Project 52 PROS is a group of highly motivated photographers who are spending a year with me working on their books, their marketing tools, marketing plans and becoming more familiar with shooting like a professional.
Adam Bendig is one of our pros,, and this is the project he took on earlier this year. I asked each participant to develop a project and some verbiage that could be used to give the images context.
Adam chose the Tour of California Bicycle Race and these are his words and images.
For the past two years I’ve attended the Tour of California bicycle race, and decided that this year was the time to make the leap, and cover the entire race from start to finish. 16 teams from around the world (China, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Germany and a number of domestically based teams) descend upon the state of California, and for the first time traveled South to North this year. Cycling has long been a passion for me, starting with BMX as a wee lad, to mountain biking and road cycling as a young adult. Because of this, I feel that my cycling centric work is improved. I know the little things to look for, and the little things that are interesting to someone with an interest in the sport.
Earlier this year, I made the decision to fly to Louisville to cover the World Championships of cyclocross rather then purchase an awesome new photo-gear backpack. That paid off with some incredible imagery, and a few good connections for the future. So with this experience fresh in my mind, I set off on a road trip with grand intentions. I couch surfed when possible, but that’s one of the major takeaways from this. Because of the scale of this event, which took me over 1600 miles and more then 25 stops, I’ve learned how important it can be to stay near the event. Getting a hotel room rather then couch surfing would have saved me a couple of hundred miles, and a few hours behind the wheel. But, that’s why it’s important to get out and tackle these jobs that you want to be paid for well before you start getting paid for them. You’ve really got to find out what all goes into it. In addition to the crazy commuting, I also discovered just how much extra time it takes at the end of the day to put coverage together, but I’ll get to that later.
I’m fortunate to have a friend with a lifestyle website that’s happy to publish my work (agentlemansword.com), and because of that I was able to turn my coverage of World’s into a media credential at this race. In addition to an air conditioned room with ice cold water at some of the beginning stages, I was able to meet Press Officers for a few of the teams, which began opening up the coverage that I really wanted out of this. I was invited to go slightly behind the scenes with a world class professional road racing team, telling the story of the people that make everything happen and allow the riders to do just what they need to do, ride. And win. This is the stuff that’s interesting to me. What happens on the race course, you can see live on the Tour Tracker app and after the race on a ton of other websites, but I want to see, and show, what goes on just off course. Unfortunately however, there are a bunch of other photographers that want to do the same.
The key for me was getting past my fear of speaking to someone, explaining what I was doing and what I wanted to cover, and then the doors opened. I was welcomed behind the caution tape. In a nice discussion with the contact after my coverage was published, he pointed out that was made exceptional work stand out over others, was the attention to details. Not just photographing the details, but captions explaining what’s going on. Including names. Telling the story in more then just pictures. A lot of photographers, a majority I’d say, are more comfortable behind the camera. I’m definitely one of those, and would use the camera as a way to experience something without having to be involved myself. It’s a crutch for sure, but breaking through that has made my work improve tremendously.
Waking up with the sunrise and driving 70 miles to catch some bike riders walking out of an RV and hopping on a bike, then driving 80 more miles through two lane desert and then mountain roads to shoot a peloton passing by faster then you can react to, and then another 70 miles to a sweltering desert wasteland in triple digit heat for the finish, THEN driving home, that’s a lot of work. Now, sit down and import a few hundred photos, tag them, rate them, process the best. Now write a few hundred words about what happened in the race. Now, plan the next day. Figure out where you’ll start, what time you’ve got to leave, where you’ll be able to pick up the race while they’re riding, and try to get a little bit of sleep…it’s one of the best weeks I’ve ever had. It’d better be if that’s what I want to do on the regular! It was definitely more involved then I expected though. I didn’t get to bed before midnight once the entire week, and the day that I was going to be able to sleep in ’til 9, I automatically woke up at sunrise. Hard work, but the more I prepared myself for each day, the more I put myself out there to meet the people that can give me access, the more it paid off.
This may just be a once a year race, but now I have a powerful set of images to turn into an ebook, to show magazines, sponsors and local teams. They say that the body of a bike racer changes after they’ve completed one of the three week Grand Tours. That the non stop punishment does something to the body, making them a better rider. This may have just been one week, and I had the luxury of pressing a gas pedal instead of turning a pedal over and over, but the experience of working from the road, meeting deadlines and having to create beautiful images in random conditions, it’s made me a better photographer and helped to prepare me for what’s to come. Just like the thousands of miles the racers will ride in the off-season, this is practice, and now I’ve met some of the people that I’ll soon be working for.