There's been a theme this week. Big mountains, dramatic scenery, iconic locations, exciting action. Except, I haven't really seen a great deal of it... A week spent in the Pyrenees would on paper promise lots. However such is the fickle life of a sports photographer in pursuit of Lycra the job is beset with tussles with nature.
The brief saw me head to Valle d'Aure to capture the action over two days of the second round of the Bluegrass Enduro Series. Whilst Scotland, hosts of the first round, offered majestic mountains accessed by chairlifts and snow, the Pyrenees upped the ante in terms of steroid fueled snow peaked altitudes, except it also delivered a huge dose of weather, which meant glimpses of the majesty of the Pyrenees was caught in snippets as a blanket of mist played a heady burlesque game with us.
The forecast leading up to the event, was pretty grim. Thunder storms, torrential rain, zero visibility, all a photographers dream... As it was we got off pretty lightly. With 3 stages on day one the riders had a layer of slippery mud to contend with as they picked their lines down the ever changing trails. Occasional light rain showers just added to the fun but certainly didn't dampen rider spirits.
After a torrential rain filled night, day two looked more promising. In the valley, blue skies looked to be trying to break through. The event headed to the hills. The first of the day's 2 stages started at the Col de Portet, 2300m looming above the valley floor, except you couldn't tell. The blanket of mist had settled down and snuggled the top of this most epic of starts, adding even more drama to the 'blind' riders as they picked their way down the trail.
For the top riders this 13km epic took a mere 31 minutes, which in enduro terms is almost a lifetime! Luckily the final stage was a blast around the event village of Ancizan, a 5 min sprint ending in relief, huge smiles, cheers of congratulations and beer!
For the Brits, Hannah Barnes and Liam Moynihan did us proud, with Hannah on the top step and Liam grabbing a hard earned 2nd.
If you'd like to get a taste for this great event check out the video: https://vimeo.com/130956348
Monday saw us head back to the Hourquette d'Ancizan to shoot some more images of Liam and Hannah for MET & Bluegrass. The mist was still there, along with even more mud. No chance to sit it out as the riders had to head back to the UK. Ah the joys of shooting in unpredictable weather with very little time on your side. It was a blast, a real muddy blast at that! What we'd lost with the snow in Scotland, we quickly gained with slick mud in the Pyrenees!!
With the mountain bike shots in the bag it was time to move on. Liam and Hannah were dropped off at the airport whilst we headed to another part of the Pyrenees to meet up with our next set of models, triathletes Andrea Hewitt & Dorian Coninx.
A long drive to our destination at Les Angles, meant a late start, meant the weather played nasty. As we made our greetings and put bikes and riders together and discussed shooting plans, it started to rain, then rain some more, then rain harder. The show still had to go on and with Andrea & Dorian complete pro's they did everything we asked despite the persistent rain.
Shots done it was then time to turn around and head to Campan. Another long day followed by an even longer night, arriving at our final destination Gite Belle Vie around midnight. having driven the entire way through more torrential rain.
My hopes were high that in the morning that we would finally be blessed with proper sights of the Pyrenees, especially as the plan was to head to the top of the iconic Tourmalet. On waking my spirits soared, blue skies, mountain tops, at last!! After a hearty breakfast and a quick chat through plans with today's models Jelli.eu owners Greg & Vicky Craig, we headed to our first stop of the day.
It started well, first shots bagged, it was time to head further up to check out the top of the Col du Tourmalet. In some variations of French the name of the mountain can literally be translated as bad trip, it was an omen.. As ever in the mountains the higher we climbed the weather closed in, the mist seemingly chasing us up the road. At times I felt I was an extra in The Returned!!
The Tourmalet refused to reveal its majestic beauty so we retreated and head to the other side of the Hourquette d'Ancizan were we actually saw the mythical sun highlight the crest of that mountain, even if it was ever so briefly, it was just enough to capture some images.
After 5 long weather dominated days it was time to head home. A bag full of wet, muddy clothes and a pocket full of images captured despite my head in the clouds for most of the time. It just brings to home the reason you use a profession photographer. It not just about the images you create, of course they are important, but so is the experience of creating something out of the most dire of situations, of being able to work calmly, consistently and quickly. The expertise of thinking outside the box, when the locations and images you'd planned in your head are not going to work. That is the skill of a professional. It's not all about pushing a button and crossing your fingers, sometimes you have to get your head out of the clouds!!
