In a series of articles X Photographer Jeff Carter will be shooting at sports events in the UK and showing how to capture great images with the Fujifilm X Series without the need for a media pass.
Sports Photography as a Spectator – Mountain Bike Racing
So far in this series I have attended seven sports events which I have shot at some point in my 25 year career as a sports photographer but for part 8 of the ‘Sports Photography as a Spectator’ features I attended the Scottish X Country (SXC) Mountain Bike Racing Series event at Dalbeattie, a sport that is a first for me.
INTRODUCING THE SCOTTISH X COUNTRY MOUNTAIN BIKE SERIES
The Scottish Cross Country (SXC) Mountain Bike Series offers everything from Taster events for novice mountain bikers to full on Elite racing, and everything in between. The series of six events across Scotland on some of the most challenging mountain bike courses in the UK.
The event I attended in Dalbeattie in Dumfries and Galloway took part on the forest trails just south of the town. The SXC event attracted a large entry of riders of all ages from under 12s to veterans, with the top riders in the Elite category also taking part to build up their points for the national titles.
Races are run over a predetermined number of laps depending on the class. The Under 12’s race took place on a shorter course over two laps, while the Elite riders did five laps over the full course.
BE PREPARED – What to Take
This is Mountain Bike Racing and takes place on forest trails that can offer some rough terrain, so dress accordingly. Also check the weather forecast before traveling and take wet weather gear for yourself and your photo gear if necessary.
As you are out in the forest take food and water as it can be a long day. While there is catering in the start finish area, it can be a long walk back if you are out on the far point of the course.
This is the first event in this series of features where I didn’t need the XF100-400mm f4.5/5.6 zoom as I was able to stand right next to the course. The long focal length was not required for the most part and under the trees the light was quite low so the f5.6 maximum aperture on the long lens would’ve forced me to raise the ISO to the top end of the range on the FUJIFILM X-T2.
For Mountain Bike Racing the XF50-140mm f2.8 is the best choice as you can fill the frame with the long end of the zoom while keeping the ISO lower in the challenging light conditions thanks to the f2.8 maximum aperture. I also had the 1.4x converter in my bag which I did use on a couple of occasions to give the lens a bit more pulling power. However, on the whole, I just needed the standard zoom range on the lens.
GET IN POSITION
You can stand right next to the course and there are no barriers apart from around the start/finish area. Remember mountain bikes are fairly quiet, so if you are walking on the course make sure you keep an eye and ear open for oncoming competitors.
As this was a sport I had never shot before, I arrived early and walked the course, noting down where the best positions were for shooting. Look for water splashes and jumps, which will make your images more interesting.
Also don’t just shoot from eye level, get down low or up high if possible to vary the angle. Another good position is to go off the course and shoot through the trees. A long exposure of a rider with the trunks or branches of the trees can produce a different composition.
SHOOTING THE ACTION
Mountain Bike Racing is not as fast as motorised sport but the riders can move quickly. It is good to inject a sense of speed into some of your images by dropping the shutter speed down to 1/60s or lower using the panning technique.
A fast shutter speed of between 1/250 and 1/1000s is necessary to freeze the action, especially for jumps and water splashes.
The X-T2’s AF system has no problem in tracking the competitors easily but with trees and other obstacles on the course the autofocus can get confused and lose the lock. I always set both of my X-T2s to ‘boost’ to improve the reaction time and the AF-C custom setting is set to Ignore Obstacles (set 2).
For this event I used single point AF and focused on the riders face or upperbody.
Be careful when shooting riders under the trees with a bright background. The final image could be under exposured because of the backlighting confusing the metering if you use matrix or centre weighted. If you are using programme, aperture or shutter priority modes I recommend using spot metering and dialing in the necessary exposure compensation to get the right exposure for the competitor.
For metering I used the centre weighted setting most of the time to see the exposure in the viewfinder. I shoot in manual exposure mode, with the shutter speed dial set to T and the rear command dial used to adjust the shutter speed. I also set the ISO dial to ‘A’ and use the front command dial to select the required ISO.
With the aperture ring adjusted by my left hand, I can adjust all three elements to get the correct exposure without taking my eye from the viewfinder.
There were no restrictions on the use of flash at the SXC event but I chose not to use my EF-X500 flashgun just in case it distracted any of the competitors. If you want to use flash at a mountain bike race I recommend you check with the event organisers beforehand.
CHOOSING AN EVENT
There are six events in the SXC Mountain Bike Racing series and there are other series all around the UK. For more information on the Scottish series visit the SXC website and for the national scene visit the British Cycling website for more information on mountain bike racing and other forms of two wheel sport.
CAMERA AND LENSES
• Fujifilm X-T2 with battery grip
• Telephoto Zoom – XF 50-140mm f2.8 + 1.4x converter when needed. A good alternative lens in the 55-200mm f3.5/4.8 or the XF100-400mm.
• Standard zoom (16-55mm f2.8 or 18-55mm / 18-135mm) for wide action shots and portrait images.
• 10-24mm f4 wide angle zoom lens can also be useful a different perspective of the action.
• Shutter dial set to ’T’ (and locked). Shutter speed selected on rear command dial
• Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS) on.
• Metering set to Center Weighted, with Spot selected when the lighting conditions proved to be challenging under the trees.
• Autofocus – AF-C with camera set to ‘boost’ to improve reaction time.
• AF custom setting on Set 2 (Ignore Obstacles)
• AF Mode – Single Point
• Drive set to CH (8 or 11 fps)
• Action freezing images – 1/250s to 1/1000s with aperture wide open. Adjust ISO accordingly.
• Panning images – 1/125s to 1/30s will inject lots of movement in the image. Choose a suitable aperture and drop the ISO down to 100/200.
• People shots – Autofocus to AF-S and use wide aperture to isolate the subject from the background when using telephoto lenses.
PREPARING FOR MOUNTAIN BIKE RACING
• Check the weather forecast and dress accordingly.
• Take covers for your cameras. The X-T2 / X-Pro2 / X-T1 and the majority of Fujinon lenses might be weather resistant but I always cover the equipment when not in use. It is not just water, Mountain Bike Racing courses can be very muddy.
• Food and drink. There are usually facilities at an event but the courses are big and are in some rough terrain, so a snack and a bottle of water is recommended.
• You are standing right next to the course so keep your eyes and ears open at all times.
• Stay behind the marked areas in the start/finish area.
• Obey the instructions of the officials.