Friday Feature: VeloEye Roxanne King

Cycling sure brings out the shutterbugs in people – next in our series of VeloEyes we have Roxanne King. Roxanne works as a bookkeeper for two small business in Ann Arbor, Michigan during the working week but is a self-proclaimed cycling groupie in her spare time. Along with her love of cycling, she’s developed quite a love for photography as well, and we’re lucky enough to have some of her choice snaps!

Mark Cavendish, Tour of California, 2010

Kitty: First of all, tell me a little bit about yourself – how did you get interested in cycling? Do you ride yourself?

Roxanne: In 2009, I was feeling old and fat, my knees were bad, and my doctor was telling me that something had to change or else. After the end of the Tour de France that year, I had what I call the Bicycling Epiphany, and went out and rode my bike for the first time in decades. Within two weeks, I’d bought a new bike and made a commitment to ride it every day. I eventually lost about 40lbs, and felt better than I had in years.

That August I went to visit relatives in Missouri and took my bike along. The Tour of Missouri was being raced at the time and I wound up staying for five stages of the race. One day, I went to a local bike store to get a new derailleur and found Astana was doing a signing. The shop wouldn’t sell me a new derailleur but I did meet Levi Leipheimer and ‘Eki’ Ekimov. That was when I went from being just a person who watches on TV to a groupie. You can blame them for everything that happened afterwards! Without that interaction, I’d most likely not be arranging my vacation schedule to go to bike races.

Edvald Boasson Hagen at 2012 Tour of Flanders

This year, I came over to Europe to go to a few of the Classics. This photo of Edvald Boasson Hagen on the Oude Kwaremont at the Tour of Flanders is one of my favorites. We were set up next to a group of Norwegian fans, who were waving flags all day. I was further down the bank than I would have normally been in an effort to avoid having my view blocked by the flag.

Once again, the flag was dipping down, but then I realized Boasson Hagen was riding up the middle of the cobbles, and if I could time it right, I would get him and the flag in the shot at the same time. It was a real, “Camera, don’t fail me now!” moment, and I got it. I don’t think the shot could be better if we’d staged it and told Boasson Hagen what line to take.

Thomas Voeckler, Tour of Flanders, 2012

Kitty: What a great story! Do you have a favourite race? I see from your Flickr album that you do a lot of CycloCross races – which do you prefer, that or road racing?

Roxanne: I like all of it. It was when the Tour started being televised consistently in the late 1990s that I became a real fan. I was a big fan of Bobby Julich, after he got third in the Tour. I have a friend who lives in Pasadena, and a stage of the 2010 Tour of California was supposed to start just down the street from him, so I flew out for four days. It was a great race, and I was just a total cycling fangirl for the weekend. It was great!

I met Jeremy Powers in the team area at the LA time trial and he mentioned in passing that he was more of a cyclocross rider, and I may have actually said, “What’s that?” I know I was thinking it!  When I got back home, I found out that while there wasn’t much in the way of road racing in Michigan, there was quite a lot of cyclocross! There were races every week that fall, including one only five miles from home. I didn’t take pictures of those races, I was just there to figure out what was going on. But I was hooked.

An Argonaut final charge at Scheldeprijs this year, as Marcel Kittel (left) edges out Tyler Farrar (centre)

Kitty: You seem to get to a lot of races! What got you interested in photographing cycling  – do you remember the first race you photographed?

Roxanne: I started out with an old Kodak 2-megapixel digital camera but I wasn’t too happy with it so I tested a lot of cameras until I got a Samsung point-and-shoot for Christmas. I used that camera in California in 2010 and Colorado in 2011. It was in the process of reviewing photos from Colorado that I realised I wanted to be a bit more serious about my photography, and that I needed a camera where I could control the aperture and shutter speed.

I have to call the Tour of California the first race that I intentionally photographed. I was learning to use my camera, and it’s tricky to convince it to take action photos, but I got the pictures I set out to get, and more.

