Behind the bars, behind the camera

Right now I’m enjoying learning new skills: maybe I’ve got to the stage in my life that makes people sign up to evening classes. When it comes to photography in particular, I’m a happy little sponge. The past few years have been a series of massive, earth-shattering discoveries, starting with cameras that can actually take a decent picture of a moving bicycle, then discovering the amazing world of post-processing, before a daunting level up to multiple lenses and fully manual snapping. So when our local skills coach Chris Kilburn posted that he was organising a combination photography and mountain bike skills workshop, my interest was piqued. After a protracted dither to ensure our new baby wasn’t going to arrive on the day in question, I signed up.

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Photography tutor Andy was also gracious enough to do a bit of modelling for us

The workshop was held on my home trails in Calderdale, with plenty of familiar locations to find new angles on. Unfortunately the forecast for the day was dire, with cold wind and insistent rain, but I figured that if I could pick up enough tips to take a decent picture in bad conditions, that probably upped the value of the day significantly – after all, anyone can take a decent picture when it’s sunny.

To make things even more unpleasant, I decided to take just one fully manual lens. I’m a recent graduate to the world of proper photography, preferring to set the camera to auto (or worse, a pre-set mode) and snap away in blissful ignorance of what all those settings do. This was going to be a steep learning curve.

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I clearly need a bit of mountain bike skills coaching too, but Andy was quick enough to capture one of my patented millisecond manuals. Photo: Andy Cole

We started out on a rather unexciting bit of doubletrack, with a view of the hills stretching over to Calderdale’s most recognisable landmark, the black stone war memorial of Stoodley Pike. Skills were handled by the aforementioned Chris; photography wisdom was imparted by Andy Cole from ALC Photography. Andy isn’t someone I know of professionally, but a quick look at his website showed that he has an enviable mountain biking portfolio. He’s shot downhill races, Red Bull Hardline, and his most recent project has been with Sean Green, a certifiable lunatic who is trying to ride every single one of Scotland’s Munros, even if it means carrying his bike all the way up and most of the way down again.

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There were plenty of angles on this corner, and it was fun to ride too

The other attendees on the course ranged from competent amateurs to people who’d only ever used their camera on auto [shamefaced look]. Andy was able to give us all some good pointers, regardless of our individual levels of experience. Combining the photography with a skills session was also a great move. Chris is a good mate, and I go riding with him a fair bit, so I tend to forget he’s actually pretty handy on a bike. With him styling it up for the camera and Andy patiently instructing us, it was a winning formula.

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Chris trying not to run any aspiring photographers over

In the afternoon we headed to the other side of the valley, where the trails offered more riding challenge as well as a good photo location. As Chris talked us through line choices and technique tips, we were able to photograph the other riders sessioning a bit of trail. This also meant that you could instantly see your body position and style on the screen of a camera.

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After a while I gave up trying to get just the rider in shot and let the pictures tell their own story

The final location of the day was the best one, with a steep switchback that could be shot from multiple angles to give various effects. It was also proper fun to ride. The weather had cheered up hugely by this point, and we spent a good 30 minutes sessioning and photographing the corner. With a lot of patience from Andy, I also nailed the tricky manual focus on my new wide angle lens and got some shots that I was really happy with.

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Gaz tries to concentrate on the corner, regardless of how many lenses are pointed at him

The ride ended at my favourite Hebden bar Drink, where we were plied with humungous pies, and set about reviewing the day’s pictures. Andy loaded up everyone’s shots onto a laptop connected to a projector, and then, sifting at the lightning speed of a practiced event photographer, he pulled out a dozen or so of each participant’s best photos, applied some choice processing to them, and let us all admire the results.

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This isn’t the most exciting ridng shot, but I loved the sudden burst of sun on the Pike

It turns out that Andy doesn’t just have the kit and the technical skills, he also has a keen eye for a photo, and we found ourselves discussing the composition and the narrative of the photos as well as camera settings and technique. Overall it was a really fun day, our riding skills got a brush-up, and I’m feeling more inspired to take photos than I have been for a while. If it happens again, I may well sign up.

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