Jon Denham tells us about his experience covering this year’s Tour of Britain for Rouleur magazine; he mentions the highlights, challenges and the overall invaluable lessons for an up and coming photographer.
"Last week I was fortunate enough to photograph for Rouleur magazine at this years Tour of Britain, an annual cycle race with many of the worlds top cyclists attending. Being a fan of cycling since childhood, I was overwhelmed with excitement when I saw the applications for passes to my choice of stages had all been approved.
The first stage I attended, which was actually the fourth stage of the race, ran from Worcester to Bristol, the second, Stage 6 was Bath to Hemel Hempstead and the third day was Stages 8a and 8b in London, of which 8a was a time trial. Each day began with a very early morning (fortunately, I’m a morning person) to collect my media pass and tabard at the start line and to make sure I was there ready for the arrival of the teams. I was unsure what to expect with access privileges, but when on the first day, I found I had the freedom to go wherever I pleased. Another bonus that I found great was, unlike other photographers assigned to shoot events like this, I was free to shoot whatever interested me. There was no pressure to get “the” shot, or to shoot, upload and FTP to the client there and then. This gave me a much more relaxed workflow, where I was able to observe and document and then edit my selection once I had returned home. I was also told, simply, to enjoy myself.
Having this freedom I decided to shoot primarily with a 35mm lens. In fact, the whole three days were shot with one camera and one lens, compared to everyone else with two or three cameras hanging from their necks. I like to keep things simple, so I shot as if I was using film and tried to avoid checking the LCD screen, which I turned off. It worked for me this time, though I am sure it would not be recommended on all jobs.
At first, seeing the likes of Cav (Mark Cavendish), Wiggo (Bradley Wiggins) and Marcel Kittel, all big names in the sport, I have to admit, I was a little star struck. These were cyclists I had only watched from a TV screen, and here I was with only a camera between us, shaking with nerves. My first reaction was to shoot as much as I could when they passed, but after looking at the results of the images from the first day, nothing stood out too much. I needed to take my time and observe them properly. The feedback from day one from Andy Mcgrath, Rouleur’s assistant editor, was positive, however, he did suggest not to be shy and move in closer, treat the cyclists as objects, not my idols, and don’t go where the other photographers flock to. Another key point was to take risks, to try things I wouldn’t normally try.
So with these points in mind, along came the second day. Bath. Here I decided to approach cyclists individually and start building a collection of portraits. This resulted in two of my favourite images of the week: the close up portrait of An Post Chain Reaction rider, (and king of the mullet at the Olympic games) Shane Archbold and the close up of Cav. The latter was taken at an opportune moment, no one was surrounding him for interviews, photographs or autographs. He was simply there, focused, thinking about the race ahead. Then, suddenly, the race began. I was told to move to one side, where all the photographers had to go, but again, I took a risk, and instead of listening, I made my way through the bunch and went the opposite direction, running through the centre of Bath. Doing this allowed me to capture some of the actual cycling and catch the cyclists when they hit the pavé.
The third and final day in London was a long one as there were two stages in one day (Stages 8a and 8b). This was however, a circuit race. This means I was able to walk up and down the course, wherever I wanted to find fans that stood out, details of the event and of course, some of the action. However, I found a lot of the action images turned out to be very similar. I’m personally not a huge fan of the generic sports photograph. I was looking for something different.
Overall, photographing the tour was one of the best experiences I’ve had so far in my lead up to a photographic career. Seeing my work published on the Rouleur site feels good, and my next aim is for some to be printed in the magazine itself. I have taken a lot away from it, what images work and don’t work in an editorial piece, I found it’s not always ones you’d expect, I feel I’ve become more confident in approaching people, and more confident in my own work (especially getting feedback from a working editor, who has given me some great advice) and the most important point I took away, was to just have fun.”
You can find more of Jon’s images on his website - www.jondenham.co.uk and the edit chosen by Rouleur - http://rouleur.cc/journal/racing/best-british ”