Last year when I took on the project of photographing the Coast Ride, for the first time, I had this grand idea of shooting a series of portraits. I packed a full lighting kit. The the only time it gots touched was when the InGamba soigneurs had to lug it from the hotel room every single morning and again every single night, as we made our way down the California Coast.
(Full Disclosure: E co-founder Jim works for inGamba and in such that they provided me with a spot in the team car to shoot from, a bed to sleep in, and fed me whenever it was time to eat in exchange for a few snappies.)
Not enough time. Freakish logistics. Many varied and creative excuses.
Just like in previous years the 2019 edition of The Coast Ride rolled by with several hundred riders doing 100+ miles per day over MLK weekend from San Francisco to Santa Barbara. Yet just like the one loop you do with your friends every week can change from mundane to drastically different in an instance, the Coast Ride always throws something new at me.
The colossal Big Sur mudslide and the subsequent (literally) breathtaking Nacimiento-Fergusson Road detour have been removed. We had two beautiful riding days, with a rainy wet day sandwiched in the middle, and for the inGamba crew, an additional day of riding from Santa Barbara to Venice. And I had a new mechanic/driver to break in or, at least try, to break in.
Day One went by pretty much as expected, but upon waking in Monterey on Day Two I was greeted with a steady drizzle. As strange as this might sound, I was excited. Extra element bring extra drama and, plus, I wasn’t riding.
Some point just before the riders left the hotel one of the riders, Andrew, suggested that I should do a portrait series of the riders’ grit and reactions at the end of the day. It was a rather ironic suggestion considering last year I had packed for a portrait series that didn’t happen, but now it was going to happen when I hadn’t packed my toys to do it “properly.” I may not have had my lighting kit, but the InGamba tour bus had a full matte black exterior. The perfect backdrop. I was stoked.
122 miles, 8,000 feet of climbing and six hours in the rain later, I got the portrait series I had planned on over 365 days earlier.
When I started attending Interbike in 2015, CrossVegas was probably the second reason why I wanted to make the trip to Vegas. Who doesn’t love night races? I had a blast both times I photographed the race but on my way back to my hotel last year, I was gifted a speeding ticket right down the street from the venue. My very first speeding ticket. Ever. So much for the memories.
One year later, while the question of whether to even attend Interbike lingered up until the very last moment, RenoCross, the new CrossVegas, was never a doubt. If I was to go to InterBike, I will definitely check out RenoCross. Who cares if a bunch of pros are skipping this in favor of the World Cup in Waterloo. A smaller party is still a party.
What’s different this year though was how I photographed the race. I’ve been doing my “strobe in the face” approach during the Vegas editions, and while I originally planned to stick with that, either the altitude was just that terrible for us sea level peeps, or maybe InterBike was just so intense that I decided to just run with the ambient lights. Strobes or not, it’s always fun to be out shooting some good racing at night, and RenoCross sure didn’t disappoint.
For me, the chase of finding the perfect camera bag is as difficult as finding freaking Nemo.
You see, over the years I pretty much have what some might call a collection of camera bags, and the collection is still growing. There are bags I use everyday (ThinkTank ShapeShifter, AirportSecurity), some are seldomly used (the good ol’ LowePro Stealth AW), and some, such as my giant Pelican 1650 where I bought solely to photograph the America’s Cup a few years ago, are essentially one hit wonders. There’s even a repurposed Timbuk2 messenger bag with inserts for small flashes and lenses when I need to go light and stealth.
All of those have been my “system” and they have worked for me for a variety of assignments from shooting the Super Bowl, wildfires, sitting in presidential campaign motorcades, CEOs, weddings, and bike races.
But, as if the N+1 rule extends to camera bags too, there’s always room for another one.
The struggle is so real that I now sympathize with my wife whenever she goes bag shopping. Okay, maybe not about the last part but you get my drift.
So here comes the Thule Covert camera backpack.
Better known for their extensive line of roof and bike racks, Thule has been making inroads into various products to help consumers bring whatever they want along, hence their motto of “Bring Your Life.” So out in the wild are Thule phone cases, luggage bags, strollers and backpacks.
On the outside, the Covert looks just like any other roll-top backpack that has been all the rage lately. It’s a pretty inconspicuous bag that doesn’t scream “HAVE CAMERA. ROB ME NOW.” Awesome.
From the top, the roll-top lid is neatly tucked away with adjustable buckles, and unrolling it will reveal the zipper to access the main compartment.
The main compartment can be divided into two with its removable partition that seals the top half of the bag from the lower half that houses the camera insert.
Halfway down the bag is a second flap that covers a generous zippered organizer for small items such as batteries and keys. There are also two Velcro pouches that I found to be perfect for storing external hard drive and charge for my Macbook Air.
As if there isn’t enough space, there is one more pouch on the lower half of the bag where I can comfortably store a u-lock or a Nalgene bottle. There’s also another zippered pocket behind the lower center pouch to carry more ClifBars.
