A few weekends ago saw the arrival of 200 mountain bike riders at Castlewellan forest park for the final round of the Vitus First Tracks Enduro cup.
I've only got to one race so far this year so I knew I had to get to this one or I would be having withdrawal symptoms all winter with no riding.
In my head I had planned 3 different photos that I would like to capture, with a bonus fourth if i could find a good place for it. It would all depend on what the trails where offering me.
The Saturday started off well with stopping for a wee coffee and grabbing a sandwich to take with me on my way to Castlewellan.
On arriving at the park I was greeted with the usual friendly welcome from the park staff, letting me know where to park and where everything was, the car park here is handy so there was no bother parking.
I strapped on my hiking boots and gathered up my gear ready to get out there and shoot some photos, First stop was the registration tent to grab a map and a chat with some of the riders, they all know me by now and I wasn't even halfway across the car park before I started seeing guys I knew.
Equipped with a course map I started the long hike to stage 1, it was at the far end of the park so I was already regretting not bringing my own bike but I was committed to that decision so just had to get the head down and get there.
That walk presented some of its own opportunities for a photograph though.
On arriving at the first stage I could see where it came out of the forest and knew that the section would be good trails but dark, all the same I cranked up the ISO on my camera and headed in full of optimism that I was going to get at least 1 shot in that section.
After trying a few different angles and not getting the results I wanted I decided to move on to the more open sections where the riders would be moving faster.
I emerged from the trees into a forest road and quickly moved up to the higher ground, finding a long downhill section that could provide some motion shots. Setting up with the wide 10mm lens I tried some panning shots close to the riders but with the section having multiple jumps along it, the riders where moving up and down and right to left, making following them and maintaining focus difficult.
It was at this point that I realized the other problem I was going to have. Dust, the trail was bone dry and when anyone ride past would kick up a storm of dust and dirt. I knew it would add texture to the photos but would make focusing and changing lenses difficult.
After a few failed attempts I decided to try a different angle, I would use the 200mm and shoot up the hill. The riders where jumping at a section near the top so I positioned myself so that, as they came over the crest of the hill there wouldn't be any distractions or foliage in shot. This was a good spot and I was getting some good images from here but I knew that I couldn't stand there all day, I had my goals for the day.
I had been told there was an airplane wing further up the trail so I knew I had to investigate it to see if it could provide an interesting composition.
Once I discovered the wing I was quickly sure that it wasnt going to provide the opportunities I had hoped for, It was deep in the undergrowth and the trail beside it dropped away quickly meaning that the riders wouldn't be visible from behind it.
The section did provide some opportunity for some interesting photos. If i got in tight to the side of the trail and used the 10mm wide I could capture riders as they come down the steep chute, or by getting down low on the outside of a corner I could try and capture some interesting cornering photos.
Packing up my kit again I headed further up the trail hoping to come out near the top so i could make my way across to another stage but bumped into the Glyn and Nathan looking at line options for a section. They decided to have a play with a large drop for a few laughs but I wasnt going to complain, I got my camera ready and pointed up the trail to see what Images I could get out of it. It was quite tight and hard to show how high it was but I tried to show his skill as best I could.
After the demonstration of how a bike should be ridden I made my way to another stage but decided to keep the camera handy incase an opportunity arose, and I'm glad I did. Making their way to to the top of stage one I found the second shot on my list. A group of riders making their way along the trail towards me. I knew I wanted a low angle so flinging myself into a bush at the side of the trail I got down low to shoot up as much as possible, I used f4 on a long lens to soften the background and foreground elements but keeping the riders in focus. As a small bonus the second rider popped his head out long enough for me to capture their determination to get to the top.
After a long walk to the top of Castlewellan's highest peak Slievenaslat , I wound my way down the trail chatting to friends and riders but eventually got to a spot I knew would yield a fantastic image. As the riders come of the forest road unto the trail it drops away by about 4-5 feet creating a narrow gully into a corner, to my absolute delight Uncle Charlie (to this day i'm not sure who's uncle he is) was one of the next riders to come through, displaying his mastery of a bike in his 70's he sped through the difficult faster line letting me catch this image.
I was taken with a wide lens standing right on the side of the trail, again a low f stop so I could use a faster shutter speed to freeze the motion.
As I walked down stage 2, I knew I could take a shortcut by cutting across the forest where stage 2 met the black trail dolly's chute which would take me to the natural trail section of stage 3. Once here I was lucky enough to capture a glimpse of the common O'Brien in is natural habitat, Normally found with a shovel in hand I was fortunate to see it on his bicycle frolicking in the woods.
This was a quick capture by having my camera ready with suitable settings to allow me to shoot in the low light situation that are common in the forest.
From there it was back to the race village and home to feed the dog but not before grabbing a few shots around the carpark.
I liked the way these bikes where sitting in a row at the Chain reaction service station.
The Big day was here, the team where armed with clipboards with time sheets, riders and spectators regardless of number of legs where excited to watch and participate.
From my miles covered on day 1 I knew I would get some good photos on stage 1, I had a few options but I opted for the back lit hill, It would provide some subject separation by shooting up into the sky but would be challenging to balance my light. Too dark and you wouldn't see the riders face. Too bright and the sky would be completely blown out. I didn't want background detail for this spot so the cautions approach of too bright was opted for but not too much or the background would overpower the rider.
Once everyone was through stage 1 I resumed my quest for the 3 photos, My last remaining shot was down low with the rider coming over the camera. This in itself was difficult because there aren't many places that could be used for this shot and I wouldn't be able to get to most of then in time to get the shot. I picked my spot on stage 4 where I knew there was a rock that I could tuck the camera into and stay off to the side to operate it. I would be shooting blind as I wouldn't be able to fold out the screen and I was not going to stick my head into the middle of the trail, Even if i did most riders would just ride round me and I wouldn't get the photo.
Shooting at 10mm, f3.5 and a fast shutter speed I was rewarded with this. It is a good concept of what I wanted but I think I could do better with some refinement and a better position. I will come back to this shot again soon.
After 2 days of Hiking with cameras, lenses and tripods I was exhausted, It was time to get back to the car and home to the dog and the laptop to begin the editing process.
thank you to Glyn and the team for organizing another amazing race weekend, the marshals and spectators for putting up with me getting in your way to get a photo and the riders for providing a subject to shoot and not riding over me lying in the trail.
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