Shooting Campaigns From The Saddle of A Bike

Photographer Jeremy Dunn has shot numerous national campaigns and magazine pieces. Because he needs to travel with the athletes he covers, he uses lightweight point-and-shoot film cameras and compact digitals. The result is a look that’s grainy and reminiscent of vintage European sports magazines.

Always having a camera in your jersey pocket is one of the rules I have when going out for bicycle rides. This was a chance encounter with a professional racer in the south of France, and I was happy to have the camera on me. The Yashica is a little bulkier than most when it comes to these kinds of cameras, but the “Super” aspect of it means that it’s waterproof and so impervious to a person like myself who sweats more than most. It also takes great pictures on the fly.

Gear used:
Canon Rebel EOS 2000 with Pancake Lens
Leica Minilux Zoom
Olympus MJU Panorama
Yashica T4 & T4 Super

When this rider came whizzing past us, the trick was to do two things at once: Maintain a grueling pace on the bike with one hand and fish the camera out of your jersey pocket with the other. I shoot with my right hand, so I generally keep it in my rear right pocket. The Yashica also has an easy (and loud) mechanism for opening the lens, which is a nice check when trying to ride 25 mph up a hill behind this guy, because you can hear it. Once the camera is open, the other downside of the Yashica is apparent—the tiny viewing window. But, once you play with it a lot, you tend to get an idea of what happens when you point it in a general direction.

Rider zooms past. Speed up with your legs while pulling out the camera, wait for approaching cars to clear the shot, hold on until we round this bend with the nice caramel-colored rocks, see him stand up to pull away from the annoying tourist on his rear wheel, and fire away. Easy as that.

Despite the fact that the viewfinder on this little camera [Olympus MJU Panorama] tends to steam up quickly, this trip into Washington and Oregon was the one that solidified the camera as one of my favorites. Using drugstore Fuji 200 film and the abundant July light, I was able to capture some of my favorite riding photos.

There are two things that I like to do when shooting photos of the rides that I’m on, and these two photos illustrate this well. Hang back and ride ahead. I’ll drift to the center of the road if no cars are approaching and I can see something that looks like a great backdrop up ahead. The beauty of this is that the subjects, especially if they’re well into a 100-plus-mile day in the saddle, are generally unaware or care little about what you’re doing. The other technique involves a little more planning, but the Rowena Loops, just outside of Portland, are a great spot for going ahead and setting up a shot. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love my man Dan Penner (the subject of this shot) more than most, but I know on a good day that I can climb these loops quite a bit faster than him. And I also know that when you get to that last corner, you can look back on the more drastic of the loops. Then, when I beat him to the top, all I have to do is wait for him to cruise into the frame.

The beauty of cyclocross racing lies in its frenetic pacing, riders attacking one another at every single corner. And, if the course happens to be pancake-flat, like this World Cup in Rome a few years ago, there’s a good chance that a large group of riders will stick together for the entire one-hour race.

This particular race would be one of the last for the second rider in the picture, Niels Albert, as he was to be diagnosed with a congenital heart defect a few months later and be forced to retire in the prime of his career. But, he should be happy because, at this point in the race, he was with five of the best riders in the world.

The beautiful Italian sunshine was fading as fast as the race, so my only hope was to crawl under the plastic signage that was blocking the horse track from view and lie in wait for these riders to come blasting by.

Grit and grime are your friends. There’s a moment at the end of a cyclocross race, it’s right after riders have crossed the finish line and right before they’re starting their recovery where they’re very tired and very vulnerable. A kind word of praise usually does the trick, but also knowing your subjects goes a long way. If they have seen you at the start/finish lines of the last 10 or 15 races, there’s a good chance they will be okay with you sticking a camera in their face.

Such is the case with this Richard Sachs Cyclocross Team rider. It was a muddy, muddy day at the Gran Prix of Gloucester in 2012. The rain was coming in fits and spurts, causing the mud to continue kicking up as the hour-long race went on. But it wasn’t raining hard enough to actually wash it off the faces of the riders as they crossed the finish line.

This trip will always hold a special place in my heart. I wasn’t photographing it in any real shape or form. I was driving the van for the actual photographer, Ben Ingham. In between the riding and shooting, I’d pull out this new hunk of metal I was hauling around, the Leica Minilux Zoom, and attempt to emulate Ben as best I could. He was cool as a cucumber, and I’m not sure if I ever actually saw him taking a photo (he turned in some amazing photos from this shoot).

The tip here is to know your subjects. I may have been just the driver, in this case, but I’ve ridden hundreds and hundreds of miles with these two characters, so they have no problem with me sticking cameras in their faces while they bask in the fading Palm Desert sunshine. Then just hope that Ingham runs out of film, sees you’re shooting with Portra 160 and asks to steal a roll or three.

Follow Jeremy Dunn @JeremyDDunn, and visit his website at theathleticcommunity.com.

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