What do you know about the world of sports pho­tog­ra­phy? Robert Con­roy dived into the murky world of ac­tion pho­tog­ra­phy to find out what drives some of the pho­tog­ra­phers he ad­mires.

With the con­clu­sion of the AMB Pho­tograpy Awards this is­sue, many of you may have en­tered or at the least seen some of the many fan­tas­tic pho­tos through vot­ing. I’m also sure for many of you this may have been the first time you picked up a cam­era in com­pe­ti­tion.

Every pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­pher has a story, a path of learn­ing and ex­pe­ri­ence with the lens that is sec­ond to no other. They, like you, like me, have all had a start some­where. My start came purely through moun­tain bik­ing. Bor­row­ing my fa­ther’s cam­era, a chance to cap­ture friends and in a time of film, also a chance to see our­selves in ac­tion. Lessons in light and com­po­si­tion came from the likes of Gary Perkin, Sven Martin and Damian Breach through world-wide mag­a­zines.

So to lead you through your path through pho­tog­ra­phy, I con­tacted two pho­tog­ra­phers about theirs. Their thoughts and ap­proaches that have made their in­di­vid­ual pho­to­graphic work that you lock your eyes upon.

Name: Damian Breach Age: 45 Coun­try: Aus­tralia Web­site: es­

What was your first ex­po­sure to pho­tog­ra­phy? My ear­li­est mem­o­ries of pho­tog­ra­phy (the love of pho­tog­ra­phy) are look­ing at pho­tos that my fa­ther has from the Viet­nam war, and a youth spent ad­mir­ing ev­ery­thing I saw in the Na­tional Geo­graphic mag­a­zine.

What led you to pick up a cam­era? I have al­ways been in­ter­ested in pho­tog­ra­phy from a viewer per­spec­tive and when I fi­nally gave up rac­ing moun­tain bikes I still wanted to be part of the sport I loved, so I de­cided to try and turn my love of look­ing at pho­tos into a love of try­ing to cap­ture them. I like to tell sto­ries and think that pho­tog­ra­phy has the power to do that.

What was your first cam­era? My first cam­era would have been a film cam­era

in my youth, some­thing sim­ple and most prob­a­bly pretty cheap. When I fi­nally de­cided to take it all se­ri­ously back in 2004 I got straight into dig­i­tal with a Nikon D70.

What was the point you re­alised you were mov­ing from an am­a­teur to a pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­pher? I am not sure if I ever recog­nised a sin­gle point in time but from the very first pho­tos I had pub­lished I have al­ways en­sured I got paid for my work - so maybe it was from the very be­gin­ning?

What was your first pub­lished shot or story? I think it was a ‘how-to’ with Jared Rando, maybe back in 2004?. Shot in Wash­ing­ton DC and in AMB (of course).

What do you love most about shooting moun­tain bik­ing? Get­ting to be en­gaged with the sport I love. I con­sider my­self a moun­tain biker first and a pho­tog­ra­pher sec­ond so be­ing able to ride bikes and take pho­tos is like heaven re­ally.

Has your pho­tog­ra­phy al­ways been about moun­tain bik­ing? No, it’s still not. I have to pay the bills and it’s a re­al­ity that I have to shoot other things to help bring some cash in. But my main love and pas­sion will al­ways be moun­tain bik­ing as I am a moun­tain biker.

Which pho­tog­ra­phers have in­flu­enced you the most through­out your ca­reer? I’ll break this down into two ar­eas: those who in­spired me and my love of pho­tog­ra­phy and those who in­spired me to be a bet­ter pho­tog­ra­pher.

In the first camp is Ross Halfin and Keith Mul­li­gan. Many of your read­ers many not know who they are but as teenager I spent hours star­ing at BMX and (Heavy) Metal mag­a­zines and it was al­ways their im­ages that meant the most to me. To this day, when I see one of their old pho­tos I am taken right back to those emo­tions and the in­spi­ra­tion for want­ing to shoot those same pho­tos my­self.

Now to the sec­ond part and those who re­ally helped give me the con­fi­dence to be a bet­ter pho­tog­ra­pher. Gary Perkin, Sven Martin, and Shawn Spomer all had a part to play in what I am to­day. As a new kid on the scene they sup­ported me, helped me, pushed me, gave me friend­ship, and over­all showed me the light (pun very in­tended). I can­not thank them enough and they will al­ways be dear to me - even if I am taking the piss out of them with lit­tle in­ter­net videos!

