12.31.17: Leader of the pack

A cyclist leads the peloton during the Tour de Grandview bicycle race, Grandview Heights, Ohio. 


Technical information

June 27, 2010,
2:35 p.m.

39°45’31” N,
82°52’1" W
(Show in Google Maps)

Canon EOS 7D

Canon EF 600mm f/4L 


1/800th second


Bicycle racing is fun to shoot, with the colors, the speed and the action. But I haven’t attended the Tour de Grandview, a popular local bike race, since 2011.

The reason: The scheduling of the event has changed in recent years. When I first attended in 2005 the Tour de Grandview was a two-afternoon event on a Saturday and Sunday in late June. Then it changed to a one-afternoon event. Then it partnered with several other Ohio races on the same weekend and became an evening event (the 2017 event was on a Friday night).

The competition may still be the same, but — from a photography standpoint — it’s just not as interesting to me. The races start as the sun begins to set behind trees and houses. To get the fast shutter speeds required to freeze the action I’d need to use higher ISOs, which means more digital noise in the photos. And the colors of the cycling jerseys don’t pop as much in subdued evening light as they do in daylight.

I’ll eventually go back, but it’ll be with a different idea about the shots I hope to capture.

In most sporting events all the action takes place on a field or court so a photographer can take a position and get shots. But photographing bike racing on a loop street course is much different. The action speeds past and disappears for a while before returning on the next lap.

The best way I’ve found to shoot bike racing is to look for spots on the course with interesting features and uncluttered backgrounds. Turns, hills and long straightaways all can provide interesting shots. For this photo I positioned myself at the end of a long stretch to get a shot of the leader with defocused riders lined up behind him. Most races are long — sometimes more than an hour — so I can walk the course during the race to find a variety of locations for shots, then catch the riders as they come through on the next lap. And I carry a variety of lenses, everything from a wide angle if I want to try to get wide shots from up close as the bikes speed past, to long telephotos to get compressed action shots from a distance. I was using my 600 millimeter, a super telephoto, for this shot.

This strategy works on loop courses, but point-to-point courses (like the Tour de France and other stage races) are a lot more difficult. Picking a spot means you’ll get one opportunity to shoot the riders as they speed past. That’s why you’ll see professional photographers covering the race from the back of motorcycles so they can move in and out of the action for shots along the course.

Each week I will post a photo from my collection with an explanation of how I got the shot. Previous photos of the week are in the archives.