How To Not Suck at Being a Photo Athlete

Mar 21, 2014
by Reuben Krabbe  
You’re going to break onto the scene in 2014? This is going to be your big Pinkbike debut of your masterful skills, culminating with a victorious sweep of the Picture of the Year competition? Alright, then all you have to do is to be valuable, and be awesome. Every virtue below falls under these rules, but feel free to read through, should you need more clarity. Dylan Sherrard and Stephen Matthews are also here to help teach at the School For Kids Who Can't Turn Good, and Want To Do Other Stuff Good Too.

1. Know how to ride your bike:
This is simple, but seriously! You don't need to be able to do tricks if we're shooting trail riding, but you better be riding your bike, rather than surviving a trail. There is a difference.

Stephen Matthews no ambi-turner. Derek Zoolander take notes.
  Turning left, and turning right. Stephen Matthews is an ambi-turner. Derek Zoolander take notes.

Dylan Sherrard Merritt BC
  Dylan Sherrard, Merritt BC

2. Meet Lensmen and Lenswomen:
The following phrase is like fingernails on a chalkboard to me: “We should shoot some time!” Unless you're a time tested visionary athlete, a photographer may hear: “You should shoot photos of me!”

My response isn't limited to a cost-benefit analysis; however photography is my bread and butter. I want to be smart with my time, so I too can go ride my bike. Rather than requesting something from a photographer or filmer, offer them something of value. There are a lot of good riders, so what will make me want to collaborate with you? I'm looking for a combination of skill, vision, ideas, and personality. Tell me about an amazing feature you found, and how nobody has shot it. Or perhaps about something you've tried to capture before, but have failed to do it justice. Be perceptive as a rider to recognize the way things like light hits certain stretches of trail.

If you're a up and coming photographer trying to find athletes to shoot, think about this relationship, but with rolls reversed. You also need to be able to offer riders a specific reason why shooting with you is worth the time.

3. Communication:
Photography of action sports is almost exclusively a collaboration between athlete and photographer. Excluding race photography, all moments are created through the communication on the concept of the shot. In an effort to simply describe space and motion, I'll use any combination of: North/South/East/West, left/right, clockwise counter-clockwise, convex, concave, feet, metres, bike lengths, snail's pace or ‘face melting’. Learn the photographer’s way of speaking and communicating! 'Go' and 'No' can sound very similar when you are coordinating the rider's drop in. Double check the photographer is ready, and even try counting yourself in.

Stephen Matthews Whistler BC
  Wait, was that supposed to be the rider's left, or the camera's left? - Stephen Matthews, Lillooet BC

4. "One more time"
This particular phrase means that you'll be repeating the shot for half an hour. I hope you brought Gatorade!

5. Visualization:
If you see me standing in a certain spot, think about how it may look through the lens of my camera. If the photographer is shooting straight up the landing of the jump, what trick should you do? Should you go with a no foot can, or suicide no hander? The suicide no hander would look like you're missing your arms, so in this case maybe go with the no foot can.

Dylan Sherrard Kamloops Bike Ranch
  Dylan Sherrard, Kamloops Bike Ranch

Up and down. Dylan Sherrard
  Up and Down, Dylan Sherrard

Dylan Sherrard Kamloops
  Dylan Sherrard, Kamloops

6. Attitude:
Biking is fun, and therefore shooting biking should also be enjoyable. Crack jokes, talk shit about pros, tell me about your stupid friend's pickup line at the bar, tell me about your theory of how quantum superposition was the key to Bruce Lee's remarkably quick reflexes.

Stephen Matthews looking terribly unamused at the prospect of a deflated tire. Smile Stephen the sun is shining.
  Stephen Matthews looking terribly unamused at the prospect of a deflated tire. With no replacement tube, Stephen stuffed his tire full of moss, sticks, and flowers to ride out. He was soon again smiling.

7. Buy Photographers Beer:
As a ‘Thank You' for being allowed in our presence, you should be honored.

8. Shut it Down:
Photographers don't ride everything athletes do, so we can lack appreciation for the dangers you see and feel from your angle. Different photographers will push more or less hard to get an athlete to hit a jump or a cliff. So be sure to know your own boundaries. If we haven't shot together before, I don’t know where your comfort zone is.

I can only speak for myself, but I think athletes ride really poorly when they have neck injuries, so I prefer a rider be honest and back down rather than hit something they aren't comfortable to ride.

9. Fake it till you make it:
At a high shutter speed like 1/4000th of a second, a track strand and 80 km/h can look identical, so photographers and riders need to figure out how to convey motion. Some of the time, often times, all the time, this means doing silly little exaggerations to emphasize the appearance of speed.

