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|| News Item: Posted 2009-05-26

Contest Winner Almost Didn't Happen
By Stephen Lam

Photo by Stephen Lam

Photo by Stephen Lam

Team Spiderman's Nelson Li, right, closes in on Team Hollywood Alliance's Anton Quist during the sprint final at the U.S. Masters Track Cycling Championship at Hellyer Park Velodrome in San Jose, Calif.
(Editor's Note: Stephen Lam won the Photo of the Year in the Sports Shooter Newsletter Annual Contest. I asked him to write about his winning entry.)

By the time I made my way to the Hellyer Park Velodrome, a bicycle track in San Jose, California, I had already photographed a college football game and was eager to take it easy during an unusually hot weekend in the San Francisco Bay Area.

But I couldn't resist the chance to photograph the Master's Track National Championship. While these were some of the older racers in the track discipline, they were as serious as college students wanting to dominate in Call of Duty 4.

In other words… these masters were no joke.

Prior coming to the event, I knew I would have about an hour of available light before sunset (the U.S. Naval Observatory have a really neat webpage for that: so I had to work fast. I was using a Canon1D with a 70-200, a 1DmkIIN with a 300 2.8, and a 16-35 in my Think Tank Photo belt pouch.

My photographic journey started off with the usual stop action and tight-in-the-face stuff from the top of the steep banks of the track. While the photos were okay, it wasn't what I was looking for-it was as if the racers are standing still on a very lit surface. So I started to pan from different places, trying to get something different.

As the sun began to slowly drift towards the horizon, a large patch of shadow with some nice light pockets begins to form at one corner of the track. I went over there, trying to make something out of it. I wanted a different frame, and I could care less if I wasted everything in exchange for one good shot.

That said, it's kind of weird when you're the only photographer there.

After the light pockets were gone for good, I went back to the car, left my two white canon missiles and opted for the faster 35 f1.4 and 135 f2. I photographed the crowds and some details before going into the center pit area looking for some layers to work with. I eventually sat on a grass circle in the center of the track, looking directly at the steep banks.

The sun had already set. What I didn't know was that this circle is where racers usually ride in-between races to warm up and warm down. I just thought the grass was comfy, and it would be nice if I could grill some steak there.

In matter of minutes, a stream of racers begins to spin around the circle in preparation for the upcoming race. With them back-lit against the brighter track surface, that stream of competitors began to form a nice shadow to the race action happening in the background. Since they were moving at a slower pace than the two on the track, the shadows became blurred- it worked.

(Stephen Lam is a student at San Francisco State University. You can see examples of his work on his member page:

Related Links:
Stephen's member page

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