A Professional's Guide
To Taking the Perfect Cycling Photo
Documenting the biggest cycle races in the world, producing in-depth editorial images for the leading cycling publications or capturing that breathtaking mountain-scape, professional photographers have a lot to consider when it comes to creating the perfect shot.
With that in mind we have spoken to some industry insiders, experts in their field, about how they work around challenges, plan shoots and work to tight deadlines.
The WorldTour Circus
A photographer with a real passion for combining his love of riding a bike with the work he produces, Chris Auld has over 20 years of experience in the world of photography. Producing imagery for the likes of Procycling, Chris' keen eye for detail and knowledge of the sport makes him one of the leading photographers on the WorldTour scene.
From capturing one of the defining Tour de France images of recent years to shooting the aftermath of a dusty Paris Roubaix, Chris can always be found at the centre of the action, on the road or in a muddy field or at a cyclocross race.
Sigma Sports - You photograph both cyclocross and road races, do you have a preference as to which you prefer to shoot?
Chris Auld - I don’t have a preference in regards road or cross, I like to mix it up, to keep things interesting, I enjoy shooting both.
Sigma Sports - How do you decide where to position yourself to shoot a race?
Chris Auld - Some photographers go through meticulous planning for where they are going to shoot, using route maps, Google Earth and course recon. I'm not one of them I prefer to fly by the seat of my pants and just turn up on the day and shoot what I see. There are so many factors that can throw a spanner in the most meticulously planned schedule and that perfect spot you’ve spent hours researching can all go to waste when you turn up on the day and the scene has completely changed once the crowd, vehicles and general race restrictions have been thrown into the mix.
"Choosing the best location is more often than not based on logistics, when not in a race convoy you need to factor in being able to leap frog the peloton using short cuts, on a stage I aim to get between two and three stops in as well as covering the start and finish."
Sigma Sports - When did you begin shooting professional cycling races?
Chris Auld - I began shooting pro cycling about five years ago, after a career of more than twenty years working as a commercial photographer, initially following the local UK scene to learn the ropes and eventually moving on to the World Tour in 2017 after covering the UCI World Championships at the end of 2016.
Sigma Sports - As a photographer, what differentiates yourself from the fans on the roadside?
Chris Auld - A bike race coming through your local town is a big deal, with the streets lined with the local residents, whether they be race fans or not, as a photographer your marked out with either a numbered bib or a race sticker on your vehicle and the locals are always keen to offer help either by offering a vantage point from an up stairs window, food and drink, or questioning you on where you are from and who you work for.
"Regardless how you cover a race, whether that be in race moto or by using your own vehicle, you're always looking for something unusual, whether that be an angle, a vantage point or detail."
Sigma Sports - Where is your favourite place to shoot races?
Chris Auld - The most memorable stages are always the mountains, where fans pitch up early doors in crazy out fits, bringing along DJs, TV’s and fridges full of beer, yes fridges and set about drinking as much alcohol as possible before the race comes through.
When the race comes through it all goes off, fans surging forward and the thin blue line trying to keep control it becomes pretty chaotic and makes for some awesome shots, Ive always said without fans cycling would be a lot less appealing, which other major sporting event do you get so close to the action for free.
"With music blasting and a party atmosphere it's a photographer's dream, with the press pack descending on these corners like bees round a honey pot, with a handful of police on hand to keep the crowd under control."
Sigma Sports - What is it like to shoot WorldTour races?
Chris Auld - Working on the WorldTour is comparable to a travelling circus, moving from town to town, one race to the next and the photographers who tag along are like a band of brothers, sharing travel and accommodation, with good camaraderie and a mutual respect, there are so many talented guys out there.
For The Landscape Lovers
The freedom, the adventure, the view. There is a lot to love about cycling outdoors and exploring and taking in the view is definitely high on our list. Whether it be an expansive mountain range, famous cobbled sector or iconic backdrop, capturing the perfect shot can both inspire and make your fellow rider companions jealous in equal measure.
Acclaimed photographer and author of Mountains Epic Cycling Climbs Book, Michael Blann, channelled his passion for the mountains, the result: A collection of some of the sport’s most well known, as well as some lesser known climbs.
Sigma Sports - How do you plan a shoot outdoors?
Michael Blann - Certainly it’s true that planning is essential when shooting mountains. Many of the climbs are impassable during the winter months and the higher the altitude the longer they remain closed (The Giro d’Italia has incurred these problems even during May). That said, you can get some fantastic shots of snow covered mountains if the weather is good but you will be restricted to photographing near the road as the snow will be too deep to venture far. Weather tends to play a big part as there is nothing worse than low cloud and rain in the mountains when trying to take a good photo.
