Interview: Sterling Lorence - Photo of the Year

Dec 17, 2013
by Scott Secco  


bigquotesAt the end of the day, I simply love this sport and love the photographic process - Sterling Lorence
2013 Photo of the Year by Sterling Lorence.

Congratulations on winning the third ever Pinkbike Photo of the Year contest, how does it feel to have your shot chosen by riders?

Absolutely stoked to have seen our image surface through the rounds all the way to the top, it made for an exciting month. Hats off to all the other photographers and riders that were in the 32, some super epic 'nugs' in there and hard work achievements. Yes, best part of this contest is once you have made it into the top 32, it is a rider based judging panel. All of you! In other contests that I have been involved with, it is obvious that the judges don't quite get mountain biking and don't see the subtleties that we all do.

What elements make a photo worthy of inclusion in the top 32 for Photo of the Year?

As per any solid photo in mountain biking, I believe the recipe contains a good mix of dynamic rider action, proper composition to accentuate that action, proper use of light to build contrast and add drama, and adding some visual elements into the frame to give the image some depth without distracting from the action storytelling. Last but not least, a sense of originality whereby the location, action, creativity have not been played.

How do you approach a photo like this: do you have a shot in your head and then try to find a spot to make it happen? Or are you inspired once you’ve seen a stunt or trail that would work?

A bit of both of these is usually what happens. Sometimes if you plan too much, you are forcing the issue too much and not being aware enough of other elements or opportunities happening. Some photos are spotted simply by riding with the riders in some terrain and watching for things that stoke you. For this one, Thomas and I had some rough inspirations of what we were looking for and I watched him ride through two other areas in Kamloops. I watched him come off the hip that precedes this berm and saw what happened as he shredded through this section, and I was immediately inspired by the action. Then, I slowly honed in on what I felt was the best way to document him shred this berm.

Thomas Vanderham in the Kamloops Bike Ranch BC

You began shooting on film but, like most action sport shooters, you’ve moved almost exclusively to digital these days. Could you make this same image on film?

I spent countless hours as a young photographer studying the effects of flash in my work and learning how the light outputs translated to the exposure on film. I relied 100% on a light meter and was confidently working way into my career like this while using film. Nailing an exposure with natural light and strobed light was another realm of the photographic process that few of the digital age would even understand today for the immediate response to a digital on-camera screen makes that easy and predictable. It is so much harder and more complex when you can't simply look down to your screen. All that said, yes, I would still be confident in trying a shot like this on film for nailing the exposure but will admit it is nice being able to review the image on-site to be sure that the camera sync is actually firing, my focus is dialed, Thomas is stoked with his style, and I have nudged the lights into the right positions.

This photo, like much of your work, uses lighting artistically to amplify the riding. How did you light this image?

My first choice has always been to see what the sun and a sunset/sunrise can do to play up a shot like this and love the drama that happens when using the natural light well. Often, shots just don't set up for using natural light well based on proximity or weather and it is fun to try and play the role of the sun. I have always tried to shoot artificial lights as subtly as possible and in the least invasive way. In this situation, the way the dust was ramping upwards and in multiple directions underneath and behind Thomas, I was actually able to light into areas of Thomas and the dust that would have been impossible to do with just the sun. I settled on three lights to get this image the way I wanted.

thomas vanderham in kamloops bc

How much of the shot is captured in camera? Do you do much editing on your photos?

Like I said before, I am from the era of shooting film where everything had to happen out in front of the camera instead of at home in Lightroom/Photoshop. I still work like that, I really like to try and reduce the computer/office time by gettin'er done on site. I'm not schooled in Photoshop and don't want that feel in my work. Finding and using natural elements and/or lighting is so much more rewarding. Any rider that has ever worked with me would attest to how much I move around and tinker as a shoot is happening, 'dialing it in' out there. This image is identical to the camera raw file and looked just like this in my camera when Thomas and I were staring at it in complete stoke. That is what I expect out of this photo contest, in that, all of us are able and willing to hand over the camera raw, if we are wanting to enter the contest.

The photo doesn’t show any of its metadata. Can you tell us the gear and settings used for this shot or is it a trade secret?

I wouldn't consider myself overly techy when it comes to special settings or sync speeds. I used a Canon 1D Mark IV with a 70-200 f/2.8 lens for this shot. Pocketwizards (they are good, but far from perfect!), and I have Profoto and Elinchrome lights making this magic happen. Camera settings are 1/500th at f/5.6, ISO 200. Dakine backpacks and luggage are getting hammered by dust in an effort to save my gear a bit.

You’ve worked with Thomas for over a decade now; does that familiarity help when creating new work?

