Since photographing the British Downhill Series last year, I have wanted to shoot another downhill race – so where better to start than my local race series, on the Stile Cop downhill trails at Cannock Chase. Despite riding at Cannock Chase a fair bit, I had never ventured over to the downhill trails, so I was a bit surprised to find out that the entrance was at the top of the hill. I got there just before the first, of two, race runs were about to start and made my way down the trail until I found a good spot, and bumped into Sean from Little Rippers, who had found a good spot by a jump.
I could not make that angle work, partly because I was lower than the riders coming through, and the wide-angle lens on my Fuji X-T2 was struggling to focus. During a break in the racing, I crossed the track, found a better viewpoint above a switchback corner, switched to my telephoto lens and was getting some better images.
I then noticed a better position to shoot the jump I had started at, so walked down the track to that. The angles didn’t quite work for the jump, but I could get a nice clean shot of the riders coming down the chute after the jump, so stuck there until the end of the first runs. The weather was overcast, which was both a blessing and a curse, it meant that there were no strange shadows to deal with, but also that it was pretty dark in the trees. With lots of riders coming straight towards me, I took the opportunity to experiment with some of the different focus modes on my camera but came to the conclusion that placing the smallest focus point where I wanted the rider’s face to be in the frame, then tracking them was getting better results than any of the more “intelligent” focus modes. This is the method I have been using since my motorsport photography days (fifteen years ago!), however, I would like to try the new bicycle tracking mode on the latest Fuji cameras though.
After lunch it seemed like everybody went back up to the top of the hill, so I joined them. This was a bit of a rookie error – as I was the only photographer to do this. All the others seemed to have shot the first race runs from the bottom of the hill, and then come up the hill and got themselves set up with good viewpoints for the second runs. I considered going to the bottom of the hill, but took the lazy option and returned to the switchback I had shot earlier in the day. Lesson learned for next time though!
Concentrating on one corner was a good exercise in getting the best angle and in the end I managed to settle on a “BOGOF” angle – capturing a full rider shot exiting the previous corner (photo above) and then a much tighter image of the rider going through the corner in front of me (photo at the top of this post). I would not normally go for such tightly cropped action images, but I liked how I was able to capture the rider’s expression, even behind a full-face helmet and goggles.
Even though it was “only” a local race, the standard of riding was high – the elite riders looked particularly fast, pedalling everywhere they could, rather than solely relying on gravity. There was also a surprisingly big crowd which meant there was a good atmosphere. Racers Guild has another race at Stile Cop planned for the autumn and I hope I can go because it was a great day out!