A Year of Firsts - My First Year in DH

Nov 4, 2010 at 6:23
by Iain McConnell  

A year ago I knew nothing about downhill mountain biking. I didn't even know who Farmer Jack and the Athertons were, despite living just down the road from them. A year later, I still feel like I know very little about downhill, but at least I've had the honor of meeting Farmer Jack!

Read one man's story of firsts as he turns his camera from shooting canoeing to shooting DH racing.



A Year of Firsts - My First Year in DH:
Last autumn I was looking for something to photograph. I had finally given up on my 35mm cameras and got round to buying a digital SLR. I used to do a lot of canoe photography, and was looking for another outdoor sport in the area where I lived. As it happens, I lived just a couple of miles from the Moelfre Hall track, but at the time didn't even realize the track was there. Thanks to the Borderline Events website, I found out about an uplift being held at the track, went along, and since then I have been photographing races and uplifts practically every weekend! I still have a lot to learn (both about DH and digital photography), but hopefully I can keep practicing and keep improving. It has been a year of many firsts for me, and here are a few of them.


First near-miss:
My second race was the Borderline Events / Descent-Gear Unclipped race in October of 2009. I set up below the quarry drop near the top of the course, crouching below a small rocky ledge on the left side of the drop, just outside the tape. I thought I would be safe there (I didn't have much downhill experience then!). Unfortunately, one rider (Clive Middleton) came over the drop too far left, hit the ledge and flew right over me and landed in a heap on the grass behind me. You can just see his front wheel taking off from the ledge in the picture. I don't know who was more surprised, Clive finding a photographer underneath him as he crashed, or me realizing that DH riders can end up in all kinds of places you don't expect!
My second race was the Borderline Events / Descent-Gear Unclipped race in October of 2009. I set up below the quarry drop near the top of the course, crouching below a small rocky ledge on the left side of the drop, just outside the tape. I thought I would be safe there (I didn't have much downhill experience then!). Unfortunately, one rider (Clive Middleton) came over the drop too far left, hit the ledge and flew right over me and landed in a heap on the grass behind me. You can just see his front wheel taking off from the ledge in the picture. I don't know who was more surprised, Clive finding a photographer underneath him as he crashed, or me realizing that DH riders can end up in all kinds of places you don't expect!

First Elite rider:
I was lucky enough to be asked to be the official photographer for the Pearce Cycles series this year. I have to thank Dave and Lindsey for having faith in me when I had only photographed two races before this season! I had been to a few uplifts at Bringewood before the race, so I knew there was one switchback where I could photograph riders looking straight at the camera. The best photo was of Marc Beaumont, who I hadn't even heard of before (I did say I knew nothing about DH!), but I have heard plenty about Marc since, especially after his great World Cup win at Val D'Isole. There aren't many sports where you will see a competitor at a regional event and World Cup in the same season.
I was lucky enough to be asked to be the official photographer for the Pearce Cycles series this year. I have to thank Dave and Lindsey for having faith in me when I had only photographed two races before this season! I had been to a few uplifts at Bringewood before the race, so I knew there was one switchback where I could photograph riders looking straight at the camera. The best photo was of Marc Beaumont, who I hadn't even heard of before (I did say I knew nothing about DH!), but I have heard plenty about Marc since, especially after his great World Cup win at Val D'Isole. There aren't many sports where you will see a competitor at a regional event and World Cup in the same season.

First Atherton:
The Welsh Championships race on the new track at Llangollen was eventful for the number of riders struggling to stay on their bikes. The steep, muddy course was causing all kinds of problems. Then along came Rachel Atherton going 'weeeeeeeee' all the way down the course and making it look easy. I just love the group of lads in the background watching while Rachel shows them how to do it!
The Welsh Championships race on the new track at Llangollen was eventful for the number of riders struggling to stay on their bikes. The steep, muddy course was causing all kinds of problems. Then along came Rachel Atherton going 'weeeeeeeee' all the way down the course and making it look easy. I just love the group of lads in the background watching while Rachel shows them how to do it!

