Interview: Race Photographer Carlos Jimenez of A Focus on Light

After training so hard, and fighting so hard to race to the top of your abilities, it's always a pleasure to have nice photographs that document the effort and suffering. There's nothing that quite elevates and extends the pleasure and beauty of bike racing like good race photography, and with time I realized that some of the best work was coming from the same photographer: Carlos Jimenez of A Focus on Light Photography.

Luckily he agreed to do an interview and give us a little insight into the world of a bike race photographer. Enjoy!

Q: Can you tell us a little about your background in photography, and how you began bike race photography?

A: The interest in photography began when I was 15 years old. I was given a small vintage folding camera that used 120 film. Some photos from back then (way back then!) still exist, they are of some family members and a few still life images I experimented with at the time. While attending journalism school photography took on a whole new meaning. It was then that I truly realized that a good image could be thought provoking or simply be aesthetically pleasing, and that there is a power of expression which gives a photographer a voice. I have since incorporated it in the things that I am passionate about, motorsports, aviation and cycling mainly. Bike racing by default provides so many elements that are naturally photo worthy. Bike races are full of color, they provide action, drama, and many human interest stories that unfold both on the race course/track/road as well as behind the scenes, before during and after an event. If you like taking photos and like bike racing, it is a perfect marriage!    

Q: What kind of things make shooting bike races challenging?

A: For me the challenge is being able to tell the story and telling it in a visually pleasing manner. You have very little control over the weather, the lighting, the backgrounds, the venue and the participants. These are things to consider and will make a difference in the outcome and quality of the images. I love to give the viewer the feeling of speed. It is clear that my images very often contain motion. The action and motion in bike racing is prolific, and in my opinion beautiful, and therefore needs to be captured and shared! I see so many cycling images, including very prominent advertisements, where the rider and bike are perfectly lit and absolutely in crisp focus but the image is static and therefore stale. Every spoke is perfectly discernable…but frozen still. My mind says: they took a crew to the Alps, brought this beautiful bike and rider along, and made him/her do a “track stand” while this wonderful photographer took an amazing image, devoid of any motion whatsoever, yes it is implicit but to me those spokes are begging for some blur! This of course is my perception and is MY personal opinion and truly not intended to offend anyone, especially not the purists. With that said, the challenge for me is often finding the right combination with the camera settings to provide an image that depicts motion, yet has subject or subjects in sharp focus. I try to keep evolving and learning in order to keep my photos fresh, and I constantly look for new vantage points in order to give that unique perspective, whenever possible.

Q: How do you approach shooting criteriums, road races and time trials differently?

A: Crits are rich with opportunities for photos because of the variety in the courses and different corners and straights associated with this type of racing. In addition, these races by their very nature offer many opportunities to experiment with locations, focal lengths and camera settings, given the amount of relatively short laps that bring the riders back in view almost constantly.

With road races, whenever possible I try and preview the course, as riders typically do, to search for places that might offer the best vantage points. The best spots I find offer either a good view of the riders or a nice background that will be complemented by a group or even a single rider to be included in the image. I have lingered at an especially scenic spot during a race, waiting for riders to populate the image I have in my head, while fighting the urge to move to a different location because I feel like I am missing some action elsewhere on the road. Tick tock tick tock. On a few occasions that wait has paid off and I have captured images that encompass the beauty or characteristic of the area, and give my visual version of the race some context.

Time trials very often offer the unique opportunity to capture an individual shot of almost everyone participating. As a race photographer you can concentrate on one individual rider or team at a time (usually). Because of this and given the all out effort involved, the story is often in the facial expressions, the eyes, the body position etc. This is one type of racing where I think a long lens capable of capturing the riders closely is preferable, but of course not mandatory.

Q: Is special equipment necessary for photographing bike races?

A: I think that good racing images can be obtained with just about any camera. I have a few great shots taken with an iPhone. Just as in any type of photography, knowing your equipment and whatever limitations it may have is more important than having the latest and greatest. Yes, having the best equipment can be an asset, lightning quick auto-focus, super sharp fast lenses, believe me, my wish list is quite extensive, but getting out there and shooting, experimenting , breaking the rules and enjoying the process is what it is all about! Equipment or lack thereof should not be a hindrance. I am always encouraged by so many fantastic photos produced by a variety of photographers telling their own stories and sharing their own visions! It is a great feeling when you envision a shot and capture it as planned and the results bring on a “fist pump” and a smile. No special camera required.

Q: What are your goals and/or ambitions in bike race photography for the future?

A: Recently, someone approached me and said that they had been unable to attend a race that I shot, and that after viewing my images, they felt as if though they experienced the race without having been there. I realized then that my goal is to accomplish that very thing. To share the “story” of a race or event as I see it, in a visually pleasing and unique way.

As far as the future, I want to travel to new venues and capture different races. I would love to be embedded with a team, even for a day or a weekend, in order to do a photo essay of their activities, prior, during and after a race. I have talked to a couple of teams about it and my proposal was well received, so the possibilities are very good! I do not take for granted that many great opportunities have come my way, placing me in a good position within the bike racing community. I hope to continue to contribute what I can with my images, while keeping them interesting and pleasing. I have met so many amazing folks along the way and welcome the chance to interact and meet with many more!

Q: Could you share with us some of your favorite race photographs, and what makes them special to you?

“For the win” I like the different point of view. Typically a finish line shot is taken with the riders approaching. I like the way this one turned out because it still tells the story of this race as it ends. The spectator excitement, the winner and the ensuing sprint for second.

“For the win” I like the different point of view. Typically a finish line shot is taken with the riders approaching. I like the way this one turned out because it still tells the story of this race as it ends. The spectator excitement, the winner and the ensuing sprint for second.

“Flowing” Again, here I like the unique birds eye view, offering a different vantage point.

“Flowing” Again, here I like the unique birds eye view, offering a different vantage point.

“ Photo-finish” The wheels and finish line tell us all we need to know here. I like the strong B&W contrast which adds to the drama of the photo.

“ Photo-finish” The wheels and finish line tell us all we need to know here. I like the strong B&W contrast which adds to the drama of the photo.

“The chat”, Encompasses some of what goes on at a race, the folks who are part of the scene, the riders and of course the folks following the action.

“The chat”, Encompasses some of what goes on at a race, the folks who are part of the scene, the riders and of course the folks following the action.

“Calling home” This one tells one of the many human stories that occur at the races. This young man found a secluded spot to call home and share his race adventure.

“Calling home” This one tells one of the many human stories that occur at the races. This young man found a secluded spot to call home and share his race adventure.

“Bridge” I like the artistic components about this one. It also tells the story about the one rider in the break and one attempting to bridge the gap.

“Bridge” I like the artistic components about this one. It also tells the story about the one rider in the break and one attempting to bridge the gap.

You can contact Carlos at 770.329.1353 or via his website www.afocusonlight.com for information about using him for your race or events.