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Technical

April 2008

Stage 17 to stage 20

Stage 17, after which Rasmussen was sacked by his Rabobank team, was a big mountain stage – the last of the mountain stages on the Tour. Rasmussen was in the lead, but Discovery Channel team rider Alberto Contador was very close behind and attacked all day.

Since I wasn’t scheduled to be on a moto, I set off for the finish and chose a position that allowed me to shoot the riders as they crested the final hill to get the mountains as a background. Rasmussen has been surrounded by the drug allegations and as he crossed the finish line to win, there were boos and jeers from the crowd. That night we stayed in a nice chateau hotel and late that night the news came through that Rasmussen had been kicked out of the Tour by his Rabobank team.

Stage 18. With the news of Rasmussen’s sacking still causing shock around the Tour, it was difficult to concentrate on what was going on. Fortunately, the château we were staying in had gates and security so we weren’t descended upon by the press all night trying to get to Alberto Contador, who now took over the lead.

It was decided that no-one would wear the yellow jersey for this stage so it was important to be at the start as it would be something very rare for the Tour. Equally important was the finish as it was there that Contador would get the yellow jersey. It was a flat stage, so there was not much racing excitement to shoot.

That evening I found the head of the press and pleaded for a moto for the following stage. My luck was in – someone on a moto had dropped out, so I took their place.

Stage 19. With Contador in the yellow jersey, and the other Discovery team riders protecting him at the head of the peloton, it made it for great editorial stock images.

When the breakaway happened, I decided to stay with the peloton rather than dash to the front. It turned out to be a good choice as the riders were relaxed and Contador was smiling to the camera and giving me the thumbs up. As the day progressed, the light improved and the colours were fantastic – and I was one of only a handful of photographers to be back with the peloton. I took full advantage and shot 3,500 pictures during the day!

© Elizabeth Kreutz

The final time-trial was a nervous affair. The team bus was a hive of activity before the race as it was so tight at the top with three riders in the running for the title – Alberto Contador, Levi Leipheimer (both of the Discovery Channel team) and Cadel Evans. I went out with Contador, Leipheimer and another Discovery team member Yaroslav Popovych early on to have a look at the course. Back at the bus, the shot everyone wanted was Lance Armstrong (who had arrived for the final stages to cheer on his old team) and Contador together. With my team access I waited by the bus to get the shot. Everyone with the team was pretty nervous, so I just shot the action as it happened and managed to get a shot of Contador warming up on his bike with Lance watching in the background. The start and finish were quite widely spaced, so I photographed Contador warming up at the team bus and then jumped in the team car to follow Popovych around the course, shooting from behind to give an idea of what riding the course would be like. This enabled me to safely get to the finish with enough time to photograph the top three riders, Contador, Evans and Leipheimer.

It was a gradual uphill to the end, so they were pushing hard to finish which made for some great shots. I was shooting long, with my EF300mm f/2.8L IS USM and an extender, which was just about long enough for what I wanted.

At the end of the stage, it was a short hop to the podium to get those important shots, then off to a press conference where Contador knew he was going to win. I went back in the car with Contador, and as we got to the hotel, I got the shot of him hugging Johann Bruyneel, the team director. I followed Contador when he went to see the bike mechanics who were putting the finishing touches to a special yellow Trek bike that he would ride in the Finale the following day.

© Elizabeth Kreutz

Finale day. I’d been told that Lance Armstrong would be at the start and decided this would be my chance for a shot of him with Contador together. I was allowed into the bus for the team meeting and just quietly sat in the corner getting a few shots with available light so as not to be intrusive. Lance appeared on the bus and I got a few posed shots of the two of them together as well as Lance, Contador and Johann as a group. Those shots went out to the agency pretty quickly as they were exclusives.

I set off for the start at Marcoussis, about 85km from Paris. The riders went from there to Paris, and then rode for around 60km in and around Paris, including eight laps of the Champs Élysées.

For their first few laps of the Champs, I was trying to get the shot of Contador in front of the Arc de Triomphe. I always give myself four laps to get this shot, then head on to the finish. It was 3km from the Arc to the finish line and I had the time it takes the riders to do four laps of the Champs Elysees, and that meant running. And it nearly all ended in disaster as the police were being over-officious. Despite my press bib and credentials giving me course access, I was physically ejected over the barriers and ended up having to make my way to the finish through the crowd. It meant I missed a lot of shots in those last minutes of the race, but I got there just as Contador was finishing and was able to shoot him crossing the line and hugging his teammates.