First race face:
Pearce Cycles held two races at Bringewood this year. For the second race they used a new section of track which I hadn't photographed before, but I managed to find one spot where a small jump led to a big sweeping corner and looked really good on camera. I got quite a few pics of riders whipping the jump, but I like this one of Col Williams just for the look of total concentration, I think facial expression can make a big difference to a good photo.
Pearce Cycles held two races at Bringewood this year. For the second race they used a new section of track which I hadn't photographed before, but I managed to find one spot where a small jump led to a big sweeping corner and looked really good on camera. I got quite a few pics of riders whipping the jump, but I like this one of Col Williams just for the look of total concentration, I think facial expression can make a big difference to a good photo.

First dry day at Caersws:
I went to several uplifts at Caersws over the Winter, and they can all be summed up in one word - mud! I missed round 1 of the Caersws Cup (photographing an XC race in Coed-y-Brenin), but I managed to go along to round 2, and couldn't believe how different the weather was! It was unbelievably hot (for Wales anyway) and the track was just dust. I usually walk up and down the track more, but that day it was just too hot so I pretty much stayed in one place, but ended up getting some of my best photo's to date. I like this one of James Swinden because it just sums up the heat and dust of the day.
I went to several uplifts at Caersws over the Winter, and they can all be summed up in one word - mud! I missed round 1 of the Caersws Cup (photographing an XC race in Coed-y-Brenin), but I managed to go along to round 2, and couldn't believe how different the weather was! It was unbelievably hot (for Wales anyway) and the track was just dust. I usually walk up and down the track more, but that day it was just too hot so I pretty much stayed in one place, but ended up getting some of my best photo's to date. I like this one of James Swinden because it just sums up the heat and dust of the day.

First style shot:
This jump near the top at Caersws is always good to photograph, as it's a step-down followed by a big right-hand berm. I like this shot, as Leon Rosser can always be relied on to style it up for the camera, and you get the impression that the bike is trying to go one way while the rider is trying to go the other, which pretty well sums up that jump. I also like the shadow on the track as it balances the shot nicely.
This jump near the top at Caersws is always good to photograph, as it's a step-down followed by a big right-hand berm. I like this shot, as Leon Rosser can always be relied on to style it up for the camera, and you get the impression that the bike is trying to go one way while the rider is trying to go the other, which pretty well sums up that jump. I also like the shadow on the track as it balances the shot nicely.

First faceplant:
This is the berm below the jump above. As riders drop in from the jump they have to get round this really dusty berm, and some don't make it! When I first started photographing DH, I didn't photograph riders crashing, as I thought no-one would want to see shots of crashes. I soon found out how wrong I was! I like the sense of resignation in this pic, that the rider knows what's coming and there's no point struggling.
This is the berm below the jump above. As riders drop in from the jump they have to get round this really dusty berm, and some don't make it! When I first started photographing DH, I didn't photograph riders crashing, as I thought no-one would want to see shots of crashes. I soon found out how wrong I was! I like the sense of resignation in this pic, that the rider knows what's coming and there's no point struggling.

First World Champion:
My first BDS race was round 4 at Moelfre Hall (I missed round 3 because it was the weekend I was moving house!). I set up on this corner near the end of the track. A section of old 4X track leads up to the corner, (you can see it in the background) and most riders were struggling to clear the three tables on the section, and were going slowly round the corner - nice and easy to photograph. Then Steve Peat came down going like a train and went so far up the berm that I nearly lost him out of the frame. Although this wasn't really the shot I had planned, in a strange way I think it works because you get an impression of speed and concentration which hopefully sums up the moment.
My first BDS race was round 4 at Moelfre Hall (I missed round 3 because it was the weekend I was moving house!). I set up on this corner near the end of the track. A section of old 4X track leads up to the corner, (you can see it in the background) and most riders were struggling to clear the three tables on the section, and were going slowly round the corner - nice and easy to photograph. Then Steve Peat came down going like a train and went so far up the berm that I nearly lost him out of the frame. Although this wasn't really the shot I had planned, in a strange way I think it works because you get an impression of speed and concentration which hopefully sums up the moment.

