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Big Ride: Costa Blanca

I am a huge fan of Cyclist Magazine’s Big Ride features, partly because I find the writing inspirational in terms of rides I would like to one day be able to tackle, but mostly because the photography is always absolutely fantastic. While there are lots of high-end cycling magazines around these days, Cyclist was the first to really prioritise imagery at the same level as words, and is still amongst the best for photography… all of which is a long rationale for stealing their title and turning a recent trip to Valencia into the chance to photograph a full ride in homage to the way they do things!

Getting my excuses in early, as can be seen from the Strava file here, I rode this as well as taking photos. I also didn’t feel like it was fair to ask my riding companions to go back and ride do overs on some of the more photogenic parts of the ride that I only discovered after we’d ridden past them… to compensate for that, I’ve used photos from two different rides over the same roads to capture the full beauty of riding in the northern Costa Blanca.

My final ‘excuse’ is that the only cameras I could use were the ones I was able to carry with me – in short, a Fuji x10 in one of my rear pockets, and my iPhone 6s. I reckon with my full Canon system, including a high quality wide angle lens, and most importantly a 70-300 telephoto one, I could get some truly stunning shots as the scenery and riding is so good there.

Without further ado, welcome to the Costa Brava: we rode a 155k loop, with just over 2,500m of ascent, across three main climbs (and numerous smaller ones on Spain’s rolling roads!).

1k from the top of Col De Rates

1k from the top of Col De Rates

Through the canyon

Through the canyon

 

 

 

 

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Posted December 1st, 2016.

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Some of us are looking at the stars

Effort

As the road narrows, the gradient increases

Autumn is hill climb season. As the leaves turn golden and the roads get slippy, racing cyclists shed extraneous weight (from ditching their helmets and drop bars right up to drilling holes in their frames) and up their heart rates.

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Posted October 20th, 2016.

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Thirty or so wild giants

I’m lucky enough to get to go and ride the (usually) sunny, (almost always) traffic free, (generally) smooth and (always) exciting roads of Spain once or twice a year.

photo-31-03-2014-12-38-11

The area’s most iconic cycling road, up the Col De Rates

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Posted September 5th, 2016.

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The Blue Corner exhibition

I’m incredibly pleased to say that between now and December, a small selection of my favourite images of the Thames at dusk will be on exhibit at the Blue Corner cafe on the Hammersmith Road, opposite Kensington Olympia. The shots are all quite special to me as London is my home, and urban waterscapes at night are more or less what I consider my speciality, so I’m incredible glad to have the opportunity to show some of my favourites off.

And while the seasons pass, the river remains the same...

A couple of the shots I have selected to display are below, but to see the full selection you’ll have to pop in for a flat white and a pastal-de-nata.

The exhibition blurb:

Nic Stevenson is a photographer and writer based in Kensington. His work focuses on urban landscape, street scenes and travel photography – with a particular interest in Asian megacities. His series of photographs of the Thames at dusk, ‘And While The Seasons Pass, The River Stays the Same’ was shot between 2012 and 2014, predominantly in spring and autumn. The great cities of the world are built around waterways, and since Roman times the Thames has defined London as much as the city has defined it. In the 21st century, the river has learned to share its journey with the glass and neon that is gradually encroaching into its world. 
 
Each limited edition print is signed and numbered, and limited to 50 copies. 

Posted November 26th, 2015.

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Talkin’ bout a Revolution

If the life cycle of Team Sky has proved the most high profile barometer of cycling’s grip on the British public, the quiet rise of the Revolution Series from winter leg warmer for the GB academy boys in Manchester, to televised takeover of the Olympic velodrome proves an excellent second source.

 

Track cycling seems on paper a niche pursuit, taken up by only the hardier grand tour superstars, bored specialists waiting for the Classics to start in spring, and a plethora of junior riders – waif-like things desperate to prove themselves alongside their heroes. Yet Revolution shows that it’s not just the annual July battle for the Maillot Jaune that interests the British public, cycling is a year round pursuit and they’ll take their entertainment where they can.

