I was cold, muddy, sweaty, and exhausted when I walked into The Bellingham Herald’s newsroom. My feet were soaked, my pants from my knees to my boots slathered in mud, and every bone in my body ached.
It was a good day. A very good day. Shooting the Ski to Sea endurance race with hugely satisfying.
Energizing For His Turn
It began about 10ish when I arrive at Hovender Homestead Park in Ferndale. My job is to cover the sixth leg, cross-country biking, of the race. I was so early, only volunteers and a few hardy racers were there. Although the race was officially underway, there was an expected wait of nearly two hours before even the fastest racers would arrive.
Free Inspections and Tune-ups:
While waiting, I chatted with race officials and volunteers. One of the topics of conversations was how high the river is. Usually, the canoers had at least 100 yards of a sandbar to land on for the exchange to take place. However, this year the landing spot was less than 10 yards of shoreline which would make it a tough challenge when more than two or three canoes arrived at one time.
Age is NOT a Barrier:
Although I’ve shot many endurance races and competitions when I worked at The Aspen Times in Colorado, Ski to Sea was a completely new thing for me. So the day before the race, I talked with Andy who gave me a few tips on shooting that particular leg:
Up & Over The Bars:
- Arrive Early
- Shoot the first men’s and woman’s teams as they handed off the timer
- Drive along the bike route and look for angles
- Go to Squalicum Park where there is some good vantage points and compositions
So, I arrived early. While there talked with people and figured out what was going on. Shot what I could of the begging leg of this segment.
Next, I drove along the route finding fields to photograph as the riders went through. I stopped along several spots but found only one that resembled them biking something that looked “cross-country.”
After half an hour of that, I went to Squalicum Park. Unfortunately, the winding trails usually ridden by the bikers were closed due to construction of new baseball/softball diamonds. But I was able to find a corner they came around at a pretty good speed, so as they rode past me, I used panning to capture that sense of speed.
A few tips on panning:
- Panning takes a bit of practice, but it’s easy to do. First, plant your feet parallel of the direction of travel that your subject is going. Next, use a slow shutter speed and tiny aperture. The key is you want the subject sharp with the background/foreground blurred.
- You begin following your subject and then when the subject is almost directly in front of you, begin firing off a few frames. The reason you wait is so you can center your subject in the frame and judge its speed better so you get a good image.
After leaving the park, I was driving along Squalicum Parkway and noticed the bikers riding an abandoned set of railroad tracks. As there was nowhere I could park, I drove slow to see if I could find a trail that led to them.
Huffing Up the Last Hill:
At the end, I noticed the bikers coming up a small hill pushing their bikes. I parked just before that spot and checked it out. I then went to check it out and noticed the long tree tunnel the riders went through.
So I spent a few minutes shooting this beautiful composition of the bikers riding through this section of trail and then pushing their bikes up the muddy hill. While shooting it, I noticed one of the riders carrying her bike. Her chain came off the front sprocket due to the rough trail.
It was an incredibly fun and satisfying day. Which probably explains why I was so tired at the end of the day. That or the 5 miles my pedometer says I walked.
For more photos from this section of Ski to Sea, view this slide show on The Bellingham Herald website: Ski to Sea Cross-Country Biking.
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Paul “pablo” Conrad
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