As part of London’s preparations for the 2012 Olympic Games, today a practise cycle road race took place in south west London – the idea being to make sure that they’ve covered all the bases for when the world is watching next year (in 350 days, to be exact).
Dubbed the London Surrey Cycle Classic (which sounds like four random words strung together, but that’s what they picked and they’re sticking to it), 140 cyclists from all over the world competed in a race that followed the route of next year’s event, starting in the Mall in central London, heading out via Richmond, Twickenham, Chertsey, Dorking, and Box Hill before looping back through Richmond Park to the middle of London. Actually, here’s a map.
Now, admittedly I don’t know much about competitive cycling – anything at all, in fact – but having such an event passing within a mile of my flat was hard to pass up, especially in my ongoing quest to take pictures of things I haven’t taken pictures of before.
My alarm went off early this morning – or at least, early for a Sunday. Today marks one of the first times I’ve ‘chased a photo’ – not quite ‘chasing the light’, but close; getting up early to take a photo that wouldn’t be there if I got up later. The race was due to pass through Twickenham shortly before 9.30, but that time could go fifteen minutes either way, so we got there about 8.45.
We arrived early enough to have near-complete freedom as to where to stand. I picked a spot where I could see the bikes coming from a distance, whilst having a bit of a corner so I had a little more time to catch them. Before long, the pavements started to fill up.
For today’s trip, I had a few ideas for images I wanted to try to take. The obvious one is the ‘subject in focus whilst the background is blurry’ shot which, to be honest, is almost clichéd these days, but it’s still a good trick to try.
I was originally intending to make use of my 70-300mm telephoto lens for that particular trick; it has Canon’s Image Stabilization ‘Mode 2’ which is designed for such things by allowing movement in one direction but not the other. At the risk of this turning into a brochure, normal IS (‘Mode 1’) tries to keep the image as smooth as possible in all directions; it is designed to remove shake at large focal lengths or slower shutter speeds. However when panning following a subject this IS can apparently interfere – ‘Mode 2′ allows a smooth panning motion whilst trying to stabilise any vertical wobble. In truth I’ve never noticed any issue with Mode 1 interfering with my attempts at taking such shots, so I was interested in seeing if Mode 2 made any difference at all.
Unfortunately, I never got to test it – my position was such that the lower end of the lens’ range – 70mm – was still too much, and I wouldn’t be able to fit anything in the frame, so I switched to my standard 18-135mm lens and its ‘Mode 1’ IS.
We had to wait around for a bit waiting for anything to happen. As the racers got closer, the number of police vehicles increased, giving me a chance to practise.
The closer the riders came, the more vehicles we started seeing.
Before long the policeman was joined by a few others as they lined the road, and excitement began to build. A bit.
For a brief moment, we thought we had come to watch a motorbike race.
There was also a camera crew; weird considering the event wasn’t televised.
We then had a final round of police bikes for me to practise on.
That image I like because the cyclist in the background is the one in focus, it looks a little different.
And then, finally, the cyclists came.
Followed by… I don’t even know what this is.
Quite a few people turned out in the end, including this bloke with his yellow flag.
After the first batch of cyclists, finally the stragglers caught up.
I’m a bit disappointed with this image. Although it looks like the third cyclist from the left is in focus in the above shrunk image (and, for that matter, on my camera’s pokey little LCD screen), it doesn’t stand up to closer scrutiny. To be fair, I wasn’t exactly aiming for such a result, I was lucky to get that close. Maybe next time.
For the next few shots I decided to make the camera static and let the riders sail past whilst keeping the slower 1/40 shutter speed. It does a decent job of conveying their speed:
Following behind the cyclists came a raft of support vehicles carrying spare bikes and stuff. Also an AA van for some reason, and some ambulances. This is the best shot of them:
I particularly like this image because the focus is not the car, but the driver. Who appears to not be looking where he’s going. I hope it’s a left-hand drive car.
Then there was three guys who might or might not have been part of the race.
The last image from the Twickenham leg is one of the motorbikes going in the wrong direction. Again, the rider is surprisingly in focus (with quite a determined look on his face).
After that, the action in Twickers died down, as the race continued onwards Bushy Park and Surrey in general.
Unfortunately, I discovered that taking photos when there is so little opportunity to get things right is actually quite a rush. I also only got a chance to take one kind of photograph – and I wanted a chance to experiment a little more. Knowing the route of the race, we decided to head into Kingston to catch the race on its return leg towards central London. Unfortunately, there were no buses operating in the area, so we had to make the 3.5 mile journey on foot.
When we arrived people were already beginning to find their spots on Kingston Bridge.
For this second chance at shooting the bikers (I think I should rephrase that, lest Sebastian Coe have me arrested), I decided to play about with that soon-to-be old faithful 50mm f/1.8 prime lens to see what results I could get. Fortunately, the spot I picked to stake out for the race featured a nice swoop of people, so you could see people disappearing into the distance and out of focus.
In the foreground of that shot is a photographer who happened to be occupying the same corner as me. One of the images I like to take is of photographers doing their craft. I might have mentioned that before somewhere.
I also took the decision to shoot using entirely manual focussing. The reason for this was a lack of reliance in the auto focus to keep up with the action – it made more sense (and I read this somewhere, it wasn’t my own idea) to focus on a point and wait for the subjects to enter that area. Time would tell if that would pay off or not.
Whilst we were waiting, someone nearby got talking to some old guy that showed up on his bike.
This guy was 92 years old, still riding his bike, and Holly overheard his mention he might have cycled for Britain the last time the Olympics came to London. His bike, in fact, was older than me by a considerable number of decades.
I turned to face the other direction to see how the crowd was building up. I tried to get one of those ‘focus on one person to ring them out of the crowd’ shots. I only wish the woman I’d picked didn’t look so grumpy.
Then the camera guy caught up, a sign that the action was getting closer.
It was quite nice to switch to such sharp shots after the (deliberately) motion blurred shots of the images I took in Twickenham.
Shortly after, the police bikes started coming past. In the two hours it had been since we’d last seen them, they’d loosened up a bit – they were doing their bit to pump up the crowd with their sirens.
Then, the preliminary support vehicles started to show up.
Then, finally, the cyclists arrived, and the pressure was on again.
And just like that, they were gone.
Even the other photographer gave up as the support vehicles brought up the rear.
Then, one lone straggler came past.
I was trying to get him in focus, but as it turned out the crowd behind were in focus and it makes for possibly a better (certainly a different) shot, if you ask me.
He was followed by another group – the pack had broken up a lot over the time since we saw them in Twickenham.
And just as quickly as they came, they went.
It was good fun to be able to take some images that are a little different from what I usually end up taking. Maybe I’ll head down that way next year when the Olympics hits town and see if I can try something else.