In 2011, I went to the Tour of Colorado. This was another shift, as I met some of the people I had been chatting with on Twitter. [Roxanne is @CyclingRox on Twitter – Ed] It was a revelation to find out that I wasn’t the only cycling-mad woman on the planet!

It also became clear that the point-and-shoot wasn’t up to the challenge, so I got a Canon Rebel T3i [in the UK and other countries it is known as the EOS 600D - Ed], as it was capable of doing everything I wanted it to do. I’m still learning all it can do.

I partly got into taking photos because I wanted something to do other than just ring my cowbell at races. I wanted to record the event, and I wanted souvenirs that were less intrusive to the riders than getting signatures. My first souvenirs were event t-shirts, which I had the riders sign on the back. Those t-shirts are amazing, to be honest, as I didn’t have a lot of competition at the Tour of Missouri, and I was persistent at the Tour of California.

Kitty: I love the picture you took of Bernie Eisel this year. Tell me a little about how you got it.

Ladies’ favourite Bernie Eisel at Scheldeprijs 2012

At Scheldeprijs, I was a bit late getting to the start line, and thus wound up about halfway back along the riders waiting for the start. As it turned out, I was just behind Tom Boonen, although he was on the other side of the road, and directly beside Bernie Eisel.

Unfortunately, he rode up with Andreas Klier, and proceeded to chat with him, looking away from me. Eventually I broke an unwritten rule, and called out his name a couple of times. The guy next to me asked if I thought that would work, and so I was looking at that guy instead of at Bernie. When I looked back, Bernie had moved and was now chatting with Juan Antonio Flecha, and in this position. I like to think he was posing on purpose.

Kitty: Do you have any top tips for any fans who want to start taking pictures at races themselves?

Roxanne: First, just start taking pictures. Any picture is better than none.

Tom Boonen’s moment of triumph, Paris-Roubaix 2012

Second, learn what your camera can do and what it can’t, and how to work around it.

Third, take lots and lots of pictures, knowing you’ll throw out about two-thirds of them. Find a thing you like, and work on that. For instance, I found that I liked getting pictures of cyclists when their faces are twisted in effort. I have a whole series from CX Nationals called Faces of Pain. I expect to do more of that this year.

Keep your camera ready. One of my favorite shots from Paris-Roubaix – of Taylor Phinney – I got only because I could point the camera and click. If I’d had to do so much as turn the camera on, or remove the lens cap, I’d have missed the shot.

It’s that golden boy, Taylor Phinney, at this year’s Paris-Roubaix

Lastly, learn to use a photo editing program. I have been using a freeware program called IrfanView, but it’s clear that I need to move up to PhotoShop if I want to get to the next level. With modern pixel densities, it’s possible to get two or more good photos from a single exposure, and to salvage otherwise lost photos.

On the What Not To Do front: make sure you stay well out of the way of the riders. You need to be close in order to get good shots, but their safety is more important than your photograph.

Kitty: Are there any professional cycling photographers that you particularly admire?

Roxanne: I have been a fan of Graham Watson for a long time. He’s the big name and for a good reason: he’s got an eye, he has experience and does really good work.

On a more personal level, when I went to Belgium this spring, Jered and Ashley Gruber were staying in the same B&B. They’re amazing people, open and friendly. And in an entirely different league from me! They’re such professionals. I was a bit in awe, sort of like finding out that a famous rider would be in the same house.

Kitty: We love the Grubers here at VeloVoices – I’m hoping to meet them myself one day! So what races are you hoping to go to during the rest of the season? Are you going to make any of the stages of the Tour?

Roxanne: I’ve had my European adventure for this year – my cycling budget is toast! I’ll be going to races I can drive to, provided I find ways to supplement my income to get gas money, and have friends in the area to crash with. I will be going up to Nature Valley Grand Prix – it’s a long drive but I think it will be worth it. I am hoping to get out to Colorado at the end of August, but I’m running out of vacation time and arranging crash space is harder as I don’t know as many people out there. I would definitely be one of the folks camping on Independence Pass!

Kitty: Well, thanks so much for talking to us and sharing your pictures!

The real Flanders flag …

See more of Roxanne’s picture on flickr.

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