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A Day in the Life: World Cup Photographer - Nathan Hughes

Jul 6, 2016
by Simon Nieborak  



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...



A Day in the Life At the World Cup with PB Photographer Nathan Hughes
Nathan has been shooting professionally for Pinkbike since 2013 and can also be found, camera at the ready, at Crankworx, the odd Rampage and a bunch of notable MTB hotspots across the continents throughout the year.

A Day in the Life At the World Cup with PB Photographer Nathan Hughes
Getting that angle just right...
A Day in the Life At the World Cup with PB Photographer Nathan Hughes
of Laurie Greenland's mechanic, Chaz Curry.

A Day in the Life At the World Cup with PB Photographer Nathan Hughes
A quick hunt around the pits kicks off most days for your typical World Cup photographer, but on finals morning, it's no less than a hive of activity. Nathan ticks off some client shots with a bit of race prep at the MS Mondraker pits.

A Day in the Life At the World Cup with PB Photographer Nathan Hughes


bigquotesThe 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



A Day in the Life At the World Cup with PB Photographer Nathan Hughes
A Day in the Life At the World Cup with PB Photographer Nathan Hughes

A Day in the Life At the World Cup with PB Photographer Nathan Hughes
Leogang was a far cry from the surprise bout of blazing summer sun witnessed in the Highlands the weekend previous so all the lensmen were ready for the worst.


bigquotesNothing 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



A Day in the Life At the World Cup with PB Photographer Nathan Hughes
Nathan chats with Dave Trumpore on how the morning is starting to shape up.
A Day in the Life At the World Cup with PB Photographer Nathan Hughes
Two bangers so far? We'll assume so...


bigquotesEach 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



A Day in the Life At the World Cup with PB Photographer Nathan Hughes
Specialized shooter, Michael Cerveny, in full-on sniper mode.

A Day in the Life At the World Cup with PB Photographer Nathan Hughes
Trying to mix it up with some new ideas during Sunday's practice runs...
A Day in the Life At the World Cup with PB Photographer Nathan Hughes
... last chance for a bit of experimentation before things get serious in the afternoon.



bigquotesThe 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



A Day in the Life At the World Cup with PB Photographer Nathan Hughes

A Day in the Life At the World Cup with PB Photographer Nathan Hughes
It's a waiting game...
A Day in the Life At the World Cup with PB Photographer Nathan Hughes
...and you never know when the top dogs are gonna scrub over the top on a blind step-down.

A Day in the Life At the World Cup with PB Photographer Nathan Hughes
Shoot and move on. It's important to keep changing it up and finding new angles so the variety finds its way into Lightroom.

A Day in the Life At the World Cup with PB Photographer Nathan Hughes


bigquotesFort 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



A Day in the Life At the World Cup with PB Photographer Nathan Hughes
Food photography is perhaps best left to specialists.
A Day in the Life At the World Cup with PB Photographer Nathan Hughes
Lunch is served... Nathan assures us this is more lavish than usual.

A Day in the Life At the World Cup with PB Photographer Nathan Hughes
Now's the time to pick out the riders that a photographer can't afford to miss on the start list before finals.

A Day in the Life At the World Cup with PB Photographer Nathan Hughes
Photography... where size does matter. But also what you're doing with it.

A Day in the Life At the World Cup with PB Photographer Nathan Hughes
A Day in the Life At the World Cup with PB Photographer Nathan Hughes


bigquotesHow 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


A Day in the Life At the World Cup with PB Photographer Nathan Hughes
A well-hidden shooter lying in wait. It's like 'Nam' out there on the mountain. Well maybe Cairns looked more the part...

A Day in the Life At the World Cup with PB Photographer Nathan Hughes
A Day in the Life At the World Cup with PB Photographer Nathan Hughes


bigquotesFully 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



A Day in the Life At the World Cup with PB Photographer Nathan Hughes. Leogang World Cup 2016.
A Day in the Life At the World Cup with PB Photographer Nathan Hughes

A Day in the Life At the World Cup with PB Photographer Nathan Hughes
Changing spots won't be enough to mix up the haul of nugs over the day; all the lenses in the armory are used for different effects.

