By Carolyn Defoore
Who are they, and what inspires them to spend their Saturday mornings and weeknight evenings in rainy, hot, or frigid weather, shooting races? Here is a little introduction to just a few of the photographers who capture the unique culture of bike racing and spectating in Texas.
Hailing from Austin, Erik Binggeser is a frequent contributor to TexasBikeRacing.com. He originally got his start behind the camera in 2006, shooting skateboarders. Erik was drawn to cycling as a subject matter because, as he puts it, it will be his main hobby for the rest of his life. He almost always has a camera with him, and the people he enjoys spending time with are almost always at bike races.
Kato Bently, a photographer from Dallas has been shooting regularly for seven years. He got started using his dad’s old Canon film camera with a 50 mm manual focus lens. He used that camera when he was a sophomore in high school and even learned to develop film and make prints on his own. (He muses, “…I miss that”). Kato says, “I’m always learning and looking for a little different perspective. With so many talented photographers in the community, it really pushes you to be better.”
Also from Dallas, Stevie Lesko began taking photos with her first digital camera at the age of 15 and currently considers herself a photography hobbyist. She describes her start as “definitely not an ‘ah-ha’ moment,” but says she has always been creative and has recently taken a liking to photographing racers on the track. She says, “As opposed to a crit or road race, there is something about the enclosed space of a velodrome that feels more intimate. Spatially, I am much closer to my subjects who vulnerably wear their pain, grit, and determination on their face (though some racers do have amazing poker faces).”
Corvin Alstot joins this talented list from Houston. He also started at a young age (in high school) when his father bought him his first camera about 40 years ago. His background as an architect influences the way he thinks about and sees space. Corvin says he enjoys the process and experimentation involved in making images. He currently considers himself a hobbyist and is drawn to cycling as a subject matter because “the color and speed of cycling inspire me and provide new ideas and images.”
Another regular at the Driveway Series, Michael Johnson is actually from Dripping Springs, just west of Austin. Michael has been shooting for 30 years. He was a painter majoring in studio art when he picked up his first camera to take photos of the things he wanted to paint at a later time, and photography quickly took the place of painting. Michael says, “I would describe myself as a photographer who is always in search of those moments in time that have meaning, impact, or carry a great deal of emotion. I am very spontaneous and really like a bit of serendipity when shooting. I love a moment that reflects the emotion of the day, or the person, the race, or the street that I may be walking down. My way of photographing is my way of life.”
What draws you to cycling as a subject matter?
Kato: It’s dynamic and challenging to capture. I am also a competitive cyclist, so I have a strong attachment and insight to the content. Cycling photography brings together two of my greatest passions!
Michael: Cycling has always been a passion of mine, so it would naturally be something I want to photograph. It’s still governed by a decades-old tradition that I find interesting. It’s a profession torn between art and business, creativity and practicality, and one that evolves rapidly. The most important thing that draws me to photograph cycling will always be the men and women who race or just ride. Photographing their struggles, their training, their hard efforts that sometimes fall short or the victories, whether it is personal or podium… I love photographing the passion my friends have for the sport of cycling.
What’s your Favorite Piece of Equipment?
Erik: My answer used to be my 40 mm f/2.8 pancake lens, but lately I’ve been absolutely loving my DJI Mavic Pro. Having a point of view from a few hundred feet up offers a new challenge to try and solve.
Corvin: My favorite piece of equipment would be a large battery power strobe. With this strobe, I can pop a little light into pictures where normally the subject might be in shadows. Additionally, I’m able to shoot later in the evening or on cloudy days when the light is flat and still provide great definition and shadows.
Kato: My Nikon 50 mm f/1.4. It’s the classic focal length, a super versatile lens with good autofocus speed, and works well for low-light conditions.
What motivates you to continue taking pictures?
Corvin: I’m motivated by the possibility and process of creating a powerful image. There’s problem-solving around design and spatial considerations to think about. These issues relate to my architectural training. On a more basic level, race photography is a social tool for me. Races get me outside, meeting and talking to people.
Erik: My body feels unbalanced if I don’t have a camera hanging from my left shoulder. Also, my friends would have terrible profile pictures if I didn’t always creep on them.
Describe one of your favorite shots…
Stevie: During a time trial on the track, I took a black-and-white photo of a single racer. I worked on that photo in post-production for a while, and when I finished, I knew it was going to be one of the top photos in my portfolio. You can see the rider’s determination. I also included shadows and lines to add direction to the photo. I was sitting at the start/finish line to get the straightest angle possible of him coming down the straight. His legs are big and his body type is the epitome of that of a track racer.
Corvin: One of my favorite shots was of Amber Smolik. I had a stroke of good luck combine with a little bit of planning. The Red Bull truck was parked at the Memorial Park crits one evening. I wanted to get the truck blurred in the background with a little bit of the red bull showing behind a crisp image of Amber. Amber’s image is fairly sharp, but the bike wheels are spinning and the spokes are almost hidden. I really love that the photo emphasized primary colors: red, blue, and yellow.
Erik: At the Driveway last year before the Red Bull Last Stand, they opened up the course for track bikes right after some pouring rain. The racers going around corners in the pitch black night with the surface looking like a mirror was such a beautiful moment to capture.
If you could give advice to someone who is just getting started and wants to take photos at bike races, what would you tell them?
Kato: Shoot A LOT and experiment constantly! Don’t use “auto” modes…you need to learn the tool to have control.
Michael: Be selective on what you post. Get to the course early, review the race specifics, and look for the best spots that will suit your gear and the light you want to work with. Be courteous, respectful of others, and understand the protocol/etiquette of what is expected of you as a photographer. Ask questions if you are not clear on anything. Be aware of other photographers and where they are in relationship to your position. There are so many stories to explore at a race… just always be on the move and observe all the opportunities that exist right in front of you.
Stevie: Practice, practice, practice. Ask for critiques and try new things! There are many shooting and editing techniques to use that give you very different styles of photographs. My skills have drastically improved over the last year because I have paid more attention to things like framing and direction. Once you become more conscious and focused on what you’re shooting, your frames become more intentional and purposeful.
What do you wish the cycling community knew about your work?
Corvin: That my work is meant to be fun. It’s an outlet to experiment, using bicycle races as the medium. It won’t ever be perfect, but hopefully I’ll create a few great images and meet new friends along the way.
Kato: It’s a glimpse into my mind’s eye.
Stevie: I aspire to be a photographer for UCI, USAC, or a professional cycling team, so I enjoy all of the opportunities I have to go out and photograph races!
Michael: The passion/commitment I put into making the images for the cycling community; I want to present every cyclist in the most positive manner possible, and I take that responsibility seriously. Also, that I understand what they are going through while racing — I have been on the other end and can almost feel whatever is going on. I try to convey that in the images I shoot.
Erik: It’s mostly luck.
To learn more about these photographers, please visit their websites or find them on Instagram: