Through the lens: Photographer shares challenges of covering Tour of Utah
August 18, 2018
Triple-checking my backpack for camera gear, I spray sunscreen all over my body and glance at the clock. Hoping for the best, I head out the door.
It's time for the Tour of Utah.
Car and bike traffic litters Marsac Avenue as I climb to Guardsman Pass. I nervously tap the steering wheel, hoping for a parking space near the race's King of the Mountain (KOM) — the highest point on a climb, marking the descent. I find a spot and begin planning my shots.
Waiting patiently for the sound of a helicopter to signal the peloton's arrival, I converse with spectators.
After nearly four hours, I'm able to catch a glimpse of the peloton heading over Empire Pass. I change out my 300 millimeter zoom lens for a wider option. I grab my 24-70 millimeter and get in position.
The leading riders race over the KOM. I snap a few photos then change my location, sprinting around the curve in the road moments before the peloton crests Guardsman Pass and begins its descent into Big Cottonwood Canyon. I plant myself behind an orange cone on the edge of the course.
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My camera is set to shoot in RAW, its highest file size, so I'm only allowed 13 images before my camera has to pause and process the image files. Riders are moving so fast that I know I won't have time for my camera to "reload" if I hit that frame limit.
I need to choose those few frames carefully.
I begin taking photos of the riders and make the decision to simultaneously shoot video. I make sure my camera is at the correct zoom distance, then balance my lens on top of my iPhone as I hold each in either hand.
I dodge an errant water bottle after a rider fails to get a handle on the tradeoff from a team volunteer.
Moments after friendly car horns blare past and TV motorcycles zip through, the sound of the helicopter fades away down the canyon. The riders are on their way to Snowbird, and we are allowed to move our cars back toward Park City.
My photo coverage of Stage 5 is over within 25 minutes.
The next morning, I get to Main Street early for Stage 6, hungry for more.
My heart rate picks up as I think about how to cover this stage with limited access to the course. The only photos I'll be able to make are ones at the start and finish areas.
Riders roll through for check-in — signing autographs, being interviewed and picking up bikes. I snap photos of the process.
Jersey call-ups begin at the starting line, and I hustle over to be with the other photographers. I stay for two of the six jersey call-ups, then split from the media. Racing through the crowd, I dodge and slip past spectators, offering an apology here and there as I rush to the roof of the Treasure Mountain Inn for start.
Two flights of stairs and two ladders later, I climb onto the roof of the hotel with just enough time to get in place before the starting gun fires. I make a quick decision on which lens to use and cautiously approach the edge of the roof.
Adrenaline and my fear of heights cause me to shake as I scoot toward the edge of the four-story building in hopes of getting a cleaner angle. I juggle my phone and camera again, starting a livestream on Instagram while taking photos of riders pedaling across the starting line.
The riders make two ceremonial laps up Main Street before beginning the 76-mile stage, giving me enough time to finish the livestream and get the photos I needed from this higher perspective.
On the second lap, I wrap my camera strap tightly around my wrist, placing my left hand firmly on my 70-200 millimeter lens and my right hand on my camera body.
I take a deep breath then hold my arms out over the edge of the building, blindly shooting photos straight down onto the street.
As the sixth and final stage of the Tour rolls out of town, I begin to think about the finish.
I keep up with the race via the Tour's livestream, eagerly waiting for leader Sepp Kuss to begin his descent into Park City. In the meantime, I roam Main Street in search of fun feature images.
As Kuss crests Empire Pass, I attach my 300 millimeter zoom lens to my camera body, shove my wide 24-70 millimeter lens in my front pocket and head toward the finish line.
Rain begins to fall and I scramble to protect my gear from the elements. I cover my wide lens with my shirt, hoping it will absorb most of the moisture, and use my press badge to deflect water from the back of my camera body.
Photo motorcycles approach the finish and drop off other photographers. I get into position, kneeling on the gritty, wet pavement, knowing that Kuss is nearing the finish line.
Flashing lights crest the curvature of Main Street and I see the yellow jersey hammering up the 7 percent grade toward the line. I lift my camera and wait for the moment.
Nearly holding my breath, I watch through my viewfinder as a grimacing Kuss makes his final pedal strokes toward the finish. I snap a few shots of the action and continue to wait for his celebration at the line.
I hold my breath and wait for his celebration. At last, he sits up, throws his head back and stretches out his arms. I snap a single photo and let out a sigh, finally able to breathe again.