Dennis Crane is probably the most visible and creative photographer documenting Seattle’s bike racing scene. At area cyclocross races, and at the Jerry Baker Memorial Velodrome, you’ll see Dennis dashing around with multiple cameras dangling from his tall lanky frame trying get the next perfect shot, or as he puts it, to “paint with light.”
Dennis is a hometown boy who grew up in North Seattle. He attended Washington State University (WSU) where as a freshman he played backup quarterback under coach Jim Sweeney. Dennis quickly decided that “the idea of a 275 lb defensive tackle who could run a 4.7 40-yard dash having my 200 lb body in his crosshairs didn’t make much sense!,” and he moved on to club and intramural sports.
As a dad with two athletic kids (daughter Tela was a top national track racer, and son Ian competed as a US domestic road racer), he eventually caught the bug himself and won series and state-level cyclocross titles in the mid-2000s. He eventually gave up racing because “I didn’t ‘train’ according to the ‘schedule’ or went rogue by doing whatever the heck I wanted to do.”
What is the connection between your job as a teacher and your passion for photography?
Early in my teaching career, I taught a basic photography class. I was ill-prepared at best for this task due to lack of experience as a photographer. My early background was more of a camera carrying Sherpa to my talented photographer father, me ever ready to hand him his camera when he was ready to shoot a scene. Later, an interest in Latin America found me in the Peace Corps in Honduras, where I used a rangefinder film camera gift to help me chronicle a life distinct from my north Seattle upbringing.
How did you get into cycling?
Bikes memories are a big part of my youth. I am not talking lycra or special shoes, briffters or even cool aero helmets. None of that! I am talking building toy wooden hydroplanes with nail heads sticking out of the bottom that caused sparks to fly when dragged behind the bike while drift turning into the gravel sections of the “course!” My first bikes were bikes of opportunity, adventure and freedom. Not much except the price has changed. I bike commuted during my college years. When not commuting, bike touring (now- “bike camping”) caught my interest. Mostly I considered myself a “sport” rider, unable to ignore my Division 1 level athletic background, I liked to push the toe-strapped pedals as hard as my tennis shoes would allow, reveling in the resulting endorphin highs. Whether it was gorilla rides (ad hoc “races” during rush hour) in downtown Seattle, one-day STPs or RAMROD forays, I would ride with a group of friends who liked to “push it.”
Family life meant pulling a bike trailer, then a tandem with my daughter as a stoker pulling her brother in the trailer. Once my kids started to race cyclocross they coerced me to get off a perfectly good bike, run with it over barriers and shoulder it up hills too steep to ride! It was a gas! I managed to win both series titles and the state championship back in my “bike racing” days. It was a gas!
What are your favorite rides in the Seattle area?
Although I do not race now, the bicycle remains my “drug of choice.” It is the mainstay in an active lifestyle. Be it road, gravel or mountain I feel alive on two wheels. I know this because when I am in my red zone for too long I feel like dying! On the Iron Horse Trail to Ellensburg, the Campbell Global Forest or some other gravel fest adventure, the heart beats out the rhythm of the slightly wavy path. On the trails of Raging River, Ollalie, Grand Ridge or Duthie adrenaline pumps through my veins as they flow up, down and around the forests. On the predictable, mostly smooth roads of the Snoqualmie Valley, higher speeds and regular loops are a familiar pattern occasionally interrupted by a mama bear and cub.
What other activities do you do outside of cycling?
Living on the east side makes it easy to get to hiking trailheads along I-90. I like to get out in the woods and day hike. Fire lookouts challenge and reward with spectacular lunch destinations and views. Lately I have been combining cycling and hiking into “multi-modal” adventures. A recent two-day 25-mile Thunder Creek drainage/Easy Pass through hike with a 25-mile mountain bike ride back to the car is one example.
How did you get into photography?
At first, photography was a tool to document a new life in Latin America. I would shoot “snapshots” then send the slide film to my parents in the US, unseen to me for over a year. I never knew the results of that early shutter release action, be they respectable or ghastly, or even if I was improving my skills. Stateside again, I learned a bit about lighting and product photography as I used the camera to create a portfolio of my hand-crafted, one-of-a-kind cabinets and woodwork.
It was not until my kids started racing track, cyclocross, road and mountain bike, and camera technology turned digital that the perfect storm of my passion for photography “developed.” What a win! I could take photos of my kids while cheering them on and get immediate (and often disappointing) feedback by “chimping” the shots at course side. As my kids earned success at the regional, national, and international levels, I had plenty of opportunity to improve as a photographer.
Talk about the kinds of shots you like to get.
As an action photographer, I chase bikes and light. I am a fool for a sliver of natural light and a manipulator of artificial light as I work to “paint” an image with it. The win is when it all comes together in a compelling visual story that embraces the emotion of the scene. Whether I shoot embracing available light, at slow shutter speeds while panning to emphasize the speed of the race or I enhance the image with remotely triggered strobes, I focus on the rider’s eyes as I strive to relay the drama of the moment. Dragging the shutter creates trails of light/images intensifying the feeling of speed.
One of the many wonders of bike riding are the things you see. Some of the most unique images I’ve taken have been on what I call my bike photo safari rides. On solo bike rides I carry a mirrorless pocket camera in my jersey pocket. Chasing light is a demanding and fickle mistress! There is no excuse not to turn around and take advantage of a scene that is unlikely to be there the next time. I stop and turn around for reflections in lakes, waterfalls, fog in the trees, insanely colored sunsets, and birds on their way.
What kinds of venues do you target for getting shots.
Whether in the mountains or the city, at a bike race or a beach volleyball court I attempt to create images that convey a sense of place: Brick-covered back alley puddles reflecting century old buildings; majestic forests filtered with fog and sunlight; estuaries engulfing maritime activities; turn 4 at a velodrome; or downtown streets temporarily closed for that day’s criterium all provide context to the visual story.
Tell us about your creative process with the images you capture.
I think of my creative process as a multi-faceted. Firstly, I consider the client’s needs. Secondly, I survey the setting, assess the lighting, study the background to observe any distractions, then consider how to frame the scene to convey the visual story. Thirdly, before I push the shutter release, I envision how I want the image to look, adjust camera settings appropriately and consider potential post-processing cropping and image enhancements. At a bike race, this is a rapid and dynamic process. On a bike safari, the process is at a more controlled pace.
Check out DBC Photo.