Absolutely. I have evolved as a photographer alongside Thomas as a rider. I first started working with him when he was 14. Both of us were lucky to have our careers begin in the pioneer stage of freeride mountain biking here on the North Shore. Certainly Thomas is one of those riders that was breaking new ground as the sport evolved. We share perspectives on what freeride mountain biking is and can be and we are always dreaming up ideas and shots that help progress the sport and have always tried to push boundaries on what hasn't been seen much before. Getting an email from him with a link to some Bubba Stewart footy on YouTube isn't uncommon. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with a rider like Thomas, for his talents are unlimited and I think he also enjoys this process of working like a team to achieve something special.

Thomas Vanderham in Kamloops BC

You’ve made ‘nug’ a common term for mountain bike photographers and filmmakers. Can you explain where that term came from and what it means?

This process of working with riders and film crews to find new terrain, new stunts, ideas, sick light etc is a form of mining the land… or 'roaming.' The more you work and move across the land and move through imagination and inspiration, the higher the chances of striking gold. 'Mining for nugs' is a reference we have used for a while.

You’ve shot many of the most iconic photos in mountain bike history. Do you feel pressure while shooting?

For me, none of it comes easy and there is a lot of hard work, preparation, planning and luck that comes into play. Going through the process of what later becomes an iconic image, I have a good understanding of the pieces of the puzzle that need to come together so when I am out there in the field working with riders, we are looking and building the pieces, one at a time, and this removes the intensity of 'pressure.' We all understand how hard it is an have left locations and trips knowing that great shots were achieved but maybe not something that will live on as iconic. I do question myself out in the field when contemplating compositions and ideas, and I do default to trusting my inner instincts, eye, and creative desire. At the end of the day, I simply love this sport and love the photographic process and if something is stoking me out, I run with it.

Many commenters thought that Thomas’ drift was detrimental to the trail; can you clear up those misconceptions?

Thomas was drifting across the surface of this berm in the Kamloops Bike Ranch and at no time was cutting into the trail surface. In the heat of summer, the trails in Kamloops are blanketed in clay dust and it explodes all around you as you ride and walk on it. The actual trail surface is hardened clay and is tough to cut into; rather, it makes it nice and slippery to get drifts happening. The face of this berm was doing most of the work in making this image explode upwards. As I said before, the trail was left in better shape than we found it, and as we were working on this shot, the park was open and shredders were riding through all the time.

redbull rampage 2010

Do you have any advice to aspiring photographers?

Ride lots, alone and with your buddies. It will leave you inspired by the terrain and riding in your local area and you will be surprised by all the little rewards that nature gives you with light and terrain. You will 'see' things. Be your own hardest editor and use Pinkbike as a benchmark to see if your images start to surface as POD’s. The viewers here are very critical and good photos do get spotted and celebrated.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Simply to thank all of you that cast a vote in this contest for any of the images. That feedback fuels all of us as photographers to go out there and push farther and helps to make this contest grow. Also to Thomas Vanderham who continues to keep the mountain in mountain biking and always adds that element of ridiculous radness factor to my shots. Lastly, and most importantly, thanks very much to the gang at Pinkbike, Specialized Bikes and SRAM as well as, Sportsnet, Outside Mag, and Color Mag.

Photography: Sterling Lorence
Interview: Scott Secco

Author Info:
scottsecco avatar

Member since Sep 18, 2009
1,012 articles

  • 85 5
 Sterling Lorence in a MTB photo contest is cheating
  • 47 3
 AimBot turned On xD
  • 7 49
flag freddiehg (Dec 17, 2013 at 0:47) (Below Threshold)
 What the fuck did you just say
  • 12 2
 You don't understand ? it's same to tell the Sterling Lorence is a BOSS take MTB PICS dude, but really really i don't understand your comment lol
  • 2 15
flag yvidal (Dec 17, 2013 at 3:08) (Below Threshold)
 Noob! hahahahahaha
  • 21 17
 He's listed as an employee in PinkBike's "contacts" page. He is an amazing photographer, but also a paid professional for the site putting the contest on. That seems kind of backwards to me, but I guess it just reinforces that they hired the best mountain bike photog out there. Would have been cooler to see a photog that doesn't work for PinkBike win it.
  • 49 3
 The people chose it scot, not pinkbike...
  • 5 1
 also everyone voted that photo the best. sooo it doesnt matter that he worked for pinkbike
  • 1 0
 i think the best one went out in about the fourth round but it was pre good im just not a fan of that kind of angle
  • 3 1
 I realize that angry-sasquatch, I understand the definition of a "contest". I'm not arguing that it wasn't well deserved, just pointing out that it wasn't at all surprising.
  • 3 0
 Sterling works @ pinkbike? Ok I'll take it back, Krabbs didn't get robbed, He didn't stand a chance....
  • 1 3
 the people voted...allegedly. just saying.
  • 16 0
 to clear the air...I am 100% freelance in the mountain bike photography world and enjoy working for many of the companies, I am not an employee of Pinkbike.
  • 2 2
 Thanks for clarifying. You are a fantastic photographer, I'm only trying to point out that it's fun to cheer for the "underdog" (a popular theme on Pinkbike I have noticed). Congrats on winning!
  • 1 0
 Although sterling is definitely the man, I feel like pinkbike should run these contests to showcase up and coming photographers who are killing it behind the lense. Like sterling needs more exposure?
  • 25 1
 I wish people would stop playing the "he won only because he's pro" card. If you take an outstanding photo it will shine through the rest, that's about it.