Many thanks to Theatre des Operations for assembling all the talented people to make this shoot possible and of course for driving us everywhere!!
My job is always a pleasure. No, really. Honestly. Even, when I'm standing at the finish line, dripping wet, cold, hungry, camera's broken I may for a second think my job sucks, but actually... Actually it's okay. The pay may not be anything to shout home about, I'd probably earn more if I worked at McDonalds if I'm honest. Though why would I?
Don't get me wrong, this is no hobby. Its a business, my business. I make enough to pay the bills, to pay the insurance, to make sure my public liability is up to date. to make sure I can live. After all I doubt I can rock up to Sainsbury's any day soon and ask them for free food for a mention & a credit on my website now can I!!
Life is more about experiences than money though and in that respect I certainly get my monies worth of experiences!
The job comes with many ups and downs, many twists and turns, lots of uncertainties but plenty of chances to stretch the creative muscle so to speak. It's never easy. Never consistent, no two days are ever the same. You never get complacent. It's certainly not for the feint of heart, or for those that thrive on regular hours or any type of security. It's wild out there. But you are always rewarded one way or another.
One such job that delivered so much more than I could have ever expected came when I was offered the chance to shoot some images at the Bluegrass Enduro series, which kicked off in Scotland.
I headed to one of my favourite places, Glencoe. I've not been for a while. The road aspect of my job has taken me in the opposite direction to the crazy guys and girls that throw themselves down massive mountains in wild abandon. I miss it. I miss the ditches, the characters, I even miss the mud and the slim chance of exposure on those mountains!!
It's a 6 hour drive for me to this enchanted land of magical, majestic mountains, glens, lochs and bothies. I drove with heightened anticipation. The A82 races away from Tyndrum, seemingly the last vestiges of civilization and into the bleakness and raw beauty that only Rannoch Moor can provide. It's breathtaking. I never tire of the vista that stretches before me. The road traverses this ancient land and draws you ever closer to the mountains. You can feel the space, breathe the air, it's fully charged, electric, energising.
Soon the imposing mountains of Buachaille Etive Mor and the Three sisters, loom either side ushering you into the Glen. Its truly mesmerising, especially on a cloud free day.
I had time to kill. I decide to explore. Be a bit of a tourist. Normally my journey takes me out to Fort William and beyond. I never stop here. I decided to head down Glen Etive. Setting for a film or two the most recent being Skyfall. Nope I didn't see James Bond anywhere...
It was a dead end that took my eye, I didn't know till after I drove the length it's importance to the film buff. I've never noticed the road before. A singletrack ribbon that threads its way merrily down parallel to the fast flowing river to a disused pier at the Loch head. I soaked in the day. It's rare to be privileged to see the Highlands on such a stunning day without being bombarded with the dreaded midges.
The forecast for the next day was less enticing. Heavy rain was expected, turning to snow on high grounds. exactly where I was heading.
My job for the weekend was to capture the atmosphere and action of the first round of the Bluegrass Enduro Series. Set at the Glencoe mountain resort this enduro series is unusual in the fact that riders race 'blind' ie they have no idea where the course will take them, they can't pre ride to check the lines, they just turn and and ride, making sure they aim themselves and their bikes between the loosely marked course flags! Makes for some interesting line choices as it turned out!
I was also 'racing' blind. It's been a while since I headed to the hills and the format of Enduro racing means the riders cover vast tracks of land. Where do you go? How do you get there? Sometimes riding a bike can help but not in this case! The first rounds took place just a gentle chair ride away oh and a few pushes... For me it was a walk into the wildside, the view was breathtaking I could see for miles the landscape dotted with munro's iced with snow peaking over 4,000ft including Ben Nevis. The riders looked ant like in comparison to the mighty mountains. Placing them in the landscape was a challenge... Luckily the forecast turned out wrong. Torrential rain transformed itself into stunning blue skies offering vistas I can honestly say I have never encountered before, the clarity was outstanding.
The next stage took the riders slightly higher, racing through deeper sections of snow made for some fun packed moments. I headed down, with Rannoch Moor my background, capturing the riders as they tackled the technical downhill tracks on the lower slopes.
