Big Ride: Costa Blanca

I am a huge fan of Cyclist Magazine’s Big Ride features, partly because I find the writing inspirational in terms of rides I would like to one day be able to tackle, but mostly because the photography is always absolutely fantastic. While there are lots of high-end cycling magazines around these days, Cyclist was the first to really prioritise imagery at the same level as words, and is still amongst the best for photography… all of which is a long rationale for stealing their title and turning a recent trip to Valencia into the chance to photograph a full ride in homage to the way they do things!

Getting my excuses in early, as can be seen from the Strava file here, I rode this as well as taking photos. I also didn’t feel like it was fair to ask my riding companions to go back and ride do overs on some of the more photogenic parts of the ride that I only discovered after we’d ridden past them… to compensate for that, I’ve used photos from two different rides over the same roads to capture the full beauty of riding in the northern Costa Blanca.

My final ‘excuse’ is that the only cameras I could use were the ones I was able to carry with me – in short, a Fuji x10 in one of my rear pockets, and my iPhone 6s. I reckon with my full Canon system, including a high quality wide angle lens, and most importantly a 70-300 telephoto one, I could get some truly stunning shots as the scenery and riding is so good there.

Without further ado, welcome to the Costa Brava: we rode a 155k loop, with just over 2,500m of ascent, across three main climbs (and numerous smaller ones on Spain’s rolling roads!).

1k from the top of Col De Rates

1k from the top of Col De Rates

Through the canyon

Through the canyon

 

 

 

 

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Some of us are looking at the stars

Effort

As the road narrows, the gradient increases

Autumn is hill climb season. As the leaves turn golden and the roads get slippy, racing cyclists shed extraneous weight (from ditching their helmets and drop bars right up to drilling holes in their frames) and up their heart rates.

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Thirty or so wild giants

I’m lucky enough to get to go and ride the (usually) sunny, (almost always) traffic free, (generally) smooth and (always) exciting roads of Spain once or twice a year.

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The area’s most iconic cycling road, up the Col De Rates

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The Blue Corner exhibition

I’m incredibly pleased to say that between now and December, a small selection of my favourite images of the Thames at dusk will be on exhibit at the Blue Corner cafe on the Hammersmith Road, opposite Kensington Olympia. The shots are all quite special to me as London is my home, and urban waterscapes at night are more or less what I consider my speciality, so I’m incredible glad to have the opportunity to show some of my favourites off.

And while the seasons pass, the river remains the same...

A couple of the shots I have selected to display are below, but to see the full selection you’ll have to pop in for a flat white and a pastal-de-nata.

The exhibition blurb:

Nic Stevenson is a photographer and writer based in Kensington. His work focuses on urban landscape, street scenes and travel photography – with a particular interest in Asian megacities. His series of photographs of the Thames at dusk, ‘And While The Seasons Pass, The River Stays the Same’ was shot between 2012 and 2014, predominantly in spring and autumn. The great cities of the world are built around waterways, and since Roman times the Thames has defined London as much as the city has defined it. In the 21st century, the river has learned to share its journey with the glass and neon that is gradually encroaching into its world. 
 
Each limited edition print is signed and numbered, and limited to 50 copies. 

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Talkin’ bout a Revolution

If the life cycle of Team Sky has proved the most high profile barometer of cycling’s grip on the British public, the quiet rise of the Revolution Series from winter leg warmer for the GB academy boys in Manchester, to televised takeover of the Olympic velodrome proves an excellent second source.

 

Track cycling seems on paper a niche pursuit, taken up by only the hardier grand tour superstars, bored specialists waiting for the Classics to start in spring, and a plethora of junior riders – waif-like things desperate to prove themselves alongside their heroes. Yet Revolution shows that it’s not just the annual July battle for the Maillot Jaune that interests the British public, cycling is a year round pursuit and they’ll take their entertainment where they can.

 

The races come thick and fast during the course of the day with a variety of different formats spread across at least five different types of rider: elite men and women, boys and girls of the junior ranks of ‘Future Stars’… There’s even two different types of sprinter to remember – the ones who chase a motorbike and the ones who chase each other.