A Day in the Life At the World Cup with PB Photographer Nathan Hughes
Descent World's one-armed warrior, Tommy Wilkinson, going 'YOLO' with his chosen shooting spot.

A Day in the Life At the World Cup with PB Photographer Nathan Hughes


bigquotes 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



A Day in the Life At the World Cup with PB Photographer Nathan Hughes
A Day in the Life At the World Cup with PB Photographer Nathan Hughes

A Day in the Life At the World Cup with PB Photographer Nathan Hughes
The gap before the top 20 riders arrives and it's time to find somewhere up high to show a bit more of the crowd.

A Day in the Life At the World Cup with PB Photographer Nathan Hughes
Nathan shoots Sik Mik from the bridge, which...
In for the Kill Finals - Leogang DH World Cup 2016
wasn't a bad decision as he pulled out this surprise suicide no hander.

A Day in the Life At the World Cup with PB Photographer Nathan Hughes
Adam Brayton going colossal...
A Day in the Life At the World Cup with PB Photographer Nathan Hughes
Geting the shot from the slopestyle course's 'boner' log.


bigquotesFinals 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



A Day in the Life At the World Cup with PB Photographer Nathan Hughes
With a certain top qualifier across the line, all the men in bibs charge towards the hot seat in the hope of capturing some top celebration shots.

In for the Kill Finals - Leogang DH World Cup 2016
Nathan shoots Gwin's goggle toss and then the big old round of high-fives.

A Day in the Life At the World Cup with PB Photographer Nathan Hughes
A Day in the Life At the World Cup with PB Photographer Nathan Hughes

A Day in the Life At the World Cup with PB Photographer Nathan Hughes
Getting the word from this young Frenchman after an incredible result.

A Day in the Life At the World Cup with PB Photographer Nathan Hughes
Nathan asking Ms. Atherton how she feels to go 10 wins in a row.

A Day in the Life At the World Cup with PB Photographer Nathan Hughes
In for the Kill Finals - Leogang DH World Cup 2016

A Day in the Life At the World Cup with PB Photographer Nathan Hughes
If only the story could end there at the podium... wouldn't that be sweet!

A Day in the Life At the World Cup with PB Photographer Nathan Hughes
Near-spotless boots finally off, after the rains that never came and that's when the 'real work' begins.


bigquotesComing 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



A Day in the Life At the World Cup with PB Photographer Nathan Hughes
A Day in the Life At the World Cup with PB Photographer Nathan Hughes

A Day in the Life At the World Cup with PB Photographer Nathan Hughes
So there we have it - shots captured, downloaded, sorted, edited, captioned, uploaded, ordered, introductions written and a Pinkbike post created.

A Day in the Life At the World Cup with PB Photographer Nathan Hughes
Another photo epic all wrapped up... It's as easy as that haha!

A Day in the Life At the World Cup with PB Photographer Nathan Hughes
Behind the scenes of the behind the scenes... Let us not forget it takes another photographer for this kind of inception work!


MENTIONS: @lunatyk / @natedh9



Posted In:
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Author Info:
lunatyk avatar

Member since May 4, 2008
92 articles

54 Comments
  • 117 0
 Awesome bit of Diary logging. Love this sort of artical. Keep it up Pinkbike.. and to all the Photographers including Nathan, who put in the insane hours to give us this amazing FREE content... we thank you graciously!
  • 25 0
 Awesome article... As a photo enthusiast myself, I've always wondered how on earth you guys do it. The amount of work you have to get done in those conditions is baffling... Changing lenses under the rain, waiting in the cold, not sleeping AND delivering high quality content for us watching at home. Unspoken heroes of the sport!
  • 16 0
 One of the best and longest artical I have read in a while, awesome work and it just goes to show the amount of hard work these guys put in.
  • 9 2
 I have a question for you Nathan : I did see you take a break after a day and get by Lightroom to shape things up a bit, but do you take a lot of time in post production (Photostop, for example), or just reajust the basic settings in LR and move on ?

A lot of photographers think they will have to go through PS and stuff, but the original and natural quality of the shot should be favoured, and your pictures look like they haven't really been modified (which is great, imo).
  • 7 0
 try to imagine photo from film without developing it in darkroom , there is no difference in digital photography raw files also need to be developed.
  • 4 0
 @rockefeler: Yep, I know, I do make pictures for automotive press, but in a very small way compared to pinkbike's guys.