Who’s pho­tog­ra­phy is ex­cit­ing you the most at the mo­ment? At the mo­ment, prob­a­bly Adrian Mar­coux. He’s stepping out­side the MTB pho­tog­ra­phy box a lit­tle and his im­ages are less bor­ing to me. In a world of too many killer im­ages on In­sta­gram it’s the im­ages that speak a lit­tle dif­fer­ently that get my at­ten­tion at the mo­ment.

As a rider do you find it eas­ier to frame a photo? For sure, hav­ing an un­der­stand­ing of the sport helps to iden­tify what “ac­tion” should be shot and tim­ing - but the same will be for any sport. I don’t have a deep un­der­stand­ing of rock climb­ing, as an ex­am­ple, so I prob­a­bly couldn’t shoot it as well a some­one who’s part of the sport.

But to me, the most im­por­tant part is about telling a story. Pic­ture fram­ing that tells the whole story as some­times the ac­tion or the rider(s) is only part of the story.

You’ve spent a lot of time on the road with pro­fes­sional shooting obli­ga­tions - where around the world is still on the list to pho­to­graph and ride? I tend to go to “safe” places. Places where the lan­guage, food, trans­port, se­cu­rity, are a lit­tle eas­ier to man­age. How­ever, I yearn to go some­where less safe and places like North Korea grab my at­ten­tion as the dan­ger of it all would be pretty ex­cit­ing. I know that there isn’t any rid­ing there (as we know it) but I want to hunt a story. I want to find a moun­tain biker(s) there and tell their sto­ries.

You’ve al­ways put to­gether amaz­ing sto­ries through pho­tos, re­ally dis­as­sem­bling the scene and pick­ing apart close up de­tails. What’s your gen­eral ap­proach to a shoot? I sim­ply want to show the world as I see it. I tend not to plan too much and think I work bet­ter when I have to face what­ever is in front of me at the time. Think­ing on my feet helps the cre­ative side - less con­trol, in my mind, can equal more cre­ativ­ity. The only thing I like to have con­trol over is the time of day. If your shadow isn’t at least equal to your own height then the light isn’t the best.

You seem to have mas­tered the DSLR selfie be­fore the word selfie was ever a thing – how’d that come about? Ha - you have to be fa­mous for some­thing right :) I had al­ways played around with it all when I started pho­tog­ra­phy back in 2004 but there be­came a need as Rev­o­lu­tion mag­a­zine gave my­self and Tim Bard­s­ley-Smith a head-to-head com­pe­ti­tion to do some “self­ies”.

From there I fur­ther honed the tech­nique and equip­ment and started do­ing it more and more to be self suf­fi­cient with photo shoots - es­pe­cially when I did some bike/prod­uct test­ing. These days it’s more about travel pho­tog­ra­phy and hav­ing the abil­ity to shoot as needed if I can­not find lo­cals to shoot with.

What should an am­a­teur not over­look on the way up? Great pho­tog­ra­phers get good pho­tos be­cause they are out there in the right place at the right time. Make your own luck by mak­ing sure you’re in the right place at the right time.

Name: Michal Cer­vený Age: 31 Coun­try: Prague, Czech Repub­lic Web­site: michal­cer­

What was your first ex­po­sure to pho­tog­ra­phy? Prob­a­bly when I was a kid. The grandpa’s magic ma­chine with lot of but­tons and knobs that could freeze mo­ments sim­ply fas­ci­nated me. I al­ways like to look on the pho­tos and was in­ter­ested about the process how they are be­ing made. But I never thought It will be my job!

What was your first cam­era? It was one of the Sony dig­i­tal com­pacts my fam­ily bought. I started get­ting more into, bought an­other semi-au­to­matic one and when I was 21 or so and man­age to save some money, I bought my first DSLR, Nikon D80.

What was the point you re­alised you were mov­ing from an am­a­teur to a pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­pher? Prob­a­bly when I should be sit­ting in the univer­sity and in­stead of that I was in Aus­tralia for the first time of my life to take pho­tos for Czech moun­tain bike web­site I re­al­ized that travel the world, take pic­tures and earn some money from that is pretty sick. First I changed my study plan of Mar­ket­ing Com­mu­ni­ca­tions to com­bined for the next school year, but then I quit any­way and started to work as a pho­tog­ra­pher on full time. My par­ents were not happy about that, but I al­ways have their sup­port.

What was your first pub­lished shot or story? I think it was a photo of Czech XC racer Jan Skar­nitzl from one of the lo­cal races. There were other pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­phers but some­how the com­pany, im­porter of Giro hel­mets, found my photo in a small web­site gallery and chose it be­cause it was dif­fer­ent. I got some small money, be­cause I didn’t know what to charge, but I was happy.

