Friday, January 12, 2007

The Sports Series Part 5: Track Cycling

Aerodynamics has a lot to do with speed sports which is why cyclists try to maintain a profile as slim as possible to be able to cut through the air stream more effectively.

There are several events held on the track as far as track cycling goes. I caught up with the men's team event wherein the objective is to achieve the fastest lap time. There are four riders for each team and then they run the track in a straight line with the front rider "punching a hole" through the air stream while the other riders go through the hole he has created allowing them to ride faster. Then at some point of the track, the front rider moves out and rejoins the team at the back and the whole process is repeated for several laps. But, hey, this article is not about track cycling but about photographing track cycling.

Like any other track sports, the riders run through a predetermined course in a repetetive manner and therefore, their actions are more predictable and just in case, you did not get the last shot right, you know you'll have more than one chance to get it right.


I took this photo from the top of the bleachers giving it a "from the ceiling" look kind of shot.

For a spectator, the seating bleachers in the Aspire Hall (where this event was held) were arranged on one side of the long side of the velodrome only. However, the venue was not jam packed with spectators so I had the chance to change seats as often as I wanted. I tried some shots at the lower end of the bleachers, the upper end, the left upper end, the right upper end, the middle. I tried them all but in the end, and because the velodrome itself was bigger than the seating section, the differences in viewing angle is not really that significant.


This sport is about speed and so, as mentioned in Part: 1 BASIC GUIDELINES, the irony of using slower shutter to a speed sports applies. Of course, the purpose is not to have everything blurred but rather to pan and keep the speeding subject in focus and let the rest be motion blurred. As mentioned also in that part, you need some swivelling practice with your hips to get a smooth pan.

Panning kept the riders in fair focus while the non moving elements were motion blurred.

I have photographed sports where the action is a lot faster than this so getting the kind of shots I wanted was fairly easy for me. Besides, the velodrome is perhaps the most regular track there is - it is simply an oval and riders don't change directions.


You really don't want to use a very fast shutter and strictly freeze action because such a shot will make the riders look like standing still. The purpose of showing speed is then defeated. However, fast shutters have their place in this kind of sports and that is when going for close-ups of the riders in action. The best way of capturing their expressions as they exert the kind of effort they do to propel those bikes is by freezing the action. Unfortunately, my lens is not long enough and not fast enough to capture such kind of shots.

Obviously you can't pan when your subject(s) are at this point of the track - the corner where they make a turn. Motion blur therefore becomes irrelevant. This is one case where fast shutter is useful.

Another way of using fast shutter is when riders are in the corner as they make a turn, wherein they are virtually facing the camera. Obviously panning is not applicable here and therefore, motion blur is irrelevant. However, the way the bikes are tilted and with a clear view of the riders faces (or at least the one in front) are enough to show action. For this kind of shot, you need to switch your focusing mode to AI Focus for a single shot or AI Servo for multiple shots (sorry, that was Canon speak). For the latter, be sure that your camera or lens's focusing can cope with your camera's continuous shooting speed. For single shots, you can also pre-focus manually and wait for the bikes to hit your pre-focused point.


Like I said, I've shot sports that are faster than cycling and, at least in my book, more exciting. The repetitive actions bored me after a while and so I really did not spent much time watching it. However, if you are into panning shots would like some practice on it, this sport, I think is a good one.


Next - Greco-Roman Wrestling


Hocchuan said...

nice article as always alex. thanks for sharing

alexdpx said...

Thank you Pat. More to come =)