Race Photography 101: Posing for a Race Photographer
Your lungs are burning, you’re covered in sweat, there’s a bit of brush stuck to your neck from a miscalculated log-over bail, you’re thirsty, and there may or may not be a bloody gash on your shin. You’re racing. And it is awesome.
You crank up a hill so hard that your lungs actually blow up–like, shards of lung splattered on the trail–and now you can’t catch your breath. Nonetheless, you bomb down a hill like a cannonball, nail a berm (or not, as is usually my practice), you track around a tree trunk, and all of a sudden “CLICK CLICK CLICK”. Where the hell did the paparazzi come from?
It’s a race photographer, and any racer can tell you they are a crafty breed. In an instant, they zip out from under a log, snap a few pictures, and zip back under the log. Or maybe they’re on one knee, in the brush just off the trail. Or maybe they’re doing trail yoga–propped up on one elbow, with one leg around a tree for balance, and the other leg bent 90 degrees in the wrong direction, one eye in the lens, and one eye on you. Or maybe they’re just sitting on a lawn chair next to the trail. What, races are long.
And for them, it’s always either too damn hot, too damn cold, too damn wet, or too damn something. It’s never perfect in the bush, unless you’re on a bike. Oh, and the bugs.
Race Photographers perform a vital part of the race experience. They are our personal race photographer. They give credibility to a boss Facebook status, provide a sweet memento to go with a Monday morning boast, and leave an eternal reminder of how gnarly we look on our bike(s).
In his last blog post, my good blog friend Steve Shikaze talked about taking the perfect picture while riding. I say “blog friend” because I’ve never met him, but he writes an awesome blog that has the most awesome premise. If you want to check it our, here it is: Shikaze’s blog.
In the post, Steve talks about cycling photography—how to take a picture OF your bike, and how to take a picture FROM your bike.
So, in an epic collaboration I’d like to present this post as a companion piece to Steve’s Blog and talk about posing for the perfect picture WHILE RIDING your bike.
The title of this post is “Say Cheese”.
If you’re like me, circa 2014, when your photographer captures your moment, you don’t have time to say cheese. You probably have an expression on your face that is mix of “Wha?”, “Ugh.”, and blank desolation.
To prove my point, here’s a peak into the Team Colin Archives. Hey look, it’s me at the 2013 Paris To Anacaster finish line.
Not a pretty sight. How it’s possible to simultaneously look daft AND spent, AND empty, in the blink of an eye, is one of cycling’s sweet mysteries, but there you have it.
By the way, note the fuzzy gloves, black long johns, and sneakers. And hey, is that a polar fleece sweater? There was nothing pretty about my first race.
To be honest, there is never really anything pretty about me in any race, but at least now I don’t look like such a tool. So, if you’re like me, circa THE PRESENT, when a photographer appears, you’re out of your seat, and pushing forward aggressively—and you might even be nailing a sweet jump. Boom.
Hey look, here I am making my fatbike fly, courtesy of Ted Anderton, at Apex Photography:
There’s a story behind this shot. I was racing my fatbike in the inaugural Kingston Snophy, at MTB Kingston. The trails snake through an awesome pump track, onto a sweet jumpline, that has 4 giant jumps. Ted was snapping away at the final jump. I pumped through the first two jumps, but Ted’s camera was trained on the rider ahead of me. I pumped through the third jump, and he still wasn’t looking at me. I squealed “Wheeeeee” (because I was having fun AND because I wanted to get his attention so he’d look at me). At the last second, he turned toward me, I gapped the jump, and touched the sky.
Okay, it’s not big air, but air is air.
And, yes, as I’ve acknowledged many times, that when I hit the ground, my front wheel turned the wrong way, my shoes unclipped, and I fumbled like a drunken sailor, but he didn’t snap that part. He snapped the moment when I defied gravity. Awesome.
And because I really really really love this next shot, here I am at the 2016 Eager Beaver. Standing, pushing, RIDING. My expression is a mix of goofy-face and grimace, but the sweat factor was strong, and my borrowed bike is gorgeous (Virgil at Apex took the shot).
So what happened in the time between fighting for my dignity–2013, and flying in Kingston–2016? Well, many things: I lost a bunch of weight; ditched the fleece; clipped in; rode (a lot); rode some more; and I rode. I even cut down on the bacon. Gasp.
And there was an INTERVENTION.
The intervention came in two parts.
The first part came after my first race–yeah, the 2013 P2A. Scott Bentley at Joyride 150 pulled me aside to talk about my wardrobe. I’m pretty low key, and so is Scott, but he gently suggested that I dress the part a bit more. He gave me a pair of gloves and a cool jersey from the storage cupboard at Joyride, and suggested I look into buying a bib.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating spending a bucket of cash to look like a pro, but the uniform has a purpose. As much as I initially maintained that I’d never become a jersey rider, I did, and I love it. When you wear a kit you get comfort, durability, practicality, and a bit of girdle action. Yeah, I said it. A bib is kind of like a girdle. It repositions a bit of the jiggling bits, and snugs some other jiggling bits.
