showing signs of the pain in their face. Sweat and pain is good!
Watch your backgrounds
In a cycle race there may be hundreds of spectators, sponsors’ billboards or just something as simple as a lone walker behind the main action. You can choose to crop these distractions out, or alternatively make them part of your composition. Be aware of eye-catching colours, such as the hi-vis vests of safety officials and marshalls – these can negatively draw your attention when found in out of focus areas. You also need to think about terrain – cycling often takes the participants through amazing landscapes, so it would be foolish to crop too tightly on a rider and not tell the whole story. Be aware of the way roads wind up hills, as well as concentrating on ridge lines and trees, and the way light is falling on surrounding fields.
As with all outdoor sports, there’s always a risk of bad weather. Take waterproof clothing, as well as some camera and lens weather protection, too. I generally place a Chamois leather over the most vulnerable parts of the camera body, while for torrential downpours a poncho offers protection and ease of movement for me. In my experience, the best images come in the worst weather – if you can stay out there while others have packed away, you might just bag an award-winning shot.
The gear you need
Top cameras and lenses for the best cycling shots
The Sony A9 offers an incredible 20fps frame-rate, while maintaining continuous autofocus and blackout-free shooting through the electronic viewfinder. With fantastic focus tracking, it’s been designed with the sports photographer in mind. You can pick one up second hand from MPB for as little as £2,359.
Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS Lens
A telephoto zoom gives you great scope to capture cyclists both in the distance and as they get close to you. Having this flexibility means you won’t miss shots while you’re changing lenses. A lens like this is available for under £1000 from MPB.
Although it offers a more modest frame rate of 7fps, the Nikon D850’s key selling-point is its ultra-high resolution sensor. With sports photography, that can be used to great effect to perfectly crop your shots for the best composition. You’ll find second-hand D850 cameras available for as little £2,159 from MPB.
Nikon Nikkor AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR Lens
With a wide maximum aperture of f/2.8, you can really isolate the riders from the rest of the pack with this flexible telephoto zoom for Nikon full-frame DSLRs. You can find used examples for as little as £1,719 from MPB.
Canon EOS 1DX Mark II
If you’re ultra-serious about your cycling and sports photography, the Canon EOS 1DX Mark II is a fantastic investment. Offering an impressive 14fps, and a battery life that seems to go on forever, it’ll be your best friend during any cycling event. Find one at MPB for as little as £3,024.
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS II USM
A lens like this gives you amazing scope to capture riders in the far off distance, or include some more of the background for stunning landscape context. With fast and accurate focusing, you’ll stand the best chance of getting those pin-sharp action shots, too. You’ll find lenses like this for as little as £924 at MPB.
MPB is the quick, easy and secure way to buy and sell used camera equipment. They trade hundreds of cameras, lenses and accessories every day. Based in Brighton, MPB has expanded rapidly in the past ten years and now employs more than 100 people in the UK, USA and Germany. Most of the MPB staff are camera enthusiasts themselves.
In a vast 18,240 sq. ft warehouse in Brighton, MPB product specialists check, photograph and catalogue each item before adding it for purchase on the website. Following a rebrand in January 2019, MPB’s website is attractive and user friendly. Photographers who are looking to buy, sell or trade camera equipment can visit MPB at www.mpb.com.