Finally is was time to head higher. Into the snow zone. Part 3 was to be a mini Mac Avalanche. Riders would be hurtling down the snow packed slopes en mass... First I had to get there... Another chair lift, aptly named the Cliffhanger took me and the riders higher. While they waited for everyone to get to base camp I headed off to choose my vantage point.
I'm not keen on snow. I like it. Just not keen to be walking up a steep slope, carrying expensive kit, in snow that on times could be knee deep.. It certainly was an adventure. On I trudged, until finally I couldn't, wouldn't go further. I'd reached my limit. Luckily my vantage point was pretty breathtaking... Did I mention I'm not keen on snow, or heights actually...
The race got underway, riders charging down the snow, slip, sliding and occasionally riding... It was an impressive sight.. It was over in a flash. Time to get to the finish. Easier said than done, just me and a ton of snow on a steep slope... Fun...
Did I ever mention the fact....
I finally got to Cliffhanger, relief flushed on my face to have survived the descent. Disaster the chairlift was no longer running and the only way down was more steep snow... Oh joy... More slip, sliding, with me actually wishing, that maybe just maybe I should have entered the darn thing and ridden it! I'd have finished by now, tucked up in a warm cafe, sipping a hot chocolate, enthusing about the race, but no here I am pretending I can ski, with boots on, no skis, with don't forget expensive kit precariously balanced about my person... It wasn't raining so bonus points I guess plus there were no midges... Eventually I made it down in one piece, intact with not so much of a little sit down, other than the final trip on the chairlift. Then it was off to the podium to shoot the winners being awarded with trees... yes trees... Then it was back to the digs to relive the whole day again via the images... That's gotta be a pleasure... who mentioned any pain?
It's been 3 days. It feels longer. 3 days of intense action. Watching, waiting, ready at a moment's notice. A constant eye on details, for 'that' moment. Finger poised ready to capture. Early mornings, late nights. A frantic dash. Poetry in motion as the many different fractions come together. Sometimes you're in the shadows, sometimes in the thick of the action. No time. Never enough time. You pace, you plot, you plan, but there is no plan. You try to outline the image in your head, hoping the players follow the lines in your mind, they almost never do... A clean view is quickly obscured. A random light, a bright orange blur, a hand, all distract. You have to keep going, wade through those distractions looking for the image you saw in your head. It's a constant battle. This is my Tour de Yorkshire. Behind the scenes for a team. One Pro Cycling. Access to the very soul, the very lifeblood of my sport. It's not just about the riders. They are the final piece of the jigsaw, but the overall picture involves many pieces that fit so well together. My job; report what I see, tell a story through my images. It's a hard job. For riders, for staff, for me. I love this job. Love the sheer randomness. Loved the Tour de Yorkshire.
Goosebump moments. The crowds, the action, the noise, oh the sheer joy of the crowds cheering, banging the boards, celebrating each and every competitor, soaking up every pedal stroke. The bunting, the church halls with tea & cake. Capturing their passion, via my camera. Its intoxicating.
It's fair to say the last few weeks have been pretty full on, with a variety of jobs taking me both near and far.
First up was a visit to a long established frame builder in the Stoke area. I'd stumbled across Longstaffs late last year when I had a bike built up by Mr.Campag, Velotech-Cycling Ltd The meeting place to pick up said bike was Longstaffs. I entered an Aladdin's cave of traditional British bike building and vowed to come back camera in hand to capture the essence. Established by renowned Trike rider and record holder George Longstaff, the business continues to build frames for all types of riders well after his death. Thanks to Jez, who gave us a guided tour of the fascinating process of frame building whilst retelling stories from his heady trike racing days...
Check out a magazine one day soon, for full details...
Next up was a return trip to Lios bikes down in Lee on Solent. I first met Steve two years ago, when he was setting up his high end bike brand. A chance meeting at the London Bike Show resulted in me heading down south to find out what it was all about as well as capture the first studio images of his new range. Now 2 years later and the company has gone from strength to strength and I'm back again shooting the latest range, which now includes a carbon folder.
If you want to know more about this amazing brand check out - Lios Bikes
A quick turn around see's me heading back out to Mallorca. Third time this year so far. However the brief was not to chase pro teams around the island, this time it was a shoot for a new company coming to the Island offering bespoke touring holidays. It's all underwraps at the mo, but the 5 days were a blast! Great company, great hotels, great riding. what more could you ask for... More details when the company finally launches later this year.
