Shooting Tour of Missouri from a Moto: Part 1 – Getting there…

I'm sorry that it has been so long since I've posted to the blog, but there has been so much going on this year, I've been too busy to have the time to write. So many folks have asked about my week of shooting at Tour of Missouri, I felt I had to be sure to write about it.

San Francisco Grand Prix 2002I guess this trip really started years ago. I've been able to shoot a variety of races. From US Postal racing in San Francisco at the SFGP in 2002, through Lance and other racing at the Dirty Du outside of Austin, to the Tour of California in 2007 when I followed the whole race w/ course credentials (via GrahamWatson.com – long roundabout story not worth boring you with) but without a moto. A good friend, Brian Dallas, and I covered Tour of California that year together. He wrote a blog out of Ventura, CA called Ride Ventura. It was the first multi-stage race that I've ever "chased". Brian and I alternated getting rides in media cars, or other vehicles for better access to the stage. 2007 Tour of California: Stage 1 - Santa Rosa The other person would drive the car to the finish w/ the luggage and gear, and would try to catch a shot or three at one or two places along the route. That year worked out really well as I captured arguably theimage of the race that year: the pile up in Santa Rosa during the finishing circuits of Stage 1. Just after the stage finished I saw Graham and showed him the sequence I'd captured; he was instrumental in helping me sell the shots to Velo News. I ended up with a two page spread in the Off the Front section, the sequence for their website, and they used one the post pile-up pictures for an article about the controversy that came from the neutralization of that stage… after the stage had finished. Not bad for my first outing at a multi day stage race…

Suffice to say, this got me hooked…

I continued to shoot as much as I could. I entrenched myself at the local Velodrome – the Superdrome in Frisco, TX – and was soon dubbed their "official" photographer. That work gave me incredible experience. Shooting 12-15 races a night for 1-2 nights a weekend, 3 weekends a month over the late spring, summer, and early fall for a few years can add up to a LOT of shots. I learned how to frame my shots faster, learned the controls of my camera by touch, and learned to really trust my instinct. I got pretty good an knowing when a jump was going to happen in a match sprint, I got to learn the riders and some of their habits, and so on.

Perhaps most valuable of all was how I gained speed and skill in post-processing images. The day shots were challenging enough – shooting on a 250m track w/ 44 degree banking is one thing, but to shoot in the evenings with ever changing light raised lots of quality issues. So, as the sun is setting, the flood lights are kicked on and they slowly mix in to replace the fading daylight. It isn't bad at first, the sun setting creates great shadows to play with and you get great contrast when a rider is in the sun, but the track is shaded. But as the sun sets, the track's two very different types of flood lights bathe alternating stretches of the track with two very different "temperatures" of light - I had to get good at color balancing. Also, the pure volume of shots made it critical that I learn to cull out the "bad" shots and to not agonize over decisions between similar shots. That is wasted time that can add up and increase processing time by hours. This translates very well over to a multi-day stage race – you need to be able to get your shots selected, tweaked, and published to websites and/or image services quickly or someone else may sell their shot to a potential client first.

I also made a point to get some moto time. I needed to find out if I could sit on the back of a bike, twist my body around, and shoot w/ accuracy and a steady hand… Oh – and not get motion-sick in the process. I knew I could shoot from a helicopter both air to air and air to ground, so I was pretty sure I would do okay, but I didn't want to show up at a pro race w/out having shot from a motorcycle. I was able to do some triathlon shooting that got me invaluable moto experience, thanks Kristen and Todd!

I did shoot some other pro racing. TX Tough Grand Prix in Dallas brought some top criterium pros to Dallas in 2008 – I got another off the front shot in Velo News… I was also able to make it out to shoot the last three days of Tour of California this year… That brought back the fun of 2007 – and all the old questions I had from my previous AToC… If it was this much fun to chase a race for the starts, some middles, and the finishes; what was it like to shoot from a moto in a pro race? What does it take to get those key shots? How do the best folks end up being in the right place at that right time?

