As the excitement from the Rio Olympic subsides and anticipation builds for this week’s Paralympic Games, we speak to a man that has viewed the action in a unique way — through a viewfinder.
As official photographer for Getty Images, Bryn Lennon is responsible for capturing some of the world’s most amazing athletes and prestigious events. Bryn is also a specialist in cycling photography, having covered 12 Tour de France races from the back of a motorcycle as well as countless one-day classics and several World Championships on both road and track. Most recently, Bryn has been out in Rio shooting the Olympic Games.
In this interview, we question Lennon on everything from his favourite camera equipment to his most memorable shoots, his biggest ever mistake as a photographer and what he thinks is required to score a great photograph.
As an official sports photographer for Getty Images, where do you source your inspiration?
Each race is always a quest to produce better pictures and continually improve my portfolio. It’s great to see what my colleagues are photographing in their sport and see if any of the techniques they use can be applied or adapted to cycling imagery. Ultimately, I think that a photographer is only really as good as their last shoot.
I’d like to think that every photographer has his or her own style, how would you describe yours?
That’s quite a tough question, as I’ve never analysed my own style! For action shots, I’m obsessive about the background and keeping it neat and clean to complement the action and avoid distracting from the subject. Also, when I’m working behind the scenes I always try to remain discreet and unobtrusive in order to capture the athletes interacting in a natural way.
When it comes to action shots, Bryn is obsessive about the background, as displayed in this capture from stage 21 of the 2013 Tour de France Bryn Lennon / Getty Images
Typically, what does your kit consist of for a cycling shoot?
You have to keep your kit fairly light so you are able to move around quickly. Therefore, on a typical shoot, I will carry three cameras and four or five lenses. I also have two wireless transmitters attached to each camera, which are connected to a device allowing me to transmit the images back to the office while on the move. My images get sent quickly at the Olympics and are usually made available within 120 seconds from when they are taken. I also have my laptop and waterproofs; you never know what you’ll be up against!
For the photography geeks out there, you’re stuck on a desert island and get to take one camera and one lens with you, what would it be?
It would have to be a Canon 2 DX and 50mm 1.2 lens. The latest Canon Pro body is fantastic and I love the shallow depth-of-field on the 50mm. When you start out in photography you have one camera and a 50mm lens, but all you want is more gear. However, funnily enough, at a certain point in your career, you find all you want is to simplify things and head right back to basics, especially when you’re on the move a lot.
What would you say is the hardest thing about shooting cyclists?
Almost certainly when you are covering stage racing and you stop to take a landscape picture. You only get one go and it might be 50km before you get the chance to pass the peloton again. You often need to make a fast decision without knowing the rest of the course — you might be in the best position of the day, but for all you know, the hanging gardens of Babylon might be just around the corner. Ultimately you just have to make the best decision you can at the time and hope to make the right call more times than not.
UCI Road World Championships day five Bryn Lennon / Getty Images
Now, we all make mistakes, but what’s your worst ever mistake as a professional photographer?
Years ago, I badly mistimed a trip to the toilet while covering a darts tournament. While I was in there Phil “The Power” Taylor did one of the fastest nine-dart finishes (i.e. the perfect game) of all time and I wasn’t there. Then people were asking whether I got it or not — it wasn’t an easy answer!
What do you think is the secret to a great photograph?
I think it’s when a number of factors come together at the same time. There’s not really a single secret as there are many things that contribute to a great picture. Unfortunately, not every picture you take is a spectacular moment, so using what you’ve got in front of you (i.e. light and composition) to the best of your ability is the best approach. Then you always hope a big moment happens when you have all of those factors perfected.
As a professional photographer, you must have travelled the world, tell us briefly about your favourite assignment?
Many assignments are favourites for different reasons. I love shooting a slightly lower profile race that’s really photogenic like the Tour of Oman, but also enjoy the full-on crazy nature of the Tour de France.
Chris Froome’s 2013 Tour de France win was definitely an all-time favourite for me. It was also the 100th Tour de France and the organisers, ASO, threw everything at it to make it spectacular. The Dakar Rally was also one of the most astonishing stand-out events I’ve ever covered. There were several jaw-dropping moments every day, from two burnt out cars on the first day and a faulty photographer’s helicopter to running through sand trying to dodge the terrifying racing trucks as they crested the sand dunes.
Some individuals are just photogenic, out of the big names you’ve snapped who was the easiest to photograph?
Chris Hoy. He was a spectacular racer and consummate professional. You could always get a picture out of him, either in action or in the studio. I used to plan track action around what made the best picture for his events and whatever was required in the studio he would always oblige. I sat for an hour in the crowd to get the image below, knowing that when he went full speed down the bank it would make a great image. It was also a very stressful hour knowing that the minute he arrived on the track, the velodrome would erupt and everyone would stand up with their camera phones, wave flags and block the very narrow line of sight that I had.
Bryn sat for an hour in the crowd of the UCI Track World Championships to get this image of the ultra-photogenic Chris Hoy Bryn Lennon / Getty Images
What would be your number one bit of advice for the budding sports photographer?
Make the most of what you have. You may not have the best kit, but you can take just as impressive shots with the shorter lens in a different situation. There are also a lot of amateur sports where access is easier and picture opportunities can be just as good as some professional sports. Get as much practice in as possible, after all, practice makes perfect.