Shooting Ironman Canada

Our accommodations were close to the Start, but at 2.2 km, too far to walk.  So we were out of bed at 4:30.  We should have been out of bed at 4:00.

With over 2800 competitors, each having a support group, there is intense pressure on the parking.  If it were just a case of dropping the athlete, it would still be necessary to be up so early.  But when you are taking pictures, you want to park close so that you don't have to carry all the equipment.  And the Ironman Canada bike is one loop of 180 km, so you either drive out to various parts of the bike course, or give up on a number of photo opportunities.

In my years as a triathlon official, supportive spouse and event photographer, I have never parked so far from the start.  Should have got out of bed earlier.

I did get a great place on the start line.  I could shoot right along it and was in a great place to see the swimmers crowd the beach and to watch the warm-ups.

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At precisely 7:00 a.m.  the sun came over the hills and gave this wonderful backlighting to the start splash.  I may never get a better shot of a swim start.

And, I got probably my best swim shot ever.  Click on the image to expand it.  It's good!

The sun came out from behind the hills at exactly 7:00 o'clock.  It brushed the front of the start line, backlighting those first few who splashed into the water. 

It's worth remembering, if you can arrange it, to get the sun in front of you.  That way, when the swimmers hit the water, the splashes and droplets become crystals of light.  If you have the sun behind you, it's often very hard to see anything but the biggest splashes.

Getting a good shot of your own swimmer is almost hopeless.  I knew from strategy discussions that Marian would be at the far end of the beach from me, and even my 400 mm lens would never pick her out.  So that's okay.  They all look the same anyway; pink cap for the women, blue for the men.

I knew when Marian would be coming out of the water, and wanted to be at the roadside when she came out of transition on the bike.  With the roads closed and fencing up, it was almost a kilometre of walking to get into position to see her come out.

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It was a happy accident, photographically.  The early morning light gave the right shaping to the cyclist but left a busy background in darkness.

The position we had was almost perfect.  The light was pretty good, coming from the right, creating interesting shadows but still lighting the faces of the cyclists.  Down the road, the background was a bit messy but but directly across the street the background was still in deep shadow, allowing for a couple of powerful shots.

There were four of us and nobody saw her go by.  And she didn't see us.  The next day, using the EXIF data, we pored through the shots that were taken around the time we should have seen her.  Guess what!  There she was.

Once we were certain that she had gone by, we walked the couple of kilometers to the car and headed out to the bike course. 

The bike course is a single loop, 180 km that goes through vineyards and orchards along the side of Lake Skaha and then, at about 60 km, turns and abruptly starts to climb into the mountains.  I wanted to be at the first climb, Richter Pass.  The roads are necessarily still open to traffic, so we were able to catch up with the cyclists and get a sense of the race.

We passed Marian before she began the climb.

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At the top of Richter Pass, the sunlight was behind the cyclists.  The bright ambient light helps to emphasize the heat of the day.  Incidentally, notice the detail in the cyclist's sunglasses.

Ironman events are great spectator events.  At Richter Pass, on this remote mountain road, it was bedlam.  Between the Porta-Potties and Water Station workers, cheering crowds, hard-working cyclists and two-way traffic, a person could get himself killed.

Shooting here wasn't too bad.  Again the cyclists were back-lit, creating dramatic effects.  The bright light behind the cyclists helps to show the heat of the day, which was rapidly approaching 35, even 38, Celsius.  And, at 65 or so kilometers, it is still early in the race, so all the athletes are looking pretty cheerful.

From there, we moved along the road.  I don't know the region, so I'm a little vague on the exact location.  We chose the stop because there was a pull-off and because there was the possibility of getting a good dramatic shot of the bike course set against the towering mountains.  That didn't work out all that well, but I did get some good panned shots.

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Brenda Smith, Marblehead, Massachusetts, about halfway along the bike route in Ironman Canada 2011.

I have learned that if you shoot a cyclist from the side, with a very high shutter speed, you freeze the action in a way that is very impressive.  But it also leaves you waiting for the cyclist to fall over.

So shots from the side are best done at lower shutter speeds.  I find 1/80 second works quite well.  You get the cyclist in the viewfinder and follow them across your field of view, rotating at the waist.  When it works well, you get a very sharp athlete, blurred bicycle wheels and a very blurred background.

Of course, a lot of those shots come out blurry, period.  I must have been in good form, because most of my shots worked the way I wanted.

There was another point, in the highest heat of the day, where we parked at a well-know road-side fruit market, nicknamed The Bear.  The high point here was the watermelon.  The staff of the market prepared a huge tray of chillded watermelon pieces and handed them out to the spectators.  I don't think any of the athletes got one.

It came time to get back into town to see the run.  Runners are harder to photograph, and since the 40 km course was closed to traffic, I didn't make a serious effort to follow the runners.  But I did know that many runners would be coming back into town, and the finish, well after dark.  In fact the last runners to qualify would be coming in close to midnight.

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The Speedlight was held about ten feet off to the left.  A slower shutter speed helped to gather more of the ambient light.

So, we fished the Speedlight out of the camera equipment and went out onto the street to capture that.  I'm totally comfortable with studio lights, but I don't often use that little flash.  I can't say that I had huge success but I did get a few shots that show the late evening finish.

It wouldn't do to set the flash just to capture the runner.  I needed an exposure which would also capture the surroundings.  So I adjusted the flash to give out a little less light and set my shutter speed to as slow as I dared.  The image here was shot at 1/60 of a second in order to get a satisforactopry amount of the store lighting.  Lisa actually held the flash off-camera about ten feet which is why the lighting is a little bit dramatic.

Marian came in a few minutes after 11 p.m.  By the time we collected her and got home, it was nearly 1:00 a.m.  A glass of wine, a bit of chat, and that ended a 23 hour day.

Posted September 08, 2011 at 12:12 am.