“Who am I to judge” – Pope Francis
Despite minimal feedback and an income a distant second to the beggar on the street corner with a cardboard sign, I think I’m ok at this photography thing. One year ago I wrote up a plan of sorts on how to get back in the saddle and making a living at doing what I love. It was totally overwhelming as my interests bounce around like a pinball with attention deficit disorder in a REI store. I love hiking, backpacking, camping, climbing mountains, paddling, snowboarding, traveling, but above all I’m most at home on the bike, so it made sense to funnel the focus of my mission. By doing this, I could create a single solid portfolio instead of several half-assed ones. I put together a 32-page promo magazine of what I thought was my best work which is now being sent out to pro cycling teams, race organizers, sponsors, and editorial rags. While the content will be new to its viewers, I have spent countless hours, weeks, no, months starting at the same images, editing, laying out the magazine, fighting with printers to get the color right, reprinting, more fighting. I just want to make more pictures, but before I do, here’s one final look at the top 13 of 2013.
Leading off with one of my favorites of the year from Stage 8 of the Tour of California in Santa Rosa. I hopped on my bike with my gear, as I normally do during a circuit race through a town, then began cruising the course as the peloton made its way up from San Francisco. Always looking for new, unique angles, I noticed a parking structure that was built over a tree-lined boulevard that would give me a perfect view of teams leading out their sprinters for the finish. Shooting with two bodies, one with a wide angle lens and the other with a telephoto landed me not only the cover image for my promo, but a more detailed shot of dozens of faces made a perfect double-truck centerfold for my magazine.
I often scout part of the course the evening before a race, so when I passed through Red Canyon near Bryce Canyon National Park, I camped out nearby knowing I’d return in the morning to await the Tour of Utah. Balancing atop the “quadpod” (the van) for a bit of elevation over the large field of riders, I got a cool angle that none of the media motos could score as they all stopped nearby.
Accidents happen. And sometimes they look cool. I often try pan blurs, but the problem with them is that 90% of the frames are out of focus. But sometimes that blurry mess works, looking like an abstract painting.
You wouldn’t think a portfolio image would be made during a pitch black criterium, but when my flash fired, then caught another photographer’s strobe in the same frame, it made for a trippy shot that I might have to recreate and improve on in the future. I prefer natural light to artificial, but since Santa brought a battery pack for faster recycle times, I’ll start experimenting with lights more.
All in the details. I love shooting time trials. Maybe it’s because riders are spaced out giving me a chance to shoot for a long period of time, rather than running around like a maniac for only a couple chances at catching the peloton. TT’s are called the race of truth for a reason. One rider, against the clock, in an all-out sufferfest. The Tour of California had a women’s TT, so I positioned myself on the gnarly climb about 2k from the finish when I captured Rhae Shaw deep in the pain cave.
This year, I learned about the commercial side of the sport, aka, where all the money comes from. It taught me I need to start focusing not just on pretty scenics, but products because that’s what sponsors want to see. Shooting cyclocross gives me a chance to work on just that because of the nature of the course and ability to stick my fisheye lens 6-inches from a racer’s drivetrain as he runs by before remounting. Maybe SRAM would dig the hit of sunlight reflecting off their disc brake. A project I have for 2014 is cataloging and creating brand-specific portfolios to make a better impression on companies at next year’s Interbike convention.
Thinking back to my favorite ride of the year, it’s easy to give the nod to climbing Independence Pass alone during the USA Pro Challenge. The road was closed to traffic and since I came up from the side the race was descending, it was free of people, offering a quiet, insanely scenic ascent to 12,096-feet. What wasn’t quiet was the scene at the top where music thumped from the DJ booth as hundreds of fans awaiting the pros were partying with the Colorado State Patrol. Luckily, they got stuck in the traffic jam at the top, leaving me free to fly down the mountain at 50 m.p.h. so I could get to the finish in Breckenridge.
Like accidental photos, getting lucky by being in the right place at the right time can capture memorable moments as well. Such was the case during the Tour of Utah when I shot Ty Manger’s donut wielding wheelie on the climb up to Snowbird. The background isn’t flattering and the angle is far from perfect, but catching that moment got more attention on social media than any of my other photos this season.
There were so many highlights this year, but meeting Tour de France champion Chris Froome and his right hand man Richie Porte tops it all, simply because of how it went down. Over the summer, I often moved from my camping spot in the forest to a coffee shop in Nederland in the morning to grab internet and caffeine. That day, I ran into local pro Timmy Duggan who was showing team Cannondale around the area following the Pro Challenge. That meant I got to meet guys like Ted King and Peter Sagan. Obviously this would have been the highlight of my day if not for an hour later when I noticed a few team Sky kits that rolled up and sat down next to me. Recognizing Froome, my innards freaked out like a tween at a Justin Bieber concert. Rather than go paparazzi on them immediately, I let them finish their drinks before approaching. Though unlike Bieber, these guys don’t suck in any way. Actually, they were extremely down-to-earth and we had a good chat about Colorado, the weather, doping, bike components, and the one thing always on the mind of traveling cyclists: wifi, which Porte pronounced “wee-fee.” Experiences like that are exactly why I live in a van,
stalking following the lifestyles of pro cyclists.
Wintertime has slowed things down, but also given me a chance to get familiar with my newest obsession: cyclocross. Not only are there countless opportunities to shoot on the 2-3km courses, but it’s a winter sport, which likely means snow and mud. Sea World may have the splash zone, but if you want a four-dimensional viewing experience, post up next to the mud pit during a race where a rain bag over photo gear is mandatory. Not only did I repeatedly catch a face full of mud each lap, I welcomed a few laughs from spectators as well. I was hoping for a face-plant by one of the riders and while that never happened, I was happy with the feel of this image featuring eventual race winner Danny Summerhill at left.
Giving myself assignments the whole year was fun, but my work lacked immediate purpose and reward. That was not the case when my friends Sara and Mike needed a wedding photographer to capture their best day ever. I should rephrase that. They needed a cycling photographer to capture what they called “love in action.” As long as they didn’t sprint down the aisle faster than Sagan, I was confident I could cover the day. I was stoked they invited me to Lake Tahoe to document getting hitched, but as we made portraits, I didn’t feel the session was complete until we found a bike because Sara is a badass bike racer and I wanted to incorporate that into the wedding. Finding a cruiser painted with flames and little skulls screwed onto the tire’s air valves was perfect, though I focused on a different bit of bling for my favorite shot of the day and a top moment of the year.
Bike racing can be chaotic, like the scene at Beaver Creek during a massive thunderstorm at the Pro Challenge, but it also has its quiet moments. Seeing Nikodemus Holler crest a hill as he rides off into the storm may not be a full-on epic landscape, but it’s a fitting farewell to a 2013. This year was a rebuilding year completely self-supported as a neo-pro cycling photographer living out of a van. I hope I can build a client base that understands the value of quality and gives a dude, a dog, and a dream a chance to step up the game and create even better content in 2014.