Recent Work – 2013 Meet Your Maker Ultra Trail Run

“Be willing to be a beginner every single morning.”

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The Meet Your Maker 50 is now a few weeks in the rear view mirror but I keep coming back to the same few images shot in the hour before gun time. I keep coming back to these images because they are unlike any images that I have shot before. It wasn’t my first shoot with my new Nikon D800, it was my second, but it was the first in the challenging conditions offered by a shoot that started at 4am and took me from the valley floor to the alpine high above Whistler Village and back again. I shot into the darkness and into the sun and with the review of each frame I felt stronger and more confident as a photographer.

My feelings about equipment are well known in my circle. The gear debate is for gear fetishists and those more concerned about cameras and technology than photography and content. Whenever I over hear another photographer going on about the latest tech and how they can’t live without it, I respond with a reflexive roll of the eyes. Some of the most iconic images in the history of photography were made long before built in light meters, autofocus and certainly before pixels forever changed the medium. I believe my camera bag is a toolbox and my cameras are tools, the right lens and the right camera can help you get the shot, but no amount of tech will compensate for a photographers sole reliance on it. The difference for me, that Sunday in Whistler, was that the D800 did a better job at capturing what I felt and saw better than any camera I’ve used before.

Since Labour day weekend in Whistler with MYM I’ve completed several shoots and projects including commercial products, packaged goods, running and corporate head shots. It’s been a very busy six weeks and despite my above comments, the D800 feels like a game changer. I feel like it’s made me a better photographer, and although that may say more about my strengths as a photographer than it does about the quality of the Nikon, I am excited that it’s so good at helping me capture subjects the way I see them.

MYM was my second Ultra Marathon shoot in as many months, as you may recall from an earlier post the Squamish 50. Shooting an Ultra maybe one of the hardest things I’ve had to shoot. Without commenting on what I haven’t shot, I will say that Ultras take planning and prep from what you have in your bag, to where on course you’ll shoot, to what you power yourself with. I have a tendency to favour gear and bag prep over making sure I have what I need to survive these long, long days. Do: Take more water than you think you’ll need. Don’t: forget extra batteries, memory cards and sunscreen.

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Catching Up – 2013 Crankworx Red Bull Joyride

Out for a Joyride!

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It’s been a month since I left Whistler after 10 days on the mountain with Crankworx, and what a month. I’ve been back to Whistler for event shoots with 5 Peaks and the Meet Your Maker Ultra Marathon event as well as keeping busy in Vancouver with corporate, commercial and more event work. The busy season still has a lot of fight left in it. It was great to be in Whistler again for Crankworx but it wouldn’t have been possible without the support of some great folks including Patti Houston whose ‘sponsorship’ package made the week possible for me. Thanks to the gang at SUPERDROP for keeping me energized and alert with a week’s worth of buzz from their new energy product and to Ultra Runner, James Marshall, for the case of Cariboo which was a cool welcome home after a day in the dust, or rain, on the mountain.

In some ways Crankworx feels a bit like a working holiday, although I am certain no one on our team would describe the week in Whistler as a vacation. For me it feels a bit like a holiday because I was able to focus on one thing for the week at the expense of the day to day chores of life at home. Despite arriving in Whistler with a ton of work on my desktop, I greatly appreciated the opportunity to shoot every day. I believe and I have mentioned it before, there is no substitute for intensity and immersion when it comes to photography and honing your craft.

This year Crankworx was also a tremendous learning experience in adapting to challenges. Leading up to Whistler I was starting to notice that my camera, a Nikon D300s, was not performing quite as expected and my auto focus was starting to act erratically and unpredictably especially when using the otherwise exceptional Nikkor 14-24 f2.8. While I have since upgraded my camera body, more on this later, on event week my ‘gear frustration’ was at a high point and I ended up shooting on manual focus much of the week when using the wide glass. It is a testament to how talented and hard working sports photographers were prior to auto focus, power drives and long before the digital era.

Below are a few images from the Red Bull Joyride event int he Whistler Mountain bike park. There were plenty of spills, chills and thrills to go around.

