Alright, at first I would like to tell about the event itself. Red Bull Trans-Siberian Extreme is a very tough challenge for the competitors. The contestants had to traverse a total of 9,158 kilometers, split into 14 stages ranging from 314 to 1,372 kilometers, across 5 climatic and 7 time zones of Russia along the legendary Trans-Siberian Railway. In addition to physical and psychological pressure, the athletes were going through different time zones which affects their sleep and psychological condition. Now imagine this for a second – going up the hills, strong wind with rain, nights without sleep, exhaustion and constant pain in muscles. I don’t think that a lot of people can go through something like this no matter how much they love the cycling.
Now I’m gonna tell about the race from a little bit different side. Russia has almost all climate zones that exist on Earth – from extremely hot to dangerously cold. Of course, the race doesn’t go through all of them. But imagine the variety of landscapes and views along the race. From cities and towns with different culture to deserts, wastelands and landscapes that are covered with forests. That’s where my job started. There were 3 photographers in this race. Each of us had a task. Some of us had to be close to the athletes all the time to capture their emotions/incidents and some of us had to find a location and wait for the athletes to pass It to take a picture. I won’t lie – it was one of the most difficult jobs for me as a photographer.
And now I’m telling not about pictures that are done by just a “click” standing near the road. This is about pictures that are done after a night without sleep, where in a rush I had to run through a swamp to take the position, set up my camera and take a photo. After that soaking wet and being bitten by huge gadflies I had to get back to the van, go in front of the athletes and repeat the same thing again but only with the difference that now there’s a perfect spot on a tree and I had to climb there. And my biggest mistake was bringing only 2 pairs of shoes on the trip. Those shoes was dead just in a couple of days after the race started.
The main challenge as for a photographer was that there was no second chance – everything had to be done perfectly from the first try. I couldn’t ask an athlete to repeat his emotion, I couldn’t ask him to pose for me again or ride on same road twice. That’s why I was extremely thankful to the camera I used – Sony Alpha A9. This camera let me take 20 pictures per second which saved me a lot of times. Bicycle race can’t compare to BMX, Skateboarding or Parkour where even a millisecond counts but nevertheless there were moments when a very exact position and emotion were crucial. For example, when taking a photo from a tree, I had to capture an athlete exactly between a branch and leaves.
This is when a very exact moment was very important. Little things matter. Another example of a precise moment is a photo where brazilian athlete is waving to an old man in a carriage – both of them are moving towards each other, so there’s just a second to capture perfect moment.
Speaking of a photo taken from the tree. It was funny, I remember the moment after spending an hour in a position on a tree with legs getting numb, waiting for athletes to pass me by. And another photographer who was quite far wanted me to come over for some reason. I climbed down and when I was crossing the field to come to the photographer, I saw the racers coming… And they was really close to me. So that was the moment when I heard in my head: “RUN!”. I rushed back to the tree and used all my skills to climb on it as soon as possible to take the photo. Luckily, it was successful.
During the whole trip I had my lovely tripod with me – Manfrotto 290xtra. I would like to share some tips on how to use a tripod on these kind of events when at first you think that you won’t even need one. So firstly – It’s of course night shooting. When you put your camera on a tripod and use long-shutter to light up all the dark areas without noises on them.
Secondly when you need to merge two pictures in one in post production. So you need to take both pictures in the same position where the difference will be only in moving objects and later edit them. Also there was situations where I used both techniques – first one was photo with flashes on a fast moving athlete and the second one night long shutter photo to light up the background.
And thirdly – probably It’ll be not so important, but as I said before, every little thing matters. When you need to wait for long time on a position to take a photo of an athletes, there’s better to set up you camera for the final shot and put It on a tripod. Even if you know that you can shoot this photo from hands, but you have a time and chance – better do all the stuff on a tripod. Because setting up all the things on a tripod you can reach accurate angle, perspective, composition probably with perfect depth of field effect with some blury stuff on foreground. And later, after half an hour or probably hour, when the racers will come, just take a picture from already final perspective. But when you do all this stuff from your hands – something can go wrong. For example your hands will be shaking and sometimes even millimeters of tilt will matters.
On this race I gained a huge experience. And despite that this race was challenging hard I’m really grateful that I was a part of the race team. Lesson that I learned from that trip will be also my advice to people who are interested in sports photography – always search for a different and unique way to show your photography. Probably It will be an amazing and cool looking angle/perspective/composition or maybe It will be unusual looking light on a scene or probably interesting story that you want to show. Try to surprise the viewer.
Also I wanted to say big thanks to my friend and a great photographer Denis Klero for a chance to shoot this event and sharing experience.