Assignment: Echelon Gran Fondo (Napa)

Postcard commemorating Echelon Napa Gran Fondo

Postcard commemorating Echelon Napa Gran Fondo

As a photographer, I’m pretty much a generalist. That is, I’ll happily take on just about any photo assignment, especially if it offers something new.

Living in California, it goes without saying that I love the outdoors. And so it’s no wonder that nature photography is a favorite pursuit of mine. Alas, nature photography while personally very gratifying isn’t especially lucrative. More often than not, my work involves photography either in a studio or a business location setting. But whether indoors or outdoors, each setting and subject presents its own interesting challenges.


Case in point: a recent assignment was as an event photographer for the Echelon Gran Fondo in Napa, CA. This mass cycling fundraiser had nearly 1000 participants and ran nearly all day. My instructions were to shoot the event in a photo-journalistic style and chronicle the overall feeling of an Echelon event. The images that I created are to be used in a variety of web and print materials produced by Pixel-Gym to promote future Echelon riding events. There were other photographers hired to take the “vanity” shots of individual cyclists and some photographers were working for the sponsors. But my goal was to visually showcase the event as a day of fun for the riders while funds were raised for two local hospitals specializing in cancer treatment.

Promo using a photo from Echelon Napa Gran FondoWhen I’m photographing wildlife, my usual approach is to blend in—that is to be as unobtrusive as possible. I think the most successful nature images are ones that depict wildlife in its natural habitat doing what they naturally do. So often, this approach involves a great deal of patience working a specific location.

Covering the Napa Gran Fondo was interesting for me as it was my first cycling event and something of a challenge in that it’s literally a moving target. The Echelon Gran Fondo offers riders three rides of varying length up to 100 miles. So to cover the event it was important to capture all of the hoopla: the riders; the beautiful Napa countryside; the party; and, moreover, the spirit.

So with a convertible as my mount, we followed, sometimes lead and more often chased the riders along the designated route. Ideally, I would have had the opportunity to scout the course under the same lighting conditions as when the event takes place. But as often the case, you have to make the best of any situation. I did drive a portion of the course in the preceding afternoon but there really is no substitute for seeing cyclists riding along the route in morning light. Rather than just follow the group, we often times would surge ahead of the pack in an attempt to instantaneously scout out a scenic location. When an attractive location was spotted, we’d make a quick stop and I’d hop out of the car and set up as quickly as possible as the speeding group of riders rapidly approached my position and just as quickly raced away. You really only have just a matter of seconds to make your shots. Its kind of exhilarating yet a little nerve wracking because you want to capture as much as possible and avoid missing an important moment. And as with my nature photography, capturing moments of spontaneity or gestures is always something I’m specifically on the lookout for. It takes a quick eye and an even quicker finger.

After the last rider crossed the finish line in downtown Napa, I created a Flickr gallery for my client and uploaded the image files. The response from the client and participants has been favorable. With my first cycling event now completed, I’m already thinking of ways to improve my coverage of future Echelon events.

Follow this link to see photos from the Echelon Gran Fondo taken on May 21, 2011.

And if you want to see some of my other photography, you can go to my Flickr site or click the Flickr icon at the bottom of the homepage. And of course, you are welcome to check out the galleries here on my website.