So yes, lots of pockets for those who 1: Like to carry a lot of stuff and 2: like their bags to be organized.
On the right side of the bag is an open pouch with an adjustable opening that’s meant for bottles and a small travel tripod. Also good for beer.
Moving on to the left side of the bag, there are side-entry zippers to the laptop/tablet storage and the heart of the bag: the camera pod.
While the idea of a removable camera compartment isn’t new, Thule deserves giant kudos for making the compartment right. Dubbed SafeZone, the pod’s dividers are some of the best I’ve ever come across. They’re denser than the ones from my other camera bags and cases. They also have origami-like ridges to facilitate folding for a customized fit.
I’ve been using the bag on and off for the past few months and it’s now my go to when I have to travel with my camera. During a recent wedding shoot in Mexico where I needed to divide up my gear for security, I was able to fit my essential kit (a Canon 1Dx Mark II, a 135mm f/2, a 50mm f/1.2 and a 24-70mm f/2.8) into the pod. The removable-nature of the pod also made going through custom inspections an easy one since I was able to just pull it all out at once. The partitioned top half of the backpack also meant the rest of the gear wouldn’t fall out of the side door if you go for the camera or remove the entire pod.
For short in-town trips, I could pack a 70-200 2.8 and a 24-70mm f/2.8 attached to Canon 5D Mark III straight into the compartment with room to spare. The carrying chassis of padded shoulder straps and the back panel are ergonomically shaped to stay comfortable. I do wish Thule included a waist strap for better stability though.
Maybe I am a sucker for a multifunctional backpack with an understated look, but the more I use the bag the more I actually enjoy using it. For me, the Covert hit the sweet spot of what I want in a travel camera backpack: Keeping my essential camera kit safe while leaving plenty of room for everything else. By removing the divider and the camera pod, the Covert can be quickly converted into a regular backpack for those last minute grocery runs. The water-resistant material and overall construction are good quality and it is well thought out from its pockets and dividers, all the way down its zippers. At $199.99 and a lifetime warranty, the Covert is made for the long haul and will carry all your gear, or lots of six-packs, with ease.
Thule Covert next to a Canon 200-400 attached to a 1Dx Mark II
Yup. I can shrove a Canon 200-400 f/4 with a 1Dx Mark II into the Covert. With the camera pod and divider removed, of course. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Putting the parking garage to good use. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Brought to you by Whole Foods. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Waiting for the course to open. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Small bikes with big attitude. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Pre-race warmup. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Overwatch. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Volunteer race official, with straw hat. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Cone removal as the pro men walk to the start line. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
All lined up. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Race referee ready to rock on his motorcycle. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Corner #1. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Work work work work work. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Slight bump after corner #1. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
The pro men's race was neutralized half way through due to a gnarly crash, so here racers are lining up (again) and trying to stay as fresh and hydrated as possible. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Sweat. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Going over the game plan again while waiting for the race to restart. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Exiting corner #4. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
The Cylance-Incycle Pro Cycling Team p/b Cannondale leadout train Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
2 laps to go. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Sprint for first. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Post-race jube. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Words. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Pro women's podium. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Dog in team attire. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Unconventional podium arrival. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Winner Justin Williams wears the winner's belt. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
More belt after the champagne shower. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
I love twilight racing.
It’s a simple reason, really. Without the typical (read: boring) light of the day, photographing bike races at sunset/twilight is like having a giant mobile black backdrop without needing a crew to setup, direct, feed, and bitch about it. Also gone are the background clutter of offices, signs, crap.
In place of all the unpleasantries listed, however, is the added drama of a peloton driving in and out of the blue and yellow fluorescent shadows, surrounded by spectators and in some places, piles of hay bales. It’s a beautiful thing.
So when the San Rafael Sunset Criterium popped up on the radar, and the calendar was clear, why not.
First thing on the to do list, however, was to brave the unexpected traffic.
Thanks to the traffic, I missed the pro women’s race. Who would have known a 20-mile drive from San Francisco to San Rafael would take 2 hours? But okay, there’s still one race left and after a quick location scout, let’s grab the gear and get to work.
Back at the parking lot, three minutes into setting up and teaching my (new) assistant how to run the flash, the glass flash cover shattered on the parking garage floor randomly like a car window had a run in with a spark plug. (I found out later in the evening that that piece of glass dome, like a titanium bolt from the European Union, comes with a decent price tag, ouch).
Alright. Plan B. Ditch the primary light, go with the smaller backup, and off I went to find my snappies without being confined to working in designated spots and endless Secret Service pat downs associated with every presidential candidate visit. Oh what a breath of fresh air.
Best wishes and a speedy recovery to the Team Cycle Sport – Specialized p/b Muscle Milk rider that went down hard halfway into the pro men’s race.