First OMG shot:
I thought this new jump near the top at Moelfre Hall might look quite spectacular with the misty background. I was hoping for a shot of a rider doing a big whip, but the jump was kicking back wheels up and causing lots of nose landings. Then Alun Lewis came down, shot straight up in the air, struggled out of his clips, did a big star jump over the bars and disappeared over the edge of the hill. I was so shocked I forgot the first rule of photography - keep shooting! I really thought he would be in bad shape, but he pushed back up the track a couple of minutes later. Although I missed what could have been a good sequence, I like the fact that I managed to catch the moment when everything is going wrong and me, the spectators and the rider are just waiting to see what happens next.
I thought this new jump near the top at Moelfre Hall might look quite spectacular with the misty background. I was hoping for a shot of a rider doing a big whip, but the jump was kicking back wheels up and causing lots of nose landings. Then Alun Lewis came down, shot straight up in the air, struggled out of his clips, did a big star jump over the bars and disappeared over the edge of the hill. I was so shocked I forgot the first rule of photography - keep shooting! I really thought he would be in bad shape, but he pushed back up the track a couple of minutes later. Although I missed what could have been a good sequence, I like the fact that I managed to catch the moment when everything is going wrong and me, the spectators and the rider are just waiting to see what happens next.

First free cup of tea:
This is Steve and Clive from the No Bull Racin team. I couldn't include riding shots of them as they never stay on their bikes long enough for me to photograph! Steve and Clive were at the first uplift I went to, and they are always ready with a free cup of tea when I see them at races. I have met lots of people this year who have made me welcome in the DH world, but I think Steve and Clive are the friendliest / scariest (delete as appropriate!)
This is Steve and Clive from the No Bull Racin team. I couldn't include riding shots of them as they never stay on their bikes long enough for me to photograph! Steve and Clive were at the first uplift I went to, and they are always ready with a free cup of tea when I see them at races. I have met lots of people this year who have made me welcome in the DH world, but I think Steve and Clive are the friendliest / scariest (delete as appropriate!)

First flying bike:
The approach to this table at Bucknell was a big ski-jump followed by pretty harsh braking bumps which were causing problems for quite a few riders. I think this was Sam Petford's first race after recovering from breaking both wrists, so I think that this shot says quite a lot about the mindset of DH riders!
The approach to this table at Bucknell was a big ski-jump followed by pretty harsh braking bumps which were causing problems for quite a few riders. I think this was Sam Petford's first race after recovering from breaking both wrists, so I think that this shot says quite a lot about the mindset of DH riders!

NOT the first time getting covered in mud:
This mud puddle appeared quite suddenly during the practice session at Bucknell, as rainwater poured down the uplift road. This meant that by the time riders realized that it was there, they were already in it so I managed to get quite a few shots although I got soaked in the process!  This is Zac Emmett soaking me.
This mud puddle appeared quite suddenly during the practice session at Bucknell, as rainwater poured down the uplift road. This meant that by the time riders realized that it was there, they were already in it so I managed to get quite a few shots although I got soaked in the process! This is Zac Emmett soaking me.

First flat whip:
Some new berms have been added at Moelfre Hall this year, and this one ends in a small step-down which is great for shots like this. Nothing too fussy, just Si Parsons looking good for the camera with a good background.
Some new berms have been added at Moelfre Hall this year, and this one ends in a small step-down which is great for shots like this. Nothing too fussy, just Si Parsons looking good for the camera with a good background.

First comedy shot:
Nathan Million has a tendency to goon for the camera, but this time he overdid it a bit and nearly landed on me at the side of the track. I'm not sure which is funnier, the move or the expression on his face as he realizes it could all go horribly wrong.
Nathan Million has a tendency to goon for the camera, but this time he overdid it a bit and nearly landed on me at the side of the track. I'm not sure which is funnier, the move or the expression on his face as he realizes it could all go horribly wrong.