I got a lot of my answers during 7 days in Missouri…

Planning:

There was a lot of leg work that went into planning for the trip. The first part was ensuring I'd have the credentials - shooting for Graham Watson made this process much easier. By shooting for him I was bringing a global audience exposure to the race via Graham's daily race updates. I was also then shooting for the publications that utilize Graham's work who didn't have another shooter under contract at the race. An email to the race organization soon had a reply that they'd remembered me from 2007's Tour of California and they were looking forward to having me out for the week. Check…

2009routemaparticleThe other half of the planning revolves around how to not only figure out where to stay each night, but figure out how to get your gear from place to place given the fact that you'll be sitting on the back of a moto from the start to the finish, and there is only space for you, gear hanging off of you, and perhaps one of the moto's two panniers – but you also may have to stuff a 300mm prime and some rain gear in there, along with water and lunch. The solution is to have a friend be your assistant for the week, driving a car from start to finish w/ luggage, laptop, extra gear, etc. Their payoff is long hours, an adventure, and a set of media credentials for the week. A good friend, Kevin Cooper, was kind enough to help me out for the week, and was an added value as he is also a shooter. He was able to provide some backup coverage for the race by essentially doing what I'd done in California in 2007 – shooting the start, the finish, and perhaps a spot or two along the route.  Kevin also figured out the route for getting from stage to stage as well as where to stay each night. I was swamped with a few other projects at the hotel "planning" time, and I also figured that since he was going to do the bulk of the driving – it would be sorta odd for me to tell him where we needed to be and how to get there.

A huge wrench was almost thrown in the works as a battle in the Missouri government developed between the Gov and Lt. Gov about if the pre-approved and allocated sponsorship money for the race from the state was actually going to be provided to the race. As disappointing as it would have been to have something cancel this opportunity, I realized it was out of my control and just hoped that cooler heads would prevail and things would all fall into place, which they did.

Equipment:

Next on the list was to go over in my head, and in my budget, the equipment I'd need for the race. My gear bag was pretty complete for starters, but who couldn't always use something else. My bag contained a slew of Canon gear. Two bodies, a 1D Mark IIn and a 5D Mark II; with a solid range of glass – 17-40 f/4L, 24-105 f/4L IS, 70-200 f/2.8L IS, and a 100-400 f/4.5-5.6L IS. Plenty to cover pretty much any situation, but I figured a few more pieces would help fill the gaps in the bag. I really felt a second sports shooter body would come in handy – a 1D Mark III, I also wanted to get a great fast prime – the 300mm f/2.8 IS was top of that list, and to get the last piece of the puzzle – a 15mm f/2.8 fisheye.  A quick request to the fine folks at Canon Professional Services had the equipment scheduled and due in the day before I left for Missouri.

A new game show - name that gear! LOL

All the other camera side stuff was already "in the bag". Cleaning gear (blower, lens pens, sensor pens, cloths, etc), memory cards, external storage, laptop, spare batteries, chargers, flashes and so on. I did pick up a Turbo battery for the flash to speed recycle time, but there wasn't much other camera equipment to get.

Moto gear was another story all together… I didn't have a helmet, no riding jacket, nor a great rig to not only store and arrange the gear on my person as I was on the bike, but also a way to ensure that a camera strap wouldn't slip off a shoulder and result in anywhere from four to six thousand dollars worth of glass and camera body bouncing down the roads of the midwest.  I'd considered a traditional photo vest, but I figured it would lack large enough pockets for the larger lenses, and would be too hot across my back. I also looked into just a belt system that would allow me to use the cases that came w/ some of my canon lenses, but I wanted to get the stuff off of my waist, thinking it might be uncomfortable to have all that weight on my belt. The next thought was to look for some sort of web-gear setup like the military uses. I think that solution would have worked really well, but at a bit of a price as ammo pouches and so on can run the tab up pretty quickly. The winning solution was one passed along to my by friend and fellow Canon shooter, Liz Kreutz; she pointed me to NewsWear.com logoNewsWear.com. I'll do a review of the vest soon, but I went with the medium chest vest – only $95 and it worked extremely well… A trip to a local motorcycle shop w/ another buddy, Greg, soon had me sportin' an AGV Blade helmet. Again, I didn't want to break the bank, but wanted to get something I could actually try on and ensure not only fit, but would allow me to hold the camera to my face with flash mounted and still be able to get my eye to the viewfinder. Quite a few helmets had slick integrated visors but the front of the helmet was now so thick, I couldn't get the eyepiece to my eye… Hmmm… is it important to be able to see to shoot? The last budget saver - a friend of Greg's was my size and had plenty of extra gear. A nice mesh bodied light gray jacket w/ back, shoulder and elbow/forearm panels completed the gear list. Okay – a few last things – some sturdy over the ankle hiking boots (from Oakley, gotta love their gear), some rain gear, and various other supplies like sunscreen, etc… sorted.

Missouri Bound:

So Saturday the 5th arrived and it was time to load up the car and head north. Kevin showed up and my place and we soon all of the gear loaded, a tank full of gas, and only 650 or so miles later, we arrived in St. Louis.

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More to come, I'll try to not keep you all in suspenders too long.

Thanks for reading!

- Will