Now the cyclists had finished racing, it was the turn of the press corp. Each year they bring out some steps for the press to use to get the shots of the winners up on the podium. The best place is up the top where you get the angle of the podium with the Arc de Triomphe in the background. Two years ago a friend of mine got pushed in the rush for position and ended up falling and breaking a lens. This year, making up for being forced off the course earlier, I was lucky and got a great position at the top where I could shoot Contador and Leipheimer on the podium.

© Elizabeth Kreutz

We then set off for the Place de la Concorde where there was Champagne and celebration, and as if that wasn’t enough, it was soon time for the victory lap where all the riders set off for a slow lap from Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe where they stop for a photo call, then head back again. On the way out, I shot from behind the riders from the team car, getting Contador with a Spanish flag he’d been given by a spectator. On the way back, I choose to run in front of the riders to get their faces. This meant running for several km in front of the riders as they slowly went back to the Place de la Concorde. Doing this while carrying camera kit and trying to get some pictures is no mean feat! Fortunately, the four weeks in the mountains carrying kit meant that I was felling pretty fit though I still got back to the hotel dripping with sweat and laughing with all the other press guys about how out of shape we are.

After almost weeks, here are my conclusions on the Tour itself and the EOS-1D Mark III: This was a special Tour despite all the doping hassles that have gone on. If you’re a sports photographer, you have to cover the Tour. It’s totally different to any other sports event. You never know what will happen, and the four weeks are a great test of your own endurance and creativity. And yet the familiar routine of the riders heading out each day does give you time and chance to try lots of different things. As an official member of the press corps, I got such good access to the Tour and the riders. It’s an exhausting few weeks. Towards the end you’re really ready to head home, but now I’m back home in Texas, there are things I’m missing – my morning croissant for one, and the European attitude of taking your time and not rushing. I need some chiropractic work to sort out my back after carrying all the heavy kit, but I would do it again in a heartbeat.

At the end of four weeks, I'm excited by the EOS-1D Mark III. I'm intrigued by the possibilities it offers and really looking forward to the continual learning process that using this camera provides. It is such a different beast to the EOS-1D Mark IIN that it really takes some learning.

The colours from the camera are awesome, and in the four weeks I didn't need to clean the sensor once. That's a miracle as it's been used in all sorts of conditions and on previous cameras I've been cleaning the sensor at the end of every day. It's such a time saving in editing that it will really speed up the workflow.

The Canon Speedlite 580EX II was great as well. I usually end up breaking at least one flashgun on the Tour, but not this year. The new flash is much tougher and stood up to the rigours of life on the Tour.


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Stage 12 to stage 16

Stage 12 was nuts. There has been some scandal surrounding Tour leader Michael Rasmussen and doping allegations. It caused a media frenzy around him at the start of the stage and in the end he needed to be escorted to the start with a walking cordon. Because of the media interest, I was struggling to get any pictures of him, because I’m not the tallest person in the world! Instead, I asked a complete stranger if I could climb up and sit on his shoulders to get a better look and take some shots – and he said yes! The people surrounding the Tour really are very friendly. It would have been a great opportunity to try Live View Mode for shooting while holding the camera above my head, but unfortunately, even with my arms straight up, I still wasn’t tall enough.
After the start I jumped into the team car again with Sean Yates, the assitant director of the Discovery Channel team. The racing during the day was pretty dull really with not a lot of excitement to photograph. You have days like this in photography, you just need to learn to roll with it.

Stage 13 was a time trial. The organisers closed the road very early making checking out the course quite difficult. I managed to squeeze my way into a press car for a quick trip around the course so I could decide where I wanted to hop out and shoot from. I choose a spot not that far from the end, just at the last climb where they’d be pushing hard.
Having squeezed into the safety car, I didn’t have all my wet weather kit with me and the forecast said showers were possible. I called back to my assistant (my brother) and asked him to bring the wet weather gear in the car and park in a side road not far from me just in case. Before he could do it though, it started to rain. In fact, it started to downpour – and I was due to be sat here waiting for 189 riders to come through at two-minute intervals.
It was going to be a long day. On the up side though, I’ve got the Canon Speedlite 580EX II, so its weather proofing got a good test, and I’m pleased to say, passed without a hitch. The new hotshoe mount is brilliant – it locks firmly, seals the connections and makes it easier to know whether it’s connected or not than just having the thumb wheel to turn. It kicks out enough power, and the recycling time is great, especially when used with the Canon LP-E4 battery pack. Obviously it won’t keep up with the camera at the full 10fps, but it does as much as you can expect. In reality, it’s like the older Canon Speedlite 580EX, but better.