First website photo shoot:
Southerndownhill asked me to get some pics of their rider Matt Wragg on the 2011 Devinci Wilson at the last round of the Caersws Cup. I had been at the top of the track since sunrise watching the amazing scenery so as soon as Matt appeared I asked him to pose with that background. I practically had to nail him to the floor, as he was itching to set off down the track. (Who wouldn't? He was on a new bike on a great track with scenery like that!). Although I don't normally get riders to pose, that background was just too good to miss. One of the great things about photographing DH is that I have had the chance to watch the sun rise in quite a few locations this year, but this was in a class of its own. The pics don't really do justice to just how spectacular the view was in reality, but I hope I have managed to give a hint!
Southerndownhill asked me to get some pics of their rider Matt Wragg on the 2011 Devinci Wilson at the last round of the Caersws Cup. I had been at the top of the track since sunrise watching the amazing scenery so as soon as Matt appeared I asked him to pose with that background. I practically had to nail him to the floor, as he was itching to set off down the track. (Who wouldn't? He was on a new bike on a great track with scenery like that!). Although I don't normally get riders to pose, that background was just too good to miss. One of the great things about photographing DH is that I have had the chance to watch the sun rise in quite a few locations this year, but this was in a class of its own. The pics don't really do justice to just how spectacular the view was in reality, but I hope I have managed to give a hint!

First E.T.shot:
After getting lots of pics of the scenery, I wanted to get a good action shot, and I like the slightly surreal look of this one of Michael Inman. It has spectacular scenery and good action, and I think it's a fitting shot to end my first year in DH.
After getting lots of pics of the scenery, I wanted to get a good action shot, and I like the slightly surreal look of this one of Michael Inman. It has spectacular scenery and good action, and I think it's a fitting shot to end my first year in DH.
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56 Comments

  • + 17
 Ha great right up and great photos.
  • + 4
 awesome review of the year! some really good photos there
  • + 9
 Thanks. I'll let you decide if Steve and Clive are scary or friendly Razz
  • - 46
flag youngFR (Nov 5, 2010 at 6:42) (Below Threshold)
 good shots but do you have some sort of sick satisfaction with guys crashing?
  • + 17
 As I pointed out in the write-up, I never photographed riders crashing at first, but the riders who were crashing kept asking me for pics!
  • + 2
 That day at caersws was like riding in the alps! Was LUSH All Awesome pics there!
  • + 3
 You've only been shooting downhill for a year?! I swear I've been looking at turnip towers pictures for ages! Anyway great shots man... I love it a few days after races when I start to find pictures of myself riding, especially turnip towers ones as theyre always the best!
Have you got a turnip towers website? I've seen your profile on roots and rain website but I cant find a specific turnip towers website?
Anyway keep it up!
  • + 1
 I do have a website (www.birdcagegames.com) but I now put all my race photo's on Roots and Rain to make them easier to find. Hopefully I will be able to put uplift photo's there soon Wink
  • + 4
 Great shots! But Comic Sans watermark??? Come on! They deserve better than that! Big Grin
  • + 1
 You deserve respect for riding hardtail over that roadgap Smile
  • + 2
 I agree with the remark about the Comic Sans watermark.. read any of the BBC write-ups on it lately? As a MultiMedia and Design student, I stay far, far away from it. To each his own, though.
  • + 2
 Yeah, I know everyone hates Comic Sans but I've been using it since it was carved into rocks in the stone age. Maybe I'm just showing my age Wink
  • + 1
 "First faceplant" Love'it, Epic Big Grin
  • + 2
 Clive is ausome he helped me out ALOT! on my first race at caersws
  • + 1
 props man... im in the team... he's the best guy to be riding for
  • + 2
 Nice one man. Not gna lie here - I thought your photo's were gash when you first came onto the Pinkbike scene Razz But you've come on sooo far. Really digging your shots now, these are f*cking sweet! (Dont mean to sound condescending in any way with that.)

Keep it up tup
  • + 2
 I think Clive's a cool guy, only met him once, but once was enough for me to know he is lol
  • + 1
 I've commented on some of Turnip's photos before. He's got a magical way of taking them, much like some other photographers here on Pink Bike. Back then, I wouldn't have known that he was going to be talking about his own pics in his own section on the Pink Bike home-page.
Well, Turnip, I've said it before and I'll say it again - Dude, your pics are pure perfection! ;D
  • + 1
 I have had the Pleasure of meeting you on a few Occasions and It is always lovely seeing you. Pics Look good,should be really Proud of your First year in the Sport! I would say you have fitted in nicely with the community = ) I also remember the scenery with that mist and it was gorgeous! I would say you captured the moment well. I havent seen the shots in this Write up before despite knowing some of the people in them! Good work.