 

The races come thick and fast during the course of the day with a variety of different formats spread across at least five different types of rider: elite men and women, boys and girls of the junior ranks of ‘Future Stars’… There’s even two different types of sprinter to remember – the ones who chase a motorbike and the ones who chase each other.

 

In practice, it’s not as complex as it sounds, or at least it doesn’t need to be. The races are each visceral experiences in their own way – rarely lasting more than a minute or two, never longer than ten minutes. The crowd can easily spot their favourites – the Brits, with Teams Wiggins and Sky whipping the capacity crowd into a frenzy.

 

 

The highlight of the night is the elite men’s team elimination race: half graceful ballet, half chaotic melee. The idea is that teams of two race in a pack of twenty or so riders – taking turns to be tagged into the race: with the last team over the finish line every couple of laps eliminated. All in all it adds up to an excellent practical demonstration of fluid dynamics, and I imagine you’d have to show a cycling novice the race on slow-mo several times before they’d grasp its intricacies. But by the last ten laps, with just five teams left in contention, the crowd are in raptures and the drama is simple and visceral.

 

 

In the end, the enormously successful track veteran Iljo Keisse of Ettux-Quick Step and his partner Wim Stroetinga win the day, taking victory in the points race through Keisse, and jointly triumphing in the team elimination.

 

 

Revolution spent a decade from 2003 confined to Manchester – but since 2012 and Britain’s track triumph it’s been spreading its wings: first Glasgow, then London from 2013, for the first time this year the series ventures to Derby. It’s also found its way onto the television – each event now shown live on Eurosport.

It’s some sign of cycling’s success that London can in one day in November play host to a high-profile cyclocross event alongside a full day’s programme of track cycling. If the crowd at Revolution have their way, next year they’ll be a crit and some BMXing too, to make sure everyone’s appetite is sated. Whatever happens in future, the Revolution is clearly going to be televised.

Posted November 18th, 2015.

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And on Sunday they rest… a Six Day Racing photo essay

Last week I was lucky enough to be an accredited photographer at Six Day London. I thought I would gather some of my shots alongside some of my thoughts about the racing together on here:

In the 19th century, Six Day racing was dreamt up as the ultimate endurance test: brutal, sleep-deprived and amphetamine-fuelled slogs with a simple goal, ride the furthest distance around a track over six consecutive days.

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Posted October 31st, 2015.

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Events dear boy

So last weekend I did my first proper bit of events photography work (in what I would call the British use of the term – ie parties, weddings etc – rather than American definition of concerts, performances etc). I thought I would write up a quick post about my initial thoughts about it, and perhaps more interestingly, how it differs (and perhaps doesn’t differ so much) from my usual day-to-day photography.

I’ve decided not to use any images from the night as part of this post – not because I’m not very proud of some of them – but because I’m not 100% sure of whether I can use them without permission of all the people involved… So I hope you don’t mind that this is rather visually uninspiring – the last thing a photography website should be really!

The event was a friend’s silver wedding anniversary party at a West London specialist venue. They wanted someone to capture the evening, and also, importantly they were after arrivals shots of themselves with every group of guests as they arrived. This latter requirement meant careful management of a quite rapid procession of people through the door, having to be quite demanding to the couple to ensure they were available for each image, and taking a rapid succession of shots whilst making sure they were well posed, and everyone was looking the right way with their eyes open! My main conclusion was that it would have been far easier if my external flash had a better recycle rate – there was some banter necessary to fill seemingly endless seconds while it recharged! I also learned the value of quick improvisation having had to rig up a backdrop with drawing pins as a screen I had hoped to use wasn’t available.

The main thing I realised as a result of the session was just how physically and mentally challenging shooting an event like this is. From an evening spent with two camera bodies around my neck, ducking down, standing tall, jumping on seats, and stretching round pillars, I felt like I’d had a proper workout and my neck is still stiff days later. Mentally, constantly trying to work new compositions, judge exposures, assess focal lengths, and continual pressure to get the shot when there was only one chance was exhausting. I can only imagine how professional wedding photographers handle that pressure – though I guess practice makes perfect!

