The web has helped make minor celebs of lower-category amateur riders and non-pros and given a little r-e-s-p-e-c-t to the Cat. 5s, 4s, and 3s among us. OK, well, at least we can imagine we’re celebs in our circle of friends and family via online social networks and email.
Really, who doesn’t want to look good racing their bike?
Sure enough, through a variety of often free photo-sharing sites like Flickr and Facebook, it seems a lot of us are looking better and better all the time. I mean, hey, if you can’t be a pro, might as well look the part, no? Training and natural talent? Well, you’ll have to work on that yourself.
When I was racing many moons ago, digital cameras weren’t even that popular. Riders weren’t emailing Sunday’s race photos with a couple of clicks of the mouse or spreading them on Twitter in an almost-live as-it’s-happening fashion.
So who are the people who make the beautiful photos? One of the first sites dedicated to bike racing that I found was Anthony Skorochod’s CyclingCaptured.com. And his photos amazed me. In addition to shooting the pros, Skorochod offers great pictures of weekend warriors, Cat. 5s and Cat. 1s, and all those in between. And even a spectator or two.
I recently caught up with the jovial and incredibly likable Skorochod to talk about his passion for shooting bike racers, beer, getting cussed at by cyclocross racers during ‘cross races, and what keeps him motivated to take rich photos of us bike racers (psst! It’s not beer).
How long have you been a photographer?
I’ve been shooting for six years. I do this as a second job.
What is the other job?
I work full-time as a paramedic in the Lehigh Valley, Pa., area. I’ve been a full-time paramedic for almost 17 years and working in EMS full-time for 22.
How’d you get into cycling photography?
Because of my son. He started racing at the Valley Preferred Cycling Center in Trexlertown, Pa., six years ago. Since I was there anyway, spectating, I figured I might as well take pictures.
My passion for cycling photography exploded from there as my son started to explore other genres of cycling—track, road, and cyclocross.
Have you ever raced bikes yourself?
No, I am not a racer or even a “true cyclist” for that matter. I do have a rather nice bike, though. It’s a Giant Cypress LX. It’s a cheesy hybrid, but it has really cool disc brakes!
Talk about the business side of being a bike race photographer. What are the pros and cons?
The pros are, for me anyway, that it’s fun and I get to meet a lot of great people. Over the past few years I’ve become friends with cyclists from all over the world. Most of the people I come across are super nice, and I really do enjoy giving back to the cycling community. I do a lot of pro bono work to support “the cause.”
Your photos get a lot of currency in the bike-racing community. I see them everywhere. How has the web, especially social media like Facebook, affected what you do?
My photos may get a lot of currency but I don’t! I’ve amassed Facebook friends, and they are ALL cyclists from all over the globe. I use Facebook, Blogger, and Twitter to spread the word about the new galleries I have uploaded. I hear from a lot of people that they eagerly anticipate my photos from the races they were at and seeing them online.
I also like reading what races people are going to and reviews of the races they were at. I follow a lot of blogs. I find it fascinating to read about their experiences at races. I usually have photos for most of the things they’re blogging about.
Do you get access to any races you want to shoot? How does all that behind-the-scenes stuff work for you photogs?
I was the staff photographer at the VPCC this season. Having a media pass allows you access to the infield. I like talking to the cyclists there before the races to find out what the “feel” for the night is going to be.
Off the track, I was the official photog for the Univest Grand Prix and working for Liberty Sports Magazine at the 2009 TD Bank Philadelphia Cycling Championship. Having media credentials allowed me to access every part of the race.
For major races like that, the most beneficial thing is being able to be transported from location to location. Otherwise, I would have been stuck at one location for the entire race. In Philly, I was able to shoot from the staging area, the Manayunk Wall, and Lemon Hill. Transportation for the media was provided by the race. I could have even ridden on the back of a moto if I wanted to.
What’s the hardest part of your job?
Having the stamina to shoot the entire race. I don’t show up to races like a lot of other photographers just to shoot the pros. My main interest is the lower categories. The pros already have access to thousands of photos of themselves; the average Cat. 4 rider does not. I’d much rather shoot “the little guy,” if you will.
The best part of my job is bringing my memory cards home and loading them onto the computer. It’s always interesting to see how the photos came out.
I typically shoot in RAW, which means the camera itself does not alter the raw photo data in any way. A RAW file is a “digital negative.” A lot of work goes in after the shoot to get my images looking the way they do.
If I shoot a thousand photos at the race, I post-process every single one, one by one. A lot of other guys just upload their pictures straight from their camera. If my customer is going to pay good money for one of my photos, I’m going to make sure they are buying quality work. Every single photo of mine has my own “personal touch” added.
What makes bike racing photography different from other kinds of sports photography?
Bike racing is especially hard to photograph. The most difficult thing for any camera is to focus on a small moving subject coming straight at the camera at speed. I personally select one tiny focus point and have that track the cyclist’s face. It takes a steady hand and a lot of practice. Also, for me anyway, 100 percent of my work is done outside. Let’s use cyclocross as an example.
The season begins with summerlike conditions and rapidly deteriorate to winterlike in a matter of a few weeks. That can be a difficult transition for some. I helped out the promoter of a cyclocross race last year because the photog he had hired didn’t show up. His excuse was it was too cold! [Laughs.]
What changes have you seen in your line of work?
For this question, I’m going to concentrate on the hardware aspect. Both Nikon and Canon have come out with some spectacular cameras over the past three years.
Every year Canon bests Nikon and vice versa. There are some really spectacular bodies recently released that makes the photog’s job a lot easier. Competition among camera makers has been nothing but beneficial to the end user.