Flying back to the UK on the Saturday, I had barely one day to recharge both mine and the camera's batteries before I was off again. A round trip around the UK beckoned. Shooting 2016 helmets for MET & Bluegrass catalogues. Meeting up with various sponsored riders in their natural habitat. A week learning to drive an automatic car ( not quite that easy honest), finding our way around the UK, heading to the seaside for ice cream on one of the hottest days of the year to find the coast swathed in freezing sea fog. Drving through London ( my pet hate) meeting a great bunch of riders in all sorts of locations. It was full on, full gas, finger on the trigger virtually 24/7. Hard work but so much fun. Thinking on your feet, climbing fences, lying in ditches laughing out loud, losing the will to live... All in the day of a pro photographer...
I got back from this whirlwind trip on Friday with the prospect of heading out the door early doors the next day to shoot a wedding.... There were bikes involved of course!!
No, this isn't a throwback to the heady days of the 90's when Marti & his crew topped the charts, more a reference to the epic Clifcross event that took place on probably the wettest, first day of British Summer time. Love was most definitely all around, but more towards the end of the testing event, than, lets say near the start. The thought of firstly completing the challenge, grabbing a hot shower followed by a huge pork bap probably put a spring in more than one riders step on the way to the finish...
Now in it's 3rd year this popular event has captured the imagination of riders who travel from near and far for a taste of 'old school cross'. It's a day of exploration, of both your mental and physical ranges as you experience 29miles of the best trails, bridleways and small roads that navigate parts of the Pennines that straddles Lancashire & Yorkshire.
Today it was wet. Wet in an epic sort of way. A lazy rain, one that soaks you with little to no effort. It came with a smattering of cold. A heady 5º. The rain combined with the trail grit created a grinding paste that quickly polished away brake pads, leaving some riders with even more challenges, such as how to stop. One rider ingeniously used a stone wall. Luckily he wasn't hurt and went home with a prize for best crash of the day.
Our first photo stop was at the top of a set of cobbles, newly washed, steep, slippery, a cruel twist so early in the ride. Riders quickly steamed past in a rush of colour, animating briefly the bedraggled surroundings. straining gears, slipping rubber on stone, choosing the right line, not fixating too much on the climb, just the moment, it would be over soon, then a brief respite, a downhill refreshing before kicking off into more challenging sections.
Meanwhile we bundled ourselves back in the car, wet, cold, equally bedraggled, off to chase down our next stop. With all the water our goal was yet more water. A cold water crossing. We trudged through high stone walls, water rushing past, mud splashing around our feet. The moon like landscape of Shedden Clough surrounding us, it's eerie beauty, enhanced by the drenching it was taking. We soon found our stop. We cheered, we cajoled, we congratulated riders as they ploughed through the water or tiptoed elegantly over the stones, eager to keep one vestige of dryness...
Cold and wet ourselves we headed off back to base. Riders were still streaming in, the rain still beating down. And yet..... And yet, spirits weren't broken. Laughter and excited chatter abounded. Epic tales of daring do are born from events like this. No exaggerations, just ordinary people doing extraordinary things... How else would you want to spend a wet Sunday in March??
If ultra cross appeals to you, then keep an eye on Clifcross for details of their next epic adventure....
If you'd like a flavour of the event check out the images here: ClifCross Images
My latest project saw me head down to Hadleigh Park. I've not visited this venue since the Olympics back in 2012 where it played host to the mountain biking. A natural bowl, the site offered everything you needed, coupled with some ingenious course design for a exciting race, which it delivered expertly. Now 3 years later the venue stands to be the first Olympic MTB venue to actually deliver it's legacy promise, when it finally opens its doors to the general public.
Despite the hue & cry that the trails have been ruined and all the best features that made the site exciting had been dumbed down, the trip to photograph said features, belied all those fears. All the favourites are still in place ( apart from the 'Monument', that had to go as it was actually built on an ancient monument!). The main changes have come in the form of a number of safer lines being offered on many of the features. Still providing loads of fun but without any perceived danger for beginners and the less skilled rider. The Rock Garden has been completely rebuilt, but this was more from necessity as the inclement weather over the past few years, made the feature unstable. There are a number of 'tweaks' here and there but in the main the whole area looks like it will prove a popular playground, with loads of grin inducing sweeping berms coupled with enough features to test the best, without scaring the rest! There is a skills area too, where you can head off to to practise your moves before hitting the trails proper or heading the opposite way to refresh at the cafe. There is even a great little area suitable for riders who aren't quite old enough for pedals!