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2013 Crankworx – Tales from the Whip

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I am catching up with my inbox and a variety of to do lists since getting home from Whistler on Monday afternoon. It was a pretty intense week in Whistler and driving back into Vancouver was a challenge. After a week of walking, bikes and tall trees, the sheer scale of the city filled me with anxiety. The noise, the traffic and the expanses of concrete and asphalt left me looking over my shoulder toward Whistler wishing that it was easier to stay.

Today’s images are from the Whip Off contest on Crabapple Hits just below mid mountain. The Whip Off must be among the most exciting Crankworx events to photograph. The quarters are small, the airs huge and the crowds are very enthusiastic. There were no shortages of close calls for photographers and spectators alike, and I even managed to catch a tumbling bike and rider.

The challenge with events like the Whip Off is that the action directly in front of the camera is generally so exciting that I found it difficult to pull back and consider not just the individual components, but the event as a whole including riders, the terrain, spectators and the scores of photographers on hand. I’ve been looking at the work of other photographers that were on site last Friday with envy and humility. What I see in the photography of others is often what I have missed in my own approach to a scene.

Crankworx produces such great photography every year, in part because it attracts so many of the most recognized names in the industry, but also because of the sheer numbers of photographers who descend on Whistler every year. You can’t swing a GoPro at the end of a pole without poking a guy in his 300 f2.8. Crankworx is a glass fest and the competition is fierce.

This is what the Whip Off looked like to me, but you should also check out the action at Pink Bike:

Pink Bike’s look at the Whip Off Worlds.

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2013 Crankworx – Ultimate Pump Track

Thursday Night at the Pump Track

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Yesterday was a tough day. As I shot, I saw little in the camera that excited me, rather, a lot that filled me with anxiety and doubt. Early on I had a mentor who said “I’d rather be lucky than good.” I never understood that. I always thought that if you were good enough you’d never need luck. I never wanted to rely on luck, to leave certain things to chance; when I got it right, I wanted to get it right not because I was lucky, but because I am good.

When I wrapped last night at the Rockshox Pump Track in Whistler’s Olympic Plaza I was feeling neither good nor lucky. I wasn’t looking forward to the arduous task of choosing my least bad images to share with the Crankworx photo team. It turns out being lucky isn’t so bad. I came away with a few images from last night that I am happy with. Not to say there aren’t a lot of images bound for the bin, because there are, but rather, I am grateful for having something to show that I am reasonably happy with.

But maybe luck is a outcome of experience, maybe it’s true that the harder one works, the luckier one gets.

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2013 Crankworx – Over the Hump

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There are many quotes about doing what you love, many of them, in the context of career, suggest to pursue your passion and the money will follow. I don’t believe it’s this easy; I like what Henry David Thoreau has to say about passion.

“Do what you love. Know your own bone, gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw at it still.” -Henry David Thoreau

It’s contrite and simplistic to believe that one will follow the other just because. It is more likely that through sweat, effort, failure and exhaustion that success will follow for some, but likely not all. I have been pursuing my passion now for 12 years with some significant ups and downs. I have been in a staff position at three newspapers, I have shot commercial product in more than 20 countries and for every piece of paid work I do now there is another that is done as personal work, as portfolio development, as an exercise in honing my craft.

I didn’t wake up one morning with the thought “Today will be the day I become a photographer.” I have always loved photography and over a number of years in my 20’s it came to have a greater and greater significance in my life. I was a member of the UVic photo club, I took a job at a camera store, I went back to school to study photojournalism and for time when my father and I seemed to argue every choice I made about life, school, etc, photography was the one point we could see and communicate eye to eye about.