 

In practice, it’s not as complex as it sounds, or at least it doesn’t need to be. The races are each visceral experiences in their own way – rarely lasting more than a minute or two, never longer than ten minutes. The crowd can easily spot their favourites – the Brits, with Teams Wiggins and Sky whipping the capacity crowd into a frenzy.

 

 

The highlight of the night is the elite men’s team elimination race: half graceful ballet, half chaotic melee. The idea is that teams of two race in a pack of twenty or so riders – taking turns to be tagged into the race: with the last team over the finish line every couple of laps eliminated. All in all it adds up to an excellent practical demonstration of fluid dynamics, and I imagine you’d have to show a cycling novice the race on slow-mo several times before they’d grasp its intricacies. But by the last ten laps, with just five teams left in contention, the crowd are in raptures and the drama is simple and visceral.

 

 

In the end, the enormously successful track veteran Iljo Keisse of Ettux-Quick Step and his partner Wim Stroetinga win the day, taking victory in the points race through Keisse, and jointly triumphing in the team elimination.

 

 

Revolution spent a decade from 2003 confined to Manchester – but since 2012 and Britain’s track triumph it’s been spreading its wings: first Glasgow, then London from 2013, for the first time this year the series ventures to Derby. It’s also found its way onto the television – each event now shown live on Eurosport.

It’s some sign of cycling’s success that London can in one day in November play host to a high-profile cyclocross event alongside a full day’s programme of track cycling. If the crowd at Revolution have their way, next year they’ll be a crit and some BMXing too, to make sure everyone’s appetite is sated. Whatever happens in future, the Revolution is clearly going to be televised.

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And on Sunday they rest… a Six Day Racing photo essay

Last week I was lucky enough to be an accredited photographer at Six Day London. I thought I would gather some of my shots alongside some of my thoughts about the racing together on here:

In the 19th century, Six Day racing was dreamt up as the ultimate endurance test: brutal, sleep-deprived and amphetamine-fuelled slogs with a simple goal, ride the furthest distance around a track over six consecutive days.

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Weller at Rough Trade

A bit of music photography from Paul Weller’s instore set at Rough Trade East for Record Store Day 2013… He was ably supported by two of the incredible Strypes, along with Jay Sharrock, Miles Kane’s drummer.

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Events dear boy

So last weekend I did my first proper bit of events photography work (in what I would call the British use of the term – ie parties, weddings etc – rather than American definition of concerts, performances etc). I thought I would write up a quick post about my initial thoughts about it, and perhaps more interestingly, how it differs (and perhaps doesn’t differ so much) from my usual day-to-day photography.

I’ve decided not to use any images from the night as part of this post – not because I’m not very proud of some of them – but because I’m not 100% sure of whether I can use them without permission of all the people involved… So I hope you don’t mind that this is rather visually uninspiring – the last thing a photography website should be really!

The event was a friend’s silver wedding anniversary party at a West London specialist venue. They wanted someone to capture the evening, and also, importantly they were after arrivals shots of themselves with every group of guests as they arrived. This latter requirement meant careful management of a quite rapid procession of people through the door, having to be quite demanding to the couple to ensure they were available for each image, and taking a rapid succession of shots whilst making sure they were well posed, and everyone was looking the right way with their eyes open! My main conclusion was that it would have been far easier if my external flash had a better recycle rate – there was some banter necessary to fill seemingly endless seconds while it recharged! I also learned the value of quick improvisation having had to rig up a backdrop with drawing pins as a screen I had hoped to use wasn’t available.

The main thing I realised as a result of the session was just how physically and mentally challenging shooting an event like this is. From an evening spent with two camera bodies around my neck, ducking down, standing tall, jumping on seats, and stretching round pillars, I felt like I’d had a proper workout and my neck is still stiff days later. Mentally, constantly trying to work new compositions, judge exposures, assess focal lengths, and continual pressure to get the shot when there was only one chance was exhausting. I can only imagine how professional wedding photographers handle that pressure – though I guess practice makes perfect!

