The Shot: Slowing down the Vuelta

BrakeThrough Media explains what it takes to capture the Vuelta's blazing fast stage 21 on camera at the race's big finish in Madrid.

Photo: BrakeThrough Media

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The Shot: 2016 Vuelta a España, stage 21 Las Rozas – Madrid, 104.1km

In customary fashion, the 2016 Vuelta a España culminated in a circuit race on the wide avenidas (avenues) of Madrid’s city center. Like the finale of the Tour de France looping up and down the Champs-Élysées, the Vuelta completes nine laps around the Plaza de Cibeles. Unfortunately, it’s not a course with landmarks as iconic as the Arc du Triomphe. It does have some dramatic backdrops, like the white neo-classical Palacio de Cibeles, but they compete with a lot of nondescript clutter on course — sponsor banners, stoplights, bus shelters, VIP tents, race ambulances, and the medic station. This year in particular, one of the more visually stunning corners was draped in a mustard-yellow construction tarp and the stately fountain in the plaza itself was under construction. That basically left the Palacio de Cibeles as the main architectural feature to play with, and all else became variations of basic action shots.

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It may seem obvious but shooting laps provides a lot of repetition. This is good since you get to see the riders a lot but can also be visually limiting. Especially when it’s a closed circuit, like Madrid, nearly all the photographers work from inside the Plaza at its center and take advantage of the many angles offered from that point. However, after a few laps one can start to feel a little like it’s just shooting fish in a barrel. We strive to add as much variety as we can, so besides mixing up angles and perspective, we look for changes in technique. Head-on telephoto action, profile panning action, wide atmosphere action, close-up, three-quarter, low angle, reverse shot, and fisheye are some examples. One technique especially popular among cycling photographers is use of “slow shutter” in varying degrees. Cycling is a very fast sport; so in order to get super crisp shots at high speeds, you need to shoot a very high shutter speed, say 1/1250 sec or more. Conversely, slow shutter technique allows you to create motion blur in the background or in the subject, thus highlighting the sensation of speed and movement.

For the Palacio de Cibeles shot, we’ve tried high-speed shutter, super-slow shutter, and (in this case) slow shutter with an on-camera flash. As the race neared its final laps, the sun continued to set and the area around the Plaza and the Palacio fell into shadow. Since the facade of the Palacio was over-exposed by the low sun and the riders were now passing through near darkness, I chose to accent some of the riders with a flash fill which helps to “freeze” the slow shutter on some of the subjects. It’s a tricky technique to master when the riders are flying by at 50kph. For example, I never managed to hit the flash on Quintana in the red jersey but there were some fun frames captured overall. Luckily, we had two frames that showcased Magnus Cort Nielsen who wound up being the sprint stage winner so that was a bonus to an otherwise purely artsy shot.

Key image specs:
Canon 1DX
Canon 24-70mm f2.8L II USM
Focal Length: 24mm
1/100 sec @ f/7.1 ISO 640
File format: RAW

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