From April to September and from the wet steeps of Lourdes, France to the boulder-strewn savagery of the Dolomites and Val di Sole, Italy, Pinkbike's World Cup photographers are on hand at every round. Working tirelessly to capture and deliver the action, often working long days in adverse conditions on the mountain and even longer nights in front of their computers to edit and submit the action to us all, the toil is real, but so are the rewards of seeing the action unfold before you. To gain a greater understanding of what goes on behind the scenes, we tagged along with Nathan Hughes for finals day at round four of the series in Leogang, Austria. Nathan, alongside Dave Trumpore and Matt Delorme, cover the World Cup downhill series for Pinkbike.
While the gravitas surrounding the ‘Formula 1’ of mountain biking is undeniably high, for those whose lives revolve around transmitting it to the masses on a regular basis, it's not a case of camping out in one corner on the track with a big lens on a monopod; it is in fact a continual quest for creativity during a semi-controlled fall down a steep mountainside often in the pouring rain, cursing over forgotten umbrellas and sandwiches. This time, the weather gods had mercy and our man Nathan remembered both his sandwich and his umbrella, so the day was already looking up when we met up in the early morning, long before Rob Warner had even gotten out of bed...
|The highs definitely involve being right there to witness and capture the most amazing moments from the racing. At the world cup you have the chance to shoot something that MTB fans will remember and talk about for years, maybe even decades from now. You're mixing with the heroes and heroines of the sport and living the life with them, albeit in a slightly different way. Day-to-day, that's a good thing to think about to keep positive during the 'low points'. I guess they include getting rained on with no chance of shelter, losing or damaging gear, recurring bouts of self-doubt - about your abilities with the camera - eating a cereal bar yet again for lunch and having zero sleep. Oh yeah - 'missing the shot' - always a low point. There is this insane tendency to wait forever, sometimes literally an hour or two for your riders, then as soon as you get desperate enough and change spots, swap lenses, check the start times, go to take a whiz... anything, they appear. Happens every time, nearly... - Nathan|
|Nothing is worse for your photography than holding an umbrella... Not just because it takes away one hand and drops into your shot - it seems to affect everything you're doing with the camera. I think it's because the best shots are made lying down or at least with a big old crouch, which is all too awkward with a 'brolly' (do Americans call it that?). This year I wore wellies (sorry 'rubber boots') and a rain jacket at every round so far, but for some races, like Windham, even a Wallmart vest feels like too much and it's easy to get savagely sunburnt. You basically never win. Especially because the sun actually looks really nasty for photos on heavily wooded tracks like Va di Sole. The deep dark and powerful bright contrasts are too much and there's not a lot you can about it. Give us evening sun (which we never have for obvious reasons) or overcast yet bright, please... And warm enough for shorts and tee. And no biting insects too! - Nathan|
|Each of the Pinkbike photo crew have their own deals with numerous brands as well as some of the bigger race teams; Dave covers the Polygon UR and Specialized Gravity team, Matt shoots Trek Factory Racing DH and for me, it's the MS Mondraker and Cube Global Squad, so we have to balance keeping those clients happy while also reporting the event as whole for Pinkbike. Often the best we can do is simply move on if we end up shooting in the same spot to keep the angles fresh and capture the best of the action. At night we share the workload, taking turns to put the posts together; Dave does track walk, Matt does qualies and I do first practice and finals. It's great for us to know if someone's having an off day, one of the trio will come good and have our backs. There are a few photographers working solo on the coverage for other websites... that's a whole lot more pressure! - NH|
|The 70-200 f2.8 probably takes the crown as my favorite piece of gear for its diversity; it's the go-to lens and the one it would be hardest to do without. I am trying to shoot wide more so I just picked up a 14-24 f2.8, which has been fun so far. In terms of image quality, the 300mm is the clear winner, but there never seems to be too many points on a track you can where you can justify and use it well. - Nathan|
|Fort William - the perfect weather this year seals it! Up on the moors with blue skies, the gnarly bedrock, and all the history... I think the track offers up the best opportunities for capturing a truly epic race shot, the kind that could become a 'classic'... if such a thing still exists in today's media world? - Nathan|
|How competitive is the vibe between photographers? Well sometimes it can feel like if you were on fire, not everyone would offer their extinguishing services... ha! No, but most of time, the other photographers on the hill are decent enough to at least give a heads up when a client rider or a big name is on the way or even to say what spot is working well and what is likely to suck. It is a competitive environment for sure, but better to think we can all be successful together rather than generate some brutal dog-eat-dog kind of atmosphere. - Nathan|
|Fully loaded before a flight when I've tried to cram in all the essential gear, I think my backpack weighs in around 18kg, but lately I've cut down a bit on what I'm taking with me on the hill. I think I have officially retired from flash photography at the races, not that I ever got too involved! Heavy ISO saves a load of weight! - Nathan|
| Funny things go down pretty often that aren't particularly hilarious for the photographer themselves at the time... Stuff like shooting a whole day with the camera mode set to 'jpeg small' (lowest quality), misplaced memory cards after finals or lost luggage at the airport that doesn't show up until after the race. How about getting stuck over the cliffs in the Lenzerheide cable car for more than an hour with a girlfriend who has sunstroke and the related symptom of diarrhea... No names mentioned! It's all comedy in the long run. - Nathan|
|Finals day is really all about making the most of the finish area. You need to find at least two or three really solid positions where you feel confident and you can catch either a powerful close-up of the action or something a little wider that shows off the crowds. I usually run around between those few places and some other riskier spots, maybe with a token pan or something, before making sure I'm at least in range of a mad dash across the finish line to capture first reactions after last man down. It's weird how nervous you get just taking pictures in finals - a real combination of not wanting to miss the race run shots and the excitement of the race in general. - Nathan|
|Coming back to base, which is usually a badly chosen last minute pick a few days before the event, it's a push to get stuff done as fast as possible because there's going to be well over 1000 shots to sift through every day. Memory cards come out of the cameras and into the readers to upload, batteries go on charge and we hit the showers while they ingest. Then we need to start the sorting on Lightroom, marking the best shots of clients and those for the report one-by-one and adding them to different collections. Once we've narrowed them down (easy to waste a lot of time on photo dilemmas), it's time to get editing and captioning, perhaps using a bit of 'Roots & Rain' for the stats, before exporting the shots as jpegs for web. Once the shots are on Pinkbike the team member in charge of that night's post has to whip them up into a sensible order, modify captions so there's some flow, check for dreaded typos and in the case of finals - transcribe audio files of the rider quotes. When that's out the way, it's time to remember the key events of the day and summon them from somewhere, deep, deep within (often with limited success) a thoughtful and creative introduction. Dinner will come in the form of a takeaway pizza, pasta if you're lucky enough to be taken care of by a team and regrettably sometimes a Snickers that's been melted and solidified multiple times from the bottom of a camera bag. The midnight oil burns longer into the night as the week goes on as brains turn to mush and running on empty starts to become too much. That's the game we're in, for better or worse haha! - Nathan|