I am more used to arriving at a location, spending around fifteen minutes working out a composition, waiting for the light and then shooting perhaps four shots while the light is right, before hurriedly attempting a few news angles and compositions before the light goes. A good evening’s photography for me, when I shoot in a city, might produce 20 images, of which I would hope 5 to 10 will be useable. On Saturday I shot over 1,100 images, of which I think around 250 are useable. Quite a change, though I think my low hit rate was probably down to both a lack of practice, and only having a single external flash unit and one 50mm f1.8 lens to shoot at low light – which really didn’t cut the mustard in the dark hall, even at ISO 800.

So, what was similar to my everyday photography? Well, I was using the same camera, and chasing the light (and street photography) have made it absolutely second nature to be able to swiftly change settings, lenses, batteries and memory cards, which helped enormously. Not least when I needed to change a lens, memory card and battery about ten seconds before the speeches began earlier than expected. From doing a lot of street photography lately, the candid shots came as almost second nature and used a lot of the same techniques as my street work does – though perhaps with less of a sense of the absurd that is normal for street photography! Finally, the elements of composition, balance, space, and shape seem to me to not change that much whatever you might be shooting, whether it’s a river at dawn, a city block at night, a crowd of revellers or a portrait of a couple.

I definitely want to do more of this type of work in future, and found I actually enjoyed the party more than I often do when I’m not there with a role… maybe one day I’ll even get to try wedding photography – something I’ve previously always said I’d rather drop my 17-40mm L series lens than have to do!

Posted August 1st, 2012.

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News Year’s resolutions 2012

I usually make a few promises to myself about what I will work on, photographically, in the new year at around this time each year, so this year I’ve decided to jot them down so I can come back to check on them later in the year and see ow I am doing…

1 – Learn to take better street photos
I’ve loved candid street photography for a long while, but it is so far out of my comfort zone that I’ve not really experimented with actually learning to do it. However, a desire to improve my travel photography by featuring more people, combined with the feeling I’m missing a trick living in London and not exploring street photography more has made me decide to embrace it. I’ve set up a Street Photography Tumblr for my experiments that you can see here: I Am A Camera to see how I’m doing so far!

2 – Improve my videography / stop motion work
I’ve done a little bit of videography in the past (example here: Crystal Palace Slide Comp) and also one or two stop motion films (my Westfield one is here: Model Village) but I genuinely think that it won’t be long before a photographer is all but unable to make any money from their work if they aren’t knowledgeable about videography as well and able to turn out both art forms. As, principally, a landscape photographer, I suspect I have more time to learn than a commercial or wedding snapper may have – but given the prevalence of digital photo frames and tablets, it won’t be long I don’t think before moving image is as important to people in their home art as still is today. So time to jump in!

3 – Travel to at least two countries I’ve never been before and photograph them as originally as I can
Fairly self-explanatory – I read recently a Christopher Hitchens quote where he said it was his philosophy to visit at least one country where the people are worse off than his own every year, to help appreciate what he had. That seems like a good rule to stick to – but as I already have a three week trip to China booked for Spring, I’ve doubled the numbers and am aiming to go somewhere else I’ve never been before. The photography part is slightly linked to my first resolution, in that I hope improving my street photography will improve my travel work too.

4 – Stop taking sugar in my coffee
Absolutely nothing to do with photography, but you know, three’s enough right?!

Posted January 1st, 2012.

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My favourite ten albums from 2011

Just discovered my long-abandoned music / photography blog seems to have fallen off the Internet, so I have nowhere except here to blog about my ten (and some!) favourite albums of 2011, something I’ve done every year for the past five or so… So even though it’s slightly off topic, here it is!

If 2011 was a huge year for news (remember Bin Laden died… Nope? Yeah that’s because SO much other stuff happened too!) then it was a pretty giant year for music too. This has been the hardest best of the year list I can remember doing – and any year when Bright Eyes have a new album that doesn’t make the ten has to be good… Other near-misses this year include Fucked Up’s amazing David Comes To Life, Washed Out’s Within and Without and the so-nearly but not quite great Watch The Throne album. But enough of the also-rans, here’s my favourite ten records of the year:

10 – Wild Beats – Smother
Strangely I’ve seen Wild Beasts more than any other band this year (ok only three times, I don’t get out much alright!), and despite it being not particularly summery, Smother soundtracked mine – washed out and windy as it was.