But in cars world, we have two sort of photographes : the ones who make final image very "articial", beautiful and spectacular but with a lot of effect and not natural, and photographes who do stuff just by reajusting raw files in LR (lighting settings, contrasts, and correcting errors...).

That's why I wanted to know if Nathan is a photoshop guy or not Wink
  • 1 0
 I'd say all those images have been heavily 'developed' in LR - and they look awesome.
  • 4 0
 There's no such thing as natural quality of digital photos. Without proper post-processing, digital photos look dull and faded and lack sharpness, contrast and colours due to the digital sensor's limitations and lens' optical flaws.
Looking for quality in a raw file like looking for quality in a raw steak (that's why it's called raw).
  • 3 1
 @Extremmist: Yes.. but you understood my point...
  • 1 0
 I'm not Nathan but for some reason I've always ended up doing final tweaks in PS after LR. After doing adjustments in LR you can right click and open in PS which makes it handy. It's almost impossible for me to not open it in PS, I just can't let go of it.
  • 1 0
 @zephxiii: With the latest couple of versions of Lightroom there are less reasons to add one more step to the processing with PS. From lens corrections to selective adjustments you can do everything in LR. Other than occasional portrait retouching I am using Lightroom exclusively as the workflow is much better and quicker. Import presets, sorting hundreds of pictures quickly, develop presets, copy/paste or sync adjustements are huge time savers and I can do all adjustements that I would do in PS. But of course your preference can be different. Smile
  • 7 0
 @RoadRunner13 Thanks for the interesting question - processing is only done with Lightroom. For editorial I feel its definitely enough and I'd only use Photoshop for some more creative project or possibly for better retouching options of a portrait, but I'm not shooting a lot of glamour!

If you looked at the slider positions during development they are fairly extreme so could be considered 'heavily edited', but I think @Extremmist makes a good point - RAW is nowhere near as sharp or vivid as real life so you need to take steps to bring it up to speed Smile
  • 1 0
 @natedh9: Hi Nate - great article, question - do you use LR presets that you can hit to get the images near to your signature look, or do you approach each batch uniquely? I'm on the verge of creating some presets, but not sure how well they will work in different lighting situations etc. One way to find out I guess!
Loads of Clarity seems to be the favoured way to get the gritty MTB look!
Do you ever use JPEGs, or exclusively RAW?
  • 7 0
 Hell. Just shooting the local and regional events is tiring enough. Can't imagine the pressure for something like the World Cups. As a fellow photographer, I'm green with envy. Thanks for the article and images!
  • 5 0
 So without getting personal, what's the average earning potential of a photographer following the WC? Seems like a lot of travel, time away from family and expenses. The lifestyle may be worth it but can it provide a "good" income, or is it really more of a sacrifice to follow a passion? Do the same WC field photographers shoot the $$$$ studio product shots? BTW exp semi pro up for hire if anyone needs one in the Calgary area Wink
  • 2 0
 @teschenbrenner There are some massive overheads with the gear and the travel, but there is also money to be found in the bike industry... The first years are always very tough before you've really got your work up to speed and made some good contacts. Guessing an 'average' kind of salary is hard but the range is probably massive... I don't know... minus €20k to plus €100k per year!? I am not aware of especially big money being available for studio work in MTB, but I know a lot of the same photographers have the skills. Good luck with your stuff!
  • 1 0
 @natedh9: Hey Nate! Man - Thankyou for your work. I have truly never given much thought to the vast amount of effort behind the content that entertains me on my daily commute.

In the same vein as @teschenbrenner - Who pays the bills? Are you solely employed by PinkBike? Do manufacturers pay you for your services? Do you moonlight in other sports/industries?

