What Mountain Bike's October 2010 issue - out in the shops now - is the annual 'awards' round-up, with the best of everything fat-tyred featured throughout the mag. Every year, as well as the shiny products shot in a shiny way in a shiny studio, the mag also does a behind-the-scenes follow-up to the Bike of the Year award and hands out a 'lifetime achievement' award to an individual who's contributed a lot to mountain biking.
I love getting the call to shoot (and write) these features, because it gives me an opportunity to get my teeth into something a little different. This year there was the added pressure of an unusually tight deadline, which saw me - for the first time in my 14 year freelance career - filing copy while still on the job. Almost - but not really - like a proper journo.
This year the Bike of the Year belonged to Trek and the Lifetime Achievement award went to Specialized founder Mike Sinyard. To get the full story you'll have to buy a copy of the mag, but here I thought I'd share what went into a couple of the portraits I shot to go with the features. I'm no portrait photographer, but I enjoy the challenge of showing something of the people who make mountain biking possible.
Nikon D3, 14-24mm f/2.8, 1/250sec f/5 @ ISO1600, two gelled radio slaves
My original plan for Mike was to spend some time with him and shoot the feature in a reportage style, but it turned out that Mike's time was limited and I had to come up with a plan B, pronto. Mike, in case you didn't know, kick-started the mountain bike industry as we know it by producing the Stumpjumper, the world's first mass-produced off-road bicycle, back in the early 80s. A bike nut from the word go, after graduating with a business degree he sold his most valued possession - his VW bus - to fund a trip to Europe, where he spent the remainder of his money buying a stack of Italian components to sell back on the West Coast of the US.
Sometimes the simplest solution is the best, so I settled on a set-up pic of Mike, the old bus (it's not the original, but it's very close) and an original first-year-of-production Stumpy. We tried a number of combinations of Mike in the bus and out of it, but in the end this very simple version worked best. I shot from a low angle to emphasise Mike's height (he's pretty tall), gelled the flashes to match the ambient incandescent lighting and underexposed a bit to let the flash do the hard work. A single softbox off to the left provides the main light, with a direct flash directly behind Mike adding rim lighting and some extra contrast.
Nikon D3, 50mm f/1.8, 1/100sec f/2.8 @ ISO800
The Trek story involved a whole team of designers and engineers, so I photographed each of them in a context that made some kind of sense according to their role. This is Jose Gonzalez, the brains behind the brilliant dual chamber DRCV shock that powers many of Trek's full suspension bikes. I wanted to shoot all the Trek portraits in black and white, partly because it simplified setup and removed the need to balance a bunch of different light sources, but also because it meant I could concentrate on faces and reduce the impact of surrounding clutter.
Working this way is a breath of fresh air compared with the complicated setup I used at Specialized. With no lights to worry about I simply asked Jose to get on with what he was doing and worked my way around him. To quote a current UK TV ad (and with apologies to non UK readers): simples.