Congrats sterling!
  • 14 1
 You sir, know whats up.
  • 7 1
 Sterling is the man. No one works harder. No one cares about the evolution of the sport as much as he does. A true soldier of the lens. A freaking mountain goat.
  • 3 1
 Ha thanks PB audience for this mornings entertainment.

I think PB went about the competition the best possible way, opening the doors to everyone. Let your work do the talking. There is no definition on "pro" photographer now a days since the market is so saturated and everyone with a DSLR thinks they are a "pro" photographer.

As for natural or flashed light this picture wouldn't be what it was without the light set up unless the sun was in the same spot and able to create the same contrast and shadows. The numbers in the voting bracket on all rounds of voting were close on the pictures that did deserve notice and the push forward.

This photo at the end of the day does deserve the win and stood out from the start, composition, lighting, and nug factor are all there.
  • 5 1
 It's not my favourite of the year but their is no denying that it's an amazing photo.
  • 5 4
 Great capture for some but not my thing, if lighting has to be used I am a strong believer that it should look natural - that is the true art of lighting. I think the voting head to head didn't work and it allowed some weaker shots to progress and some better pictures to be knocked out early.
  • 2 1
 next level shit, isnt that what this site is all about?

gonna have to submit a photo of a bike back flipping over a bike that is back flipping over another bike to win next year. congrats to SL

I really appreciate the fact that this pic could be taken by anyone. no super sunset or epic mountain range or crazy secluded location only highly paid photogs and crew can get to. This picture represents the thrill of mountain biking in its purest form, SPEED. no crazy trick, nothing but speed.
  • 1 1
 Sterling is the man. Deserves it for sure! I remember first seeing sterling back in 1995 in Kranked 1 on vhs! Cheers to the photos and 2014 is going to be sick
  • 2 1
 Thanks for sharing that information Sterling. You are an inspiration to many!
  • 1 0
 Want to be nosey and find out what his plans are for use of money and bike Wink
  • 2 0
 Fine damn piece of work if I say so myself. Congrats Sterling.
  • 1 0
 I wanna know what hes gonna do with a brand new bike
  • 13 0
 I'm gonna guess sell it and buy a lens or something haha
  • 7 13
flag scottrallye (Dec 17, 2013 at 8:08) (Below Threshold)
 Yeah, pretty lame to have one of PB's own employees win their own contest. (I could be wrong but I think he still works at PB officially)
  • 4 1
 Scottrallye: you implying the vote is rigged, or are you saying it was wrong for the internet to have voted for what they thought was the best image?
  • 7 6
 Natural lighting -vs- staged lighting..... just ask Ansel.....
  • 3 2
 can you point me to the mtb action shots that Ansel did?
  • 4 4
 tbh i think its a shit photo compered to some of the other sick photos that were uploaded this year
  • 1 0
 The B+W second image of the same feature is a sick shot as well!
  • 1 0
 NO Doubt, The Best Pic in The Contest... Outstanding!!!
  • 2 1
  • 1 4
 Pow Pow Gaoxiang! Your sister is not in this picture!
  • 1 2
 he should give it to the rider
  • 1 2
 Shame its vanderham, doubt he'll be short of bikes though :/
  • 5 0
 Thomas Vanderham is a factory rider for Rocky Mountain bikes. Giving a Specialized Demo wouldn't really make a lot of sense.
  • 7 7
 Great shot but not his best and a bit contrived for my taste. IMO
  • 2 3
 How does he get the 1/500th with Canon 1D Mark IV when 1/300th is max ???????? That is the question ?????????
  • 3 2
 I believe the fastest shutter on a 1D is 1/16000
  • 6 0
 The max shutter speed is 1/8000th.
Sterl was able to get the flashes synced at 1/500th of a second using pocket wizard flex tt5 radio triggers. The tt5's have a feature called "hyper-sync" which allows you to wirelessly fire strobes at faster shutter speeds than the cameras normal max of 1/250-1/320. You can sync your flashess all the way up to 1/8000th
  • 1 1
 The 1d series sync at 1/500 I'm pretty sure. At least the older ones did anyway.
  • 1 4
 this contest suck !

sterling lorence is a pro
this contest is for the amateur no?
  • 3 0
 no, it isn't nowhere does it say it's an amateur contest
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