With the aid of a number of members of the Hadleigh MTB Club we spent the day, checking out the various features and shooting a number of images. It was a hoot and I can't thank everyone enough for their time and patience... Photoshoots are anything but glamorous! Even though we did have a few sessions of hide and seek with the sun over the day, the weather Gods smiled kindly on us and all too soon it was a wrap. Time to head home, happy to have spent a rare day back in the ditch...
It was hardly worth packing. Back from Italy with enough time to swap dirty for clean and it's off again. This time, back to Mallorca to catch up with One pro Cycling. The kit was sorted, the training intense. 4 days of catching all the action & behind the scenes, including a couple of slo mo movies just for fun. Check out the gallery section for a selection of images.
Back home and it's time to supply images for Cyclist magazine. Check out the One Pro Cycling feature out in the next issue coming to a shop near you soon. It was also a week of putting the final touches to a feature I'm doing for a brand new exciting MTB mag being launched by firend and pro snapper Seb Rogers. Cranked. A digital detox of fabulous photography and writing, beautifully printed and delivered to your door. If you want more info about this new magazine check out CRANKED and get signed up!
I have a breather now before my next gallivant. With some exciting projects in the pipeline a bit of down time will be much appreciated. Can't wait for the next adventure, bring it on ;0)
While the classics are well under way in their spiritual homeland of Belgium, a little Italian upstart is seemingly on the fast track to classic greatness, attracting many of the sports superstars to tackle the testing 200km route. Now on it's 8th edition the Strade Bianche has quickly established itself as the Italian version of the infamous Paris-Roubaix. Run over 200km utilising over 50km of 'Strade Bianche' white gravel roads that criss cross the stunning Tuscany countryside finishing in Siena, where the riders face a steep ascent in the last kilometer, before sprinting through the narrow winding streets to the the Piazza del Campo. It was as always, a race of attrition, with the gravel roads claiming many victims while the strong winds saw the peleton snaking out with riders echeloning to hide from the battering condition as best they could. Action came early with a ten man break getting a head start as they hit section two of the gravel this was quickly overhauled with Moviestar doing a lot of work controlling the race for one of the pre race favourites Valverde. a few attacks failed to stick until With 20km to go Valverde, Van Avermaet & Stybar made the winning move. The battle was now truly on. All eyes concentrated on the Spaniard who on paper had the best climbing abilities, but it was Van Avermaet who attacked on the last climb with only Stybar able to respond, leaving Valverde trailing in their wake. The final 500m were electric, with Van Avermaet cresting the summit first Stybar close to his wheel, but it was Stybar's acceleration that made the final call taking the win 2secs ahead of Van Avermaet with Valverde taking third a further 16 secs adrift.
That was the race... not everything went to plan, for me at least...
I was working with the fab team of Jim & Iri that make up Brakethrough Media. A long list of client requirements, meant they needed another shooter, so off I went. An adventure in Italy. I spent Friday shooting behind the scenes with the mechanics of AG2R. I watched and picked my moments as they readied each bike ready for the onslaught of the Strade Bianchi the next day. Each bike was checked thoroughly and then the long job of gluing and fitting wheels. It made for some interesting images.
Race day and I have a list of requirements. No problem, well it would have been if everything had gone to plan but there is no accounting for Italian organisation.... It was fun, haring round the white roads, behind the race on times trying to get ahead. Unfortunately many other people had the same idea and at each vantage point I narrowly missed my window of opportunity. I took the decisions to head back to the finish at Siena. After the mornings fun & games I had a feeling Siena could be as challenging. I was right for many reasons! My brief was to grab a spot on the corner of the final climb. I had 6km to go. I punctured.
