What I've Learned...

Over the past few weeks, I have received messages from people in response to my post about my slight change in direction. It has been a whole bunch of encouragement (thank you!), questions about what EXACTLY my next few months will look like (¯\_(ツ)_/¯) and an inquiry on whether or not they can have all of my camera equipment for free since I will no longer be using it (huh?). But the question that I keep hearing again and again - and have been for as long as I have been doing this - has to do with the business of photography. How to get started? How to make money? How to develop your style, etc. I’ve been invited to more coffee chats than I can recall (and I will most certainly always say yes anytime I am invited), but I started to notice a lot of the same questions being asked and me repeating the same mantras over and over again. And while my experience comes almost exclusively from cycling, I would not be surprised if some of these experiences can be applied to other fields.

So, in no particular order...

Don’t give your shit away for free. If you are just starting out and looking to build your portfolio, it is easy to just offer up your services for free or for next to nothing. You might be afraid that if you ask to be paid then this “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” will go to someone else. Someone who is asking for less in return. And guess what? You’re right. There are plenty of clients out there who expect you to work for free (or, you know, for exposure). And if you ask for something in return, they will just give the job to the countless other photographers waiting in line and not asking to be paid. It is hard to have leverage when you’re working in a passion industry. And it doesn’t really change with experience. No matter how long you’ve been doing it for, you will still run into clients who expect everything for nothing. It's a small industry and you do not want to become that guy, who does shit for free. That hurts you, me and every other photographer out there. So name your price. Negotiate. And if they say no, walk away. 

Don’t let your head get in front of your heart. If it is a project you want to pursue and cannot stop thinking about, make it work. Stop making excuses and stop procrastinating. Just get out there and get it done. Personal projects continue to shape you as an artist. Projects where you are not constricted by creative briefs and shot lists and allow you tell your own story. So figure out whatever you need. Visas, travel, etc. Just make it work.

Don’t sit around waiting to get responses for your pitches. Go out there and do something. Work on a new project. Go on a road trip. Read a book. Spend some time with your friends. Refreshing your inbox for a millionth time can wait a few more hours. 

Don’t let you turning your passion into your business spoil your passion. That’s a tough one. I first ran into it, when I was working in aviation, pursuing a dream of becoming an airline pilot. No one starts flying and spending tons of time and money becoming a pilot by accident. It is almost certainly people following their passions, learning everything they possibly can about every single aspect of their hopeful future careers. But then you look at some of the people who have been doing it for 20–30 years and that passion is nowhere to be found. The thing that got you out of bed and made your friends tune you out after a while because you wouldn’t shut up about it often tends to disappear when passion turns into mundane day-to-day reality. It becomes just a shitty miserable job. And you spend all your time being bitter about your own experience and ruining the passion for those around you. Stop that shit.  If you feel it happening, it might be time to try something else.

Don’t Be a Copycat. The age old adage hold up: "Good Artists Copy, Great Artists Steal". Everyone has their inspirations and inadvertently copy others' work when developing their own language. You have. I have. We all have. But don't copy other people's work frame-by-frame / word-by-word simply because you have seen them achieve success. And make sure you realize the difference between a niche and a fad. 

Don't accept every project. Learn to say "No". When I was first starting out, my heart would skip a beat every single time I would receive an email that contained some sort of pitch. I spread myself too thin and worked on a lot of projects I was not excited about. But I couldn't say "no". Then after I got established, I started receiving pitches for work that were basically copies of my earlier work. 

Don’t let social media get to you. No, everyone else is NOT having a better time and working on more exciting projects than you. No, just because that guy got a nicer camera than you does not mean that he is a “better” photographer. Just because she is able to ride a beautiful mountain while you are stuck working your day job does not mean she is living a better life than you. Social media is highly curated to show just the good shit and ignore the bad. Behind every "If you're not doing this cool thing, then you're living life wrong" post is a supportive spouse, girlfriend, friend or trust fund that make it possible. I know you know this, but it bears repeating.

Don't work in a creative vacuum. Reach out to other creatives for advice. Pricing, contracts, etc. There are loads of online resources for this kind of stuff, but there is a lot more personal knowledge out there, a lot of which will never be officially documented. You will find that most will be willing to help you avoid the same mistakes they may have made in the past and will not treat you as if you are undercutting them and taking their jobs. Unless you are. In which case: fuck you.

Don’t forget what’s important to you. That one is pretty straightforward. 

There you go. That’s it. Hope you can take something out of this list. Or don’t.

Favorite Cup of Coffee

Recently somebody asked me about my favorite coffee experience. Naturally, first thoughts shifted to visions of "deconstructed" lattes and cups with documented legacies straight out of 23 And Me. But none of those memories really stuck out. That's when I remembered (accidentally) stumbling into Fuglen in Tokyo. 

I woke up that morning and realized that I have not charged my Wi-Fi hotspot overnight which meant getting back to the tried and true method of checking the map to determine the basic direction of travel and then doing your best to remember where you are heading. Now, if you have ever travelled with me, you know that I am fairly good at navigating and figuring out how to get from Point A to Point B with or without the use of a map. But Tokyo's layout - and this being my first morning in the city - have proven to be a challenge. I checked the phone, picked a random cafe, committed the map to memory and set off from the hotel. 20 minutes later I was lost. 