9 – Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
It took me quite a long time to like this record I have to admit… At times I’m still not sure I do as it breaks into introspective free-jazz noodling, but like coffee, olives and Ingmar Bergman films, I think it’s an acquired taste worth acquiring. Moving away from the Creedence by way of Brian Wilson’s garage sounds of the debut was always going to be tough but on Helplessness Blues Fleet Foxes manage the transition with aplomb, hopefully setting themselves up as one of the great folk rock bands of the next decade in the process.

8 – Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes
Another entrant delivering on earlier promising albums with a definitive statement of their sound in 2011. Wounded Rhymes as a complete package is a dark journey through romance and sorrow, and in its Sadness Is A Blessing delivered a very strong contender for single of the year.

7 – Ghostpoet – peanut Butter Blues and Melody Jam
The only vaguely urban album on the list (no, James Blake certainly doesn’t count) is a woozy, near-spoken word, slippery beats and static-packed 30 minutes. The album sounds like a Tube journey listening to half-heard and detuned spoken-word and grime AM radio stations, in the best possible way. It’s also replaced the XX and before them Burial, as my late-night London soundtrack of choice.

6 – James Blake – James Blake
James Blake should not work at all. On paper he should be massively puncheable and his music should make me hate people who like it. In practice, I adore it… The album soundtracked a fair amount of time I spent laid up recovering from the afore-mentioned surgery, but despite the fairly negative memory, still makes me smile. The only downside is his recently- released collaboration with Justin Vernon doesn’t quite deliver on its promised excellence.

5 – Cults – Cults
One of only two entries in the list that I don’t actually own (thank you Spotify!) Cults sound like a brother and sister who got handed a bunch of Phil Spector records by their parents and left in a shack by the beach for a summer. In case you’re in any doubt, this is a very good thing!

4 – Low Anthem – Smart Flesh
Weirdly I bought this soon after it came out, listened loads, then all but forgot about it for months on end… That sounds like an insult but my excuse is a big chunk of my spring this year was taken up having heart surgery, do despite this being great, it wasn’t the first thing on my mind! It’s at one of at least three brilliant sophomore albums released this year, it smoothes off some of the debut’s edges and the result is a awesome slab of Americana.

3 – Radiohead – The King Of Limbs (and TKOL RMX)
It’s slightly cheeky allowing two albums to comprise one entry into the list, but it’s Radiohead, so I’ll do what I want… I’ve been genuinely surprised that TKOL hasn’t been higher up more Best Of lists this year – to me it sounds better than In Rainbows on repeated listens (and if you remember, I said very nice things about that in 2009). The addition of the remix album is the icing on the cake… Though actually the From The Basement DVD also deserves and honourable mention for both the interpretations of the existing tracks and the new tracks.

2 – Josh T Pearson – Last Of The Country Gentlemen
Deciding between second and third place was actually tougher than first place, but in the end, two things swung it for Josh T Pearson in my mind. Firstly his (to me) utter novelty this year, and second, like Bon Iver, I saw him live and he was both superb and darkly hilarious. A break up album that sounds like it’s not only a woman he’s ending it with, but his faith and the world as well all at once. The final treat of an EP of Christmas tunes put out through Rough Trade sealed the Josh T Pearson deal for me, his O Holy Night is hauntingly brilliant.

1 – Bon Iver – Bon Iver
I never expected the second Bon album to move me in the same way the first one did… With the best back story in indie, For Emma, Forever Ago was always going to be a hard act to follow, but with his eponymous second record, Justin Vernon did just that. While the rest of the world bought a laptop and holed up in their bedrooms, Vernon bought a studio and holed up with an orchestra. The result is the magnificent, ethereal Bon Iver. A peon to the mid-American areas he grew up in, the album transcends its geography magnificently. Bon Iver were also the best live act I saw this year – at the Pitchfork Music Festival in Paris… So inspite of the album being honestly tied in my affections with Josh T Pearson and Radiohead, it gets the formal top spot.

