No Photos Please

Wevelgem photographerDamien Vandamme got his Warholian 15 minutes of fame although the publicity is far from positive. Lying prone in the road, the Belgian later told Het Nieuwsblad wanted to capture an image of the bunch in the Gent-Wevelgem race as it rode past a British war cemetery saying “I don’t understand the fuss… …I never thought  I was in danger.”

Vandamme gets marks for effort but put both his own safety that of riders in danger too, all for a photo. You sense a career as a war reporter could be brief. Safely for everyone, he’s not a pro photographer, instead he’s just a local who got too zealous with his art. There’s an obvious lesson here that spectators should keep out the way when a race is approaching at 50km/h but there’s another too: most people taking photographs from the roadside end up with bad images and miss the moment they came to see in the first place.

What’s so pointless about photography? Nothing normally but trying to get images from a race is one thing, taking good pictures another. The riders are moving so fast and you’ve only got a pocket camera or smartphone. 96% of the time the image won’t look very good especially when you download it back home.

You can wait for hours to see the race only to miss it because you were looking into a lens or a screen rather than absorbing the race itself with your own eyes. Take a look at picture above from Milan-Sanremo, Belkin’s Lars Petter Nordhaug has put in a late attack on the Poggio and look behind and you can see all the riders eyes are on him. But what of the crowd? Look at the man on the left in the blue sweater, he’s busy trying to hold his phone steady rather than cheer on the riders and enjoy the moment.

Nevermind a camera, it’s often hard enough to capture the scene with your eyes and brain as the riders flash past. If you can spot a rider you know they’re gone past you before you can shout out their name and often the passage is a blur of faces, spinning wheels, twitching muscles and following vehicles.

I’d suggest two exceptions:

  • If you’re really into your photography and want to practice your skill then snap away. Obvious really but it means a very different approach to the race, you’ll pick somewhere to stand thinking of image composition, background, light rather than being in a strategic point of the race or a spot within range of bar or jumbotron TV
  • If you want to stick a photo on Facebook why not capture something else like the start where riders aren’t moving so fast, if it’s a smaller race maybe you can ask for a pose. Or if you’re out on the course, snap the drunken fan on the other side of the road, the Rodania car or the broom wagon as it rumbles past?

Vandamme’s not the first one to look too through a camera instead of their own eyes as this clip from the 1999 Tour de France shows…

By all means take plenty of photos to bring back some memories of a fun trip to see a race. But when the riders approach, make sure you’re not in the way, whether lying in the road or running in front of the riders.

Unless you’re a keen and confident photographer one tip is to put the camera aside when the riders appear. The risk is you waited patiently by the road and then when the moment came, wound up concerned about your phone and a two-dimensional JPEG rather than taking in the sound, movement, smells and everything else that makes visiting a race special. Enjoy the moment.

If you want to improve your photography skills, see and for some tips and tricks.

33 thoughts on “No Photos Please”

  1. Most amazing fact: although he was nearby, Johnny Hoogerland, the grand master of the weird and spectacular crash, managed to miss Vandamme.

  2. thank you for this, I have had only three occasions to attend a top level races and each time I ran around like a crazed child on xmas morning. But, instead of opening presents I was trying to snap photos. I also caught up to Cadel Evans, Brent Bookwalter during my commute home. In my jeans and tennis shoes I sped after them on a busy road I would otherwise have never cycled on. I did get a couple of good ones but your suggestion to put down the camera and enjoy the moment is really helpful and I will do my best to do this next time the pros come to town.

  3. …it is like going to a live concert these days….you are looking at the stage and the performers through a forest of arms held aloft, while they record a poor image and dire sound quality onto their mobile phone. Forget the keepsake, live the moment. You can always by the DVD later……

  4. Exactly my thoughts, nowadays I will take a short video with my camera as the race passes, this captures the atmosphere better when sound is included, but when doing so I wont be “looking through the lens” but watching the race and savoring the moment, what I get is what I get.

  5. Nicely restrained, Inrng. Your point is pretty pervasive. The same attitude is common among tourists. Just google Machu Picchu and you’ll get more images than you could ever need. I understand the desire to put yourself in the frame, but once that’s out the way why not enjoy the moment, like you say.

    My friend recently visited a tourist attraction in Australia and took photos of the tourists taking photos. He has a very dry wit, and said: “Everyone was taking photos of the view, but noone seemed to be taking photos of the tourists.”