My father, at the age of 49, lost his fight with Cancer 15 years ago this morning, and I suspect I will spend the rest of my life struggling with this at some level. A few days later, we held a service attended by more than 300 people, it was standing room only, in the hours that followed the service friends and family gathered to celebrate his life. I was lost, I was no where and this is when two dear friends sat me down with a bottle of Oban and mapped a course forward. It was another year before I finished my BA and two more before two more before I had the clarity and capacity to return to school and the following spring I was working at a daily paper with some of the best mentors in the business.
I am doing what I love, but it is not without sacrifice and to sure, I can’t say that I would be here, doing this, had my father survived. When looking forward it helps to consider how far you’ve come.Now that I have laid my somber self before you, here are a few pictures from yesterday on Whistler Mountain, yesterday was hump day and the best is yet to come.2013 CX Robert Shaer Review-12  2013 CX Robert Shaer Review-24 2013 CX Robert Shaer Review-25 2013 CX Robert Shaer Review-30

2013 Crankworx – The Dust and the Glory

“Write your injuries in dust, your benefits in marble.”

-Benjamin Franklin

This morning, between editing photos and sips of coffee, I have been fighting a losing battle. It is dry in Whistler, the fire hazard is listed as extreme, the dust is everywhere and it is saturating. My hair feels like straw and every sip from my water bottle includes what feels like a mouth full of grit. Cleaning myself is one thing, but dust is especially hard on camera equipment. It gets into everything and glass can act like a magnet for dust looking for a surface to land on. Dust requires constant maintenance; gotta keep your gear clear to get the best from it, and I think we can all agree that the challenges that come with trying to capture a mountain biker 20-30 feet in the air or another deep in a berm at 50km/hr are enough without battling the elements as well. But dust is also beautiful, it captures light and creates an aura of place and experience. These are a few shots from Tuesday on Whistler shot in and around the Garbanzo DH course and through the dust.

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“Whether we fall by ambition, blood or lust, like diamonds we are cut with our own dust.”

-John Webster

Recent Work – 5 Peaks Alice Lake Provincial Park

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I’d like to think that I am at the mid point between two event weekends, but I’m not. My head is spinning because it’s already Thursday and last weekend feels like it was a month ago, which is about how old my last post is. In my defense, May and June have been busy months and though I have had to withdraw myself from some events I was keen to participate in due to injury we now we are into the dark heart of summer event season. It’s on.

I’ve taken on a greater role with 5 Peaks Trail Series and I am super excited to see where it takes me and while I continue to shoot the 5 Peaks BC events I now get to help guide the look and feel of the photography from our other events across Canada. This really kicked off last weekend and while I was shooting the 5 Peaks BC event at Alice Lake Provincial Park in Squamish, BC other photographers were shooting in Alberta and Ontario.

It’s also been a busy period in the Photography community. Recently The Chicago Tribune let go of it’s whole photo staff electing to outfit reporters with iPhones and employing freelancers as necessary. I want to address this issue, but I am still processing what this means, and how I feel about it. This is an issue for another post, or a year’s worth of posts, but for now, I have to let it go. After ‘retiring’ myself from photography late in 2008, I have obviously come back to it but I have come back to an industry deep in transition and very much reflective of Chris Anderson’s Long Tail model. Social media has created a voracious market place for content and the event community is being forced to reevaluate how to use photography and how to pay for it. Photography is no longer a value add, it can no longer be simply a revenue stream, it has to be more. Event photography has to interesting, creative and engaging because, in the era of Social Media, every photo has become a tool of outreach and branding. At it’s best photography should be sharing an experience that others want want in on.

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Saturday in Squamish was a little wetter and a little colder than I had anticipated or prepared for. I definitely failed my Boy Scout training as I left the house in Vancouver unprepared for the conditions in Squamish but somehow I managed through. I even left my shoes on the roof of the car, finding them still there at a stop en route. Squamish is an ideal venue for trail running and Squamish trails are heavily used but also built and maintained by their users. In humping my gear down part of the course known as Credit Line, I came across a trail builder working on a couple of ladders to clean up a section of climbing. I was just as surprised to find out he had no idea that there was an event that morning as he was to look up and see almost 400 runners descend on him and his section of trail repair. Squamish offers an awesome variety of technical trails for runners and mountain bikers, lots of ups and downs under 300 foot trees, this is West Coast trail running at it’s finest, all that’s missing is a salmon bbq and a keg of west coast pale ale!

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