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Shooting, and Droning, the Black Fly Challenge

The Black Fly Challenge bike race drew me, and other spectators and participants, to Inlet, New York, in the heart of the Adirondacks.  The Challenge takes place every year, with a start that alternates annually between Inlet and Indian Lake, New York.

For a still photographer, drones offer magic. Why? Because drone photography really nails that sense of place.

I really love using a drone to capture not just the race.  Aerials — like the ones from the Challenge — show the context of the race: the start lies in the mountains, a big attraction for travelers and Adirondack tourists (see the fluffy cedar and pines!).  Large and beautiful, island-dotted Fourth Lake borders the town, suggesting a cooling-off spot and place to camp.  (I always camp when I’m shooting on the road.  For the Black Fly Challenge, I took a spot — Number 1 — on Limekiln Lake.

A wider point of view gives visitors more information. Quaint shops line the streets (you can grab a cup of coffee or a good breakfast before the starting gun.  Or, if you need to repair your bike, there’s a bike shop.).  The road gives bikers enough room to breathe. You won’t be falling all over each other at the start.  And spectators gather at the sidewalks, telling you it’s not just a sporting event, but a tourism one.  It’s about town, family, the outdoors.  The Black Fly Challenge sticks in the memory as a place, not just a race.

Green fields, pastureland and old barns surround two bikers during the Black Fly Challenge in Inlet, New York

The green countryside is the setting for the Black Fly Challenge, an annual mountain and road bike race from Inlet, New York to Indian Lake, NY.

Are you showing off your place?  Or just your event?

Further along, as the riders space out, the pictures impart a different feel.  A handful of peddlers here; the Black Fly Challenge brings about a kind of solitude and being unplugged while surrounded by gorgeous scenery.  (And here I finally got a taste of the black fly getting a taste of me!  The end of the road through the Moose Wilderness was eeeek with the flies.  I literally sat in my car with the windows rolled up while I shot this!)

Across the country, starting horns for summer bike races are blasting.  That picture of the starting line, filled with bike-riders in their colorful spandex and wearing their reflective sunnies and helmets, though ubiquitous, will tell you almost nothing about where your special event – the one you’ve worked so hard to put on and expand annually – is taking place.

Because recreational cyclists don’t just come for the workout.  Some come for the family, the friends, the cup of coffee before the race, and everything else the Adirondacks and the little town of Inlet, New York, have to offer.  They come to buy souvenirs, have lunch, and spend money.

*Don’t forget: if you’re hiring a sports photographer who uses a drone, make sure to ask for proof of FAA licensing.  (This goes above and beyond simple registration with the FAA, which can be done by anyone and is meaningless.). Flying a drone for commercial purposes without this FAA license breaks the law.  The FAA license ensures that your pilot flies safely and legally.

Suzy Allman is an outdoor and sports photographer with more than 15 years experience shooting major sporting events for The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Golf Digest and more.  She has an FAA license for commercial drone photography, and specializes in photographing sports events for the traveler.

Bikers skirt little Fifth Lake in Inlet, New York, during the Black Fly Challenge Bike Race in June, 2018. Photo by Suzy Allman

Bikers skirt little Fifth Lake in Inlet, New York, during the Black Fly Challenge Bike Race in June, 2018. The race attracts bikers and spectators alike. Participatory bike races and tours boost tourism as travelers and competitors bring family and spend money. Showing off your corner of the world helps, and drone photography nails it. Photo by Suzy Allman