My path to professional photography
This Saturday marks the start of my first Grand Tour.
I’m a cycling photographer and Journo. I, like many people have been in love with everything about cycling for as long as I can remember. I owe much of my passion for the photography of the sport to a single day back in 2013, when I was 14 years old, attending a local race in the Perth Hills. I was given a camera to use from a good mate of mine, a guy affectionately known as “Steve Dude” in the Perth cycling circles. I’d been interested in photography for a while at that point, and had loved cycling for longer still.
I used any camera I could get my hands on from that point, mostly by pestering the media department at school to borrow their cameras every few weekends to shoot the local races.
But it was the support offered by Perth’s cycling community in welcoming me into the fold that’s got me where I am today - sitting on a train to Bologna and about the shoot the Giro d’Italia.
I’ve been shooting professionally for the last 18 months with my first big career break covering the 2018 Herald Sun Tour. What I’ve found more often than not in the world of cycling media is that it’s more about who you know than what you know. You certainly can’t get to the top level by being rubbish at what you do, but by being present at as many events as possible and reaching out to publications and people accepting that the chance of communication back from them is slim is key to elevating your status.
I am very fortunate that I don’t have a mortgage or commitments holding me back and I understand that for those people that do, dropping everything to travel to the other side of the world where money isn’t wholly guaranteed is daunting or just not possible.
There are every growing cycling communities all over Australia and it’s that consistent growth that can create a great little side business for the passionate photographer or journo. I, like most people in the industry have had moments where unexpected opportunities arise that are too good to pass up, they’re the key to furthering your career and they also offer validation that what you are producing is of a quality that people want to pay for, which is an incredibly lucky place to be. I also really couldn’t have done this without the support of my parents. My Dad is an avid cyclist too and he was ever dependable when it came to driving me around the WA races, while I shot madly out of the window. This experience of following a race prepared me well for the real deal at the TDU when you’ve got to hustle to get to each stop.
When it came to actually developing my skills behind the lens I’ve found that the age old cliche of “practice makes perfect” applies completely. Getting to every race possible and shooting as much as I could meant I got consistent opportunities to improve on what I knew and what I could do. I also observed other more experienced photographers at every opportunity. Watching how other people approach the shots and their settings and techniques all adds to your own style and ability with the camera. There really isn’t a time frame for getting good at photography, some people capture great stuff from the get go and others never get there, it took me 3-4 years of consistent shooting and learning to get myself to a level where the people that mattered took notice, I’m still learning more than ever and by no means would I claim I’m an expert, I don’t have studio experience and I hate shooting parties and events, but I take an ok cycling shot!
A question photographers get a lot is what gear they use. Up until the end of last year I was using an entry level canon 70D for all my work. Before that it was an even cheaper Canon 700D. I’ve now transitioned to two Canon 5D Mark III’s for their speed and quality. But the reality is that you don’t need professional cameras to produce quality work. It’s much more important to have a good “eye” for the shots and a great understanding of composition than it is to have a flashy camera. Invest in equipment when it will expand your ability to capture shots, not when you’re still learning. Or at least that’s how I did it!
The rest of 2018 was uncertain. At times I felt like I was treading water after making the breakthrough to an interstate race with International teams present, and then twiddling my thumbs for a while afterwards. However, a trip to the Taiwan KOM Challenge to cover my ultra-cycling friend Jack Thompson’s 4 x non-stop repeats of this impressive climb, provided a high note to end the year on. I spent the rest of 2018 reaching out to anyone and everyone to help me secure accreditation to various events in the Australian Summer of Cycling. I was fortunate enough to eventually get myself to each race, covering the Bay Crits, The National Champs, The TDU, Cadel Evans and the Herald Sun Tour.
Saturday marks a quantum leap in my life. The Giro d’Italia. I feel hugely privileged that work, to me, isn’t work at all. It’s a passion through which I’m able to record some of the most memorable moments cycling can offer up.
However, this Giro spot isn’t a one-way ticket to a sure thing. There’s lots of work still to do but that’s the most exciting thing. It’s stepping up on the biggest stage yet. It’s the chance to be roadside on those stages I would usually watch, as a fan, in the late hours of each evening in May.
It’s about experiencing the essence of the Giro, through the lens and through the sheer thrill of being here for the first time: to share with you my perspective of how this race works through fresh and eager eyes. In case you didn’t already realise, I’m like a kid in a candy shop.
So, over the next 3 weeks I will bring you what it’s like for a first time Grand Tour attendee and to be on board the media contingent. The experience of getting up close and personal to the racing, the riders - captured from behind the lens.
I hope that from the Giro I can progress into the Tour and Vuelta this year but nothing is set in stone until your accreditation is confirmed and you’re on your way to the race. Going forward I want to seize every possible opportunity to get shots that others don’t and also to just experience all these races and places have to offer.
Keep an eye out for some bits and pieces on SSS throughout the Giro, check out my Instagram and follow for all the pics! @z_w_photography.
See you back at the social club,