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Times latest newspaper accused of trying to shame cyclists with dodgy telephoto pics

Thunderer joins Mail and Sun on media list of shame for misrepresenting cyclists social distancing

“The camera never lies,” the saying goes – but it can certainly be used to distort the truth, with images published in several national newspapers over the weekend appearing to show cyclists riding close together and not observing social distancing. Just how misleading an impression that can give was highlighted on Twitter today when, in response to The Times publishing a photo in which it accused cyclists on Box Hill of flouting rules, an image was posted from one of the rider’s perspectives, giving a very different impression.

The pictures were posted to Twitter by Francis Cade, whose girlfriend Daisy took the photo on the right. In a subsequent comment on the thread, he made it clear that they were not riding in a group.

It’s a similar effect to one you’ll be aware of if you’ve watched any amount of bike racing on TV – often, what appears from the head-on shot to be the closest of sprint finishes can be revealed by the overhead slow-motion replay to have been anything but, with the latter showing the actual distances between riders.

Take this shot, for instance of Lizzie Deignan winning the 2015 UCI road world championships in Richmond, Virginia – and in particular the American rider in the centre, Meg Guarnier, who finished third. Then look at the overhead screenshot below – it’s apparent that she, and the other racers in the head-on finish line shot, are a lot further back from the Briton than first appears.

Lizzie Armitstead wins 2015 UCI Road World Championship (copyright


Women’s Elite Road Race Highlights _ 2015 Road World Championships – Richmond, USA 8-51 screenshot (1)

It’s due to something photographers call foreshortening, and it’s been the topic of much discussion among cyclists on social media over the weekend due to press claims that many people have been ignoring social distancing rules.

Mail Online, The Sun and The Mirror have all published pictures over the past couple of days purporting to show closely-bunched cyclists riding in a tight group when in reality, it is a trick of the lens.

> Mail accused of distorting truth in “MAMIL madness” Regents Park cyclists story

Several newspapers, of course, have a strong track record when it comes to anti-cycling stories – and at a time when exercising outdoors, including going for a bike ride, is one of the few reasons afforded by the government to leave the house, using deliberately misleading pictures to try and depict a problem that does not exist can be seen as fitting that agenda.

There’s a strong hint within those photos themselves that they were taken to suit that narrative. Consider the one above of Deignan winning in Richmond.

It’s been shot at a wide aperture, which not only lets the maximum amount of light into the lens, but also creates a narrow depth of field; the British rider is sharply in focus, Anna van der Breggen to the right less so, and the following riders are increasingly blurred. Widely used in sports photography, the technique draws your eye to the subject – in this case, Armitstead.

Now consider the photos of “groups” of cyclists appearing in the papers over the weekend; it’s clear that a much smaller aperture has been used, meaning that there is a much greater depth of field and the riders are all in focus, reinforcing the impression that they are riding together.

Here’s another example of extreme foreshortening – look how tightly packed the riders on the opening stage of the Giro d’Italia in Naples in 2013 appear to be in this picture, shot from a hotel balcony above the seafront in Mergellina.

Where's Cavvy? (copyright Simon MacMichael)

And here’s the same peloton a few hundred metres later, as it passes below the balcony. Yes, as professional cyclists riding a Grand Tour, they are riding closely together as they hold the wheel in front – but it is nothing like the exaggerated perspective that the first shot provides.

Giro Napoli copyright Simon MacMichael 015

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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mikewood | 4 years ago

How did the picture get taken? Did the photographer drive there by any chance and would that journey be necessary in the current situation?

The Press. Stay home, stay safe!

brooksby replied to mikewood | 4 years ago

The Bristol Post ran a load of pictures, end of last week I think, about how empty Bristol was.  It was quite funny, that the comments BTL filled up with how people didn't feel that wandering around the city to take photos counted as "essential travel" 

kingleo | 4 years ago

The Times publishing fake news! -  I wonder how accurate the rest of their news is.

caw35ride replied to kingleo | 4 years ago

Murdoch rag, so there's nothing new in it being full o' lies.

OnTheRopes | 4 years ago

Whilst I am sure the Mail are guilty of exaggerating this, telephoto lens or not, the picture of cyclists "Coming up to lights" they are still too close to each other, lights are no excuse.

Nigel_2003 replied to OnTheRopes | 4 years ago
1 like

Yeah, I bet the car drivers would love it if 8-10 riders pitched up at lights and applied strict 2m distancing..  That would be the next whinge. Too many traffic lights IMHO. But you are correct that distancing does need to be maintained even at lights - so maybe cars that pull up next to cyclists should have their windows rolled up...

Dnnnnnn | 4 years ago

The photo trickery is reprehensible but it's probably a good idea to avoid busier cycling destinations at busier times - the two metres rule doesn't seem to be effective at speed as explained in

jasecd | 4 years ago

This is a really decent explanation of the technicals behind these images. Looking at the image in question I'd estimate it was taken at a minimum of 300mm. At that length the photographer would be at least 30-50m away. If you had the meta data from the image (or at least the focal length and sensor size) you could calculate the actual distances of the cyclists to some degree of accuracy.

Of course none of this really matters as the gutter press don't let facts stand in the way of a good story. It would however be a real shame if their prejudicial reporting stopped us from engaging in a healthy and safe activity at this time.

nickW1 | 4 years ago

dont you love the uk press always attempting to pit one part of society against another, whats the actual fact ? less people read newspapers now in the UK than ever before they will stoop to any level to get people to buy a paper of course we all know Covid 19 is spread purely by architechs riding Pinerello dogmas ( usually slowly )  in rapha gear !

Nigel_2003 replied to nickW1 | 4 years ago

Pinarellos - of course!! The Italian connection.  And Rapha - wasn't it named after Raphael Geminiani, of French/Italian heritage it all makes sense now...

WDG | 4 years ago

I called this out in the Mirror - telephoto shot of cyclists stopped at a traffic light used to justify the narrative that cyclists were ignoring the rules. Same photo was used across a number of tabloids with the same story. Pretty pathetic but standard tabloid fodder.

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