2020... Where do we start? I'm sure everyone has read enough about the C-word so I'll try and keep it to a minimum, but like most of us, it wreaked havoc on my year with cancelled events and projects galore. Admittedly, a fairly trivial problem in the grand scheme of things, but as a freelance photographer who relies on events and travel for a living, my income began to stutter and stall quite significantly which was stressful at times. Thankfully, things picked up a little towards the end of the summer and we got some racing in!
After a busy start to the year, things got put on hold right before trips to Chile and Japan and the opening World Cup in Lousa. A positive of all the disruption was more time at home than I've been used to in recent years which allowed me to get plenty of riding in and to shoot more for myself, both things that can get lost in the hecticness of the season. Overall, it was a quiet year as work goes but of the events, trips, and shoots I managed I've compiled a collection of my favourite shots from the past weird and wacky 12 months.
I'd also like to take this opportunity to thank my clients, particularly Pinkbike and Trek, for their support through this uncertain year and helping to keep my head above the water. Let's see what '21 brings!
Greg Callaghan - Dublin, Ireland
In January I got the shout from Devinci and the opportunity to head to Ireland and shoot with their new EWS recruit Greg Callaghan. We had 2 days to cram in as much shooting time as possible which isn't all that much given the Irish winter daylight offerings are rather stingy. The one plus to that is you get low lying sunlight through the whole day which is a joy to shoot in with lens flare and bokeh aplenty. This shot came towards the end of our second day as we finished off shooting in Glencullen on the outskirts of Dublin and it was one of the ones that stuck with me. The light is really what makes this image for me, I'm pretty sure if I'd shot it in overcast conditions I wouldn't even think twice about it.
Tristan Lemiere - Tarouca, Portugal
After 2 days to turn around my images from Ireland I flew straight out to Portugal to join Commencal Muc-Off as a super-sub with their usual photographer Keno laid up injured. The Riding Addiction crew run a pretty rigorous winter testing schedule and I was there to document it as best as I could as they hammered out runs. It felt similar to covering a race, waiting patiently for the riders to drop every hour or so and praying that I don't f*** it up and miss the shot. Photographers spend their life manipulating the exposure of their image through their settings to achieve their desired output. This image came about thanks to there being a big difference in exposure between the foreground and the background, I then used that to my creative advantage by underexposing the foreground further to silhouette Tristan against the blank canvas of the sky. Simplicity reigns supreme.
Pedro Burns - Finale Ligure, Italy
Little did I know it at the time but this was to be my last trip and work for a rather long time. This was taken at Trek Factory Racing's Enduro team camp in the classic location of Finale Ligure which was my first opportunity to shoot with Pedro Burns, an eye-opening experience. Quite a lot of riders aren't that fussed by photo or video shoots, they'd rather be riding their bike than pushing up to section a piece of trail repetitively. Pedro is one of the most enthusiastic I've come across, he insists on pushing up again and again until he feels like he's ridden it to his best ability. He's got the style to match his enduro racing prowess. I was juggling between this shot and one of him scrubbing from front on, I ultimately swayed away from the front on shot as it just felt a bit too uniform and obvious.
Greg Williamson - Inverness, Scotland
The Scottish Highlands certainly wasn't a bad place to spend lockdown and living with a World Cup Downhill racer meant the odd photo mission was still a possibility. I pass by this woodland most days and never thought anything of it until Greg arrived back one day and announced he'd built a little kicker that would be good to scrub. He wasn't lying. This quick session offered up a little shred of normality more than anything else in an otherwise monotonous few months, it felt good to be out the house and shooting again.
Greg Williamson - Inverness, Scotland
Another shot of Greg, albeit a few months down the line from the previous. Like I'd mentioned before the one big upside to this year was spending a lot more time at home through spring and into summer which meant a lot more riding and shooting for myself rather than for a brand's needs. Each spring the bluebells add a little extra splash of colour to our local hill, that time of year is usually pretty busy with events and trips which means I miss the opportunity to shoot in them. It makes the woods look like they're from some sort of fairytale so shooting bikes amongst them is a bit of a novelty. I like the way Greg seems to be floating above the sea of blue which was accentuated by using a wide-angle lens and getting as low as I could to the ground.
Kade Edwards - Wales
This was one of my first proper projects of the summer as restrictions were eased slightly in the UK and I can't remember being quite so excited heading into a shoot before. I'd always wanted the chance to shoot with Kade outside of the race tape and it was just as good as I'd imagined. This was the final shot I took but it had been in my mind since the beginning of the week when I'd ridden the trail with Robbie Meade and Tom Grice who were filming for the launch for the new Slash. It was a hideous day weather-wise and towards the end of the day I think Kade's energy and enthusiasm levels were beginning to dwindle, but I couldn't leave without that shot so promised him that was the last one and that it'd be worth it. It's quite rare I'm that excited by a shot I take but I was pretty content with that one when I reviewed it on the screen, as was Kade which is always a good feeling when the rider digs the image. It's a fairly simple image but it just works thanks to the lush green and purple, the hanging mist, the style, the roost...
Kade Edwards - Revolution Bike Park, Wales
I couldn't resist sneaking in another Kade shot here. This was another shot I was pretty happy with at the time as I think wide-angle pans can be a bit of a weak spot for me. Kade was sessioning a section for the video boys so that gave me the opportunity to play around a little on this smooth bike park berm that he was ripping. This was shot at a shutter speed of 1/15th and a focal length of 16mm which both help to the trippy look and feel of the image. I love the deep lines you get when you begin to pan with slower shutter speeds.
