They call “extreme sports” extreme sports for a reason. Its because they involve doing things that are on the verge of being insane!
The cyclists you see in these photos are racing down a ski slope.
As I was descending, competitors were flying past me on their bikes. Seeing up ahead a couple of bikers (extreme cyclists) standing off to the side of the track watching, I decided to greet them and ask about the sport. We got to chatting and I inquired in my serious radio-voice, “So, how does one even get started in this sport?” One cyclist then informed me that he had been doing this since he was twelve. Twelve!! And I blurted out, “You have got to be kidding me! Ain’t no way I would let my twelve-year-old son, on a bicycle doing 35 or 40 miles an hour, barrel down a black-diamond ski slope!!” He nodded and unassumingly replied, “Yes, it's really... it's really quite invigorating.” And at that precise moment, as I was standing there, this guy comes flying around the corner straight at us, and then crashes!!! His wheel had come down just perfectly on a jagged rock and his rim had exploded. He launched face first into the rocks and when he stood up, his spokes had exploded, and his wheel and his tire were free-floating inside the bike frame. Then a girl followed with a wreck so intense that they had to bring in a stretcher and drag her out on a four-wheeler. When all this happened, I started to analyze the track more closely and with a critical eye.
To lay out the racing course for the mountain bikers, the organizers had used boulders as ramps (as the last picture depicts) and the cyclists were winding through rock gardens and zipping over the top of log piles and other things that you think, “Huh, that is not where you should put a bicycle.” And those places are exactly where they put the bicycles.”
This is my favorite. (below)
The shot below is one of my favorites for three reasons. The dirt that the bike is kicking up is fantastic. If you look at where he is on the bike, his entire body is behind the seat.
Oh wow, he is! For a guy, if you miscalculate that jump, it could be really bad!
The other thing that I love about this picture is that I can see his eyes. He is going 40 miles an hour, is about to launch himself twenty feet before he hits the ground again, and I can see his eyes. And in them, I see - incredible, raw determination.
Another element that I love about the photograph is that he's in great focus. His body is in focus enough that I can see his eyes. The spokes on his bike wheels are blurred and the trees are blurred behind him. It’s a camera technique called Intentional Camera Movement (ICM). You have to try this several times before you get it. It’s hit or miss before you figure out what you’re looking for. The shutter speed is slow enough that I can track him, moving the camera at the same speed he is moving, and get him in focus enough that I can see his eyes. His bike wheels are moving faster than that, so they are blurred. The shutter speed allows me to move the camera to capture his eyes knowing that his bike wheels are going faster. They're blurred and the trees behind him are blurred. Notice, the trees behind him are blurred differently than the spokes on his
So when I look at this image, I love the fact that there is sufficient crisp focus to see his eyes. I like the “speed” captured, the dirt from the back wheel, and the “motion” that is in the trees and in the bike spokes, both of which are different. There’s a lot going on in this photograph. If you don’t stop and look at it, you miss it.
When we consider the timing of this shot and the speed of this athlete, because you captured him in the air, you captured a shot that this man most likely has never seen in his life of himself. You captured the determination in his eyes. He knows that he will land this jump.
When we think about time, because he is flying through the air, what is the shutter speed?
As far as shutter speed, it’s probably 1/100th or 1/80th of a second. I’m moving the camera with him, which is how that process works. I slowed the shutter speed down, slow enough that I get to see motion. I move the camera tracking him, hoping to be the same speed so that I can freeze him, and still see motion.
This is an amazing female athlete! Were you under...how in the world did you get this picture? Were you in a gully?
Actually, I was under. I was in the bend of the race course, standing within three feet of the track, underneath a ramp. She was flying off the end of a boulder-size rock built into the track.
So you basically saw her coming and were tracking her with your camera, and you positioned yourself banking on the fact that she was going to make that jump and not cartwheel into you.
Yes. If she had failed that jump, it would have been a whole different picture.