By the way, it should be known that I still ride my fatbike in the winter wearing an old ski jacket, I wear $15 sunglasses from the gas station, and I once (unknowingly) purchased a knock-off Cannondale kit online from China. 53 bucks. Delivered three days later.
But back to my intervention. The next part came from one of my mechanics at my bike shop, Cycle Solutions: Andrew Maemura. He saw my picture from the 2014 P2A (damn, why did I post it here), and sat me down for “Andrew Maemura’s Race Picture Vanity 101”
Andrew is my cycling guru. He has mentored most every part of this cycling thing for me. After he saw my pictures, he gasped, shook his head, pounded his temple to try to remove the image of me, and sat me down for a talk. He gave me two simple rules.
Stand up, and try to get some air.
That’s it. If you want to look boss, get out of your seat and jump something.
Race Picture Vanity might not be for everyone, but it sure as heck is for me. If I’m sitting on my bike and a photographer snaps a shot, the natural compression effects of lycra, combined with the leaned over posture create what can only be called YOUGE (see 2014 P2A pic for proof, and the 2016 US Presidential Election debates for correct pronunciation of YOUGE). Seriously, when I’m in full kit, bombing through a trail, woodland creatures have been heard murmuring “Now that’s a lot of man in a little spandex” (see 2014 P2A pic for proof). It’s really not that bad, but it is.
Not that Andrew wasn’t thorough, but Andrew is a titan on a bike, and I’m not. I need every bit of extra advantage I can squeeze out of a shot. So here are my Team Colin specific tips that will help us all master the art of the race picture:
Race Picture Vanity 101
- Stand Up: Getting out of your seat lessons the compression effect, makes the body look lean (your body, not mine—I still look like me), and makes you look aggressive, instead of, well, sitty. You sit at your desk. You sit on a couch. You sit on a throne. If you sit on a bike and you might as well be knitting a doily. Or riding a road bike. Boom. (I’m kidding, I have a road bike too. It was just a good natured rib of doily knitters. I mean roadies). Honestly, I get it, we sit on our bikes a lot, but when a photographer hits you at 200 iso (is that even a thing), you want to be standing.
- Hippity Hop: If there’s a log, rock, stump, or anything with a lip, jump it and nail some sweet air. Scars heal. A boss picture is forever.
- Race Face: Smile, grimace, whatever. Just do something with your face. Ted Anderton from Apex Race Photography says “Don’t talk until you’re past the camera, so you don’t have a funny expression”. I say “But what if I have something funny to say?”. Also, that’s what I always look like Ted. Oh, sorry, he meant in general.
- Orchestrate the shot: See my Kingston Snophy shot above? It was a bit of luck, and a giant “Wheee” that made it happen. Don’t be shy to pose.
- Grindage: Dig in for an extra boost of power and speed. Lean your bike, get over your bars, do a wheelie. Grind. Ted says “Don’t take the easy out around the features”. I say, “But features sometimes hurt, Ted.”. He’s right though. Just grind.
- Walkage: “If you get caught walking your bike, shoulder it”. Dan Marshall from Substance Projects always tells me to pick up my bike if I have to walk, because it’s less rolling friction. I say, pick up your bike because you look like a chump when you walk it. The header image for this post is me at the 2016 Homage To Ice. I got caught walking up the hill—I mean the hill was super steep and totally unridable—but I shouldered my bike and owned it. It’s one of my favourite pictures. I’m having the time of my life and owning the moment.
- Acceptage: Okay, if I haven’t made it clear, I have a bit of extra baggage, in the form of a side gut flap. Here’s me accepting my side gut flap. It’s the 2014 Single Track Classic (Apex Photography). Sure, my pocket is full of gear. Sure my side gut flap has migrated to an extra chin or two, but I am me, and I am what I am. This picture feels like a lifetime ago in my riding timeline, but every time I get out of the shower, I still see the same chunks, and I still feel the weight. So what.
At the end of the day, even if you do all of these things, you also have to have faith in the photographer. “Just ride through and let the photographer make you look fast” (Ted Anderton, Apex Race Photography).
And here’s one more tip from Team Colin. If they take a good shot of you, or even if they just take an okay shot of you, support them. Buy their picture. If you use their picture with the watermark, you’re kind of being a jerk. Scratch that, you’re stealing from them and that’s plain jerky.
By the way, I am by no means an expert on race photography (or anything else). I see the photos after races and am insanely jealous at how people can look so awesome, cool, and boss. My pictures are okay. Theirs are awesome. They nail the trail features, they stick their tongue out playfully, they growl. So cool. I may not be able to hide my girth, and I sometimes chicken out of features, but that’s cool for me.
Scars heal, lungs catch their breath, and legs always rejuvenate in time for the next hill (well, sometimes), but race photos really do live forever. For. Ever.
Pose for your pictures. Relish your pictures. Own your side gut flap (or is that just me). Do what you have to do, just be prepared the next time that crafty race photographer rappels down a tree trunk to nail a shot of you.