I am more used to arriving at a location, spending around fifteen minutes working out a composition, waiting for the light and then shooting perhaps four shots while the light is right, before hurriedly attempting a few news angles and compositions before the light goes. A good evening’s photography for me, when I shoot in a city, might produce 20 images, of which I would hope 5 to 10 will be useable. On Saturday I shot over 1,100 images, of which I think around 250 are useable. Quite a change, though I think my low hit rate was probably down to both a lack of practice, and only having a single external flash unit and one 50mm f1.8 lens to shoot at low light – which really didn’t cut the mustard in the dark hall, even at ISO 800.

So, what was similar to my everyday photography? Well, I was using the same camera, and chasing the light (and street photography) have made it absolutely second nature to be able to swiftly change settings, lenses, batteries and memory cards, which helped enormously. Not least when I needed to change a lens, memory card and battery about ten seconds before the speeches began earlier than expected. From doing a lot of street photography lately, the candid shots came as almost second nature and used a lot of the same techniques as my street work does – though perhaps with less of a sense of the absurd that is normal for street photography! Finally, the elements of composition, balance, space, and shape seem to me to not change that much whatever you might be shooting, whether it’s a river at dawn, a city block at night, a crowd of revellers or a portrait of a couple.

I definitely want to do more of this type of work in future, and found I actually enjoyed the party more than I often do when I’m not there with a role… maybe one day I’ll even get to try wedding photography – something I’ve previously always said I’d rather drop my 17-40mm L series lens than have to do!

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In Reflection

It’s hardly modern architecture, but Lhasa’s Potala Palace has a perfectly placed lake to reflect the building back at you and add some foreground interest.

Writing last weeks blog about balancing the light in urban photography got me thinking about photographing cities in general, and what other tips and tricks I might be able to pass on via this blog. Ive decided to try and write a short series of posts that fit into a sort of urban outdoor photography’ theme  inspired my continued irritation that Outdoor Photography magazine and the like seem to think the only type of photography you can do outside involves a lot of greenery and no Starbucks for 50 miles!

Im not sure how many posts on this I have in me (and if you have any ideas for subjects youd like to see included Id love to hear them!) but I thought Id try one on reflections this week. One of the benefits of photography in cities is that reflections (along with Starbucks) are usually far easier to come by than they are in the countryside  and often need less manipulation to make the most of when you do find them.

The combination of historical city locations often being decided by access to water, and modern city design’s emphasise on open, showcase space means that photographers can often take advantage of rivers, lakes, and manmade water features to reflect city lights back on themselves. I often find myself using reflections when shooting after dusk in the urban landscape, particularly as a way give buildings a sense of scale and add interest to the foregrounds of my images.

Modern buildings like airports tend to have amazingly reflection surfaces, particularly at sunset when the natural light is low, as in this shot of reflected lines leading into the silhouette at Heathrow’s Terminal Five.

Thanks to the preponderance of glass in modern urban architecture, and more often than not nicely tinted glass, finding ways to enhance the impact of your images with reflections is usually easily done. Whether it is in creating abstract compositions that trick the eye; using reflections to act as lead in lines to the main subject; or using the mimicry of a reflection to highlight the power of piece of modern architecture, the opportunities are many and varied.

The final benefit from shooting in the city when you are looking for reflections is the streets themselves  whether they are concrete slicked with rain (as they are pretty much constantly in London at the moment!), or marble and its modern equivalents, they offer another element to your photography

Manchester is rarely short of rain, but one benefit of wet weather is the reflections water casts on rain lashed streets!