Some friendly foreign travellers watching the Tour came to my aid quite soon after the rain started. They gave me an umbrella, a big pair of waterproof trousers and a jacket – and all they wanted in return was a picture of one of the riders.
I started shooting long in the rain, but switched to a wide lens with slow shutter speed and flash to get something a bit different. These time trial stages are good for that – with the riders coming along a fairly regular intervals, you get the chance to keep shooting and keep trying new things.
Looking through the pictures at the end of the day, I noticed some of them seemed to have back-focus on the background. Initially I couldn’t figure out why, but having spent some time thinking about it, I’ve decided to turn the AI Servo sensitivity back down to -1. All the time it was set to -1, the images have been fine, but I moved it up to 0 just the other day to try, and it now seems, looking at the images, that it makes the AF too skittish.

© Elizabeth Kreutz

Stage 14 was a big stage for the Discovery Channel team. It was won by Alberto Contador, the 24-year-old from Spain. He wasn’t expected to, so I didn’t go to the finish line and therefore missed the shots of him crossing the line. That’s the difficulty of covering the Tour on your own. All the agencies will send two, three or even four photographers out so they can station themselves at various points along the course. On your own, you need to make a call about where to wait and then stick with it. As it was, I spent my day in the mountains with the fans. They’re mad up here, waving flags and banners and generally having a great time. At the end of the race I went back to the hotel, and because of Contador’s stage win, they were having a little champagne reception to celebrate. This is where the exclusive team access pays off – no-one else got the shots. It makes up for not getting him crossing the line.

On stage 15, with Contador in the white jersey, I needed to make sure I was at the start and ready to get shots of him. He attacked the Tour leader Rasmussen constantly, and since he was only a couple of minutes back, I needed to get to the finish in case something dramatic happened. As it was, Rasmussen held on for the day, finishing above Contador. Having headed up to the finish line, I got the shots of Alexander Vinokourov winning the stage and being up on the podium, not realising that the next day in a press conference, both he and his team would be asked to leave the Tour as he’d failed a random drugs test.

© Elizabeth Kreutz

As usual, my rest day was taken up with editing and sorting the 160GB of images I’ve taken so far, attending the press conferences and washing. I also managed to get out with the team for their short training ride. Rest days are really only for the riders. Over the last few weeks, while looking through my images, I’ve been thinking they looked a little pinky/red. I assumed it was just me, but I was chatting to another photographer and he said the same thing. Since I shoot on AWB all the time, I’m going to dial in a little bit of white balance shift in the green/blue direction to see if that cures it. Having so much control on the camera is great, but it can make it a minefield to get set up.

Postscript: The Tour is rocked again by the news that race leader Michael Rasmussen is kicked out. What next?


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Stage 9 to stage 11

Monday was a rest day for the riders. I say for the riders, because I don’t feel like I rested at all. We’ve been going for two weeks now and I was seriously in need of doing some laundry, not to mention the editing I still needed to keep on top of. Fortunately we stayed in a great hotel that was all inclusive and not only did I get some clean clothes, but there was the biggest buffet I’ve ever seen. We also had a press conference which needed covering and the riders went on a short training ride just to keep the legs working - so there was some actual photography to be done as well.

Stage 9 was all set to be big for the Discovery Team. It was a stage specifically for the climbers right over the Galibier. I got up to the top of Galibier, parked and walked back down a little. As I’d been there before I had a few ideas of what to shoot, and in the end I shot both wide and long as the riders progressed through. This is the sort of day you want a moto for, to be in with the pack climbing where you can work the peloton, but you have to take what you can get and today was not a day for me to be on one. After my switch from C.Fn III-3 from 0 to 1 to speed the camera frame rate up, I’ve gone back to 0 as I’m finding for stuff at the moment, I don’t need the full 10fps and would rather there was more lens driving time when tracking the riders.

