Behind The Lens

Aug 29, 2015 at 9:27
by Simon Nieborak  
Tell us a little bit about yourself, please.

My name is Szymon (Eng: Simon) Nieborak. I was born in Lublin, Poland. In 2005, I left my hometown and sought after new opportunities in England, UK. It wasn't easy at the beginning, but it all worked out well further down the line and I am happy with where I am today. At present everybody knows me from being a photographer, however besides photography, a huge passion of my life is music. In fact, I have been deep into music long before I discovered photography. I had a few small, yet important to me, achievements in that field including co-running a net-label Enypnion, released a couple of vinyl records together with my friends and I used to be DJing with a number of amazing artists, as well. The good, old days...Today, even if bike photography seriously took over my life, I still truly enjoy listening to the music and it's with me pretty much non-stop during every single day...

Other than that, I am a totally regular guy, quietly and peacefully living in a small apartment with a girlfriend and a little dog. Ah, I watch many movies and tv-shows, too...

tuck no hander published in mtbrider germany

How long have you been shooting photos?

After the move to England, I started saving money for my first photographic equipment. It was around 2006 that I began shooting with a small semi-automatic Fuji camera. Later, I upgraded to a Canon 350d, which was my first, DSLR. Back then, all I was taking photos of was the sky, nature and a little bit of architecture. I enjoyed it a lot, but I felt that something was missing...

dusty front cover shot for mtb rider magazine 174

How were you introduced to mountain biking? When did you start shooting it?

As you can see upon my Pinkbike account profile, I signed up here in May 2008 and this is pretty much when my adventure with MTB kicked off big time! I mean, back then I knew nothing about the professional side of photography, let alone the 'serious' side of Mountain Biking. But one thing I am sure about is the fact that Mountain Biking sucked me in instantly and I very quickly caught up on all the things I didn't know yet. One extremely important thing to my development as a photographer was pure luck when it comes to riding locations and I have Woburn Sands and Chicksands here on my mind. Those two are great places up to this day, but back then they were absolutely buzzing with riders. I quickly realised, I will never be someone who can do tricks on a bike, so thought to myself that in this case, I can be advantageous on the other side of the lens... Believe it or not, but I remember how one day I was shooting at Chicksands dirt jumps and there was this sick guy who was doing all the best and biggest tricks. I had no idea who he was, but I kept on shooting photos of him just to discover a few days later that it was Sam Pilgrim, himself. Back then I had an insanely strong fire in me [which, by the way, is still burning!] to shoot action shots and good things started to roll in - first POD, first money shot, first front cover, first road trip, and so on...

Were you self-taught of have you had any formal training?

My father used to be an amateur photographer - I remember flicking through hundreds of photos when I was younger and I guess this positive memories and thoughts about photography stuck in me for good. I guess I could say that I am a self-taught photographer, but there is someone who helped me a lot in the very early stage of my photographic journey. I met a rider, who wanted to be a photographer, as well - @gepard79 taught me the basics of photography, gear and software. We were a very good team for a several years... He stopped shooting photos and videos for sake of purely enjoying bike riding, which I am sure is working well for him, now. Other than that, I have never been to any formal training, courses or lessons in photography... I didn't even read much about it on the internet back then.

On the other hand, I think my study at university came in handy... I studied Art and Culture back home, which was amazing time in my life, but there was nothing about photography, especially its technical side. However, learning about masterpiece paintings made by old masters left some useful knowledge in deep corners of my mind. On a totally personal level, these studies left a specific way of perception on the world we're living in and taught me taste and appreciation for art. I strongly believe in technical requirements of a properly taken photo and always try to stick to it with best of my abilities. All the rest is purely style in the eye of the beholder.


How long have you been shooting mountain biking?

As I mentioned above, it all changed for me at the beginning of 2008. A friend of mine showed me Woburn Sands and this turned my world up-side-down. I have always enjoyed riding bikes, but until then I never took it very earnestly. A week after discovering the riding spot in our local woods, I was a happy owner of a Specialized Rockhopper and started riding XC trails. Of course, it wasn't long until I wanted to ride more of amazing stuff that the bike park has to offer. Meeting new people who shared a true passion for the bikes only fuelled my own feelings for mountain biking. Another milestone was finding Pinkbike. This website opened my eyes to the whole new dimension of what MTB really can be! I fell in love instantly!

