Photographing Out of your comfort zone – Bike Road Race

This past weekend my friend Asad Masede participated in his very first bike road race and I joined him. ahhh.. not racing.. just watching.  Of course I took my camera.  I’m not a sports photographer, I love photographing events, people doing things and I have photographed sports, but there is a real talent to sports photography, an almost completely different set of skills.  Yes of course you need to know how to use your camera, but its the other skills that are important.  I originally was just going to take a few snaps of Asad, but as I was walking with my camera I started to think about the “sports” “training” I received from another friend Glenn Olsen.

Asad getting ready

Asad getting ready

I am a huge fan of Glenn’s photography, he has photographed some pretty big names and sporting events in his photo journalist career, including the ’88 winter Olympics where he was awarded a bronze medal for photography.

Very cool.  I worked with Glenn in his lab in Nanaimo BC and he shared with me his tips around sports photography.  Scary I could hear him in my head.  First of all the story is just out on the field… I was standing around as Asad was getting ready – Glenn tip – the story is not just out on the field. Oh ya. I grabbed the camera and took a few shots of Asad getting ready.  I really wasn’t thinking ahead of time, to do a photo essay, silly me.  I could have taken pics of him checking in, different steps in his preparing.  But I was there as a friend not as a photographer.. sort of. Now I wish I had of done that.

Train tracks, beautiful day

Train tracks, beautiful day

Glenn Tip – Know the sport, the better you know the sport the better photographs you will take.  Yes this is a good tip.  Did I know bike racing, nope.  Did I know the course, nope.. I didn’t even know the start or finish line.  Like I said I hadn’t really planned on doing a full photo story.  Well, Asad said the start line is actually way up the road, about a kilometer away.  It was beautiful and sunny so I thought I would just walk.

Wendy Tip – hard to take photos and see things from the car. – unless you are Glenn (yes there is a story there but that’s for another time). It was absolutely beautiful, sunny with dark clouds in the background.  I took a couple of shots of the scenery… I never stop looking around. As I was walking I looked behind me and I saw a truck leading a batch of riders, they were lined up and heading to the start.  Well I was no where near the start so I took a few shots.  trying to watch for Asad, then I realized this was A group.  like I said, I know nothing of the sport but Asad said he was in C group.  So I deduced (I’m so smart) that there would be 2 more groups go by and Asad would be in the last group.  So I kept walking til I found a spot where I thought the background looked great.  I then decided that I would shoot into the sun, creating a rim light on the riders and shadows on the road.  I could have gone to the other side and shot with the light directly on them, but I wanted something a little more dramatic.

Heading to the start line

Heading to the start line

Glenn tip – Shoot from a spot where no one else is shooting from. No one else was around but I thought most people would not shoot into the shadows.  So I walked to the start area, of course the riders were long gone.  I knew they were doing 9 loops on the course.. I think around 70km.. yup crazy. So basically I had 9 chances of getting pics of Asad.  Again, I walked til I found a background that I liked.  The A group zoomed by, and I again chose the shadow side of the road.  I had the 28-70 on so it was wide angle only.  My next issue was finding Asad in the crowd.  Glenn tip – know the players and how they play, so you can predict what they will do next.  Yes Glenn… I had know idea where Asad would be, inside, outside, front or back.  I was looking for the orange and black of his shirt, of course there were a bunch of them.  So I just shot, hoping that Asad would be in there, and I actually did see him in the frame.  yahoo.  I think I stood there for 2 rounds, hoping I could pick Asad out of the pack better next time, and I d

id.  The wind by then had picked up substantially and  those dark clouds were now overhead. It was getting freakn cold.  So I walked some more and found another location. This time I stood on the side of the road closest to the riders and shot as wide as possible.  Its about pressing that shutter at exactly the right time.  the “know that sport” Glenn tip is so right.  I now could predict where and how the riders would be going by me.  Then it was a question of following them and pressing the shutter just slightly before they got to the exact spot you wanted the photo to be.   Still my hardest thing was finding Asad in the frame.  They were in big groups still.  But now at least I knew when they would be coming


Yes, hail, we had sun, wind, rain, hail and it was freak'n cold.

by recognizing the few riders that came just before the group.  I moved again to the corner, that was fun, they move in a totally different way around the corner, not as much as a group.  I was getting better at finding Asad already.  Then the hail storm hit.  Oh joy, and I was feeling that I wanted to have my long lens now.   Glenn tip – always have your gear ready – ya ya Glenn, I left the freak’n lens in the van. Trekked back to the Van and decided because it was really cold now to drive it back, find another spot.  I chose a place where there was a hill. The racers would be working differently here.  I played with the lens a little, and tried a few closer shots of the racers. Glenn tip – Get the expressions on the faces of the athletes, not just the action.

I did manage to get a couple of good shots but I ended up not as close as I would like .. following someone on a bike as the fly by with the lens at its max magnification, well takes some practice.  Which I am looking forward to doing more.  I also knew by now that Asad tended to be close to the center line on the road.  Yup learning what the athlete will do definitely is a plus.

After chatting with a fellow who was parked where I was, he told me where the finish line was.  (sooo not prepared!) I headed there.  I was already with the long lens at the finish.  Got into a great spot.  along came Asad’s group, one more lap to go.  Looking looking… hum… he’s not there… oh oh. Friend mode kicked in.. Where is he? Hope he is Ok? Then along he came (a chain issue).  It was great I got some solo shots!

Asad after crossing the finish line

Asad after crossing the finish line

Last lap, I was watching the people coming through the line (groups A and B do more laps than C) This shot was the important one, Asad coming across the finish line for the first time! I had positioned myself thinking Asad would be still on the outside.  Then I saw 2 bikes sprinting for the line and realized it was him… damn he was on the inside.  I was walking tring to get to the other side and shooting at the same time… it all happens so fast.  I did get some good shots, not great but they will suffice. I can’t wait to do some more.  Oh yes, I did I take a couple of portraits just after the race, back in my comfort zone.

I have to say, photographing the race on the weekend was great.  It took me out of my comfort zone, back into the learning zone.  Its one of the fantastic things about photography, you are always learning and growing.  I challenge all of you, do something out of your comfort zone, its amazing just how rewarding it can be. Thanks to Glenn Olsen for sharing his wisdom with me.. not sure about you staying in my head though.


Asad Masede, just after the race.  Great job Asad!

Asad Masede, just after the race. Great job Asad!



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