Tell us a bit about yourself:
27 years old from Oxford, England, anti-capital of extreme sports. I’m currently living in Chamonix for the winter, but I’ve been a bit of a gypsy in recent times, not having much of a base. This year I spent a bit of time in East Germany at my girlfriend’s home, but mostly I was on the road or at the boarding gate. Hobbies include skiing and biking and taking photos of those things. How long have you been shooting photos?
Photos were always a key part of bike riding for me. I wanted rad shots of me and my friends hitting self-made jumps down the woods and on summer trips to Morzine, so we just did the best we could with 3mp point and shoot type cameras we got for Christmas. I liked the idea of travelling when I left university although I’d never been far outside Europe. Before a non-bike trip to Morocco in 2009 I picked up a secondhand film SLR from Ebay and I guess that was the start of a more serious exploration into photography. Were you self-taught or have you had any formal training?
I’m a student of Google and of trial and error. Maybe a couple of magazines helped me solidify a few ideas in the early days, but I remember struggling to find out what settings action sports photographers were using in all their shots. The EXIF data on Pinkbike photos would have been gold, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t available 5 or 6 years ago. How did you move from amateur to professional photographer/journalist?
That was all right here at the good ship Pinkbike. I had been doing some reviews and shots for Ride.io, formerly Southerndownhill.com and I made a diary from my first trip to Whistler that sharpened my skills and desires to progress it further. Actually to make that trip I quit my job in the warehouse of One Industries having given up trying to squeeze into an office job with them. I came home after that slightly rash decision to quit my job for a holiday at a pretty rock bottom time for graduates in the UK and couldn’t find any work for about 3 months. Feeling a bit desperate and with time on my hands I decided to make a season review story with some random shots from the only race I’d been to, Fort William. I’m not sure what I was really hoping for, but I posted it off to Tyler Maine. It was published
and a few weeks later they asked me what I was doing the following summer; did I want to cover the World Cups for Pinkbike. How long have you been shooting mountain biking?
This was the end of my second season pro. Was there a specific moment where you knew it was a job, and not a hobby?
Driving back from round 1 of the 2013 season with Pinkbike boss Karl Burkat. In one of his big motivational speeches he said I could be the best. Haha, that or seeing my first Shimano ad in print. Do you shoot anything else besides mountain biking?
Not as far as money is concerned, but I love travel & wildlife photography and I’m soon to fire up some ski action this winter under mighty Mont Blanc… so long as some snow appears. Happy to keep weddings and war off my CV. What is your favorite thing to shoot?
The majority of my work has been at the races and freeride events, so it’s been awesome when the opportunities have come up to actually work with a rider, wait for the light, discuss how to make it better and do multiple takes. Travel stories are awesome and for next year I’m lining up a big trip to Japan. Who are your favorite riders to shoot?
Remi Thirion, Anthony Messere and Rene Wildhaber would be up there. They’re beasts on bikes and that really shows through in a still. At the World Cups, the hardest riders to shoot can actually be some of the top guys... I guess it makes sense - they make everything look too easy. I also like to shoot with my girlfriend, Steffi Marth, not just because I’ll be in trouble if I don’t say it, but also because she hits the big stuff and never stops riding until the shot is dialed. We just made a really rad Dakine ad that will be in magazines in the New Year. You cover the World Cup circuit for Pinkbike with Dave Trumpore, Paris Gore, and Matt Delorme. What does it take to document a race and complete a photo essay that evening? What are the challenges of it?
5 or 6 years ago everyone, myself included, was really stoked to get Victor Lucas’ ‘5 a day’ shots from the World Cup. Nowadays we’re pumping out 50 shots with full narrative on the night, 4 days in a row. Everything is so immediate and it’s only going to get worse. I think it will end with us uploading directly to the net as we shoot before the decade is done.
Besides that, a big challenge can be to create something from crumbs really. Frosty ones. A World Cup isn’t a TV drama, it’s a race. There’s not always so much going on, especially during training and because money and reputation is on the line the atmosphere isn’t always the party you’d think. Exhaustion is a big strain, particularly for me also as WC editor. It’s early starts on the hill and one late night of 1am leads on to 2am the next and by finals there’s so much to do and my brain is so fried I can’t finish up and get to bed much before 4am. I’m often seeing some very interesting special effects by the end… it’s a fascinating sleep deprivation experiment. What’s the most enjoyable thing about being a World Cup photographer?
There’s a moment in our sport’s history happening only once and you were in the exact right place and time to capture it. That and not having to sell your soul to a life of grey, 9 to 5, spread-sheet sludge. What’s the worst part about being a World Cup photographer?