As I was about to get close enough to one of the ubiquitous 7-Elevens to use their free and password-free WiFi, I noticed a couple exit a shop across the street with coffee cups in their hands. I decided to investigate. I opened the door and walked into the dark space reminiscent of a modernist Scandinavian cabin. I handed my Yen to the barista working hard behind the bar stocked with a handful of beer, whiskey and aperitifs, received my cup and went to sit on one of the couches.

At that moment, the silence - which I haven't noticed until that moment - was interrupted by the opening harmony and groove of The Meters' "Cissy Strut" and all of a sudden this place felt like the most perfect coffee shop in the world.

And the coffee? It was pretty fucking good.   

Fuglen Tokyo1 Chome-16-11 Tomigaya, 渋谷区 Tokyo 151-0063, Japan


Outside is Freezing... The 'Cross Edition

Well, there goes another cyclocross season. All the preparations, training and planning has led the best riders in America to a snowy park by a frozen river in Hartford, Connecticut. The course itself kept changing throughout the week. From making the oddities reel on ESPN with riders on the mud slip and slide in the early days of the race, to the cooling conditions starting to turn squishy mud ruts into concrete, to a classic Northeastern snowstorm the day before the elite races and the temperatures hovering right around 20.

I once again joined Rapha to document the final stop on the domestic calendar for Aspire Racing. Here are a few of my favorite photos. You can find the race reports here.

A few random thoughts:

  • It is great to see kids racing (and winning) in 7-Eleven kits and realize it's not some sort of throwback, but actually part of the Boulder Junior Cycling program.
  • As a notorious underdresser, I may not be the authority on what to wear when you have to spend most of the day outside in freezing conditions, but I recommend wear two pairs of pants.
  • Much like embro, those little hand warmers sometimes kick into high gear when you least expect it. And they do not work well inside boots.
  • You're never too old to enjoy a good slide down a snowy hill on your ass. 
  • If you're a photographer, don't get mad at an official if they do not allow you to take a spot that you really wanted. They are just as tired as you are, plus they have to deal with YOU. Figure something else out and make it work.
  • Do not try to "grab a quick snack" at the Food Truck between the elite races. Literally every single other person has also thought the same thing.
  • Coming to big 'cross races always feels like a bit of reunion as I run into people I haven't seen in a while, as well as others that I saw on the last stop of this traveling circus life. That includes racers, spectators, photographers, mechanics, etc. And they are the ones that make this sport as special as it is.

new chapter... or something like that.

2016 was some year! Marked with some amazing highs and equally amazing lows. I was lucky enough to get to travel on behalf of the Rapha as a roving brand photographer to races, events and take part in lookbook photo shoots. I landed covers of Rouleur and Peloton Magazines. I met tons of great people, some of whom have become my friends. And I got to spend time in (and eat my way through) some amazing places around the world including Tokyo, Seoul, Dubai, New York City and Mathias, West Virginia. Yet all of the travel started taking a toll. My relationships and friendships suffered. I no longer had time to pursue my personal projects as all of my time was divided between responsibilities to teams and brands. I trained for races I would not get to line up for, because every race weekend was spent on the sidelines of other people's events... 

When I took the severance from my corporate job just over three years ago, I never intended for this "hobby" to become a profession. Yet thanks to the overwhelming support and encouragement of friends, family and newfound acquaintances I soon started to consider that there might be something in this "cycling photographer" thing.

First there were the local cyclocross races. Somehow those photos caught the attention of the editors of Peloton Magazine and they asked me to participate in their 2013 Photo Annual. Then there was the Hagens Berman U-23 Team and my first exposure to training camps, riding in California and sitting in caravans at a pro races. Specialized took me all over the NorCal gravel roads to take photos of their then-new Diverge bike. I travelled to the Tour of Utah with Drapac Pro Cycling and had my first professional exposure to Rapha via the Rapha Condor JLT team (still my favorite Continental team of all time) at the US Pro Challenge. Jeremy and Gabby Durrin opened up their RV and allowed to follow them around their 2014 cyclocross season. I spent a good portion of 2015 traveling to some of the biggest criteriums around the country on behalf of Peloton Magazine and shot my first look book for Rapha. Also, that year I spent some time with Drapac at the Tour of California and was lucky to have a photo from that race end up on the cover of Rouleur Magazine. I had my first solo photo show and travelled to Japan for a cyclocross race. 

Through it all, I tried to keep things interesting. I rarely went to the same race twice, did my best to avoid photo vests and kneepads and always felt more like a part of the team that I was working with, rather than part of the media. 

So... After much thought, I have decided that Cyclocross Nationals in Hartford, Connecticut this coming weekend will be my last. As a photographer, anyway. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities that the fine folks at Rapha have afforded me and I look forward to seeing the brand grow here in the US as well as around the world.

Also, I am always floored by the amazing support that I get from random people anywhere I travel. I always find it hard to find the right words to say when someone seeks me out and tells me that they really love what I do and ask a million questions about how they can do the same. I guess the words I am looking for are "THANK YOU".

With the new year here, I am looking forward to spending a lot more time working on personal projects (some of which include cycling, specifically a certain cobbled spring race in France), traveling to places that I want to explore that have nothing to do with bike races, spending more time with my family and my friends and getting back to racing my own bike. 

Speaking of which, I am incredibly excited to announce that this coming year I will be racing with the support of MAAP Apparel. It has been a treat to watch this Melbourne-based brand grow over the years and I am looking forward to being part of the MAAP family here in the United States. But (much) more on that later.