Look forward to sharing more Marshal points with you in Future and seeing you at more of my races!
  • + 2
 More marshall points? I thought you lived by the top of the track at Caersws Razz
  • + 2
 HAHA It shouldnt be "Marshal Point One" it should instead be renamed "Rachels Spot" I think 8 times Possibly I have stood there. I know its been at least 6 days effectively Wink

I shall be racing Bringewood again next year though and I shall try keep my bike in working order this time and also not make people think I kaned myself.

I am thinking also when ever they race The welsh champs track at Caersws I should race just so I am not stood on that same spot. ha.

See you next season! as I assume you are not going to be at the Mini Dhs.
  • + 2
 This photographer is off to a good start. He should probably look into a creating a cooler watermark, developing some post processing skills (saturation, contrast, etc..), and a better camera/lens combo.
  • + 1
 awesome pictures, you can see them getting better and better throughout the season, went to a couple of caersws uplifts where you were there and every time the camera positions just got better and the shots cooler. Nice job.
  • + 1
 Excellent stuff, i've followed your pics from various races this year they are amazing, ive been a few myself and took a few, prob stood right next to you? ha ha keep it up there great!!
  • + 1
 Yeah, I would say look out for the bald overweight middle-aged photographer but that probably doesn't narrow it down much Wink
  • + 2
 I've got a shot you took of me above the clouds at Caersws that day stuck up on my shop wall in front of me now. It's really nice, so thanks for that. And it only cost £3!
  • + 4
 1st Style shot. of course mr leon rosser?? haaa
  • + 1
 leon is the man!
  • + 1
 15 riding shots and only 2 people without gloves...i hardly call that "many".
Amazing photos for your first season and im sure with time you will progress rapidly.
  • + 1
 Awesome inspiration for all of us who are keen on journeying in your direction! Awesome pictures and descriptions! Thank you Iain!
  • + 1
 Great photos, great story. But WHY THE HELL are so many riders shredding without gloves? Just because Blenki doesn't wear them? I don't get it...
  • + 2
 great shots, look forward to seeing more next year - the race-face shot is sick!
  • + 2
 Thanks, I was particularly pleased with that one. It was also the first photo I sold on Roots and Rain so that was a bonus!
  • + 3
 yeah, I found some shots of me on there, hopefully I'll buy some but at the moment im pretty skint
  • + 3
 Amazing Pictures clearly there is a spot for you in the business
  • + 1
 Hey mate top wright up and thanks for all the gr8 pics over the year, keep up the good work!!!!
  • + 2
 alun lewis hasnt quite got those no canders dialled
  • + 2
 It was a good no-hander / no-footer / no-hoper Smile
  • + 1
 Photos are very good! Make more photos and you will be an excellent photographer!!!
  • + 1
 impressive shots! gotta love the mud shot! every moment caught on camera. props to you man.
  • + 1
 Thanks. Fortunately we didn't get too much mud this year!
  • + 1
 Well done! I really like the Steve Peat shot.
  • + 1
 This is nice. Some nice shots.
  • + 1
 Fantastic photos bruv! Keep up the good work matey! :0)
  • + 1
 good captions, some of those photo's are pretty sweet!
  • + 1
 Great work! Keep posting them for our enjoyment.
  • + 1
 BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOON! good read Smile
  • + 1
 u have da future, buddy!!
  • + 1
 Nice one man great pics, keep it up! Smile
  • + 1
 Great photos and great idea for a story. Love it!
  • + 1
 sick pics, sick write up= sick guy!!!!!
  • + 1
 Great pics/write up,well done.
  • + 1
 sick photos
  • + 1
 nice work
  • + 1
 nice photos cool story
  • + 1
 i spy a pod or two

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