My Story: HH Racing and NYC Race Photographer

I want to thank all the riders who have been supporting my photography and buying my photos in the past and present for the past 6 years. I am extremely grateful for your appreciation for my photography and would be willing to provide more than enough monetary compensation for my work. Unfortunately, I can't really list every rider here. I always know who you are and what photos you have purchased. This is my first blog about myself, one of the several I am planning to publish over the course of weeks. Some area about my life would require lengthy exposition because it is more than about me in general. With other area, I would keep it short because they are the past and have little or no influence in my current life situation. I want to begin my first blog by talking about how I have been hired to shoot for HH Racing and what have been my experience shooting editorially in the NYC racing community for the past 6 years. This is a must read for anyone thinking about shooting and covering NYC bike racing. You would know what to expect. You have been informed to the fullest.

Ale on the right with Ray on the left...we have just finished eating breakfast after we cancelled the second HH Racing Fall ride due to low turnout and freezing cold temperature.

I have known Alessandro for a long time because he has been supporting my photography for years and buying my photos. I know Ale back when he was racing for FinKraft as well. However, I don’t really know him, knowing him, until I have been working for HH Racing. I guess you don’t really know someone until you start to work for and with him or her. I bet I gave him few surprises too. Alessandro is the president and founder of HH Racing. HH Racing is his coaching brand with a very strong showing and result with the Ohio crews for the most part, with many influential clients.

I got a FB text message from Ale around late March 2018. I called him and he asked me if I wanted to shoot for him and his new Thursday FBF series. There used to be the Thursday FBF race series but it didn’t get much exposures for reasons which are beyond this blog at the moment. He has partnered with Jon Paul Rorech and Team Axis to start a new Thursday FBF series. I knew little about it back then. However, the prospect of shooting for an entire series as an official race photographer was very appealing. I spent 6 years shooting editorial content relating to the NYC bike racing with little or no commercial and promotional appeal.

And I was given the opportunity to shoot something different and beyond what I have been shooting for the past 6 years. My photography is now responsible for promoting HH Racing and the Thursday FBF race series, and to get riders excited about racing in it. Now, I have to actualize Ale’s vision of his series and what he wants to do and to promote. I and Ale spent countless hours working on shot ideas. We even got a fog machine, just you know. Between you and me, Ale is a big photography fan, as much as I am. Of course, we always talk about the existential crisis in the NYC racing community. And what we, HH Racing, need to do in improving it.

During the race days, my job is to ensure things are happening the way I have expected and planned out. As a result, when I showed up with my camera and lighting setup, I am ready to shoot without much thinking involved. Beyond being a race photographer, I became an assistant race coordinator and actively working with our race director Liam Richmond to ensure certain promotional events are ready when the time comes for me to take the photos. There are reasons why I am running around, even driving around, all the time covering the HH Racing Thursday FBF Race Series. I am also responsible to ensure the finish camera is doing what it is supposed to do in order to produce accurate results, although not in real time, yet. By and large, it works. We are able to produce finishing shots from an unique angle, which has never been seen or produced at least in any of the NYC park races, period. That is revolutionary in itself.

A 40+ mph sprint finishing shot of the Master field captured by the overhead finishing camera, in 4k no less.

The goal for HH Racing in creating the Thursday FBF Race Series is to get people excited about racing in NYC and to establish itself as a key player in the NYC racing community. HH Racing is using its brand to make that happen at the race and off the race, even during the off season as well. Obviously, we are hoping to pave the way for a grander vision for the NYC racing community.

You should know by now that I am not just a race photographer. I have over 5 years of management experience overseeing a high sales volume operation, with over a dozen staff members. I was promoted from within too, starting as a part timer. I was and am always a different type of manager who could rise through the rank and file. management instincts kicked in when I became the official HH Racing race photographer. I won't have expected anything less from myself.