  6. This is true for many things beyond bike races. Yes it’s valuable to have some tangible memories (like pictures) of important moments, but it is even more important to fully enjoy those moments. First time I noticed this was about 15 years ago when I visited Rio de Janeiro. I was at the right time and place for a truly spectacular sunset, and so were about 60 others. But at least 30 of those only saw that sunset through the eyepiece of their still and video cameras. What a waste.

  7. Warholian fame – big time! Lobotomy Man – I guess it’s good he didn’t spread table sheet to have a picnic while watching the race.

  8. In my one and only visit to a Grand Tour; my lovely wife took the camera off me and said, “I’ll take the photos, you watch the race.”

  9. You’re too kind Inrng. Gent – Wevelgem has ended up with an injury list that would only be matched by most other sports if it was taken over their whole season. Even then it would require an aggregate of every team in the league.

    To then add to the myriad of crashes that occurred by supplanting oneself as another piece of street furniture is idiotic in the extreme. What would the general response be if it was this act that had caused Greipel to face surgery on his shoulder and Stannard to be laid up for a month and Schorns broken collarbone and ribs? I could go on but I think you get the picture, so to speak.

    I know its nigh on impossible to expect uniform penalties for spectator infringements on public roads but if that had been the Maracana or the Berabeu, Wembly or Mile High Stadium, Parc de Paris or the MCG, it would mean at a minimum, a large fine.

    There’ll always be issues with spectators on climbs unless barriers (a logistical nightmare) are used, but surely on flat fast surfaces common sense should rule. This bloke deserves something more than becoming the latest meme!

    • In the old days (and perhaps still) all marshals for the Manx International Rally were made special constables for the duration of the event. They got no trouble from spectators.

  10. I love and appreciate looking at great photo’s, but am I the only person who just can’t be bothered to actually take any.

  11. Thanks for taking this on, I find it absurd that people will wait at the roadside all day and then when they finally see what they came to see, they’re too busy w/ their bloody phone. Enjoy the moment!

  12. Enjoy the moment indeed. This includes the bozos who wait seemingly all day for the race to arrive, then turn their backs on it right away to mug for the TV cameras, or worse, get out in the road and run alongside. I’m amazed that one of these knuckleheads has not fallen in front of a racer or otherwise affected the actual race they supposedly came to watch.

  13. Mur de Peguere 2012 TdF was a great moment to have had a camera handy. I was already observing the no camera advice and thoroughly enjoying the banter with the locals, Rod Ellingworth and Tim Kerrison when it all kicked off for BMC with the infamous tacks on the road. Got some solid pictures of the drama unfolding, and later, Cadel Evans’ tyre. But as for catching riders at speed, really folks don’t bother especially if you have a smartphone. Maybe if you have a body mount camera you might record something but unless you’re sat on the moto looking back it is so much better to enjoy the moment.

  14. Well said INRNG! People remember things better when they see things through their own eyes than watching it back on a poorly shot video.

  15. Together with this retard and his minutes of fame and then all those “music fans” watching concerts through their phone screens I feel we should salute all those flashes going off in huge stadiums when fans think they’ll manage to take a good photo of the action from up there. With flash.

  16. I’ll be taking my camera for when the peloton blazes through Epping Forest (near my home) on Stage 3 of the Tour this year. But I’ve got a proper SLR that will shoot at 6 frames / second, a tripod and a remote release.

    By my reckoning 50km/h equates to approx 14 metres / second so if it takes 4-5 seconds for the group to pass I’ll have maybe 25-30 shots with riders in (assuming the group is together).

    • You might be experienced but one tip for others is to go out into the street and photograph cars, their speed and larger target size makes for an easy start in tracking and shooting moving objects.

  17. I’ve stood road side are 4 rounds of the Tour of Britain, The British National ITT and Road Race and a round of the Tour Series. I’m not shooting pics with my phone or my ipad rather two high end DSLR’s.

    Nobody was harmed in the taking of these photos

    When police asked me to move back from the side of the road at British National ITT (I didn’t know the roads weren’t closed) I took their advice and did as I was told, before moving to a different spot anyway.

    The closest I got was standing on Montrose street during the British National Road Race, I was trying to get that low down wide angle shot as the riders went passed. It only took David Millars wheel to whizz past my ear to realise that wasn’t such a good idea and that maybe I was a little too close. Lesson learned.

  18. If you both want to take pictures and enjoy the event as well, you can go to a time trial. A full peloton passing by, roughly a rider (or team) per three minutes. There are more than enough opportunities to take pictures (namely, with each rider/team, unless one is about to overtake another) Since you really don’t want to take pictures of every rider, there are also more than enough chances to cheer riders on. (Hint: make sure you have a list with the starting order.)

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