Race vehicle follow-up – photographers

July 12, 2011

“Too radical, won’t work”, some say about the idea to reduce the number of vehicles in the peloton (though fewer say that today than when I first posted it in May). But the idea isn’t really radical at all. I’ll go into some more detail in the next few posts, based on your feedback and questions:

  1. “But we love the photography”. So do I, and my proposal would not reduce the number of photos you see in the media and hardly the variety.
  2. “You need this many photographers in order not to miss anything.” If the goal is really not to miss anything, then you should spread them out. But instead many want to be in the same place to shoot the same photo, and that’s exactly where the problem occurs. You can’t let 16 photographers into the race for wide coverage, and then have them all in the same spot “because that’s the photo the media want”.
  3. In reality there are two groups of photographers; those who capture the actual racing, and those who capture the special moments, the artistic side. You don’t need too many of the first group, as is proven already today. Right now, only 3 photographers are allowed to work the final portion of each stage, and they then share their photos with the rest. If 3 is enough to cover the most exciting part of the stage, wouldn’t it be enough for the rest of it too?
  4. “Variety will be less”. Given that these photographers are all fighting for the same spot to take the same photo, there is no variety now. In fact, photo quality probably suffers because of the fight needed to take it. Plus there is the other part of the proposal:
  5. Assign 2-3 photographers to take the artistic photos (and no, I don’t mean another sunflower shot), not in the thick of the action but around it, where they won’t affect the race flow.

Bottomline, the sport needs to take decisions for the betterment of the sport. Those decisions shouldn’t unduly penalize photographers or anybody else, but on the other hand we also cannot allow the sport to be hurt for the benefit of these other groups.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments section or via twitter @gerardvroomen. To ensure you get tomorrow’s follow-up post, you can subscribe here.

21 Responses to “Race vehicle follow-up – photographers”

  1. Unfortunately people and organisers only change what is wrong after something bad has happened.

    Thank you for bringing new ideas to the world of cycling.

  2. M Says:

    I would go beyond that: Only allow the TV cameras to ride along in the race. Still photographers can stand along the road with everyone else. IMO, the magazines should make it easier for the casual spectators to sell their photos to them. No need for ten special guys when there are 20,000 others available.

    • Just FYI, most still photographers actually DO stand by the side of the road. There are only very few who are allowed to take photos while on the motor cycle, the rest is only allowed to shoot when standing still. At least in the Tour.

  3. wisey17 Says:

    Gerard, I agree that your ideas are not actually very radical, but simply a sensible option. However, like all big bureaucratic organisations, change happens slowly. I think the real problem is the disconnect between the (seemingly closed door) UCI and all the other stake holders in the sport. Consider the TT gear shifter debacle. We have different rules for different brand levers. Why not just extend the rule from 75cm/80cm out to 80cm/85cm and measure to the tip of the lever regardless of brand, shape or style. The question is how we communicate creative ideas from the public domain to the UCI or other big organisations like ASO. Blogs like this are a good start but I would be surprised if Pat McQuaid was one of your regular readers.

    M, I don’t think the still photography idea will wash. Everyone who owns a digital camera ‘thinks’ they take photos as well as a professional photographer, but they simply don’t know what they don’t know as the saying goes. There are plenty of people building carbon bikes in their garage. Gerard, do you think those are as good as a Cervelo? (NB: I am not a Cervelo rider)

    • I think blame can be shared a little more evenly. It’s easy to always blame the UCI for everything, but they don’t decide how many photographers are in the race, they don’t directly decide how large the peloton is, etc.

      All these problems are easily solvable (relatively) but to get everybody to move in the same direction is certainly difficult. I’ve got a nice blueprint in the drawer, but obviously it doesn’t do much good there.

      • wisey17 Says:

        Ouch. Yeah, you’re right. I did just jump on the “blame the UCI” wagon. I’ll cop that.

        I guess what I am thinking is that these big orgs like UCI and ASO to a somewhat lesser extent are so big that they don’t seem to be capable of the dynamic creativity that is essential to ‘being in business’ in this era. Flexibility and responsiveness are essential. Just ask Ernesto Colnago about the impact that orgs like Cervelo have had in the last few years. Those traditional guys are still scrambling to catch up, while the likes of Cervelo & BMC have ‘change’ built into their DNA.

  4. Chris Says:

    What is the outcome of the car driver that hit the rider?

    • Well, there is a police investigation right now, since normal road rules apply he could be hit with a whole bunch of things (causing bodily harm, leaving the scene of an accident, etc). Not sure much will happen in the end, but we’ll see. He was expelled from the Tour (for this year anyway).

  5. Norman Says:

    It sounds like photography in the Tour is a form of the prisoners’ dilemma. The best outcome all around is for fewer photographers to take essentially the same pictures, with less disruption to the race, but if left to their own devices, it doesn’t make sense for any individual organization to step up and let someone else take the photos for the greater good. So, I’m entirely persuaded that we need fewer photographers, but as always with these problems, the devil is in the details. Are the photographers assigned to the action required to licence their photos to competitors? If so, who decides the price? If not, how do the race organizers to decide which photographers get the plum job?