The combination of bad weather, tiredness and a very competitive environment that leaves you with the creeping feeling that the good action’s always going on somewhere else. It’s actually crazy how easy it would be to mess everything up and get no good shots, let alone good shots of particular riders. It’s pretty crucial to get off to a good start in the first training. You might only have the top riders pass you twice in a day. You have no idea when to expect them and have to be in the right place, with perfect focus and, what most people forget, have them ride the line you expected and with good style. Travel nightmares and accommodation fails also rear their ugly heads all too often. Do you see enduro taking young athletes and big money away from downhill?
It could happen. The Richie Rude effect… I guess to outsiders they are very similar sports and the biggest sponsors are always outsiders. I like the niche enduro has filled in MTB and have a lot of respect for the super-human athletes, but I personally prefer the more focused obstacle-blitzing aggression of DH. I wouldn’t say it’s the perfect format though, I think we could be yet to find it. You are one of the few photographers who can also write, is that much of an advantage to you professionally?
It’s a blessing and a curse haha. Definitely without my writing I wouldn’t have been able to make the impression I did to get noticed in the first place, it just keeps me up all night… No but really I like to think being a more complete story teller is something that sets me apart and will one day take me some good places. What kind of cameras do you use? What lenses? Is there any other gear that you use frequently?
I shoot with a Nikon D4 and a D3, Nikon 70-200 2.8, 24-70 2.8, 50mm 1.8 and a 16mm 2.8 fisheye. I use two SB700 flashes (mainly just when I really have to) with 3 Pocket Wizard TT5s on Hama mini traveler pro tripods and carry everything round in the Evoc CP35L photo-pack. I also have a 300mm 2.8 which I do try not to use in too many inappropriate situations, although hard to resist. Within a certain range it gives a riding shot that graphic artwork type look and it’s awesome for close up portraits. What photo are you most proud of? Why?
A lot of folks say they don’t care what other people think… I’m definitely incapable of not caring. If you told me a few reasons why my favorite shot was no good I’d probably go off it fast, but I think I’d rather be that way than full of confidence. As soon as you close your mind to the possibility you could be wrong, things can go very badly. Either way I’m still not yet taking the kind of shots I exactly want to take. Every photo’s progress. Which photo-stories are you most proud of?
This year definitely my exclusive PB interview with Greg Minnaar on his 100th World Cup – The Centurion
and my Inside Dakine
HQ visit. Minnaar is the all-time DH hero and I’ve loved the Dakine brand forever. Which photographers do you admire?
To me being a great photographer is maybe only 10% technical ability with the gear. Editing skill is then equal, if not more significant, but the biggest of all is being able to truly ‘create’ an image... to actually seek out the shot from the sometimes chaotic, sometimes boring real world and strike the perfect composition that says what you want it to in as short a time as a split second. I have a lot of respect for the big names of the bike scene; it has to be one of the toughest subjects to shoot. The last photographer who really impressed me from the industry was Markus Greber. We covered an Adidas Eyewear shoot together for the new Evil Eye Evo and in his extra casual way, took some of the best photos I’ve ever seen stood right next to me. What do you think makes a shot great?
It sounds weird, but I think the best photos should make a kind of noise as you look at them the first time. Not necessarily just how you imagine the depicted action might sound, but also a feeling of the power of the image hitting you as you look at it. Maybe that’s where the name ‘banger’ comes from. What advice would you pass on to aspiring photographers?
Pay close attention to the shots you like by other photographers. Be realistic about your level; critical without ripping yourself to shreds. Learn to ignore certain people, there are always those who'd rather you didn't succeed. In all, I guess it’s like trying to make it with anything… the belief deep down you can do it, combined with a shred of talent and some luck to spark things off can get you on your way. Who are some of the clients you’ve worked with?
Most recently: Adidas Eyewear, Saalbach-Hinterglemm, Dakine, Trek, Shimano, Renthal, Schwalbe and Bike Hotels Südtirol. I've had a fair few appearances in the magazines this year and I'm especially enjoying a cooperation with Cycling China; bringing them downhill and slopestyle coverage for the first time. I'm not quite sure of their readership, but I guess anywhere with a population of 1.35billion you have some potential for expansion! What are your plans for 2015 and beyond?
I’ll be following the World Cup whirlwind, stopping off at some FMB, hopefully a FEST and making one or two travel stories. I'll also be looking to take some time for personal projects with a few awesome riders. Much beyond next season I couldn't possibly say, but I’m optimistic where the road will lead me. Where the trail ends, if you will.
Pinkbike // Nathan Hughes
Past Photographer Interviews: