Mud, SWEAT & GEARS

Nathan Hughes bat­tled the el­e­ments to bag some win­ning shots at the Scot­tish leg of the Moun­tain Bike World Cup

NPhoto - - On Assignment -

An­kle-deep in mud and hold­ing what’s left of an um­brella down by my waist to fend off the side­ways rain, I think about where to head for my next shot and how much more of this my Nikon D4 can take.

Fort Wil­liam, in the Scot­tish High­lands, has hosted a round of the UCI Moun­tain Bike World Cup for the last 14 years, but never did mother na­ture bare her teeth quite like this year. In June, we were treated to some of the most hos­tile con­di­tions in the history of the event, high up on Aonoch Mor in the Ne­vis Range.

The Fort Wil­liam leg is the sec­ond round of a seven-round World Cup se­ries, and it’s all about down­hill moun­tain bik­ing. Some 200 ath­letes bat­tle it out, at­tack­ing steep and ex­tremely rugged ter­rain in a three- to six-minute time trial on full-sus­pen­sion bikes.

Although the lo­ca­tions are scenic, even at the best of times cap­tur­ing the shots is no Sun­day stroll. With sub­jects ap­proach­ing at speeds of up to 80 kilo­me­tres per hour, and of­ten in the depths of a moun­tain for­est, you need to nail the per­fect ex­po­sure and pre­cise fo­cus­ing with the min­i­mum of hes­i­ta­tion. Over a four-day race week­end there’s a lot of pres­sure to shoot the top riders who of­ten ar­rive un­ex­pect­edly, rid­ing past only a hand­ful of times. We pho­tog­ra­phers are of­ten left to wait like snipers, ly­ing on our bel­lies in the mud. Just be­ing there isn’t enough in such a small in­dus­try, how­ever; to get ahead, you need to be cre­ative if you want to out­shine your ri­vals and de­liver the shots no-one else is tak­ing.

Hard day’s night

The chal­lenges don’t end on the moun­tain. Once you’re back at the ho­tel and show­ered, hair-dry­ing the con­tents of your cam­era bag, the real work be­gins, and you need to start edit­ing the best of 1500+ im­ages for the news sites and the cy­cling brands you have your con­tracts with. The mid­night oil burns long into the early hours.

Top gear

When shoot­ing the World Cup you of­ten have to con­tend with low light, but you still need high shut­ter speeds, with a min­i­mum of 1/800 sec for shoot­ing head-on, so strong ISO per­for­mance is es­sen­tial. My D4 takes care of this, while my Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 has the range to adapt to most shoot­ing po­si­tions, with su­perb weather-proof­ing to boot. To show off the ag­gres­sive ter­rain/beau­ti­ful land­scapes, I al­ways have a 16mm f/2.8 in my pack, but my weapon of choice would have to be the 300mm f/2.8. Used cor­rectly, its stun­ning sharp­ness is con­trasted by amaz­ing bokeh that ends up be­com­ing pretty ad­dic­tive.

So what was my stand-out shot from the Fort Wil­liam event? Af­ter high winds forced the gon­dola to close for the whole of Satur­day, we needed some de­cent weather. The lifts opened at 6am for first prac­tice and with just three hours sleep I was back on the moun­tain in less-than-per­fect con­di­tions, to­tally drained and wor­ry­ing whether my cam­era had been aired long enough in a bowl of un­cooked rice the night be­fore. Thank­fully, for the fi­nals the weather took pity on us, and the huge crowds were treated to some bril­liant race ac­tion. My best shot came with the fi­nal few riders. As the favourite, Troy Bros­nan, came into view at full speed, he went into a huge tuck to cut wind re­sis­tance be­fore the fi­nal jump. My 300mm held fo­cus through the whole se­quence, hang­ing on un­til the very last minute when the rider al­most filled the frame with his mud-coated gog­gles. There’s def­i­nitely plenty to com­plain about in this job, but it’s mo­ments like this which bring you back for more… Seemore­ofNathan’sworkon In­sta­gram:@nath­hugh­es­photo The shot of the week­end – it made all the mud worth it! Here, the red poles lead the eye straight to the rider Wider shots of the crowds can help to add con­text Know your news­wor­thy rac­ers – those shots will be most in de­mand

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