© Elizabeth Kreutz

I’ve also adjusted the AF sensitivity – it had been set to -1 to stop the camera switching subjects so easily, but it’s now gone back to 0 so that when shooting riders in the peloton, there isn’t a pause before the camera changes subjects.

Stage 10 was not a good day, but I made the most of it. The scenery was fantastic – mountains, chateaus and a bridge. I shot wide with the fisheye as the riders went passed and gave my brother (who’s acting as willing assistant – thanks Nate!) my other camera to shoot from the other side of the road – and I prefer his shot to mine!

The stage, despite the scenery, was flat and hot, so the second stop I made was in a sunflower area – it wasn’t great, but I always like to get a couple of shots of this on each Tour. It’s almost compulsory. Our third stop for the day was a small descent where we could get the riders coming down quickly. At the finish, Alberto Contador of the Discovery Team was in the white jersey so it was the first chance I had to get shots of him on the podium.

I’m still finding the colours from the camera awesomely good. And another bonus is the self-cleaning sensor. I was sceptical at first, but it works. Very well. So well, that I’ve not yet had to clean the sensor. Compare that to last year where I was cleaning my Mark IIN’s at least every other day.

© Elizabeth Kreutz

If you combine the great colours with the lack of dust, it really makes editing a lot quicker. It still takes time, but there’s not so much adjustment and no dust spotting to do so I get to bed a little earlier! Stage 11 was a washout for me. There was a mistake in our Tour guide book which sent us the wrong way and even with SatNav in the car we still couldn’t find our way to the finish in time. Instead we stopped before the end and I did some shots a way before the finish. I’d been trying to find some areas to stop along the way, but the scenery was nothing spectacular and there was nothing that grabbed the attention. You have days like this sometimes, but as long as you get something out of it, it’s not a big deal. Besides, I’m now focusing on the time trial that’s coming over the weekend which should be exciting. That, and the next rest day when I get to do some more laundry!

In the next update I’ll let you know how I’m getting on with my two Custom Function changes to the AF system.


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Stage 4 to stage 8

I started with the new Custom Functions settings for C.Fn III-3. This shifts the priority to drive speed for the second image onwards in a sequence. Instantly the camera felt much snappier. It really felt like 10 frames-per-second as it no longer gave extra focusing time to the lens before releasing the shutter. And it doesn’t seem to have affected the focusing at all – everything still seems as sharp as I expect it to be.

I managed to talk my way into the house of a local man so I could shoot from the upstairs window and get a different perspective on the race passing by. When things are quiet editorially I still need to remember my commercial clients, so I spend time shooting images for the team sponsors. Today was really one of those days.

On stage 4 I was in the team car with Sean Yates, the assistant director for the Discovery Channel team. We were the second team car so could not stay with the breakaway riders and instead stuck with the peloton. It was interesting to see the race from this perspective, next to Sean in contact with the rest of the team.

On stage 5 I was on the motorbike for the first time. I’d set the camera up to allow Live View shooting as I thought it might be useful at times, but with two cameras and 5 lenses to keep control of I found I kept knocking the set button and turning on Live View. It’s not a major hassle to exit the mode, but it could mean I miss a shot. Since I’ve not yet used Live View, I’ve now turned it off again to avoid missing any shots by not being ready.

© Elizabeth Kreutz

The bike I was on was between the peloton and the breakaway group. Because of the narrow roads we couldn’t pass through the peloton – only catch the breakaway group and then drop back again. It wasn’t ideal but any time on a moto is wonderful so I’m thankful for what I get.

Stage six 6 was a lucky day – I was on a moto again. We stayed in a 4-star hotel and by the time the riders had left after breakfast, it looked like a tornado had passed through so I grabbed some shots and headed off to the moto.

We were allowed to work the peloton as the roads have widened making it safe to pass. You get really close to the riders like this – it’s crazy. I shot wide and even included some of my moto in the shots to show just how close we were.

The colour from the EOS-1D Mark III really is astonishingly good, especially when shooting wide. The colours are vibrant and really seem to ‘pop’ – it makes everything look fantastic.

© Elizabeth Kreutz

At the start of stage 7, the first day of the Alps stages, I had to make a decision. Did I go to and shoot on the mountain, or head off to the finish? The mountains suit the climbing pedigree of the Discovery Channel team. Since there were two members of the team who could conceivably end up in the yellow jersey I went to the finish. Unfortunately, neither of them managed to place high enough to get the jersey, which took some of the thunder away. I spent the very early part of the day in the team bus – exclusive access that no other photographer has – and I also got into the ‘village’ where the riders were hanging around and chilling out.