After I left my management job, I decided that I wanted to do something different with my life. The logical path for me at the time was trying to make a name of myself in the photography industry. Back then, I was beyond your average photographer and I was pretty good at bird photography as well. I decided to get in touch with cycling since I know the sport well enough to capture compelling photos. I used to race for 4 years too, very hardcore with the first generation hub style power meter. I didn’t really get into the sports photography genre until 2012. I started shooting back in early 2011. Every year, I would try different look and style and different editing techniques and processes.

I was able to consistently produce shots like these. This is a Tricolored Heron...a Florida native found in the Queen's Jamaica Wild Life Refuge center.

One thing that hasn’t changed much is the starting time of these before dawn park races. Without light, there is no photography. You can shoot with $10,000 camera equipment but you would still produce crappy, beautiful looking, noise free, photos, with a heavy cyan color cast. Your photos would either look like someone peed on them or you have licked your tongue on the concrete pavement..seriously. During the early Spring, you won’t see much good light until an hour into the race, only in certain area of the park. I see many inexperienced and experienced photographers just winged it shooting these park races, and mostly without using any flash and lighting system, or even correcting the white balance and color balance. You can’t wing it shooting these park races if you value your work, your art, and your photography. As an artist and photographer, you have full controls of the shots and how they turn out. You can’t blame the camera or some silly settings.

Typical lighting condition during the morning park races.

I always used flash and to strobe my photos. Shooting fast pace sport action shots with the flash is also a whole new level of challenge and expenses. You need to sync your flash beyond 1/250s shutter speed and to be able to get the flash battery to cycle fast enough. Of course, I mastered all of it as well as having the necessary equipment to accomplish it all. Is not cheap either. In fact, I even went beyond it and to begin to use off camera flash system to photograph these park races early this year. In the past, I was only using a single flash system and felt that I could do up my game from last year. This is the reality one has to face shooting NYC bike racing. You have to master flash photography, period.

Off camera speedlite on the right. Christopher Nicholas Pulomena from Merrick Bicycle.

Off camera speedlite by the finish, on the right near the finishing flag poll. See where the shadows are being cast. Ale scored a victory in the Master field in a controversial win.

Off camera speedlite by the finish, on the right near the finishing flag poll. 18 year-old Matt Jogodnik beating a bunch of Cat 1, 2 and 3 racers in the early morning Castelli Race Series.

Off camera 2 speedlites but only one fired on my left, on the other side.

Off camera speedlite during late noon Sunday, with a blazing bright sun at the opposite facing me. With this shot, I have to use a ND filter and to sync my flash beyond 1/250s.

And shooting these park races for over 20 races per season is very tiring and a drain to your creativity. To think you can just wing it is totally crazy. Or you just don’t give a crap about your art. Unfortunately, you can’t become good in your art that way. The night before the race, I have to go through all the shots in my head and to visually explore my shot angles. There are certain sections I love to photograph because riders and myself love them. Some sections of the park I would avoid as much as possible because of the lighting condition or the way the road profile gets too awkward and not photogenic. Creating a new shot angle in the same sections week after week isn’t easy at all. My objective is to create a shot even better looking than the actual shot itself. I am not a photojournalist. I have the liberty and my artistic discretion to capture, to create, and to edit my photos based on my inner visions. I am not trying to duplicate and copy my environment. I am enhancing my environment and to represent them in a super-hyper-reality. And they do work really well because Ale thought that I took one of the shots at the park races in Italy!!!! To make it happens, I have to employ all the skill and knowledge I possessed, from the creative use of the lighting system to the shot and tilt angles, and to the advance usage of photoshop layers and color balancing. Nothing is left to chance. Every detail in the photos has a purpose and reason to be there…down to a single leaf on the ground. I demand photos to be sharp and correctly focused. I am not shooting with a $1k lens to produce Iphone photos.

My earlier style. Coach Will Schneider from

My earlier style. Coach Will Schneider from

My earlier style. Coach Will Schneider from Personally, I would have reduced the excessive green and cyan color cast here.

My earlier style. Coach Will Schneider from

For the past 6 years, I was mainly producing editorial content about the races in NYC and few out of town races and the riders. Of course, I am always grateful that my fans and supporters who have been consistently buying my photos in the past and present. I was only hired to shoot for the HH Racing series and later the Verrazano Team Racing series in 2018.