My mind was crushed by all those epic stunts I was witnessing on photos and videos posted on the website. I remember the time when 'Seasons' was about to première... Honestly, I can't imagine any better introduction to mountain biking back in the day than this movie! I was totally hooked. So, I started taking photos of the local riders and they seemed to like it. That motivated me to keep progressing and be better at what I do. A little stone has cause pretty big avalanche of situations I didn't even dream of back then...

one foot eurotabletop

How did you move from amateur to professional photographer?

This was thanks to an amazing group of German journalists who work for one of the top MTB magazines in their country. After I was working with them regularly for nearly three years, I basically asked if I could join the team and be their ambassador for the UK and anywhere I could go to! To my surprise they said yes... Literally, the following week I quit my old job and started to be a full time photographer. It took a year to properly sink in, the fact I was living the dream! And here I am, a Polish guy, living in England, working for a German publishing group! Haha. In fact, going full time gave me an insane opportunity to focus on photography 100%, which transformed into developing my own skill and widening my client base.

What are pros and cons of being a photographer?

I really like it when professional riders say that bikes are taking them places school couldn't. I have a pretty similar thing... Well, my bike handling skills can take me only down a hill, but luckily my photographic skills have the power to take me to beautiful places. So travelling is definitely one of the biggest and best things you can get out of this job. Meeting new people is another huge thing for me. From legendary locals to absolute legends in the bike industry... It's amazing to have a chance to hang out with those people. Being able to spend time with favourite riders makes my head spin. It's the best feeling in the world when it's them calling me, because there's a new plan for a trip, someone built a new jump or they simply want fresh photos! Perks like free stuff or free entries to events are something, which also can put a big smile on your face... Seeing unreleased photos or film footage from other photographers and cinematographers is a sweet thing, too...

Still, like with everything in life, there's a dark side to it. Yes, sometimes it gets very hard and hectic and by that I don't particularly mean being tired after hiking mountains, but sitting in front of computer for days. But you know what, I wouldn't dare to moan or complain!

interview w rob warner

What is your favourite thing to shoot?

It won't be a surprise when I say – push-bikes!

one foot shoulder buzzer

Dirt Jumping is closest to my heart. I 'grew up' shooting dirt and today it brings me the biggest joy. Freeride is also a fantastic thing to shoot. I don't have many chances to shoot downhill, but whenever I do, it's always great! I love BMX for crazy and stylish riding. Last, but definitely not least important for me is fixed gear. Amazing stuff, both freestyle and road riding. As you can see, I really love all forms of cycling and definitely don't want to label myself as a 'mtb only' photographer. Seriously, wheel size does not matter to me when the rider is talented and knows how to use a bike to its full potential. On another hand, I can't think of loosing opportunity to meet so many great people. Bikes and cycling in general should bring us closer, not divide...

Behind the Scenes w Mike King aka Fast Forward

look back published in bmx rider magazine

Foot Jam Suicide

You have a close relationship with a number of paper magazines, but there are significant changes in recent years moving content to online media sources. How has the migration from print to online affected your business?

Some were saying the print is dead, but luckily it's not the case and should not be for the foreseeable future. At least that's what I am hoping so. Websites definitely forced some changes in traditional ways of how paper magazines work, but stuff like that is inevitable with the technological rush. It's obvious that some changes are good, other not so much. Personally, I am positive on both ends and it really does not make any bigger difference to me, now. Sure, it's amazing to hold a magazine with your photos in your own hands, feel the texture of the paper and smell the paint of the pages while you flick them. On another hand, printed magazines have limited reach, while the global network reaches pretty much to the furthest places in the world within the seconds. And that's what I love about publishing my work online.

Do you shoot anything else besides mountain biking?

I found an analogy that what I like to shoot most are simply things I have a true passion for... So, besides bikes, my most recent discovery are cars. I enjoy taking photos of unique and modified cars. It's something totally different to what I shoot on a daily basis and that's why I like it so much. I have never been a big fan of cars in general, but since I tried it for the first time, I admit, that there is something very special about those metal machines...

