Looking to pap a rider during a race, or want to take better pictures in the mountains? We've got tips from a pro
It’s hairpins that always get me. There’s an exquisite right hand swoop about a mile from my house, it features on a regular training ride and has tormented me from day one.
The scene looks like a tantalisingly good picture to the naked eye yet the quality simply won’t allow itself to be recreated with a camera. At least not by me.
“I’m the same… I always look at hairpins… occasionally it works but usually they look really bland and boring,” says cycling photographer Michael Blann.
Despite sharing the same frustrations with those elusive hairpins, Blann’s photography know-how has seen him secure a job as Getty Images’ ‘London Creative Photographer’, shoot commercial projects for some of the biggest brands in cycling and publish a stunning collection in his book ‘Mountains: Epic Cycling Climbs’.
Blann spent a year racing for an elite team in Australia, but quickly realised his place in cycling wasn’t as a professional rider. It’s only recently he’s been able to focus his career so squarely on his lifelong love of cycling: “It’s been a slow process but has picked up pace in the last five to 10 years as cycling’s really got popular,” he says.
His most recent collection focuses heavily on the climbs which have given bike races so much of their colour over the years, the mountains where riders have engaged in battles we rarely see on the flat – probably because the whole display is moving so fast you need to be in the melee to catch the detail.
“In my heart I’m a landscape photographer. I’m not one to focus on the action – my approach was to take a step back and put the whole of the race into a context with the landscape,” says Blann.
Ever improving smartphones and the continual upward growth of platforms like Instagram means that – whilst the pros will always have a quality we can’t even hope to emulate – a lot of us are having a go.
If you’re looking to get a coveted picture of your favourite riders in action, or you’re seeking Insta-stardom that isn’t all about ‘hashtagmylunchtoday’, then Blann has some tips.
Don’t disregard popular culture, but know your overall goal
“Having any sort of social media platform to get your work out there is good – I’ve found lots of interesting photographers via Instagram, I think it’s a great thing.
“There’s an awful lot of people on there photographing their café rides and lunch… which is fine… but it really depends where you want to place your work. Are you trying to make stunning photography, or trying to document your day for your friends to see?
“If you’re more business focused I think you have to theme your page, you can’t just throw everything up there, jumping from dinner with friends to landscape photography.”
Know the goal of each picture
“You’ve got to work out what their motive is – what you’re trying to achieve. Do you want to capture action, or scenery, or something incidental?
“Work that out first – then it doesn’t matter if you’re on a smartphone or an expensive camera. The principles of photography are all the same.”
Light and composition are key
“So much of photography is about light and composition, it almost doesn’t matter what you’re shooting off after that point.
“A lot of [judging that] that comes from experience, practice and instinct – you look at things and can see how it’s going to frame up. There are some basic rules we can all learn and apply, like the ‘rule of thirds’*.