When I think about the Tour-de-France and what happens with the photographers, there are times when they have collisions. You put yourself into it to get the shot. That was definitely “getting into the river” as you say.
Absolutely, by the time I was walking down off that precipice I felt very much in the river. I was swimming.
And you had some excitement while on the mountain?
I fell down. I not only fell down, I sent $7000 worth of camera flying through the woods. Someone had knocked into a tree that was probably four inches around and which was dead. It fell over. It knocked into a woman and she went flying. I ended up in the whirling dervish of downhill action. Then I had a two hour hike to escape back to some sort of civilization. My knees wouldn't bend. I was scared to death and very nervous.
But you got the shot!
I got the shot. This particular shot is a faster shutter speed and you can tell that because the spokes in the bike wheels are more pronounced. But the shutter speed was not fast enough to freeze the tree behind her. This is probably 1/200th of a second, ...or somewhere in that neighborhood. But here again, she is in perfect focus and I can see her eyes. She is already calculating the landing at this point.
The track was interesting to me. I was expecting a track wide enough that several could ride on it, but in most cases it's no more than two and a half feet to three feet wide and its pretty much a ditch. They do this much like a downhill ski race - only one time and you are racing against the clock.
This photograph below was taken in the same vicinity, showing the same boulder as the image with cyclist #85 (determined eyes), but this one is completely different because the shutter speed is probably 1/1000s of a second. And while you can see a lot of dirt getting kicked up, not only is the cyclist in perfect focus but so are his bike spokes and the trees behind it. Everything is frozen in the photograph.
That bike...that’s amazing! It's literally going vertical. Did he nail that landing? Yes, he did! It was absolutely amazing. Here the bike is just now leaving the ground. It didn’t hit the ground again for twenty-five feet. He launched himself up and off that rock. He was flying!
Did the bike level out or did it stay vertical?
It leveled out. He hit the ground on both wheels at the same time. These people are on bicycles but but they have a race team. There is a bike mechanic that tunes that bicycle and a physical therapist that travels with the competitor. This is very much like a NASCAR team for bicycles.
This one below is one of your favorites! This has a totally different feel to it as does the person riding it and the way they're dressed. Compared to the previous shots, there is a totally different feeling. Is this a mountain bike or a road bike?
It is a cross country bike. This is a cross country rider not a mountain biker. I took this picture just walking down the road. This guy was coming and I was completely entranced, enjoying the motion of the day. Everything that I took, I took designed to show motion.
This is another one of those ICM photographs. It looks like the man is shooting down the road. And his uniform has so much detail and color to it, it adds to the motion. I captured the movement, but you can still see that this is a man and that he's on a bicycle. You can't make out any features on him except his shin muscle, his bicep and his forearm. And this is one of my absolute favorite photographs. I just think...I think it's intriguing.
Yes, it’s almost like he blends with the background. The lines in the front start blending.
But he himself, the rider sticks out. He's predominant enough that he's in the foreground and it looks like he is going a hundred miles an hour.
What impacts you about this photo? What do you feel or see in this photo?
Internal motivation, internal drive. Watching these people do what they do. The cross country course is not an easy thing. It is up hill, down hill, over rocks, over logs, and it is not one at a time. It’s a gang race with fifty other bikes trying to pass you. And it takes an incredible amount of strength and determination to make one lap let alone seven. It took a cyclist ten to fifteen minutes to run the course one time and they had to do it seven times.
I know that when they hurtled across the finish line and the race was over, they collapsed. They fell off their bicycles. Especially the leaders. The others you know were a little more graceful and would give the leaders their due, but the leaders, it was like all they could do to walk afterward.
Because they gave everything, there was nothing left.
There was nothing left.
I love that in your photo shoots, which vary greatly in the way of subject matter, you always seem to have a shot that I would title “two friends” whether that be two abandoned trucks in a field or in this case two riders.
Brett you really captured the movement and excitement of this day and cycling!