My new doorstep

Before I sign off for the year and begin my intensive sherry and chocolate diet I thought I’d assemble a quick and dirty gallery.

I moved to a new area this summer. All these pics were taken with my iPhone during my frequent solo exploring rides.

I hope you like grey.

Brownbacks Racing Photography Day

The aim of the day was not necessarily just to improve the technical skills of the photographers – correct exposure, getting things in focus etc – but to alter and add to the type of pictures that get taken. Brownbacks’ photographers are already pretty good at the focus and exposure stuff. But they’d become a bit locked into just getting close-up shots of single racers. The type of pic that the racers themselves like to see of themselves. The trouble with these sort of pics is that they’re not all that interesting to other people. They don’t give a feel of what the racing, or the location, or the vibe of the event is. This is what I was tasked with doing.

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There would also be a lesson in image analysis and post-processing stuff done once the racing was over. Nothing too complex as the emphasis would be on improving and speeding up the photographers’ workflow and getting good results in as reasonably a quick time as feasible.

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Come race day I arrived pretty early on so I could grab hold of a copy of the course map and have a scout around to find three or four good photo spots. One of the points that I tried to get across to my ‘class’ is that having a plan is the most important thing. Don’t just turn up (just in time) to the race and hurriedly rush around trying to shoot as much as possible. Aimless activity results in poor pictures. It’s far better to be much more selective. Don’t try to shoot everything as you’ll end up missing everything. Choose fewer locations and make better use of them.

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To take pictures that illustrate what the event is like we needed to find suitable locations. Locations that illustrated the essence and variety of the race course. Brownbacks’ courses are known for being ‘proper’ race courses. Berms, rocks, rubble, sheep-track, jumps, fire-road slogs, pump tracks even! The courses are hard but entertaining. We discussed what makes a Brownbacks race a Brownbacks race and listed potential trails/terrains that we should make sure we capture.

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And when it comes to firing the shutter button, take fewer pictures but make what pictures you do take count. Try not to worry too much about trying to get a photograph of every single racer. You’ll get more than enough racers snapped. If we try to make the pictures interesting in their own right then everyone’s entertained, even the handful of racers who escape our shutters.

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So we found three definite photo spots that we’d use during the race and a fourth one was shortlisted as a potential if we got all we needed to get at the other three spots. These locations covered a variety of different trails and terrain. With each of the locations we then tried to find two or three different viewpoints. Basically: racers coming at the camera, racers going away from the camera, looking down on the racers from above. If you break it down then we actually had a total of about eight guaranteed viewpoints. Which is quite a lot. But because they’re plotted and planned out it doesn’t feel as scattershot or manic as trying to think about finding eight different spots on the course to get around during the race.

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With a list of locations (and viewpoints) done we then allocated time-slots for each of them. Prime racing time was going to last about 90 minutes so we gave each photo spot twenty minutes, making sure spent a minimum of five minutes with each viewpoint. Five minutes of solid, considered shooting at each spot. This allowed time to get from one location to the other, stopping to take any incidental pics that we saw en route (it’s always a good idea to get some pics of non-racers, marshals and spectators for example). On this timetable we should be able to get to the finish line at a good time to get some finish line shots and candid post-racing pics.

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Once racing was underway I was on hand with a few pointers – keep the shutter speeds high, try to avoid tilting the camera too much – but fundamentally the photographers executed The Plan very well.

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When trying to get decent photographs you need to plan. You need to assign yourself a remit. You need to restrict and limit yourself in order to get quality results. Don’t machine gun your shutter at everything in sight and hope that you hit something. You need to have a list – a worryingly short list – and you need to make sure you get to the bottom of this list. You need to stop rushing around, even when time is tight.

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Having a plan is far more important that having a shiny new lens or tripod. It’s planning that is the mark of a professional photographer, not the size of his camera.

www.brownbacksracing.co.uk/

Gallery

Portfolio

This gallery contains 23 photos.

Fatbikes: Fad or Rad?

Yesterday I went for a surprisingly long mountain bike ride with Ed. I was on a very normal ‘trail bike’. Sub-30lb 140mm full suspension with 26in wheels type of thing. Ed was riding a prototype-y On-One fatbike… thing.

Fatbikes haven’t really done anything for me. Well, occasionally they’ve annoyed me I suppose.

They’re the new singlespeed. The new 29er. The new bike for people to buy who have run out of riding mojo.

Yesterday it was very interesting to go on a normal ride alongside someone on a Fatbike. Much simpler – and hugely less embarassingly look-at-me – than having to ride one myself.

One basic revelation during the ride was fatbikes are traction machines. This appeared to be both good and bad.

They certainly don’t seem to glide over mud or soft ground, as I thought they might what with that oversize footprint of 4in tyres. They actually seem much harder work than a normal bike on squidgy stuff.

