Shooting Sports: What’s in The Bag?

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Photo by Hernan Bernal

I’ve been making pictures for over two decades now, and I still work on improving my photography every day – and improving the gear I use. I have found sports to be the most demanding field I’ve ever worked in, it being tougher – and ultimately, more satisfying – than even chasing wildlife in the Florida Everglades.

Any good photographer will tell you that you can get great pictures with any decent camera, and when I started covering cycling races, I had just come back from a short photography hiatus with a new-to-me Nikon D80. It marked my return to DSLRs after having sold all my Canon gear some time before. The D80 got me hooked on Nikon, and I sold a bunch of good photos from it, but I kept on “trading up” until I got to the kit I use now. My biggest reasons for upgrading included faster autofocus, weather-sealing on the body and lenses, and a more usable ISO range.

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So what do you see me shooting with now out at races? I am a hardcore minimalist, but I still use two camera bodies, one with a wide lens and one with a telephoto. The Nikon Z 6 has become my primary camera – a big surprise to me, considering how many people want to talk down its sports capabilities. I may think differently about it if I were shooting 150mph race cars or motorcycles, but it does extremely well when photographing cyclists whizzing past me at 30+ mph.

My Nikon 70-200/4 VR is almost always attached to the Z 6 via the clunky FTZ adapter. The 70-200 is a staple in almost every sports photographer’s bag, and that’s why I resisted it for so long – trying to be different, but I was going about it the wrong way. I now see why this incredibly versatile lens is so damn popular. I picked the f/4 over the f/2.8 because of weight. Endurance sports are the only sports I shoot, and they are almost always out in the open and in the daytime – so I don’t really need that extra stop. And after running from one end of a criterium course to the other all day while carrying almost 30 pounds of gear, I realized I needed to lighten up the backpack.

The secondary body is one that I had wanted even back when I was still shooting Canon, having been released in 2012: the Nikon (former) flagship body, the D4. Tough as hell, and it shoots 11 frames per second – rat-tat-tat-tat! Ergonomic even with its considerable heft, it looks and handles the business. Mated to a Nikon 16-35/4 and hanging from a Peak Design Slide strap, it’s really not bad to carry around.

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The 16-35 is the newest addition to the kit, having traded in my beloved Nikon 16mm fisheye and the utilitarian Nikon 24/2.8 lens I used for a while. I don’t get the awesome distortion from the 16-35 that I did from the dedicated fisheye prime, but then the same distortion could easily become gimmicky at times. So the fisheye stayed in the bag more often than not. The 16-35 gives me that amazing wide-angle perspective I love, with a very useful zoom range.

Rounding out the lens selection, I held onto my Nikon 300/4 with a 1.4x teleconverter, for when I really need more reach. It’s a cracker of a lens, but it has made less appearances at race courses since I have had the 70-200.

What else is in the bag? Snacks, tons of batteries, a Think Tank Pee Wee Pixel Pocket Rocket case for all the memory cards, a Think Tank Hydrophobia rain cover for the unpredictable Sunshine State weather, a Nikon SB-900 flash, and a few other odds and ends. A rugged WD My Passport SSD hard drive serves as a backup and storage for second shooters. The pack itself is a Mindshift Gear (Think Tank again) MP-7 v2.0 backpack. It’s pretty light and fits everything just right, laid out in a way that makes sense for an active outdoors photographer.

Finally, hanging defiantly from an exterior zipper is a French keychain of the lion mascot from longtime Tour de France sponsor Crédit Lyonnais, to remind me of determination and pushing past limits; just like I can always ride my bike faster, I can always make an even better picture.

South Florida Returns to Racing!

Racing came back to South Florida last weekend, and the damp weather wasn’t going to slow it down. The State Criterium Championship, sponsored by local cycling attorney Bill Bone, took place over two days at the St.Lucie County Fairgrounds on October 3rd and 4th. The first day covered all the age groups, from Juniors to Masters and Under 23. The second day, men and women in Cat 1 through Cat 5 competed for the state title.

First place finishers in the Juniors included Angel Rodriguez, riding with Stradalli, in the Boys 13-14 group, and Sam Morrison with team VeloBrew, winning the Florida State Champion jersey in the Girls 17-18 group.

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Local favorites Focus Racing Team made their presence felt in the Women’s various age groups, taking a number of podium finishes. A bad crash in the course roundabout during the Masters A race brought the action to a temporary halt, but the racing continued shortly to reveal more champions.

Team Novo Nordisk Development took two spots in the podium for U23, with Robbe Ceurens and Louis Evans taking first and third place, respectively.

The action didn’t slow down on day two, starting with Women’s Cat 4 and 5. Adriana Ruiz (Focus Racing Team) took her second State title win for the weekend, this time in Cat 4. Jeanine Seeger from Alpha Cycling took a hard-won victory for the Florida Championship jersey in Women Cat ½, and the intense competition kept ramping up all the way to the final race of the day, the Men Pro ½. This tough race made for a spectacular finish, with Luis Zayas taking first place and Michael Hernandez (FloridaVelo) coming in with a very close second.

“I was delighted to finally produce a fun and exciting event on a new challenging course in these very challenging times,” said Race Director Kevin Abbate, from Extreme Sports Productions.  “The entire team stepped up to the plate and pulled off a first-rate event, which was enjoyed by 383 riders and over 1,000 spectators. Everyone was respectful of the policies set forth as it related to COVID-19 procedures.”

For full results, visit ESPTiming.com