It could of been a disaster. It nearly was. No actually it was... but more of that later. Firstly I had to get to my position!! The car didn't have a spare. Google maps reckoned it would take me an hour to walk in. So off I went. I had a window of 90 mins. Luckily I stumbled across a park & ride and managed to jump on a bus which took me to the centre of Siena. From there I followed the noise and fund the race!! With 30 mins to spare I was in situ and managed to get the shots as Stybar & Van Avermaet battle to the top of the final climb. Job done now it was time to find my way back to the car and start the arduous task of arranging to be rescued. 5 hrs later and €120 lighter I was back at the hotel. A final meal with Jim & Iri plus a few glasses of wine took the edge off the extortionate taxi fare, then it was up till 1 in the morning working on images before managing a short 3 hour kip before I had to head to the airport to come home. It certainly was an adventure...
Check the Gallery for more images
A photoshoot. Planned for the beautiful landscape that makes up the district of Bradford. The sun made a rare appearance. We headed to the hills. Working in conjunction with Iain, from MTB Cycle Yorkshire who was to be my model for the day, we moved from spot to spot, dodgy the clouds chasing the sun. Walking through ankle deep mud, in search of the perfect ditch. A return for the day to my photography roots almost. And then it snowed. It wasn't forecast. But then we were in the hills and it is technically still winter... Anything could happen. So we hot tailed it ( or more accurately cold footed it to Haworth, for a warm coffee and a few shots of cobbles before heading to more hills and more shots, a quick bit of videoing followed by a few giggles... Just another day in the varied life of a pro photographer.
Can seem like a lifetime, when you've not ridden a bike. The last time I headed for the hills was just before xmas, training was going well, fitness was on the up, looked like I had some good base to start the new year off well. And then.. And then I got ill. Coughs and colds this time of year are part and parcel of the fun winter can provide, but this was something else! A steady cough, followed by violent sneezing, constant throbbing headaches, then the sore throat, quickly followed by losing my voice and finally the tight chest and all that fun winter viruses can produce. I counted the days when I could get back out on my bike. Dosing myself with liquids. Sleeping. Thinking it's okay, 2 weeks off will be a good rest. 3 weeks off, well thats pushing it but it'll be fine. 4 weeks in I started to feel okay and then I was off on my travels. Off to work in another country, chasing another team. I came home & promptly fell ill again. 4 weeks stretched to 6. I felt okay again, I went away again, I came home feeling ill again! This reoccurring virus was driving me nuts as well as getting me down.
Friend & amazing osteopath Amy, told me to get over to her clinic and she would sort me out... A course of osteopathic manipulation she reckoned would sort me out. Help drain the virus from my sinuses. She was right. Gentle manipulation found some unlikely sore spots, which she assured me was due to congestion in my system. 2 sessions later and I found myself feeling brighter and bouncier than I have done since xmas. Work prevented me from taking advantage of 2 sunny days this week, but today I could put it off no longer. Today was the day!
I was slightly apprehensive. 8 weeks is a long time off the bike. I worried my breathing would be labored. I worried I'd struggle on the climbs. I just worried.
I needn't have. I was fine.
I've got a bit of catching up to do and a bit of winter layers to lose, but I'm back on it and feeling great!
Tuesday 17th February finally saw the launch of new kids on the block, One Pro Cycling. This was pretty exciting for me as in the run up to the launch I'd been out with the team on their first training camp in Mallorca capturing images that were to be used extensively both in the national media and on the team's website, as well as being used for the launch itself. Until that day I had to keep any imagery well under wraps!!
So it was with great pleasure that I headed down to London, to the swanky Millbank, 28th floor with a grand view over the city of London, to capture a few more images for the team on their launch night. I also got to see how my images were to be used. The website can be viewed here: www.oneprocycling.com
The Official design agency Studio Blackburn had done an amazing job with my images. Poster size images were hung around the venue and a brilliant newspaper had been created to showcase the team and their ethos. Incredibly ingenious. I now head out with the team in March for a few more days to capture the team kit in it's full sponsored glory. as well as attend a number of races Keep an eye out on twitter as I'm now able to give you a glimpse of my work with these guys.
To represent my sport in my own little way...
At the end of last year BikeBiz asked for help to put together a list recognising the importance of women in the sport itself along with leading lights in the industry as well as advocacy bodies. In a male dominated sport & industry it is refreshing to see these important role models highlighted. From world class athletes through to bloggers and event organisers, the list is far from exhaustive but a great step in the right direction.
I have to say I am humbled to have been included in that list. Thank you to those that nominated me.