Occasional Moments of Brilliance

Photography that is always great, and occasionally brilliant.

Posts tagged ‘sports’

Charitable Century

A cold early September wind was already blowing at daybreak when hundreds of riders gathered at Hampshire High School for the Paul Ruby Sub-5 Century Challenge. The competitors were shivering, chatting and trying to avoid mud puddles that had gathered in the school lawn as they clacked around on cycling shoes. I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t a more dramatic looking sunrise, but quickly started capturing portraits of the riders as they talked, joked and discussed strategy. These teams turned out in the teeth chattering September chill in order to raise money for the Paul Ruby Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.

Many of the riders were part of 16 member teams who were competing against the clock, and not against each other by completing a 100-mile ride in less than 5 hours. In addition there were several shorter recreational ride courses set up for all levels of riders.

Some of the interesting additions to this year’s event were a local BMW motorcycle club who volunteered to support the riders, and one of the riders used a recumbent bike with fairing. He mentioned that it has an electrical system that provides him with head and taillights. The trade-off is that it requires a 5 lbs motorcycle battery.

I was able to ride along with Steve Overton who was coordinating the support drivers this year. While I didn’t get to spend very much time at the start or finish line, I was able to capture moments of determination, teamwork and success with each of the teams all around the course. After a few hours of alternately hanging out of the support van window and setting up a stationary position at the roadside a call came over the radio that the last rider on the course was coming in alone. Steve sped over to his position, and as we came alongside two things were clear. First, this guy was exhausted, and second, that he was going to finish his century and not give up. We accompanied him over the last 15 miles with me snapping photos and Steve yelling encouragement.

On the day of the ride, the Paul Ruby Foundation was able to net at least $50,000, which like the more than 400,000 raised in the last five years will be used to directly fund Parkinson’s research. For more information about Paul Ruby Foundation for Parkinson’s Research or if you are interested in getting involved, please visit them online at http://www.paulrubyfoundation.org.

Two of the challenges with photographing an event like this are isolating the focus on the faces of the riders as they move towards the camera at speed, and giving the photos a consistent style without shooting them all from the same spot.

I wanted to maintain a somewhat narrow depth of field in order to separate the riders from the background. In order to do this, from each of my stationary positions, I chose two or three preset focus points, and then captured the riders as they rode through that point. In addition, I had Steve pull alongside the riders and match their speed. This allowed me to freeze the faces of individual riders and by using a slightly slower shutter speed and greater depth of field, provide the motion blur in the background. Steve’s white minivan provided fill light by acting as a reflector.

Fortunately, I was able to shoot from a variety of different positions over the course of the ride. In addition I found a few spots where the drainage ditch was a few feet below the road level and was a bit overgrown. From here I was able to shoot from nearly road level and the out of focus grasses in the foreground contributed to the overall sense of depth.


This summer’s pre-national volleyball tournament at the Great Lakes Center in Aurora, Illinois brought in dozens of teams from around the country. The gymnasium pulsed with the sound of simultaneous matches. Families, fans and other teams had to occasionally dodge errant spiked volleyballs. Thrown into this mix was a group of high school aged Chinese nationals who were training at the center for the month. I was curious about this team of tall thin players with close cropped, bob style haircuts. The gym reverberated with shouts, cheers and whistles which made it impossible to hear what any of the team members were saying which made it easier to focus on the difference in playing styles. Besides being consistently taller than the other teams, their style seemed to be for lack of a better term, more businesslike. They were clearly happy and excited to be there, but their play and celebrations between points seemed more reserved and serious. The coaches appeared to be more distant and focused on fine-tuning technical aspects of their young charges, as opposed to cheering and encouraging them along the way.

I was reminded again of these athletes when I read about the Chinese government’s medal goal in the London Olympics, called Project 119. The plan is for the Chinese delegation to win medals in 119 events. I wondered what kind of life awaited these athletes once their American tour was finished. Having lived in Seoul, I’m familiar with the crushing social pressure to succeed leading to all day and all night cram sessions. It wasn’t unusual to see students still in uniform dozing on the bus home at 11pm. Then I read about some of these young Chinese athletes who hadn’t been home for more than a handful of days during most of the last decade, missing birthdays, holidays and the passing of loved ones.

One of coaches at the Great Lakes Center laughed a little when he mentioned how these girls would jump at the opportunity to go out for fast food, or shopping after training all day. Maybe, knowing that in a few short weeks they would go home to a strict, government-controlled program that could lead to them being labeled either a hero or a national disgrace…they decided it was time for a cheeseburger.