Ed was getting huge levels of grip on off-camber trails where I was flailing – and in one circumstance, falling.

One reassuring thing was that it was abundantly clear that 4in of rubber tyre is absolutely not like (good) suspension at all.

Ed was seemingly having a bit of trouble readjusting to life without a suspension fork up front.

Big ass tyres don’t seem to deal with hitting rocks at speed very well. And they also seem to be rather prone to ‘bobbing’ when pedalling along firm surfaces.

But the overwhelming revelation I had about fatbikes is that they’re different. That’s the ‘point’ of them (if you must find a point to everything).

There’s no denying the occasional flashes of 100% glee that their riders have on certain sections of trail. It’s a type of glee that you don’t ever really achieve (as an adult) on any other type of bike.

So yes they are attention seeking. Yes they are functionally woeful in terms of suspension. Yes they are going to bought by people who spend more time buying bikes than they do riding them.

But they offer a new kind of experience unattainable on any other bicycle. So fair do’s.

Tick that box

Yesterday I spent exploring, riding, photographing and wooping around some hills along the north coast of Wales.

I’d been wanting to see what was up there for many a year. I’ve driven past the coastal hills numerous times on my way to Snowdonia or Anglesey or the Llyn Peninsula.

You could say that the hills have been calling me for quite some time.

Finally there arose a job for a magazine feature that could be executed in these hills. And it coincided with the first azure blue sky day for quite some time. Bonus.

As is often the way with riding-for-mag-photo-features the route we followed wasn’t your regular loop-type of thing. It was mostly a day of linking up half a dozen different key spots that looked (on the map and Google Earth) like they’d have some good photographic potential.

As it happened this anti-route turned out to be a great ride. Stone circles, big views, ridgelines, bigger views, phenomenal singletrack, hike-a-bike sweat-fests, golden light, damp backs and hot brakes.

The photographic aspect of the mag feature is now no problem. I’ve got more than enough good shots to go in there.

The wordy aspect of the feature is not so straightforward. Somewhat typically I now want to stray from the brief. Which is frequently possible and editors don’t generally mind so long as the original general intent is still in there somewhere.

We shall see what comes through the keyboard in a couple of days when it comes to writing it up.

Laid plans

My intention was to get some photos – and a story to go with them – for a magazine route guide based around Blaenau Ffestiniog.

It can sometimes be difficult finding willing rider-models to come along on these things. Especially if it’s something that’s best done during the week, when proper people are at work.

I eventually found a willing rider-model (Dave). And booked in with the Antur Stiniog uplift service to sort us out with riding the new trails there.

With it being November, and North Wales, there was a high chance that the weather would be horrible. As it turned out, the weather was pretty manageable. Yes okay, it sleeted at the start of the first run but after that we had our fair share of brightish weather.

The weather didn’t actually matter. I’d planned, and packed my photo stuff, accordingly.

It started out well. The uplift service was swift and easy. The trails were fun. The setting was amazingly ugly-beautiful. I decided not to get the camera out until we’d be sampled all the different runs down the hill. Things were going well.

Until our second run. Whereupon Dave hit the deck on something of a ‘nothing’ corner. The sort of silly crash that happens to us all now and then. He was winded for a few minutes and holding his ribs.

We went back up for a third run but from the moment I noticed Dave struggling to lift his bike out of the uplift trailer I knew it was going to be a write-off of a day, workwise anyway.

I took a couple of pics on an early section just for the sake of it more than anything else.

Dave called it a day. We went for a warming cup of tea and a chinwag in the cafe.

After the cafe, I headed back on to the uplift service (sans camera) and just rode my bike. It was great. The trails there are quite a piece of work.

Although I didn’t get any useful work content from the day’s trip, I’m not sad about having to go back and try it all out again soon.

Bikepacking

Myself and Ed Oxley went bikepacking last week. Three days in the Lake District, including an overnight stay in a mountain hut.

Bikepacking is like backpacking but on bikes. You carry everything you need for the multiday trip on your person and/or bike.

We’d both been talking about doing such a thing for quite some time but we wanted to do it differently to all the other bikepacking things you see online and in magazines.

Basically we wanted to do some bikepacking on our ‘normal’ All Mountainy kinda bikes. And ride the same sort of technically demanding tracks that we do normally.

Most of the bikepacking you see is (understandably) wide wilderness tracks being ridden on fully rigid 29ers.

Which is ace. But we wondered if you could take the bikepacking ethos and combine with modern full suspension bikes and some big flip-off gnarly mountains.

So that’s what we attempted.

You can read all about our (mis)adventures in an upcoming issue of Singletrack Mountain Bike Magazine.

www.singletrackworld.com

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