Ive tried to make clear on here in the past that Im no real fan of relying on gear fetishism tosubstitute for having a good eye and waiting for good light  and with aiming to shoot reflections, you really dont need any special tech at all. That said, if you want to have a bit more power to manipulate reflections, then a polarising filter is a very handy tool to apply. By attaching a circular polariser to your lens, when you rotate the filter, you can either emphasise, or reduce reflections  if youre looking to add some punch to them to aid your composition, twist it one way, if you want to cut them out, twist it the other. Id recommend using polarizers that fit directly on to your lens, rather than ones that slot into a system like Lee or Cokin filter holders  that way you have maximum flexibility, better equality optics, and still retain space for other filters like graduated neutral density ones which absolutely have to go in the holder. I use this Hoya one: 77mm Hoya Polarising Filter.

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Balancing the Light

Encouraged by a few questions about my photos of the Shard last week from Facebook and Twitter friends, I thought I would start a short series of posts about city photography at dusk and nighttime. Looking across my photos of various locations around the world, my favourites tend to be those of cityscapes and attractions after sunset, with light trails, reflections and star burst street lights adding magic to backdrops that rarely need them but generally benefit from them anyway. Whether it is in Lhasa or New York, Hong Kong or Manchester, Budapest or Berlin, there is rarely a city I’ve visited that I’ve left without a long exposure image or two on an SD card.

Taken with a Canon EOS 500d, 18-55mm kit lens and a Gorilla Pod.

That’s not to say I reckon myself as any sort of an expert, but the one thing I have learned is that it isn’t that hard to manipulate a city to produce a captivating image and you need very little specialist gear to do it. In fact, so long as it has an aperture priority mode (where you set the aperture and the camera sets a corresponding shutter speed), and a method to attach a tripod, then your compact camera will do the job.

Of course, if you have a full frame DSLR with a semi-pro tripod, a remote release and a range of filters, things might be easier, or the results might be more spectacular, but the image of Hong Kong above was shot using an entry-level DSLR and a Joby Gorilla Pod (a great travel tripod!). All I did was find a railing at a reasonable height, fix up the tripod and camera, compose in Live View for ease, then using the two second delay function, triggering the shutter as the traffic approached up the overpass.

There can’t be many places in the UK as good for cityscape photography at dusk than Manchester’s Salford Quays development.

The real trick to this type of image is to forget the usual Golden Hour rule – that is that for landscape photography the best light is in the thirty minutes either side of sunset. For this type of photo, the artificial lights of the city won’t be balanced against the sky until at least half an hour after sunset, and it’s then that the magic happens. So not only does the time you have to shoot extend, as camera sensors improve, they are able to capture blue in the sky until later and later at night. My final image of the Shard was shot at 23:25 last Wednesday!

For the most part composition is exactly what you would expect at any other time of the day, but there are two other benefits of shooting at night – both reflections and light trails can be used to add foreground interest to shots and lead the eye through the image.

As for settings, to make sure the exposure if long enough to produce light trails, and water is smoothed to a reflective sheen, you need a long shutter speed, so setting an aperture of between f8 and f13 is necessary depending on how well lit the city is. This has the added benefit of making every light look like a star burst. To reduce noise, always shoot at ISO 100 if you can do – especially as exposures tick up to the 30-second mark. If you have the option to shoot RAW, it is always sensible to do so and then edit the image in Adobe Camera Raw or a similar programme to bring out the best in it. If not, and you can do, make sure you set your White Balance to Tungsten light to stop the image looking horribly orange – as almost every other option seems to.

The lights of New York reflected on the Hudson – shot from Queensborough park around 40 minutes after sunset on a cold February night.

When it comes to post processing – assuming you have shot Raw – my main tip is to keep it simple. Computers are boring and cameras are fun, so I focus my time on the later not the former, and tend to process a Raw file by tweaking the contrast, levels, correcting any lens distortion and boosting the saturation and vibrancy. Outside of the Raw processing software, I then use Nik’s software to reduce noise and sharpen, before exporting to high resolution Tif and lower res JPEG for sharing online.

Finally, remember that no matter how good the shot is, it’s not worth putting yourself or your gear at risk, and frankly, there is more chance of danger in cities than the countryside, so make sure you don’t venture into dodgy areas; and let people know where you’re off to… And don’t ask me about the neighbourhood I had to walk through to get to the park I shot the image of Queensborough bridge from!

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