Interview: 2017 Photo of the Year Winner, Robb Thompson

Feb 21, 2018
by Pinkbike Staff  
When the weather does amazing things it s all about finding a way to make the most of it. Even though we got completely soaked and I couldn t see through my viewfinder it s moments like these that we all live for.

Robb Thompson's winning photo was pitted against some fierce competition throughout the 2017 Pinkbike Photo of the Year contest, including Filip Zuan's tranquil Swiss mountain scene and Dave Trumpore's vertigo-inducing action shot from EWS Madeira. After a frantic three days of voting during the final round, Robb's detailed shot, with its bright sunflowers and raindrops glistening in the sunlight, was the one to take the competition.

We caught up with Robb Thompson to learn more about his winning photo.

Coming into the competition, how confident were you that you had a winning photo on your hands?

I knew that the photo was unique in that it captures some pretty special conditions combined with the love of riding bikes with buddies. I felt it’s a shot that would hold appeal for a lot of people on some level. At the same time, it’s one of those photos that’s best seen large to pick up on all the details, and within the contest format I wasn’t sure how much of that would come through. Not to mention there was a ton of amazing POY worthy photos in the contest.

Where were you when you took it and what were you doing? Was it for an assignment?

It was in my hometown trail network in Vernon, BC. It was just a rad day out riding bikes with friends Brett Rheeder and Tony Friesen, I wasn’t on assignment and I certainly didn’t have any expectation of creating the POY shot.

We were out on a local favorite trail called Big Ed in Kalamalka Park and we knew the weather forecast wasn’t looking good with storms and rain forecasted. However, we were committed to getting out and having a good time regardless. After a long descent including a couple of view stops and choice photo ops, the clouds opened up on us.

Was it a planned shot or spontaneous?

The ride was planned, this shot was totally spontaneous. I brought my camera along just in case, being friends with a guy like Brett you learn quickly that it never hurts to bring a camera on every ride.

Once it really began to pour we had the option to bail out and seek shelter, but we chose to go on and embrace the experience. I had a feeling the sun might find a way through the clouds just before it set. Sure enough, just minutes later as we reached the meadow below, the sun dropped below the clouds and transformed the landscape around us. A downpour of backlit golden rain is a truly surreal thing to experience. You just can’t plan conditions like this, you have to be in the right place at the right time and make sure you jump on the opportunity!

Tell us about your photo – are there any interesting details to share?

At the time of this photo it was absolutely pouring. Rain was bouncing off the trail around us and we we’re getting just as wet from the bottom up as from the top down.

I knew that there was a good chance of rain on our ride so I had brought my heavier but more water resistant 1DX and my 24-70, which turned out to be a good call. Within seconds my camera was completely soaked and so wet that I couldn’t see through the viewfinder and it was nearly impossible to clearly see the screen. To add to it, I was wearing a three-year-old XC lid which became so saturated with water that all the sweat from the helmet pads (hot Okanagan summers mean a lot of sweating in helmets) was pouring into my eyes causing them to sting like crazy. The combination of stinging sweat and rain made it basically impossible to see what I was doing, never mind check focus etc. I was pretty sure that I was blowing the opportunity as it was all guess work and motor memory with my camera, but my instincts and experience with my gear took over and I just had to trust that I was getting the shot. You have to really know your stuff in situations like this and trust that you can intuitively get the settings and focus right.

How many attempts did it take to nail the shot?

It didn’t require many takes, I knew the trail and area well and I was also aware that the light wouldn’t last very long. It was all about taking advantage of the opportunity and not screwing it up. We did do a couple of takes to improve my odds of walking away with a shot that was in focus, but I was still pretty worried until I had a chance to review the shots at home. From past experience I’ve learned to save the celebration until you are 100% you got the shot.

For the photography geeks out there, can you tell us about the camera, settings and lighting that you used?

I used a Canon 1DX with a 24-70mm lens shot at 24mm, ISO 1600 F4.5 at 1/2000 of a second. This set up is probably my favorite all around setup for a day when I’m not sure what I’ll be shooting (other than weight). Normally if I’m headed out on a non-working ride and the weather is looking good I’ll ditch the 1dX in favor of the smaller and lighter 5D mkIII to save weight and space. 24-70 is my go to if I don’t want to bring multiple lenses.

How does it feel during each voting round?

On one hand it’s super exciting to be involved in this contest and move forward through the rounds. You never really know how the Pinkbike audience will vote. On the other hand, it’s a bit nerve wracking because the farther you go the more criticism you are bound to attract. There is a small percentage of people out there who make a point of expressing their anger at the results. For some photographers, it’s intimidating to have their photo become the focus of negative comments, especially considering that no one really has a choice as to which photos are in the contest.

You’ve got a group of people pouring their heart and soul into their work and then it gets bashed apart by small group who get pleasure out of typing negative things. The amount of abuse that Dave received was totally uncalled for.

Not everyone needs to agree on the results, mountain biking means a lot of different things to a lot of different people and there is bound to be a divide, but I think as a community we do have an obligation to keep it kind, respectful and constructive. We’re all here for the same reason, we love bikes.

Which of your competitors' shots have stood out for you this year?

