How to Take Great Photos of the Olympic Cyclists

A guest post from Vicki  Sharp of Vicki Sharp Photography.

For the last few years I have  been the photographer for Team Richmond.  The team is made up of children from local primary and secondary schools who come together for an amazing weekend of sport at the London Youth Games at Crystal Palace at the end of June.  33 London Boroughs compete in over 30 different sports during the weekend.  Last year, Team Richmond amazingly won the whole event and this year we came an extremely excellent 4th.

Team Richmond’s fantastic cycling team once again won gold and I have become well practiced at photographing cycling as well as all types of sports.  I wanted to share a few hints and tips to help you take great photos of the Olympic Road Races and Time Trials in Richmond Borough in the coming week.

Ben Moriarty racing for Team Richmond at the London Youth Games 2012

I work with a digital SLR camera (a Canon 5D Mark II) and either the 24- 105mm or the 70-200mm lens depending on the distance from the cyclists but you don’t need a fancy camera and an expensive lens to get good pictures of the action as the cyclists whizz past.

Even the phone on your camera can take a great shot – what you really need is concentration and a steady hand and eye!

The settings may be different depending on the quality of camera you have but the techniques remain the same.

Anthony Anderson (part of Team Richmond at the London Youth Games)

Firstly get the settings right – If you have a camera with a Sports Setting – (usually a simple icon of a stick person running) then the camera will know to take the photo really fast, and will probably also take several in quick succession, thus increasing your chance of having one good one!

If you have a phone camera you want to try and get the main part of the shot in the centre of the frame thus giving the lens the best chance of focusing.  If you don’t have sports mode but do have a way of making the camera take multiple shots then this is the setting you want.

To be a little more technical for a second – for those lucky enough to have an SLR camera then you want to set the shutter speed (usually called Tv) to preferably about 350th of a second,  or at least 250th .  To get this kind of speed on a cloudy day make sure the ISO is set quite high – an ISO of 400 or higher as this will allow more light in.

Anthony Anderson (part of Team Richmond at the London Youth Games)

The down side of a faster shutter speed is that it will decrease your depth of field which means that less of the picture will be in focus, which is why it’s important that you try and focus the centre of your camera on the important part – usually the face.

You can also set the type of focus you want on some cameras, if you have this option you want to set it to AI SERVO or sports, as this will allow the camera to keep the focus on the moving object for as long as you keep your finger pressed down on the button.

What you really want to do is to get the rider in focus and the background blurred, to give a sense of speed.

Right, on to technique

So, you’re standing at the side of the road and chances are a police bike comes past first – this is your opportunity to do a quick practice with hopefully a slower moving object before the bikes fly past!

These are not recommended stances

Stand with your legs a little apart and facing the road to give you a steady base.  Ideally you want to be at the same height as the bike rider, so if you’re tall keep the knees flexible. Keep your elbows in and hold the camera in a comfortable position.

Turn from your waist and focus your camera on the riders helmet (or eyes if you can see them).   On an SLR this means pressing the button half way down to get the focus set and keep that focus as it comes towards you,  as it goes past and as it goes away.

If you’re on sports mode your camera will be able to keep taking photos so start as it comes towards you and don’t stop taking until it’s out of sight.  Keep your camera as steady as possible and only move the top half of your body.   Smooth and consistent movement, slightly in front of the object is what you’re looking for.

Here’s an important tip – DON’T STOP to look at the pictures you’ve taken as you may miss a great picture happening – swing back and be ready for the bikes to come through.  If there are several then pick one to focus on (the middle one will give you more chance of getting the others in focus too).

It’s great to practice this technique with passing cars, running children or animals, and as with all things, the more you practice the better you get.

The Official Team GB Cycling Kit, as designed by Stella McCartney (and worn by Lizzie Armistead)

Good luck, I hope you get some great shots of Team GB winning gold… keep your eye on the riders wearing this kit.

See more of Vicki’s work, or enquire about 1-1 or group photography tuition at VickiSharpPhotography.com