In most big ‘cross areas of the country, a day or two after your race, you get to relive your race by browsing hundreds of photos posted online by multiple photographers. Perhaps you’re even lucky enough to find a few good ones of yourself suffering. ‘Cross, with is accessible, short courses, dramatic conditions and constant suffering, is a natural attraction for sports photographers. But have you ever wondered what it takes to plan and capture a good photo? Photographer Janet Hill (we published two of her photos in our Cross-Eyed Gallery in Issue 3) submitted this race report of her season opening race, from her perspective as a photographer.

Labor Day Cyclocross Championships, A Photographer’s Perspective

Seatac, WA, September 1, 2008
By Janet Hill, SpotShot Photography

The first CX race of 2008 in the Seattle area took place under partly cloudy and dry skies; not exactly the typical cyclocross weather. The “pin the number on the rider” can only mean a race is about to start. Racing must be here

Weather that makes it comfortable for the spectator makes it boring for the rider (so I am told). Epic weather creates great photo ops but the determination on the faces of the riders is the always present, no matter what the weather conditions.

The Seatac CX course is referred to on the official T-shirt as the “Sand Pit.” There is a big section of the course that has deep sand surrounded by the brush known as scotch broom. When the riders approach the sand pit on their warm up laps, they start to ride along the sides where the sand and dirt is packed into a more solid surface.

Some riders made it

The Sand Pit looked deceptively rideable. I am frequently asked what line is the best.

Sand in turns is hard

As I aim my camera for the spin outs, some riders take the left side, some take the right, some walk, some attempt to power straight through only to have their tires sink and they come to a halt, and a select few muscle straight through with shear strength and determination. Two young girls walked their bikes into The Sand Pit and the leader said, only the guys can ride through this, and the girls walked their bikes. Just out of their sight, an female racer had powered straight through the Pit for a successful crossing only a minute before the youngsters entered the Pit.

Sand creates bottlenecks

I crouch down along the yellow course tape hoping to capture the spray of the sand as it is spit out from the cross tires. The recent rain made the sand a little heavier so it didn’t rise as high in the air as in past years. I don’t know if this makes it easier to ride through but it certainly detracts from the potential of a dramatic photograph.

Powering through the sand

A steep run up is also a staple of this course, making a successful ride even more impressive. Many try and few succeed. Those who make it with one tire width from the top are prime subjects for my camera lens.

It was a risky decision to try to ride this hill

Pedaling hard in and out of the shade of the trees and the brightness of the sun makes for interesting contrast for those riding I’m sure. As the riders head down a short but rather steep hill with a pothole hidden in the darkness of the shadows on a tight right hand turn, I stand just outside the taped off course line. I can see the tire marks from previous riders who failed to negotiate the corner but I want to take photos from that spot. I get in position and wait. One rider at a time comes down and around. Many look straight at my lens as if I am going to make them famous. Some have the look of fear as they narrowly navigate the corner.

Many folks had trouble with this turn

One rider failed to make the corner and flew over his handlebars. Of course I missed the shot as he became airborne. I asked him if he was okay even though he wore a UW Husky uniform (Go WSU Cougars!). As he hopped back on his bike and sped away, he yelled that he wanted a picture of that. So did I!

post race banter

Go forth and ride hard, as I hope to be able to capture a great photo of you too.

View a slideshow of more of Hill’s photos from this race