Manon Carpenter & Tracy Moseley - Torridon, Scotland
This was a real highlight of the year in many ways. It was great to ride and shoot with such a good crew on the west coast of Scotland, especially after not doing anything for so long. It was also the first time I'd seen or spoken to Manon since her abrupt retirement from World Cups a few years ago so it was good to catch up and work with her alongside fellow World Champ Tracy Moseley and the crew at H+I Adventures. The northwestern Highlands of Scotland is one of my favourite places in the world and I'm lucky enough to have it right on my doorstep. The scenery is immense so when you combine that with some moody weather and a couple of bikers in the middle of it all it's seriously hard to go wrong.
Scott Laughland & Chris Gibbs - Cairngorms, Scotland
The Scottish weather stars really aligned for this end of summer epic devised by Scotty Laughland. Starting in Braemar we pedalled 50km through the heart of the Cairngorms National Park, arriving in Aviemore for the night before riding back to our vans in Braemar the following day. This shot is quintessentially Cairngorms with big rolling mountains and clusters of ancient Scots pine dotted around. I like the sense of scale brought by that tree and the hills, it really shows with how tiny Scotty and Chris are in this environment.
Scott Laughland & Chris Gibbs - Cairngorms, Scotland
I think I'm drawn back to this shot as it brings back the moment quite vividly. It'd been a big day out on the bikes and the sense of achievement when rolling into Aviemore was made sweeter by the warm evening glow we were basking in. It would've been rude not to stop off at the classic spot of Loch Morlich and soak it all in. The image is fairly minimalist which I'm a bit of sucker for along with the warm tones and dark shadows, even the ducks help make it look that bit more idyllic.
Emily Batty - Nové Město na Moravě, Czech Republic
And then we finally got back racing! The normal race season would've been finished by now but this one was just starting... The weather was always going to be questionable and it certainly wasn't a warm welcome back to Nové Město. The first practice day and short track race were a total slop fest so I couldn't resist grabbing a quick portrait of Emily when she got back to the pits, it also gave me another chance to get to grips with a new macro lens that I'd bought the week prior. It sums up the day well, everyone was just happy to be back racing despite the foul conditions.
Unknown Rider - Leogang, Austria
The first of many shots from Leogang World Champs but I just loved that week of shooting in the Austrian mountains. I'd never really been drawn too much to the wall rides at Leogang in years prior, I'm not a massive fan of big man-made features but this year I thought I'd give it a go. I tried the usual and more obvious options first which I thought were a bit 'meh', I then noticed a ladder up a tree to a hunting platform and thought that might be worth a go. The smooth wall rides made for fairly easy pickings with a wide-angle pan. It always feels good when you find a new angle that you haven't shot at a venue you've been to many times before.
Unknown Rider - Leogang, Austria
It looked like it was set to be a grey and dark day as I strolled along the valley floor to the gondola, little did I know that minutes later I'd be above the clouds and looking down on a wild inversion. A 5-minute gondola ride and it felt like I was in a different world - these kind of days don't come often at World Cups so you've got to make the most of them. I knew the kind of shot I wanted so it was just a case of finding the right feature. I underexposed the image slightly to silhouette the rider against the vista which I think made it that bit more impactful.
Dakotah Norton - Leogang, Austria
The Saturday at World Champs is a bit of a quiet day in terms of downhill action as the XC finals take centre stage. It's a day to pick up a few more shots for clients but not much else. It was getting towards the end of practice and track action was quiet, the riders I needed were done for the day but I could see Dakotah Norton sessioning the tricky stump section above. I knew I couldn't leave until he'd passed me, he's one of my favourite riders to shoot on the World Cup circuit as you can always rely on him to turn on the style. That day was certainly no different. Thank you Dak.
Reece Wilson - Leogang, Austria
I couldn't not include this. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd witness a Scottish World Champion. Thankfully Reece thought differently and proved me wrong. The first national downhill races I started shooting in Scotland were some of the first that Reece took part in as well, little did I know back then I'd end up shooting for Trek with him as a rider and now as a World Champion. Madness. The World Champs podium shots are always special but Leogang this year was on another level.
Angel Suarez - Maribor, Slovenia
A doubleheader World Cup was a slightly strange experience, especially when it came to shooting the same finish area twice in one week. It can be hard to find enough angles for variety at the best of times let alone trying to do it again a few days later. I could see the moody looking sky above the Pohorje Bike Park from the finish area and wanted to incorporate that into a shot to break up the usual race run shots I was taking. After a few failed attempts, it clicked for Angel Suarez as he boosted off the lip with style on his way to a top 10 finish.
Loic Bruni - Maribor, Slovenia
These are my absolute favourite conditions to shoot in as it can transform the mundane into something much more alluring. I enjoy shooting in the Maribor woods at the best of times but when it's shrouded in mist it takes on a whole new level, I'm not sure this is a shot I'd take in normally but I think it worked in those atmospheric conditions. I hate when I shoot too much front on with a 70-200mm lens at World Cups so always feel that bit more satisfied when I bolt on another lens, I think a wide-angle works well with the canopy of that forest in Slovenia. The little trail of roost and Loic's position bring the image to life, you can tell he's hauling.
Me, myself and I - Isle of Arran, Scotland
I've been back home on the Isle of Arran for a few months and been enjoying getting up in the mountains when I can. I've wanted to shoot up the top of Caisteal Abhail for a while but I've never really had a rider at my disposal to do so, that's where remote triggers and a tripod come in handy! I'm not a massive fan of fisheye, especially the curved horizon, but I had a lot I wanted to cram into this shot so needed the widest lens I had. I think this shot sums my 2020 up for me. I'm lucky to live where I live, especially at the moment. I've enjoyed getting out riding and shooting for myself more than I have in recent years and I definitely have a greater appreciation for the things I've been able to do over the last few years.