Full Disclosure - I'm not a photographer, nor do I have any ambition to be. My 4 year old HTC smartphone is my camera of choice and is usually pointed at my kids, my dog or any of my 2-wheeled steeds after a clean Smile

I'm just interested in the inner workings of the cycling business.
  • 1 0
 @Wrench-n-Ride: It says in the article, besides Pb he shoots for two teams. And it seems legit, i'd pay for pics at this quality if i'd be a brand racing, to highlight my quality bikes & stuff.
  • 7 0
 Good stuff. Sounds like an organized cluster f uck. Keep up the good work!
  • 5 0
 Haha good summary @SteveDekker
  • 5 0
 Where's the bit about facing mental trauma of reading comments under your pictures? Like: you photographed some girl more cuz she's pretty not because she won!

Trolldom dom dom dom dam dom dom dom...
  • 7 0
 @WAKIdesigns negative comment-ophobia is a real issue. As soon as you try to do anything creative you are at risk. It's also tough for the riders... I don't think people realise the pros are actually reading the brutal stuff that gets said!
  • 1 1
 @natedh9: I don't get it and it sickens me. One of the reasons I don't follow sports - sick attitude towards athletes as slaves to deliver satisfaction on spectators terms. Last night I watched Portugal vs Wales (I was forced to) and my whole family was rooting for Wales because they hate that Christiano Ronaldo for... Looks and gestures...
  • 6 1
 Yep photographers and videographers deserve a lot more credit than what they get.
  • 2 0
 Brilliant article. As an action sports photo-journo (mainly focused on moto, but doing more MTB/BMX lately) this all rung true for me too. The workload, long hours and stresses of shooting big events where you've only got limited opportunities to catch the bangers is something not many people realise or think about. Great stuff shining a spotlight on these blokes!
  • 4 0
 It would be cool if you could break down their equipment they're using for a shoot.
  • 12 0
 in fact, @natedh9 did a "backpack check" already and here it is for you - www.pinkbike.com/u/natedh9/blog/gear-check-nathan-hughes-photo-pack.html
  • 1 0
 Thanks a lot @lunatyk and for the great piece!! Very grateful dude!
  • 4 0
 now if we could just get a few more actual rounds of racing
  • 2 0
 i think i would enjoy a day in the life of one of these guys, would learn a ton of stuff, daydream about being a world cup photographer
  • 1 0
 Never too late @Mikey17allen and looks like you've got some years!
  • 3 0
 Great article and hats off to the pinkbike photographers and those behind the scenes for making all this happen.
  • 2 0
 Great to see these in-depth articles on photographers, really inspiring stuff, gets me stoked to pick up my camera and strive to be a World Cup photographer some day!
  • 1 0
 I realised how hard it is when I recently shot a 3 day cricket tournament for Red Bull. Shooting the action is the exciting part (cricket sucks) its the sorting and uploading every day ! YAWN!!!
  • 1 0
 Dude, you need to check out Photo Mechanic for sorting. Light years faster than Lightroom for those purposes - you'd love it. Awesome day in the life insight, thanks for sharing!
  • 2 0
 Red Bull make Cola?

Love the photos and appreciate the hard and often dirty work.
  • 2 0
 So many photographers at these events. I'd love to see a breakdown of how much money they make.
  • 1 0
 Loved this aricle, as a photographer myself I can relate but definitley not to this extent. Major probs are due.
  • 2 0
 Your work is 100% amazing! Keep it up...
  • 1 0
 Thanks very much @Bdusty1 !
  • 1 0
 Good stuff! On another note: where did the Lenzerheidi DH preview article I saw on my phone this AM disappear to?
  • 1 0
 Tahnee looks like she bit a lemon. If I finish 2nd, I would freak out...but that's a question never to be asked.
  • 2 0
 Classic D1 strap.
  • 2 0
 Hehe good eye @BeaverCity , wonder what a horrible job the D1 would make of the woods with no flash?
  • 2 0
 master of epic moment
  • 1 0
 Good stuff! So much hard work!
  • 2 0
 It's a rough life!
  • 1 0
 most trollable admin in PB
  • 1 0
 He needs to protect that Lenzwithhide!
  • 1 0
 Thank you so much for all your hard work!
  • 1 2
 Nothing like being underpaid. I would suggest a Pentax 645z mounted to a 120 F4 for better image feel.
  • 1 0
 Have you ever shot something with a medium format camera?
  • 1 1
 lolololol
  • 1 0
 Nice







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