Describe a typical day shooting a bike race?
I wake up extremely early to get to the races. As I said, I like to photograph the “lesser categories”—no offense intended. Unfortunately, those races tend to be held first! [Laughs.]
Sometimes, especially if I worked at my paramedic job the night before, I just can’t last long enough for the Cat. 1 races. I don’t take a lunch break, and typically take no break at all, except to change memory cards and batteries. Sometimes it can be extremely hectic.
Have you ever been yelled at by a rider?
Once. Last year at Granogue I was taking a shortcut through the pit—I shouldn’t have been there in the first place—and I got in the way of a rider making a pit stop.
He had a mechanical so he was already pissed! [Laughs.] I’ve seen that rider several times since then and he’s apologized, like a hundred times. I just saw him a couple of weeks ago at Charm City, and we had some laughs over a few beers.
What’s your favorite race to shoot?
My favorite genre to shoot is definitely ‘cross. If I had to pick one favorite, I’d have to say Granogue. A close second would be StatenCX.
What’s your best memory shooting a bike race?
There are many. Most of them are photographing the kids’ races and capturing the sheer joy on their young little faces when they cross the finish line. It doesn’t even matter if they won—they are still ecstatic, even if they came in last. You don’t see that in the adult races.
Do you get solicited to shoot races or do you have to find them?
I’ve never gone out looking for business. That’s just not my style. So far, everyone has approached me. Photography doesn’t put food on my table, so I’m able to have a more relaxed attitude. I’m certain that will change once I transition careers sometime in the future.
What differences in approach do you take shooting, say, a cyclocross race versus a road race?
The approach is pretty much the same for all. I concentrate on getting three types of shots: straight-on shots, panning shots, and slow-shutter shots.
I also like to include an “Around the Race” gallery for every race I go to. In that gallery, I include all the photos I shoot that are not directly race-related. I like getting shots of the venue, sometimes the surrounding area, riders warming up on their trainers or getting their bikes ready, photos of the bikes, and, if I’m employed by the race, photos of sponsors and their advertisements or signage or banners.
And, most important, the spectators. I think my “Around the Race” galleries capture the ambiance of the race. I’ve been told by many that those photos are their favorite.
I’ve only had one complaint over the years—I do lean toward shots of the pretty girls. [Laughs.]
Do you have any bike photographers you look up?
I don’t follow any of the internationally known cycling photogs, such as Graham Watson. I have my own style, and it’s working for me. Not to mention I’m post-processing thousands of my own images every week. I just don’t have time to look at any one else’s work.
There is one cycling photographer who I have learned a lot from over the years. He happens to be a local guy: Mike Kirk of MLK Images. I think Mike’s work is top-notch, and I’ve got a lot of ideas from him. He’s always friendly at the races, and I make it a point to say hi whenever I see him. Check out his work at mlkimages.com.
How do you prep for shooting a race?
The first thing I do is print out the race information: start times, race guide, and course maps. Then I prep my equipment: clean my lenses, viewfinders, and camera sensors.
And the biggest pain about race prep is charging ALL my batteries. I probably carry around 10 pounds of batteries in my various pouches on my gear belt or harness. That’s pretty much it. I keep my gear all in two large bags ready to go at a moment’s notice.
What kind of equipment do you use?
I use all Canon bodies, lenses, and flashes. My main camera body is a Canon 1D Mark III and my two backup bodies are a Canon 1D Mark II and a Canon 1D. My lenses are all professional-grade Canon L lenses.
What’s the biggest race you’ve ever shot?
The 2009 Univest Grand Prix. I was the “official race photographer,” so a lot of pressure was on to photograph every aspect possible of three races in three different cities over the course of three days.
I think I shot about 6,000 images that weekend. It took me an additional four days to postprocess all the images. In the end, I pulled it off rather well. I did shoot everything on the promoter’s “set list.”
Is bike photography tough to get into? Is it competitive?
It’s easy to get into. Anyone with a camera can come to the races and shoot. The hard part is getting the word out that you were there and getting your website exposure.
I have one piece of advice to give about that: Google is your friend. Find a web host that makes your galleries searchable by Google. And the speed at which your host does that is paramount.
People tend to lose interest in viewing photos from a race within a few days. It’s getting more and more competitive every year. The one thing I have to fall back on is the quality of my work. You do get what you pay for.
Who are the most interesting racers you’ve met?
I’d have to say the Australian track cyclists. Our summer is their winter, hence their off-season. I love their accents, and I’ve never met an Aussie I didn’t like. [Laughs.]
Do you approach amateur and pro bike races differently?
No, they are the same in my eyes—and through my lens.
Black-and-white or color, what’s better?
I prefer color photography. Occasionally I’ll desaturate or convert a few images to black-and-white. Sometimes I come across that “classic” image that just looks better in black-and-white.
Digital or film?
I’ve never shot film, only digital. As I said, I shoot RAW and prefer “digital negatives” that I can do anything with, or even throw away. It doesn’t cost me a dime, only space on a memory card.
Can you recommend a good camera for an amateur bike photographer?
These days, pretty much any starter DSLR will get the job done, to a certain extent. Any Digital Rebel by Canon or Dxx—that is, D40, D50, and such—by Nikon is what I would recommend.
What’s your favorite ride?
I don’t get out too often, but the best place I ever rode was the Burlington bike path in Burlington, Vt.
What keeps you going?
Beer! Only kidding. I’d have to say my oldest son. As long as he keeps cycling, I’ll keep photographing!