10. Trail Awareness
Stopping, hiking, and shooting on a trail can be very dangerous. Be incredibly cautious when hiking a piece of trail, or waiting for the photographer to call you into the shot. Keep your ears open, and warn the photog when a different rider is coming through.

Dylan Sherrard Kamloops
  Dylan Sherrard, Kamloops

11. Colour:
I love Slayer, maybe not as much as Alex Pro, but I do. However, if you turn up to shoot wearing a black-as-the-heart-of-a-puppy-killer-in-a-basement-at-midnight band tee, I’ll be more likely to throw rocks at you than try to shoot photos. When in doubt, bring options. Unless you're Alex Pro, in which case, keep being Alex.

12. Style:
Wear a kit that makes sense for the style of terrain and riding you'll be doing. Don't turn up with a full face and a five inch 29er. It doesn't make sense for the set of photos.
However, you should always wear a GoPro while shooting.

13. Backflip the GLC drop:
I'll come shoot it. Not lying, I want to shoot this.

14. Learn Light:
On those bluebird sunny days, know to shoot at sunrise or sunset, typically outside of forests. On cloudy days, shoot in or around forests as long as it's bright. (These rules sometimes can be broken, and when they are broken well, they are amazing). Also, learn how the light moves in places you ride. Example, what is the biggest booter in your town that gets sunrise light?


On which table would you like your green eggs and ham served -Stephen Matthews
  Off of which table would you like to eat your green eggs and ham? -Stephen Matthews

15. Be Photo Steve:
One of my favorite riders to shoot with is Stephen Matthews, mostly because he is talented, largely because he knows these rules and has his own creative vision, and least of all because he is a friend. But, for the sake of this article, we're concerned with the part about creative vision. If Steve had more experience actually shooting cameras, he would be a pretty damn good photographer. He will stop me mid-trail to point out a photo that he sees, and begin picking out all the details of style, timing and composition. I simply stand there, press the button, and collect cheques. Learn to stop photographers to point out cool stuff, and if you have a good idea, try to orchestrate a shot or two. Be photo Steve.

16. Don't look at the Camera:
Don't ask to see the camera after every shot. The exception is if you are trying to dial in style, or the photographer seems to be asking you to do something that seems counter-intuitive. Then ask to see what you can do to fix it.

After the shoot, ask the photographer how you can see copies of the photos. When you get the shots, or a proofing gallery, always ask permission before using them for anything, or sharing them with anyone.

Dylan Sherrard Kamloops BC
  Dylan Sherrard, Kamloops BC

Stephen Matthews Lillooet BC
  Stephen Matthews, Lillooet BC

17. Turn up on time:
Don't be a skid.

18. Self Promote:
Always talk yourself up, and push your social media handles on the photographer. Shoot Instagram photos over the photographer's shoulder while s/he is shooting other athletes. Get the photographer to follow you on all the channels you can think of. #BestDayEver #EpicLight #SkidThroughBerms Follow me, Dylan and Stephen's #instabangers, #crushstagrams and #instanugs @stephen_matthews @dylan_sherrard @reubenkrabbe

19. Learn Patience:
Photographers are mountain bikers who weren't good enough to be in front of the lens. We drag ass on the trail, and take several minutes to decide between f8 and f11. Or, we decide a view isn’t pretty enough, so we transplant a patch of yellow flowers into the foreground of our picture. CoughDanCough. Amuse yourself, regale some bar stories, hand the photographer another beer.

Mr Sherrard in his splendor
  Mr. Sherrard in his splendor

Why are Dylan and Stephen the focal point of this here post?
Stephen is included because Photo Steve supplements my scotch budget. And, these words from Dylan's mouth inspired this post: "I was walking around on that trail Razorback, looking for cool angles at sunset and thought the little hill rollover would have better light with the spring sunset, rather than august sunset like last time." OR, "Yeah, I've got this one line that I'm saving for Barham which we chatted about because…"

Legends at #6, they get a gold stars for the rest of the numbers, and, it helps that they're pretty incredible at #1.

*Derek Zoolander references plagiarized out of the brain of Bruno Long

Author Info:
ReubenKrabbe avatar

Member since Jan 16, 2009
12 articles

  • 91 4
 This might seem like pure comedy but there are some really useful tips in here Reuben. If I can add one tip: bring snacks on every shoot. Finding a Clif Bar at the bottom of your bag at the end of a long day is the best thing ever.