Porsche 944

I also really like working with music and movies. Taking photos at big music festivals or dark clubs can be challenging, but when done right, the outcome is really cool. It's similar to working on a movie set. I had only a brief experience with this kind of photography, but loved it very much and will pursue more of it, that's for sure...



Simian Mobile Disco at Bestival

 The Regiment Movie

 The End Movie
 The End Movie

 The End Movie
Commercial shoots can be fun, too. Especially when done in such a cool and friendly atmosphere.

Natalie in Barcelona
No doubt, gear, and skills a little better than average can also give good photos from private holidays.

Hannah Barnes

What kind of camera do you use? What lenses?

If you'd ask me this question 4 weeks ago, I'd say that I own a Canon 1DX and my lenses are a Canon 70-200mm f2.8 mark ll, Canon 16-35mm f2.8 mark ll, Canon 15mm f2.8 [fisheye] and lastly a Canon 100mm f2.8 Macro USM mark ll. However, this significantly changed a while ago as I migrated to Sony system. Now, my primary camera is Sony Alpha 6500 and three lenses, which are Sony 70-200mm f4, Zeiss 16-35mm f4 and Sony 50mm f1.8. After years of using a DSLR, I felt need for refreshing my set and mirrorless seemed like a very good choice to me. Addition to my gear is GoPro Hero 5. I find it awesome as it's a really cool camera to work with. That's all I keep in my backpack. I don't use flashes, I like to keep things natural. But don’t get me wrong, a properly used external light source is an amazing thing to see on photos and sometimes I regret not using one. But at the end of the day, I am happy with my gear – it's fairly light and mobile - two things which are crucial when you're deep in woods or high in mountains...

berm snap in dirt mag 139

What's the most memorable shoot you've had?

Well, Iceland happened so long ago... but it's one of the best things that happened to me in my whole life! It's a magical place, loved every second there - I am dreaming of going back there one day! Who knows, maybe 2016 is going to be lucky for me in this matter. There was no cultural shock as it's quite similar to Europe or maybe even more to North America in terms of architecture and modern culture. Of course, they have some breathtaking and unique things characteristic to Scandinavians, but sorry to say that no one walks dressed like a Viking on the streets of Reykjavik these days. But the landscapes, Aurora Borealis, waterfalls, geysers, warm sources... Oh, mighty Thor, it's all very beautiful! You have to see it all with your own eyes...

Another place, which definitely stood out from what I am used to was Fuerteventura, one of the Canary Islands. The trip with Samson Brothers, Harry, and Michael gave us all unforgettable memories. As much as this was a fantastic trip, no other kicked my ass so hard.

shredding dirt into dust saracen 2014 catalogue

The end of 2014 gave me one amazing surprise trip, too. This time, it was to a place called La Reunion Island, where the second part of Megavalanche is held. That trip was on another level for so many reasons! Going to a tiny tropical island near to Madagascar was already a great thing itself, but additionally taking photos of a race in such an unusual place was just a cherry on top of that very sweet cake!

photographers can ride bikes too

Every year something amazing and exceptional is happening. Going to an witnessing the madness of Loosefest in 2015 was definitely a highlight of that year. Hard Line, which is almost equally hard to photographers as much as it is to the riders is also a treat! 2016 kicked off with a sick trip to Gran Canaria with Sam Pilgrim and his Bangers Tour crew, after that I have had a chance to go to many various FMB events and things are not slowing down in 2017. It's never easy, but i hope I'll be able to keep the ball rolling...

If you could shoot anywhere with anyone, who and where would it be?

I knew the answer to this question years before you even thought of asking me it!

Graham Agassiz – Kamloops

Oh, Lord! How I would love to spend a few days with this insanely rad guy and see him shredding that gorgeous dirt in front of my lens...

What photo are you most proud of?

I can't say that I have that one in particular as there are several I am really proud of. If I would really have to choose the one, there's a shot with Blake Samson coming to my mind. This photo is a perfect picture to what I love so much about dirt jumping and beyond – stylish tricks, big jumps, dust, a cool place far from the noise of everyday life, warm light and of course a great dude who is not only a very talented rider, but a great friend of mine. Yes, this one picture has got it all for me!