Bruno Long’s reflection shot was one of my favourites and is such a good example of his unique way of seeing things. Rupert Fowler, Bartek Wolinski, Dan Milner and Filip Zuan all had shots that really made me want to be there. Jussi Grznar’s shot was nuts. So many great photos in the mix, almost every shot has something really inspiring going on.

Any plans for the winnings yet? Some new camera equipment or an adventure to somewhere new and exciting?

Nothing definite yet, but I think my wife and kids would be disappointed if we didn’t do something fun.

Anything else to add?

Thanks to Brett and Tony for embracing the storm with me and sharing a one of a kind experience. That definitely was a standout day. Thank you to all who voted, my peers, family and friends who have reached out with kind words of support, as well as everyone who’s supported me in this crazy obsession of mine from day one.

2017 Photo of the Year Winner Robb Thompson

Robb takes home $5000, Dave Trumpore takes home $3000, and semi-finalists Filip Zuan and Satchel Cronk will receive $1000 each, all thanks to SRAM.

The winner of the voter prize, SRAM Code RSC Brakes with Centerline rotors and a SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain, is @Nicksand5.

Congratulations to all!

MENTIONS: @SramMedia / @robb

Posted In:


  • + 48
 Truly an amazing photo and a worthy winner!
  • + 18
 Just a note that the article is incorrect on the flowers, they aren't sunflowers, they are balsamroot. Sunflowers are waaaay bigger. There's a few weeks in the spring here when the balsamroot comes out in full force making for stunning yellow fields, which is when this photo would have been taken. Okay, I know most mountain bikers probably don't care about the pretty flowers, but let's be honest, it's part of what makes the shot special!
  • + 1
 Nice! That’s what really attracted me to this photo from round one. Around here there’s a heavily used side hill trail where these things grow like crazy in the spring and the setting sun just lights them up. Now I know the name of those flowers. Thanks.
  • + 1
 They are in the sunflower family though Smile
  • + 1
 Ahem, Arrowleaf Balsamroot, AKA "Okanagan sunflower".
  • + 12
 "You’ve got a group of people pouring their heart and soul into their work and then it gets bashed apart by small group who get pleasure out of typing negative things. The amount of abuse that Dave received was totally uncalled for."

The PB comments are getting increasingly toxic. I know some of you relish being a*sholes and will keep doing so and that's the way it is. I hope that whatever toxic crap going on with your lives that you're like that passes
  • - 1
 Toxic or not, opinions are like *holes. Everyone has one, and denying that is as bad as the knee jerk response to negative comments. Sorry that not agreeing with the masses is unpalatable for some. Vote down the negative - then the masses dont have to have their bubble burst?
  • + 3
 Cmon lee, taking this sort of stance is just playing into it. Not sure if they're deleting comments but there's only one that I can see calling dave a "kook" and its heavily downvoted. Calling people a*ssholes and claiming they have toxic lives is far more negative.
  • + 1
 Don't hate the players, hate the game. Social media has breed trolls, anonymous hate, etc..
  • + 11
 I bet a lot of people picked this to win from day1...I know I did Smile Beauty shot!
  • + 16
  • + 1
 @davetrumpore: I voted for Dave just because I used to live in Burlington but both shots were absolutely amazing and I can't wait to see what shots you take this year.
  • + 3
 @davetrumpore: I bet a lot of people picked yours and this for the final pairing....I know I
  • + 17
 @loopie: I think the spread was 46% to 54% so close but not really that close. It's a cool contest in that it focuses on photography and puts was we do in the spotlight on a major website. Is it the best format? Sure that's debatable, but how can one argue with a website and a brand dedicating resources and $10k to celebrate photographers? We all win when this sort of thing happens.
  • + 4
 As soon as i saw the shot I knew it was Kalmalka Park. Riding through that field feels like you're in a fantasy world in any lighting but that shot is magic.
  • + 4
 This photo convinced me I was there so much it gave me hayfever
  • + 2
 For the photography geeks out there, can you tell us about the camera, settings and lighting that you used?
"Eh...I just pulled out my trusty cell phone, nailed it"
  • + 1
 100% agree that the photo deceived me a bit in the beginning in a small format. Once I saw it formatted properly on a 27" HD monitor it's a no brainer. Absolutely epic photo bro.
  • + 2
 Well deserved winner and sums up what mint views mtbers see on their rides.
  • + 3
 Such a rad and moody photo, congrats!
  • + 3
 Good job Robb........Good job Robb.......Good job Robb!!!!!
  • + 2
 I had no clue that was rain falling! For some reason I just assumed it was pollen or dust based on the sunshine!
  • + 1
 same here! That makes it even more special really.
  • + 2
 B-E-A-utiful shot. Makes me incredibly antsy for summer in the mountains.
  • + 2
 What a guy! Congratulations @robb!
  • + 1
 Is there somewhere I can buy a hi-res copy of this so I could get a big print made for my office?
  • + 1
 ask @robb yourself!
  • + 3
 Way to go Beez!
  • + 2
 congrats ! well deserved
  • + 1
 Love that trail too... Some fun riding in Kalamalka area!
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