Bonus points if you bring extras for the rider or if they have enough to share with the photog/filmmaker.
  • 39 0
 +1 on the snacks. Nobody likes to shut down a shoot because someone forgot to pack their tapioca pudding cups... looking at nobody in particular...
Also. This article is awesome!
  • 4 31
flag biker3335 (Mar 21, 2014 at 0:27) (Below Threshold)
 Zink can flip the glc drop for sure
  • 14 1
 Pretty sure he'll only do it if they build it up a solid 40 feet
  • 46 68
flag mudmandhbrazil (Mar 21, 2014 at 4:23) (Below Threshold)
 Dont forget the joint for post ride
  • 23 3
 I found the bit about "be actually able to ride a trail" a little strange, its like there being a guide for photogs and it start by saying remember to charge your camera and "Take the lens cap off, YO" or "don't spend 30 mins setting up for the light and then miss the shot" or "stop asking riders to fall off the back or the bike out of turns, you might think it looks cool but nobody actually does that ever"

Everyone has a digital camera, remember the content is just as important, if not more important than how that content is presented:

> If the rider is really pushing boundaries or has found a way to gap some features on an old trail, the photo will get a lot of interest regardless of who takes it.
> A photo of a well known pro rider in a berm or a jump can get a lot of attention and even PODs, even if they aren't doing anything unusual, just due to the rider popularity.
  • 12 2
 I always make sure to have extra water, snacks, and something for energy when they start to crash, energy wise haha

Happy riders=epic photos
  • 3 1
 Making it up for Reuben after stealing his First place @ POY... AWESOME!
  • 10 5
 mudmandhbrazil- OMG what are you thinking writing something so atrocious! The MTBing community is adamantly against ANY kind of illicit drug use, especially when it comes to marijuana cigarettes! Seriously though, that was a good read and I really hope someone gets inspired to attempt flipping the GLC drop. There's gotta be a local shredder there who can figure out a way to set that up to where death isn't a certainty.
  • 7 2
  • 7 1
 just call it safety meetings
  • 3 5
 Perfect now we can all get sponsored and get free shit.
  • 5 3
 Rule number one should be to stop reading this b.s. and have fun riding your bike.
  • 1 1
 I will cut my balls if someone backflip the glc drop!!!!! (With the regular jump...means no kicker)
  • 38 9
 you can also keep your dignity and stay away from butt-licking instagram-hashtaging self-promoting bullcrap
  • 12 6
 Dignity is overrated in the age of over sharing. Visibility = money, and increased visibility means increased money for companies, photogs and riders.

There's a reason I post selfies, duh... And not because I actually enjoy awkward-looking angles of my chin. Wink

(The above comment was mostly sarcastic and self- and industry-effacing because while true, it's an absolutely ridiculous factor of 'success'. However. It's still a factor.)
  • 1 4
 this. enough ra-ra and hype
  • 6 2
 I totally agree. Its lame to have all this hashtaging, selfies, instagram stuff.
  • 11 0
 its not that ridicolous, its advertisment, but i always believed quality is best advertisment, not some forced, fake image
  • 3 3
 It's not lame to have it -- it's lame that it's a factor of success inside of certain industries. That's ridiculous. But genuine, honest interaction isn't lame, nor is it ridiculous. Just because it's not for you doesn't mean it's lame.
  • 3 6
 Bullshit. Hashtags are fine on Instagram. A post without # will get 40 likes with 300 followers. With # it will get 170+. They have their place.
  • 16 1
 I tried reversing my rolls, but all the lettuce ended up on the outside... Then I reversed my roles, and I found I was once again a chef....
  • 3 1
 False neg prop. This is a damn funny comment.
  • 17 3
 Give me Matt Hunter. I can shoot with phone.
  • 1 2
  • 12 0
 this is great, nice one Reuben!
  • 3 0
 Props to that, great article Reuben!
  • 2 1 16 year old simon read getting the table ready for dinner
Photo Scott robb
  • 7 2
 This is an excellent article on what it takes to be a photo athlete... Thanks for the tips and tricks, sir!