Britain has an extremely strong downhill and dirt jump scene considering its size. Why do you think this is?

That's right, there is something interesting about how good the British cycling scene is... All styles of riding are booming here in the UK. DH is one of the strongest in the world and it comes from a country where there are no high mountains. However, Wales and Scotland are perfect places to ride, with miles of fantastic trails. They might not be the longest, but are so technical that when British riders are going to a race in other parts of the world, nothing surprises them, sometimes they even see the longer tracks as easier than those on home soil.
Dirt Jumping and Freeriding are also hugely popular within the bounds of the UK. Mid and South of England are full of amazing trails and dirt jump spots and obviously people riding them. In most cases, economically stable and good situation lets people afford more expensive bikes and equipment, which obviously automatically allows them to ride better and faster. This is how the circle comes around.

Many people shoot video on DSLR/Mirrorless now. Have you ever considered filming?

Yes, I am already making my first steps into filming. At the moment, I don't have anything serious to show, but hopefully this will change rather sooner than later. Filming gives me great joy and I want do it as much as possible.


Which photographers inspire you?

This list is quite long. Besides all the big guns, which are always mentioned in Behind the Lens interviews and I'm talking here about Sterling Lorence, Mattias Fredriksson, Sven Martin. I keep my eyes peeled on new school photographers too. Sam Needham is amazing at capturing beautiful photos, Laurence Crossman-Emms is killing it behind the lens, Sebas Romero and Kuba Konwent are masters when it comes to flash. Bartek Wolinski and Piotr Staron are other two Polish lads, whose work I totally enjoy. I love works of Mike Zinger, Christoph Laue, Klemens Koenig and Matt Wragg. Zach Faulkner, Boris Beyer, Paris Gore and Harookz are fantastic, too! As you can see, I could go on like this for a long time... There are so many skilful photographers out there... Just from looking at their photos, it makes me feel great to be a tiny part of the ''Soul Stealers'' club.

If you wish, go ahead and see what I look for in photographs via my favourites on Pinkbike and Flickr.

Wallride Shot for Sender Magazine

Who are your main clients?

My main clients are MTB Rider, BMX Rider and Spoke Magazines from Germany whom I work for. It's absolutely perfect situation for me as it covers all kinds of bike riding. I am trying to appear on pages of the UK based magazines, as well. Dirt [when it was the paper version, Dirt Web nowadays], MBUK are amazing and it's always an honour to be printed in those magazines. Besides all those mags, I am stoked with my close relationship with Monster Energy. They helped me a lot in the past couple of years, creating opportunities to go to great events and shooting with their athletes. Absolutely can't forget to mention about one of the best mtb website in the whole world wide internet – Pinkbike! There is a fabulous crew of people behind this site who support my ideas and turning them into reality.

It's always very good to work for bike companies too. I really appreciate my close relationship with DMR, Saracen and NS Bikes. Having fantastic and passionate people on the other side is making work and life so much easier and that's what I find in those and many other companies I have had a pleasure to take photos for. I am also extremely happy with being supported by Madison Clothing for whom I also shot quite a lot during the past couple of seasons. There are also companies like Morvelo, Restrap and Dirt Love Clothing, which I value very much when it comes to work, as well as personal relationships.

What advice would you pass on to aspiring photographers?

I guess it would be saying that your own, personal/professional progress should never stop. I see it with myself and I really like to learn new techniques for taking photos and developing old ones. When I look at some of my older photos, I just can't believe that back in the day of shooting that particular photo, I was thinking to myself that this is the best what I can come up with and I "already mastered" all photography. This could not be any more false. I am glad I realised it early enough and now I enjoy learning new things which are helpful and useful in being a photographer and shooting better photos. Just looking at photographs from your favourite photographers should ignite curiosity deep inside of you and thoughts "how did he do that?" and urge you to step up your own game. There are plenty of amazing paid courses, but let's not forget an ocean of free and super-easy accessible information online, too. So, basically, there are no excuses for not making yourself a better photographer... or who ever you want to be in your professional life!


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