"Visibility is essential and if you can’t see further than a few hundred meters, then it’s hard to get a good shot."
Sigma Sports - How do you choose what climbs to focus on?
Michael Blann - For me personally there were two factors which I looked for when photographing a mountain for my book. The first element was whether it was photographically interesting. Climbs like the Ventoux are unique and stunning landscapes in their own right. Geological features and the way the road negotiates the topography are all important features. Your vantage point to take a photo also has an impact on this. The other element is the history of a climb – its provenance.
"Climbs which are steeped in the history of cycling are always more appealing to photograph as there is a story attached to the landscape."
Sigma Sports - What tips can you give to the amateur photographer looking to capture a landscape?
Michael Blann - Go out with an idea about what you want to capture. It might be the riders close up and the mountain in the background or you might be interested in features such as the roads and tunnels. Look at where the light is coming from and work out where the best position is to get the shot. Be prepared to go for a walk to get a good shot and don’t expect to just hop out off the car and take a snap.
"The best part of photographing mountains is the hike!"
Sigma Sports - What is your favourite climb to photograph?
Michael Blann - There are several climbs that stand out – The Passo Giau, Passo Stelvio, Mont Ventoux, The Col du Galibier, The Gotthard Pass, Sa Calobra… probably my favourite from the book is The Col du Peyresourde. It’s not the most obvious choice but the dark blueish green hues really give it a mood when reproduced as a large print.
There is nothing better than getting in from a ride, kicking off the shoes and planting yourself on the sofa, ready to read your favourite cycling publication.
Inspirational and informative, the cycling print world is a competitive one, where the quality of the image can set you apart from the competition. Publications such as Cyclist and Rouleur pride themselves on the quality of their photography, with Rouleur even running an annual competition for readers to vote on their favourite photographers.
One such photographer, who has worked with many of the sport’s leading publications is Sean Hardy, a life long cyclist, who has fond memories, as a young child, of his father clocking up the winter miles. Inspired by the likes of Miguel Indurain, Sean quickly began racing and the rest was history. Picking up a camera when his kids arrived, Sean found this the perfect way to capture moments.
Fast forward to April 2017 and with a year's experience shooting for commercial and editorial clients, Sean's keen eye and desire to always strive to produce the best photo possible, means his work can often be found on the pages of Rouleur.
Sigma Sports - How do you interpret a brief and how do you go about researching the subject?
Sean Hardy - A lot of what I do is centred around the story, so the most important part is understanding what that story is and how the subject relates to it. When I am asked to shoot someone I don't know much about I never look into the history of that person, to be sure my images are not influenced by who they are or what they have achieved. This is probably a high-risk approach to understanding the subject but I have always been interested in the now rather than the past. I want that subject to relate to the story I have been asked to shoot and not allow other stories to change my approach. I am usually working with a journalist when commissioned to shoot. This allows me to watch how the person reacts to the questions, their eyes, their body language and hand movements - these can all be really important elements to capture the character of that person.
"In some cases, I am just given a product and a location to work with and basically asked to shoot 'what looks good'. I know this sounds like a very loose brief but it actually forces you to work harder. Suddenly you are responsible to creatively capture an image that is consistent with the product. This could be colours, lines, backgrounds, movement - whatever suits."
Sigma Sports - Directing models, working with products, how do you get the best out of who/what you're working with?
Sean Hardy - Products are something I love to shoot. It is easy to forget the design element that goes into the production process of releasing new products. Someone somewhere has worked hard to study lines, colours, material, shapes and visual aids. I love that. I like to look at a product beyond what it is designed to do. For example, I was asked by Rouleur to shoot the new Giro Knit Shoes - It was red and black. The first thought is to approach a knitting shop (or something like that) and have the shoes placed with wool, knitting needles... that kind of thing but I hate the obvious. The shoe colouring instantly made me think of a phone box - so I placed the shoes there and tried to add some artist twist to it, trying to treat the product as a fashion shoot rather than a commercial image.
Cycling models are really easy to deal with. If you work with someone that is generally into cycling, rides a lot, loves to climb and shares a passion for the sport then most of your job is done. Point them in the direction you want to go and they will happily ride that mountain over and over again. I am always thankful for their time. Getting them to repeat a certain stretch of road or stand in a certain way can be frustrating to them but keeping them relaxed is key to the way I shoot. I always explain, especially in stationary shoots, that movement is important. A lot of people freeze the moment a camera is held up in front of them - they don't need to do that! The camera freezes that moment. The trick is to keep them moving. Adjust clothing, tighten your shoes, move your glasses, unclip your helmet.