What do you love most about shooting moun­tain bik­ing? I love the com­bi­na­tion of the sport, fun, free­dom and the na­ture.

Has your pho­tog­ra­phy al­ways been about moun­tain bik­ing? Yes. I al­ways like to ride a bike and when I fell into pho­tog­ra­phy, the com­bi­na­tion of these two hob­bies was a plain and easy thought. I’ve been do­ing a few hobby moun­tain bike races a year and once I de­cided to go just have a look and took my cam­era with in­stead of a bike.

Be­side the moun­tain bik­ing pho­tog­ra­phy, in the off­sea­son I’m do­ing pho­tos for other com­mer­cial clients, mostly por­trait, prod­uct or car stuff or I worked with Czech Na­tional Biathlon team.

Which pho­tog­ra­phers have in­flu­enced you the most through­out your ca­reer? It has to be Gary Perkin, the boss of the Moun­tain Bike World Cup pho­tog­ra­phy from when I started to fol­low the scene and got to races a cou­ple of years later. I love Gary’s unique style of pho­tog­ra­phy, how he can cap­ture the light and use it to have a nice clean photo and also how he can use the pho­tog­ra­phy for story-telling.

And the sec­ond one is Michal Sváček, a Czech news­pa­per pho­tog­ra­pher and for­mer cy­clocross racer. With his very sen­si­tive per­cep­tion of light he makes awe­some por­traits and uses those skills for cy­cling pho­tog­ra­phy as well. I re­mem­ber when we met for the first time in Tre­viso 2008 at my first UCI Cy­clocross Worlds, we were stand­ing be­side each other at the same spot, I was shooting all the shots around and he got just one shot, the per­fect gold sil­hou­ette framed into an­other one. There I re­alised how dif­fer­ently you can see as a pho­tog­ra­pher.

Who’s pho­tog­ra­phy is ex­cit­ing you the most at the mo­ment? At this time there are many great pho­tog­ra­phers out there! I love the work of my Czech col­league Dan Vo­jtčch, Christoph Laue, Jb Li­au­tard, Kristof Ra­mon and many oth­ers...

What do you think is the most im­por­tant thing in fram­ing a photo? The most im­por­tant thing is what is hap­pen­ing in the pic­ture. When you cap­ture a very spe­cial mo­ment, you don’t have to have it in per­fect com­po­si­tion. If not you should catch the viewer’s eye by the com­po­si­tion. Luck­ily, the bikes and the sur­round­ing usu­ally work very well to­gether. I like clean, min­i­mal­is­tic pho­tos, which some­times helps.

Pro shooting life has you on the road a lot, of­ten re­vis­it­ing venues and lo­ca­tions. Does it ever be­come dif­fi­cult to de­liver a new pho­to­graphic story? It’s more and more dif­fi­cult every sea­son. Be­cause I work as moun­tain bike pho­tog­ra­pher for the UCI and do all the World Cup races, most of the venues and tracks are the same for years. And on those lo­ca­tions I have to chal­lenge and force my­self to find a fresh look and new an­gles to get a pho­tos which are still good but dif­fer­ent than pre­vi­ous years. I could call the XCO course of Alb­stadt World Cup in Ger­many a night­mare. The course there is so bor­ing for pho­to­graphs and the same for sev­eral years.

You cap­ture some of the most amaz­ing pan shots. What’s your se­cret? There is no se­cret about pan­shots, just to find a friendly spot and be lucky to have the shot sharp. For sure, a cam­era or lens with a sta­biliser helps a lot. It’s fun to shoot pans, be­cause it’s chal­leng­ing and when you get a nice pan, it looks good as peo­ple are not used to see a move­ment like this by their naked eyes.

The heart and soul of your pho­tog­ra­phy seems to be tied into cross-coun­try rac­ing. What is it that you love about pho­tograph­ing XCO rac­ing? I like the essence of the top-level sport and XCO rac­ing is the com­bi­na­tion of na­ture as a play­ground and top-level en­durance ac­tiv­ity. It’s awe­some to see and pho­to­graph from very close the world’s best rid­ers who are fight­ing for an hour and half on the hard up­hills and chal­leng­ing tech­ni­cal down­hills right af­ter. That is what im­presses me on this sport.

Ob­vi­ously every up and comer wants to be a pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­pher. What in your opin­ion should an am­a­teur not over­look on the way up? Time to time I get an email ask­ing for ad­vice how to be a pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­pher. I think it’s all about pa­tience, try­ing to find you own style and cre­ativ­ity, and self-crit­i­cism. If some­one has a talent it would take them less time and could be eas­ier.

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