The 2019 cyclocross season is finally here!!! I can’t tell you how happy that makes me. Ever since I shot my first race back in 2011, and did my first race the next year, cyclocross has been in my blood.
Racing skinny tire road-style bikes on a short track, obstacle-laden course that encompasses a variety of challenging terrain, including dirt, mud, wet grass, off-camber hills, steep run-ups, shin-high barriers and maybe a tiny bit of pavement, ‘cross is a full-on burst of all-out energy and classic Type 2 fun. In other words, Cross is Boss.
I love the challenges that cyclocross offers, and I often use it as my benchmark to test new camera bodies, lenses and specific settings. I also find it to be a perfect opportunity to push my creativity and practice shooting new styles and techniques.
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With very fast action and often times difficult light, shooting ‘cross has made me a better action photographer, and it’s helped me become even more proficient with my cameras.
Every single year, I try out different approaches and I always get photos that I absolutely love. During a race last year, I got what I felt was the best, most exciting action photo I’ve ever shot, and so with a new season upon us, my goal is to continue to push myself and play around with new ideas as I run around the course and look for cool vantage points.
As with last year, I’m shooting with the Fujifilm X-T3, which is, by far, the best, most capable action camera I’ve ever used. With the increased performance and new features they added when the upgraded from the X-T2, I feel as if the Fuji engineers designed this camera specifically for me.
With the ultra fast electronic shutter that will fire at up to 30 fps, and the highly improved autofocus system that will track at those speeds, and the new creative features they added, I find that shooting with the X-T3 gives me an incredible amount of creative flexibility and total hot-shot performance.
One of the features I love the most is the new Warm and Cool Black and White adjustment settings, which I wrote about in a previous post. (You can watch my YouTube video tutorial about this setting here.) This setting is also found on the X-T30.
This setting expands on your creative options when shooting in black and white and it allows you to get some really cool looks. I’ll often go back and forth between shooting “warm” for some shots and “cool” for others, sometimes one right after another. (I’ve put this setting in my My Menu, so I can bring it up with one click.)
This is similar to my approach with the film simulations, where I might vary my looks numerous times throughout a race, sometimes shooting two or three different looks for a single fast breaking scene. It’s all about trying things out and seeing what works, and if you’re proficient with your camera, you can change up your settings to match new ideas that pop into your head at a moment’s notice.
I also like to play around with my Q Menu setting and adjust the Highlight/Shadow Tones and the Color control, in order to vary my looks even more. This shot above is CLASSIC CHROME with the Shadow Tone bumped all the way up. I think it makes for a really gritty, hard look, which makes for an exciting shot in the right moment.
The other setting I find essential for shooting this kind of action, is PRE-SHOT ES, which you can read about in this post.
PRE-SHOT ES works when you’re shooting in Continuous High and using the Electronic Shutter. When you enable this setting, the camera not only starts tracking your subject as soon as you do a “half-press” on the shutter button, it actually starts writing images into the buffer as it’s tracking.
Then, when you press the shutter all the way, the camera will save those “half-press frames” and write them onto your memory card. It’s a highly useful tool for shooting fast moving subjects, because it makes up for the lag time between when you start tracking and when you actually slam that index finger down all the way.
In effect, it lets you capture frames that you would normally miss because your finger is slow than your brain. Pretty cool, huh?
Of all the sports I’ve shot, there’s something about cyclocross that holds a special place in my heart. Maybe it’s because it perfectly matches my own one-thing-to-the-next, spastic energy style. Maybe it’s the camaraderie and because I love seeing my friends suffer out there on the course, knowing that I’ll have my turn next.
Maybe it’s just because cyclocross is just so damn cool. There’s a unique style to this kind of bike racing, and anyone who’s every seen or done a ‘cross race knows what I’m talking about.
Now that it’s fall, ‘cross is here, and wherever you live, there’s good chance that there’s a race series near you. Even if you’re not a bike racer yourself, it’s an exciting sport to watch, and a fun, challenging sport to photograph.
I would encourage you to check the listings in your area and go watch at least one race, just to check it out. And don’t forget to take your camera.
To see my own photography evolution with shooting cyclocross over the years, you can check out my archive of cyclocross-related blog posts here.
Stay tuned for more ‘cross photos next week.