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THE LIFE OF A WORLD TOUR PHOTOGRAPHER
THE LIFE OF A WORLD TOUR PHOTOGRAPHER
The colours, beauty, panache and pain of the Pro Tour peloton are all frozen in time thanks to the talent of photographers skilled enough to be part of the big show. Their images inspire us, giving a clear view behind the barriers and allow us to relive some of the most hard fought and historic moments in our sport. Recently we were lucky enough to take some time out with one of our Pro Tour photographers Russ Ellis to chat all things cycling and photography and see what life really is like as a Pro Tour Photographer.
So what was your first love? Cycling or photography?
Photography, I’ve had cameras since I was much younger, I think I got my first 35mm film SLR camera when I was around 12 years old, I used to take pictures of everything and still take pictures of everything, even if I’ve not got my professional cameras with me I will always be taking pictures with my phone. I got interested in cycling much later, around my mid 20’s through a friend who used to ride road bikes.
How long have you been shooting the Pro Peloton?
Six seasons now, the first World Tour race that I shot was the 2015 edition of Paris Roubaix. So, if Paris Roubaix had actually gone ahead this season it would have been my sixth one.
You take some really impressive images that capture the emotion of cycling. Tell us more about your creative process. Do you find you go into a stage with an idea of images you would like to capture or is it a lot more in the moment?
Thanks, that is an observation that a lot of people make about my work and I also used a similar tag line to describe my work on my bio when I first created a website. I think maybe the fact that photography was my first passion and not cycling I came into this as a photographer first and a cycling fan second, so I always just gravitated to making images that showed people, emotions and were just interesting photographs rather than just out and out sports images.
Life on the road with the Pro Tour juggernaut seems pretty chaotic, could you give us a rundown of a ‘typical’ day during a race?
It is !
So a typical TDF Stage would go like ….
The day usually starts reasonably early but nothing crazy, maybe around 07:30am I will get up and have some breakfast and maybe get out for an hours ride on my bike to wake myself up and do some exercise (if the stage starts late enough).
We (I usually travel and work with another photographer) will drive to the start of the race about an hour and a half before the stage is due to start and park our car in the press car park.
We will get our cameras and equipment ready and then walk to the fan village, most of the photographers meet in here because there is free snacks and coffee! So we all usually meet up and discus our planned routes for the day. I am with the photographers who don’t use the in-race moto’s as these are just used by agency photographers like Getty and AP etc. We use our own cars to drive along the route and then stop at various locations to take our shots. Once the race has passed we have to find alternative routes to then get back ahead of the race to get our second shot etc, and the get to the finish before the race. So we all discuss our plans over the very average free coffee.
We then spend an hour around the team buses and or the sign on podium getting images of the riders signing on and getting ready for the race.
We will then get to our cars around 15 minutes before the race is due to start and set off on the race route to get to our first photo location …
Then it’s a case of find a good spot, shoot the race as it passes then run back to our car and drive down our alternate route to get ahead of the race again. Some days we can get 3 stops and these are good days but some days we can only get 1 stop before heading to the finish .. it all depends on the road layout.
We arrive at the finish, park our car and head to the finish line .. we usually arrive about 20 minutes before the race to give ourselves time to find our way from the parking to the actual finish area.
The race arrives and we shoot as much as we can and hope to have got some good images of the winner etc.
Then it’s time to shoot the podium before heading to the press room to upload the images and edit them, editing usually takes a good 2 hours roughly so we are usually finished around 8pm and our clients have their pictures.
We usually then have between a 30 minute to 1 hour drive typically to our hotel for the evening .. so it’s a 9pm check in and then we have to try and find somewhere for dinner which is never easy in France as most places close early.
So bed time is usually around 11pm after a none stop day …
Then just repeat this every day for 21 days !
How has Covid restrictions at each tour changed the ‘typical’ day?
It’s not actually been that bad, at the Tour we were not allowed to get close to the team paddock in the morning or the sign on podium. So rather than go to the stage starts in the morning we just went directly on to the course and shot the race as normal. At the finish we couldn’t get on the line like we could previously but we could shoot from the side so that was ok.
At the Giro we have had all the same access as previous years apart from the team busses, so the Giro has been pretty much the same .. but we just have to wear our face masks in and around the start podium and finish line etc.
What was your worst and best day behind the lens?
Nothing specific stands out for either really, but for sure the Tour this year had some bad days but only because some stages we could only get one stop on the road so your chance to get images is greatly reduced and that sucks when you only have a handful of images for you clients. Any day on a big mountain stage is usually a good day because you have the scenery and the crowds and riders really pushing themselves so the images are usually good. You also get lots of splits and more chances to shoot all the riders.
What was your best experience once you put the lens down for the day? or is that madness? you would never be without your camera at a race.
I am more than happy to put my camera down haha, as a cyclist and cycling fan I love to get my images edited and then get out on my bike and ride some of the routes if possible .. Last season we stayed in Belgium for the whole time the spring classics were on. This was great as we had many days between races to just go and ride .. I think we rode most of the cobbled sections that feature in the Tour of Flanders and a fair few of the Roubaix sectors as well.
I'm sure asking you to pick your favourite image is like asking a parent to pick their favourite child... but what’s your favourite and why?
I honestly don’t think I have a favourite of all time, I genuinely always feel like every image could just be that little bit better, there is always something I wish was slightly different. I could probably choose my favourite image from this season’s Tour though, because I do have a favourite from that race at least … it’s an image of Nelson Oliveira on a descent with some pretty epic clouds and light coming through. It’s pretty simple but I think it’s a nice image
What’s your usual gear setup when you’re shooting?
I shoot all Sony equipment so that’s what I have in my camera bag, I carry 2 Sony A9’s and a Sony A7r4 along with a whole bunch of Sony glass, the main lenses I use are the 100-400 and the 16-35 .. but I also use the 55mm and 85mm lenses for more shallow depth of field creative portraits etc