    • wisey17 Says:

      Hi Norman. Your comment triggered something for me. Why is there a difference between the way in which the TV pictures are done and the still photography? Tradition seems like the obvious answer to me. There is only one company contracted to provide the live TV footage. They are then obliged under contract to share/sell those images with all the networks that purchase the broadcast rights from ASO. So why not have one company with a few photographers on staff handle the taking of the photos and let the publishers buy those images from ASO. Of course, any publication can still send their own people out to stand on the side of the road. A lot of photographers and ancillary staff are going to be out of work in the short term, but it would cut out a lot of the motos. Just have two at the front to cover the break and the main bunch and one at the back to cover the crashes and stragglers. Because they are not competing against each other, they can have designated roles or areas to cover. Regarding price. Surely it is cheaper to buy images from ASO than to employ people and pay their travel expenses?

      • I fully agree that looking to the TV footage is helpful (even if the outcome doesn’t have to be identical). I brought this up in my original post rom May as well, it works for TV and it is as you say “tradition” that stops us from reassessing the set-up.

  6. RacePace Says:

    I agree far too many vehicles surrounding the race…

    Photographers – I personally much prefer the arty images we see in mags like ROAD and PROCYCLING, there is a need for the action race images but to be honest it’s only from the climbs and the sprints that these are usually seen in print. Therefore a reduction in photohounds in between the riders is easily possible.

    Media – do we really need all these media cars driving up and down the sides of the race? what exactly are they doing? Do they not get more information from watching the TV footage we all see?

    • Thanks for your comments, good to hear you agree with the results/arts split. As for media vehicles, of course they aren’t all needed. As with anything, stuff mushrooms until somebody decides to rethink the whole thing.

  7. JamesOaten Says:

    I broadly agree with what most people have said – including you Gerard – but as a professional photographer myself I think a change could go one of two ways…

    a) Because there will be fewer photographers on motorbikes on the course, they’ll be forced to be more creative with the opportunities they can get from the roadside, leading to a higher quality of photography overall – great for the magazines, newspapers, manufacturers and sponsors.

    b) Because the opportunities aren’t there, photographers simply won’t turn up – it’s pointless to spend a day waiting by the roadside for a couple of photos of the leaders and the peoloton, while others are in the thick of it on the motorbikes, getting shots of the breaks, the crashes and the sprints – there’s no guarantee they’ll sell those few shots, while the motorbike photographers will have a selection of hundred/thousands of images from throughout the stage – terrible for the magazines, newspapers, manufacturers, sponsors – and worst of all, the photographers.

    I don’t know how ASO awards accreditation to photographers, but I get the feeling they don’t spare much throught for the quality of the images – it seems they want to cover the event and little else, judging from the limited variety of images we see. They probably make a lot of money selling accreditation too – let’s not forget that – and the people who can afford accreditation don’t want to risk losing money on ‘arty’ shots when the break and bunch shots are the ones that sell.

    I’ve probably gone off on a complete tangent now, but hopefully this is food for thought nonetheless…

    • Very good points. I would think the problems can be overcome (rotating roles for each photographer, some days in the race, some days by the side of the road for example).

      While I am confident of that, we should also remember that cycling does not exist to provide a job for photographers, it’s a serving task. And once some of them don’t serve but instead screw up the race, job 1 is to get the race back in order.

      But again, I am confident that if somebody actually cares, the end effect could be positive. And while accreditation is not cheap, it’s not significant revenue either.

      • JamesOaten Says:

        Good points well made – and you’re absolutely right that the Tour doesn’t exist for the photographers, but the other way round. The TdF is a bike race first and foremost after all…!

        I very much like the idea of alternating roles – it would make people take their role that much more seriously depending on whether they were on the roadside or on the bike and image quality would only improve as a result.

        I may be well off the mark, but you do get the impression some photographers go out there with no preparation and just snap at whatever happens on the day – but with some careful planning and co-ordination you could make sure you’ve got people at key points along the route, while the motorbike photographer would be there to catch things as they happen. I envisage photographers taking the stage planning as seriously as the teams – reading the stage profile, doing a recce of the course to pick out the best vantage points and considering where riders might make a break or where crashes might happen.

        That requires a certain amount of cycling knowledge – and passion – but then ASO themselves could take the brave step of having ‘official’ TdF photographers. It would be a closed shop yes, and would be unpopular with local media, but if it reduces the amount of clutter on the roads and the photographers themselves were working together rather than against each other, there’s definitely potential.

        Thank you for the reply Gerard – it really means something that you and Cervelo take the time to listen to the riders and are clearly wanting to put something back into the sport. So many it seems just want to take your money and offer you a generic carbon frame in return…

  8. Chris Says:

    I think the team/referee cars and motorcycles are a must, but limit to just them. Maybe have the media only ride with the team/ref’s? We know how the media can get out of hand if untied.
    Training can be done for the drivers, but over time human nature and reactions loosen up due to race experience, then accidents happen.
    Most accidents happen to us within a couple miles from our homes. We become more relaxed and used to the environment.
    We can make changes that can keep us more alert, but would be a nuisance for most of us.
    In races, crashes happen. This is why there are many rules, and more added all the time.

    • I would agree that over-confidence is the cause for quite a few of the problems, not quite the same but similar to the relaxed attitude when driving on familiar roads.

  9. chickeee Says:

    How does the TdF caravan compare (size & composition) to other Grand Tours that also race on narrow roads ?

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