"I want the image to feel natural and the only way to do that is to get your model to feel relaxed - so what if we don't get the shot we want at that moment in time so what. We will just try something else until we find what is right for them and for me."
Sigma Sports - Tailoring images for different publications. What challenges do you face and what are the strangest requests you've had?
Sean Hardy - I am quite lucky with this. I don't really tailor my images to different publications. I shoot the way I shoot. I relate to photography the same way as I do to music - Noel Gallagher would sound awful if he tried to sing like Paul Weller. When I take a picture I press the shutter when it feels right, there are technical elements to that of course but the core of how I work is knowing when it is right to take that picture.
Some of the biggest challenges for me can be different languages. I work with a lot of people that do not speak English (or I don't speak Spanish/French). This can be difficult but also surprisingly creative. They may not fully understand what I am trying to achieve and this can result in a different outcome, which I didn't see coming. This can produce great work. These moments are the ones you log and try to remember for the next shoot.
"I haven't really had any strange requests yet. I was arrested once for shooting in a location I shouldn't have and refused to hand over my film and my sandwich - why they wanted my sandwich still baffles me!"
Sigma Sports - Tell us about your favourite shoots, photos, products & people you've worked with.
Sean Hardy - I work a lot with Endura. Producing images for their Endura Stories page. One of my favourite people to shoot is Graeme Obree. He fascinates me. He has a million stories and expresses each sentence with so much character - he is a dream to photograph. His eyes change when he talks about darker elements of his life and then his hands fly everywhere when he gets emotional about what he has achieved.
"I am seriously lucky to work with the clients I do. All of them allow me to be as creative as I like. This is so important to the way I want to develop my photography. It is really nice to see brands and companies seeing the value in the creative approach to work rather than just producing repackaged content that is designed to feel like their core values. Creating something where each party understands the values of that brand always results in stunning work and forces others to work harder."
I was asked by Endura to travel to Italy to shoot the Lupato Brothers. I knew nothing about them and nothing about the town they lived in. This was one of my favourite commissions. Their town was stunning. It was fairly small but everyone knew everyone. We would walk by houses and families would open their door and pass the brothers some chocolate cake they cooked that morning. I fell in love with the place and the images are some of my favourites. I really wanted to capture the town as well as the brothers and I hope this comes across in the work.
For The Brand
Looking to spruce up the wardrobe or drool over the latest bike? Brand are more than aware that pin sharp photography will help sell their wares. Picking out the product’s defining features and portraying it in the best light is key and can make all the difference when the product hits the market.
Taylor Tulip-Close has worked with Italian clothing brand Sportful for a number of years now and brings a fresh and exciting perspective on shoots, with even his dog Rudy making an appearance!
Sigma Sports - How do you pick out a product's key features?
Taylor Tulip-Close - Apart from the obvious and what is pleasing to the eye, it is important to discuss the assignment with the client and establish what the key features they would like to be covered are. I find it is also helpful to put yourself in the shoes of a consumer and imagine what would attract you want to buy this product.
Sigma Sports - What differences do you find shooting for print and web?
Taylor Tulip-Close - There is not a huge difference these days, as all cameras you would be using have a high enough resolution to be printed to a very large size. One of the main things that differ between the two I’d say is image format. If it’s for a magazine or catalogue the image would most likely be cropped and formatted portrait, so this is important to keep in mind when composing images.
Sigma Sports - Where are your favourite places to shoot?
Taylor Tulip-Close - I’m very lucky to live in Dorset. It is utterly gorgeous and has a huge variety of roads and locations to shoot in, even in the depths of winter. Flanders is another favourite of mine. The rugged beauty of it lends itself to photography. Further afield and San Francisco is also incredible. Having such amazing landscapes 10 minutes outside of a major city makes it one of my favourite locations to get my camera out.
Sigma Sports - How did you begin shooting for Sportful?
Taylor Tulip-Close - I have always had an interest and passion for photography. I started working as a photographer's assistant in the film industry. Then when I started cycling I found myself taking a lot of photos to document our adventures. This is when my good friend, Paul, supplier of Sportful in the UK, saw some of the images and well, things just snowballed from there.
Discover more of Taylor's photography on his Instagram page.