The next day, I left the hotel early, well before the start of stage 8, to avoid the road closures. The weather was great and I decided I wanted to get a wide shot early on with the peloton and the mountains behind. For the first 30km I shot wide, then switched to a longer lens. Towards the end of the stage I went up to the finish and found a spot about 200m from the line to get the guys crossing.

So far, I’m really enjoying using the camera. I’ve got no gripes about it – except that Live View button is so easy to knock – but I’ve managed to sort that by turning Live View off. The tape over the little hole on the left is holding up well, and since I can’t imagine using the WFT-E2 in the near future, I’m sure it will stay there for quite some time.


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Prologue to stage 3

This is my fourth time shooting the Tour de France and I’m again attached to the Discovery Channel team. This is, of course, the first time I have shot the Tour with the EOS-1D Mark III.

Starting this year in London was amazing – there were so many people on the streets. The first stage, the time trial, posed its own difficulties though. It was hard to find angles and places to shoot, but the riders coming around at intervals made it easy to experiment with different techniques each time one passed.

© Elizabeth Kreutz

I started later that day at the start line, shooting some images as tight crops on the face to show the exertion and others a little looser to give context and space to the shot.

Unsurprisingly, the little screw cover on the side of the camera has fallen off already and is lost somewhere in London. I’ve taped it over with gaffer tape to preserve the waterproofing, but perhaps it’s something that Canon could look at – screw covers are just too easily lost. I like to try different things in my images, so I spent some time shooting with a fast shutter speed to freeze the motion and others with a slow shutter speed to give a more artistic feel to the images – it also helps blur distracting backgrounds.

The trip across the Channel was a bit stressful. We’d been in one hotel for a couple of days and now had to decamp to a new location and get hold of a hire car in Dunkirk. This was a hassle in itself as they couldn’t find me an automatic gearbox car, only stickshift manuals. I was adamant I didn’t want to learn to drive in a foreign country during the Tour. Eventually they found me one, only it was quite small and a real struggle to fit all my kit in.

Day three started uneventfully, so I spent some time looking for something unusual to photograph – and someone caught my eye. I came across a man dressed just like Eddy Merckx, the great Belgian cyclist when he was winning the Tour de France in the Sixties.

© Elizabeth Kreutz

Then there was big crash and Thomas Viatkus, one of the Discovery Channel team riders, broke his thumb in five places. A familiar face, he cycled towards me, clearly in pain and in need of help. As a friend it put me in a difficult position – did I carry on shooting and let my photojournalist instincts take over, or did I stop and succumb to the human desire to help another person in need?

© Elizabeth Kreutz

In the end I quickly shot a few frames as he came towards me, then helped him through the crowds to the team area where he could be treated by the medical staff. Sadly, he’s having surgery on it and will miss the rest of the Tour.

The fourth day was the most boring so far. It’s always like this though. The first week is for the sprinters before we get into the hills and stages more suited to the specialist climbers. This being the longest stage, the peloton moved along very slowly. The day was due to finish at just after 5pm, but instead the riders didn’t get in until 7pm making it a very long day for me and one with no striking scenery or monuments to use in the shots. I really had to work to get any interesting shots at all.

As far as the EOS-1D Mark III goes, it’s great. I’ve been playing with some of the AF Custom Function settings to get it set up just right, and all seems well. Today I found the drive speed was a little slow, not shooting at the full 10fps that I was expecting, so I’ve adjusted C.Fn III-3 to setting 1 to give priority to drive speed for the second image on, rather than delaying shutter release to give more time to focusing. I’ll let you know how I get on in the next installment.


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Biography: Elizabeth Kreutz

Elizabeth Kreutz

This 33-year-old photographer from Austin in Texas is a self-confessed sports nut. She shoots all kinds of sporting events including the Winter Olympics and specialises in cycling and triathlon. She is also the official shooter of the Discovery Channel cycling team whose most famous member is friend and colleague Lance Armstrong, seven-time winner of the Tour de France.



Showcase

Photo's stage 17-20


Photo's stage 12-16


Photo's stage 9-11


Photo's stage 4-8


Photo's stage pro-3