Also: if you can make cookies, I have discovered that virtually NO photographer worth shooting with will turn down bacon chocolate chip cookies and beer. Or just snicker doodles and water. Or pre-packaged Oreos. Seriously. Cooooooooookies.
  • 9 0
 Ride with a falcon and look pissed all the time!
  • 4 0
 Top read this morning over a cup of Joe.
A good relationship with the riders your shooting really does help for sure, and knowing theirs limits as well as knowing my limits (which is when i need more coffee)
  • 6 0
 I'd be willing to be Noah Brousseau could back flip the GLC...
  • 6 0
 Make sure your atheletes understand the full importance of "Rembrandt" Wink
  • 3 0
  • 1 0
 I find it easiest to work with Caragnarlyo
  • 2 0
 Step 1:find the wildest trail nearest to you, now go ahead and remove your rear brakes, ride it a dozen times. I've been doing this and it's really been helping me with cornering, because I don't have rears to fall back on so line choice and front brake feathering is critical. while I'll never be a pro rider it's making me quite a bit better at front braking and bike control.
  • 2 0
 Anyone else type those hashtags into instagram? #Instabangers was a lot of not-so-rad stuff, but had bikes here and there so it's not so bad. #crushstagram was literally 100% screenshots of life quotes, and #instanug basically e-transported me to a huge weed plantation haha
  • 2 0
 Top article, makes me regret not taking photo's of bikes any more. I need to look into some back packs to carry my camera and tripod, I hate picking between shooting and riding.
  • 5 0
 How not to suck, period. Would certainly be as interesting i guess....
  • 3 2
 Thanks for the amazing and funny inspiration with your work Reuben. It's truly unique to read this and feel the same thing about it. I'm also a photographer from Portugal and always got inspired by your photos. But it's awesome to realize that your professional work also includes fun, chilled and unique moments with your friends. I subscribe 100% everything you said and I do it just like you ! Thank you !
  • 3 1
 I'm glad I'm not the only one who judges riders based on their outfits. Paul Stevens is pretty good at showing up with ensemble options. And remember - Elbows out!
  • 6 0
 Don't be silly amybot. Girls don't judge people because of a outfit.
  • 2 1
 Most of the time I ride alone, so I have to be the photographer, and at the same time the actor, i really like photography and i love ride my bike. This Article is so usefull
  • 3 0
 In sunset limited time light the rider, when doing it again, has to be very good at "HURRYING THE f*ck UP" ;-)
  • 1 0
 Remind the photographer to switch on for shots that you do not want to have a do again, you would be surprised how much this happens
  • 1 0
 So much good info there! This is the reason I don't mind shooting/filming myself though. Soo much simpler and the rider/photographer are always thinking the same thing.
  • 3 4
 1. Don't suck at being an actual athlete.
2. Don't be a style rat.
3. Don't be a posieur.
4. Skidding never was drifting. Everyone will see your two fingers on the rear brake lever and call you out for it.
5. Lose the attitude, the photog is doing you a favor, and nobody else cares that you're trying to get "the shot".
  • 6 1

Steps 9-11. 5% of mountain bikers are worth photographing anyway. Most of us should forget about the camera and just go have fun.
  • 2 0
 wasn't sure who alex pro was. 1st google search:
  • 1 0
 ye, he lost a buncha sponsors over that.
  • 1 0
 "Photographers are mountain bikers who weren't good enough to be in front of the lens"

Isnt this offensive? to Photographers????
  • 2 0
 Great article for a time-poor photo enthusiast. Thanks!
  • 1 0
 This is so good! Being raised by two photographers, most of this applies ANYWHERE a photographer is holding a camera.
  • 1 0
 "Stephen stuffed his tire full of moss, sticks, and flowers to ride out. " haha what!?!
  • 3 0
 That shits great haha.
  • 1 0
 Thanks Reuben. Fun and informative article. Props on your Revy slideshow too! It rocks.
  • 1 0
 Lol I'd be more scared to be the Camera man then being on the bike how close they stand to the trail oh god!
  • 3 0
 I just ride my bike
  • 1 0
 Step 7 should happen more often
  • 1 0
 What does Charlie Sheen at 6th tip ???
  • 4 3
 F--- cookies, I have beer. Photographers... call me. Wink
  • 4 8
flag ambatt (Mar 21, 2014 at 16:00) (Below Threshold)
 You may have beer, yet lack the balls to actually write that on my comment? Interesting. Maybe you should have a few more, work up some courage.

Also: not everyone drinks, sweetie. So cookies usually make an appropriate 'thank you'. Y'know Steve Lloyd? Yeah, that Steve Lloyd? He doesn't. But hey. Good comment. Totally relevant. Oh, wait....
  • 2 3
 I don't know Steve Lloyd.
  • 4 0
 I don't know him either... but I do know that he loves cooooookies
  • 2 2
 @keystone5 haha, well, then I guess I'm looking for a different photographer?
  • 1 0
 PinkBike, publish more articles like this!
  • 1 0
 great article Reuben.
  • 1 0
  • 2 1
 I see POD everywhere.
  • 2 2
 By the way krabbe, tou remember me right?
  • 1 0
  • 2 2
 Hahahahaha #instanugs.
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