True, I am a local fixture in the NYC racing scene and riders see me as the “unofficial” NYC race photographer. "Unofficial" for the past 6 years because I was never hired to shoot and promote the local park races in any official capacity. I was hired to shoot for Kissena but the arrangement does not involve me promoting and representing the park series and FBF race series. However, the experience was worth it because I am able to contribute to the sports. Two, I am able to reach out to riders as a race photographer, when normally this won’t happen if I continue to race bike. I would make these photos available on my FB account and riders can relive their racing experience afterward. I felt I have done my part and my job as a responsible race photographer. Finally, I am able to explore my potential as an artist and photographer. These are my priorities when comes to which and what races I should be shooting, before I became the official race photographer for HH Racing and Verrazano Team Racing. Obviously, being the official race photographer for the HH Racing and the Verrazano Team racing, I don’t have a choice when and what to shoot. It does make my job easier because I need no lengthily deliberation. I don’t need to justify my photography and why I have to photograph certain races. I do it because is my job and I have been hired to do, period. I can do it for the love of the sports for the first year or two, not for 6 years, fyi.

I roughly shoot about 20 to 30 races per season. I took a year off from bike racing photography and shooting in film, analog photography, in 2014. And I didn’t shoot too much in 2015. I was feeling burn out. I then switched to Nikon by 2016 and getting back to shoot more NYC bike racing. If it wasn’t for the fact that I just switched to a new camera system, I would probably not be shooting NYC bike racing at all after 2015. Not that Nikon is better, which I think it is. It is just that it was hard for me to get back in shooting NYC bike racing when I knew full well things have changed and my reward, monetary or inner emotional satisfaction, may not be there.

I have to admit it, the monetary reward isn’t great, and it varies year by year. It takes tremendous talents and dedication to persist in these environment. You don’t even receive any monetary reward from the local promoters. You need to focus on what you value most. For me, is the riders, the relationship between me and the riders, my own photography and artistic development. For anyone thinking about dedicating your time and passion to photograph NYC bike racing, be prepared to make some sacrifice, other than you have to be there when the race starts, usually around 5:30 am to 6 am in the morning. The NYC racing scene hasn’t changed much for the past 10 years. There are a lot of business as usual mentality. Photos and media exposures are the least things on the mind for the promoters because the so-called tradition dictates that they aren’t needed. Is ok to idealize your situation for a while but just be prepared to realize that the so-called “business model” isn’t sustainable. Always know your priority and what is important to you in your photography.

One of the few moments in the park during the early hours in which you get this golden hue sun rise lighting.

This section isn't that dramatic in real life Prospect Park but I managed to create something different and beyond by changing my shooting positions.

One of the greatest rewards for me is that I am able to create a social media environment for riders to look for photos after reach race. In addition, through my own FB account, riders can relive the race in the morning and to know who won what in which race, regardless if my photos are linked by the local race promoters or not. There just aren’t any particular active social media platforms for riders to exchange ideas and race stories in the NYC racing scene. I have been the only source, supposedly. There are few blogs and journals but they are more or less written and owned by other teams. I do feel guilty when I wasn’t covering a particular race in that morning and day because of some other reasons. Is obvious I can’t cover all the races and particularly the CRCA Central Park open race series. I live too far and covering those races would require me to wake up at 3:30am in the morning. Obviously, once I was hired by HH Racing and Verrazano Team racing to shoot their series, the entire model has changed. Many decision making process has been simplified.

What are my plans for next year’s NYC bike racing and my bike racing photography? As long as HH Racing is sponsoring another Thursday FBF series next year, I would be covering it and maybe beyond FBF. This goes for the Verrazano Team racing race series as well. Given that the so-called “business model” dictating how races are organized and sponsored in both Prospect Park, FBF, and Central Park races is somewhat nonexistent, my willingness and desire to cover these races is a tentative TO-BE-DETERMINED in the future time.

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