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Five tips for better bike race photography

I live in a town that is crazy for mountain biking. It was inevitable that my photography career would evolve to include photographing people hurtling down dirt trails on two wheels. In fact, bike photography has become one of my primary genres of photography.

While the biking genre is quite diverse, photographing bike races has become one of my favorite things to shoot. Whether you’re shooting BMX, enduro, downhill, gravel, road biking or anything in between, below are a five tips for better bike race photography.

1. Research your location

bike photography

As with any style of photography, knowing your location before the shoot is key to producing quality images. With bike races, the courses/trails are usually released prior to the race. This gives the riders, and yourself, time to prepare for race day.

If possible, I’ll walk the track the day before with my camera to find my optimal shooting spots. I try to do this at the same time that the race will be occurring, so that the light will be similar.

I watch for even light, clean backgrounds, exciting features and interesting compositions. Once a race begins, the action is steady so it’s great to know where you want to set up beforehand if possible. It’s also important to know exactly where you are and are not allowed to be on course.

2. Research the athletes and their corresponding schedule

bike race

Races will usually have multiple categories of entry for race participants; age groups and ability levels are two common ones. Sometimes race courses will differ depending on the age or ability levels, or start times will be varied. Depending on your assignment, it’s important to know who is dropping in, and where. You don’t want to be set up at a gnarly chute waiting for riders, only to find that only the experts will be riding that section of course at the end of the day.

Conversely, you want to catch the expert riders on the sections of course that will really display their athleticism and skill. Obviously, it’s always great to catch big name riders. But keep in mind that it’s often the racers in younger or less competitive categories who are keen to buy photos of themselves. 

3. Don’t forget the details

Action shots are obviously key, but capturing the whole race involves more than just action. You want to take images that tell the story of the day. Environmental images that show the setting and location of the race are a great place to start.

Warm-ups, practice runs and post-race celebrations will also help to round out the story of your day. Look for emotion, both from the riders and the spectators. Capturing specific sponsor images is often necessary as well. 

4. Use culling software

If you’re photographing a race with a large number of participants, it’s easy to take hundreds or even thousands of photos during a race. This especially holds true if you’re shooting in burst mode as each rider passes you.

I used to cull all of my photos directly in Lightroom, but it took a long time. And once I upgraded to my Canon EOS R5, the file sizes were that much bigger and took that much longer to preview in Lightroom. A colleague introduced me to Photomechanic and I’ve never looked back. Photomechanic allows you to quickly sort through your images, starring the ones you want to keep or edit.

Once I’ve gone through a gallery, it’s just a matter of grabbing all of the selections and dragging them into Lightroom.

5. Get your photos out in a timely manner

With event photography in general, it’s important to get your images out to participants as soon as possible. Especially during race season, riders may have races on back to back weekends. If you’re trying to sell your images, it’s important to get them to racers while the stoke is still high from the event.

Riders also want to get images out on their social media soon after a race, especially if they have sponsors. So, your sales can really depend how quickly they can access images. So even if it means pulling a long night after a long day in the field, it can be worth being the first photographer to get your images out to the public. 

Photographing bike races isn’t for the faint of heart. It often involves long days hiking around on trails, followed by even long evenings on the computer. But, if you have a love for the sport, bike races can be a great addition to your photography career.

Remember to scout your location and athletes as much as possible beforehand, tell the story of the day, and maximize your workflow efficiently to get your images out as quickly as possible post-race.

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Rafael Jones

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