Be a shame to do this whole list without one MP3, so although its not actually from the album, but the B-side of its first single, hope you enjoy Bon Iver’s cover of I Can’t Make You Love Me.

Some other very honourable mentions:

SBTRKT – SBTRKT
Watch the Throne – Watch the Throne
Scroobius Pip – Distraction Pieces
Bright Eyes – The People’s Key (although the SXSW Live Bootleg’s better!)
Jamie XX & Gil Scott Heron – We’re New Here
Washed Out – Within and Without
Scala & Kolacny Brothers – Scala & Kolacny Brothers
Elbow – Build A Rocket Boys!
Fucked Up – David Comes To Life

And finally, there have been a few albums that the world has raved about that I simply don’t get:

Metronomy – The English Riviera
Yuck – Yuck
The Vaccines – What Did You Expect from the Vaccines?
Wu Lyf – Go Tell Fire To The Mountain
Tyler The Creator – Goblin
Lana Del Rey (at all, whatsoever)

Posted December 31st, 2011.

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Minimalism

People often say that photography is the art of subtraction, a view that anyone who has ever stood behind a camera for any length of time, trying to work out how to best compose some wild and windswept landscape into a picture postcard perfect shot will undoubtedly recognise. Whereas a painter will start with a blank canvas, and gradually add to it, brush stroke by brush stroke, until a complete image lies before him, the photographer’s job is subtly, but vitally, different.

Minimalism has a tendency towards producing fine art-style images, as with this abstract study of the flowing layers of a rose's petals.

When we make art, we have to decide what to remove from a natural view in order to make it work within the artificial confines of an image. Sometimes that is as simple as shifting to remove a stray tree from a skyline. At other times it can be far harder to see how to construct an image, using differing focal lengths, depths of field, and framing to try to bring the order of construction to the natural world, which inherently seems to throw off such attempts for much of the time I think.

Minimalism in photography, particularly in nature photography, but not at all limited to landscape work, increases and refines that natural challenge presented to all photographers. For the most part, minimalism asks that we seek to reduce to almost zero, creating our own abstract image from whatever constituent parts we choose to present to the viewer. Sometimes that means that the challenge of creating effective minimalist photos is even more difficult than usual, though at others, something will simply present itself to you as a subject and the composition will almost create itself. Groins and other man-made objects jutting into the ocean are a more and more common subject for minimalist photography, particularly with the development of filters that allow ultra long exposures in order to blur the water so it appears as though the sky and the ocean have merged.

Shot with a long exposure using a ten stop ND filter, water and sky are barely distinguishable, leaving the hard lines of the groin as the only point of interest.

So called ten-stop ND filters (so-called because they decrease the amount of light allowed into the lens by the equivalent of narrowing the aperture by ten stops) effectively turn day into night and allow the photographer to shoot in daylight the type of images that would usually feature long trails of traffic lights when produced after-dark. You can use these filters of turn clouds into streaks across the sky, or, as I tend to, as a compositional aid in simplifying your shot until almost nothing is left of it but one focal structure.

Sometimes, nature doesn’t need very much help at all in offering up a minimalistic composition, and the easiest way to highlight and control it is to use a very short exposure instead of a very long one, so as to allow you to minimise the depth of field to a sliver afforded by a very wide aperture. Using a very fast lens (one which allows maximum apertures of f1.4, 1.8 or 2) you can throw so much of the image out of focus that very little is left. This is even easier to do if you are using a macro lens, or extension tubes, as their depth of field is narrower than even the fastest lenses when focussed on tiny objects.

This image is even more abstract, the feather shot so close up as to be hardly recogniseable.

If you are interested in more examples of minimalism in photography, there is a stunning selection here and this Flickr group always contains inspirational works. More of my own abstract and minimal work can be found here.

Posted July 17th, 2011.

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