The Amgen Tour of California is one of America’s greatest bike races and has been hosted in the state’s most popular cities and over the most iconic places in the past 8 years. Each year, the course gets more challenging and summons the best riders in the world to compete in this 8 day, 750 mile brutal test of endurance.
Since the tours inception, I have been covering the race from the inaugural prologue when Levi Leipheimer reached the top of Telegraph Hill in San Francisco in record time to yesterday’s sprint through downtown Ojai. The first few years, I covered the event for Getty Images and now I photograph the race simply for inspiration.
Covering a professional road race is not easy, in fact its down right difficult. My general approach is to scout my spots using Google Earth looking for topographical features and classic viewpoints on a hill climb and the finish. Half of the entertainment is the crowd, however they pose challenges like kicking your tripod or obstructing your view. I arrive a few hours before the forecast appearance and stake my claim on a high vantage point. Even then, you can never predict the kid that’s uses your tripod as a climbing handhold or a brawl in the crowd.
My objectives are always the same; get great still images and a dynamic time-lapse with only one chance in a “very” short time window. The still images are pretty straight forward but you need the subject with background and the right lens. Wide stitched panoramas incorporating the scenery to tight panning telephoto shot of a time trail are techniques I employed to add value to a static still image.
The time-lapses require a much more methodical approach and luck….yes luck. When you are trying to predict something in the future, it doesn’t always happen as planned. In most cases, I set my intervals to 3 seconds at least 15 to 20 minutes before the riders appear and then change to a 1 second interval while the peloton passes and then back to 3 seconds. Sometime, I will set my motor drive on multiple images and fire at least a dozen images while they are passing. The above technique will create a “ramped” time-lapse that starts fast, slows in the middle and finishes fast. This can also be done in post, however its much better to have the data (images) when the action happens. I refer to this technique as “stop-time-lapse” and the results can be pleasantly unpredictable.
Here are a few favorite still images from the race…..