Premier Version: Behind The Lens – James Robertson

by 1

When we commission photographers to produce the images to use in our magazine features we typically expect to receive anything up to 50 images from them. This large selection then gets filtered down to a final collection of maybe 12 or so to be laid out in the feature alongside the text. This is a process done in house and away from the eyes of the person behind the lens. The selection criteria is guided by the text, which may or may not be also produced by the photographer, and often the physical constraints of the design and the number of pages assigned to the feature. The end result is often a situation where the photographer will be convinced we’ve laid out the wrong images at the wrong size – it is the lot of the humble freelancer that their art is often ignored and those dreadful people driving the desks never pick the best images.

In Issue 116 of Singletrack we have a feature called ‘Man of Porage’. Written by Lee Craigie, and with photography by James Robertson, it tells the story of a bike race of a very different kind. Here’s James’ pick of the images.

About The Photographer

I am an Edinburgh based freelance photographer with a tendency towards documenting the exploits of endurance cyclists and mountain bikers.

Lee had tried to explain Porage to me several times and I nodded and smiled, but couldn’t really grasp it. As far as I could tell it was part bike orienteering, part gameshow packaged into some kind of underground adventure riding cult. No one ended up exhausted, shivering and crying into a cup of tea, but that’s not to say they were taking it easy just that it was a strangely jovial exercise in endurance. This is my attempt to make some sense of it all.


1/125 sec @ f1.6, ISO 1600, 50mm

When I arrived in Aviemore and walked into the Ski and Doo to find a group huddled round a table injecting Tunnock’s Teacakes with Buckfast it all started to make a strange kind of sense.


1/400 sec @f3.2, ISO 320, 50mm

Somewhere between the last image and this one Porage should have started to make sense, or at least you should have given up trying. Here we have Lee acting as race director come circus ringleader.


1/250 sec @f2, ISO 100, 50mm

Don’t let the nice crockery deceive you, Emily – two-slice – Chappell showing everyone how to do mid ride cake eating right. It’s a problem that a nice cafe stop will often look like too nice and too comfortable, but just think back the last ride where you needed to drink a whole cafetiere of coffee.


1/250 sec @f5, ISO 400, 50mm

That’s right I’m standing on a perfectly good bridge to take this shot while the riders had to slingshot a line across the river and then tie their shiny and expensive bikes to it before pulling them across.


1/320 sec @f1.8, ISO 100, 50mm

This is what an eight hour day of solid riding interspersed with ridiculous things does to people. The challenge was to take a selfie while planking and then a combination of confusion, competitiveness and bravado turned it into a cake eating, planking selfie challenge.


1/320 sec @f1.8, ISO 100, 50mm

A fatbike was definitely the right choice. Bikes got stuck in the bridge, riders stumbled and bumped into each and yet they were all too happy. I don’t think it would matter how far they had cycled, how tired their legs were, or how silly a task they were asked to complete they just found it hilarious and that’s probably what makes for a great adventure rider: the innate ability to enjoy the enjoyable bits of a ride regardless of what has come before or will come after.


1/640 sec @f1.8, ISO 100, 50mm

Find an egg, bring it to the finish and cook and eat it. A deceptively simple task, but one I love for how it epitomises the skills that go into skills that It takes to become Man / Woman of Porage: resource finding, planning, efficiency and no one wants cracked egg all over their kit either.


1/250 sec @f5.6, ISO 320, 50mm

Heresy! Whether other riders drank more or just had better luck with letters I’m not sure but the highlights included, “go away jobby” and “sexcuse”.


1/400 sec @f4, ISO 640, 50mm

There was a tie breaker for first place and suddenly I went from shooting boiled eggs and a variant of countdown to a gladiatorial battle. It sums up the serious/not-serious aspect for me and while they may both be laughing and smiling it couldn’t hide the underlying competitive spirit.


1/50 sec @f1.4, ISO 1280, 35mm

Post egg eating and a good few beers into the recovery drinking and a band from the pub across the road wander outside after their sound check. Turns out they’re friends of a few of the riders and The Whisky Riverboat Band perform an impromptu set round the fire. This is 7 o’clock in March and I’m shooting by firelight and the wrong end of twilight – couldn’t be happier.

Kit List

This isn’t a long, or exciting list:

  • Canon 5D mkiii;
  • Sigma 35mm 1.4 Art, which is just a lovely lens particularly when the light levels start to drop;
  • Sigma 50mm 1.4, not the Art version the older EX DG something, something. It’s sharper, or at least more contrasty than the Canon 1.4 when shot wide open, although the quality doesn’t improve as much when stopped down;
  • Canon 100-400mm L, it’s big and slow, but the 400mm end is great for compressing landscapes and I refuse to own a 70-200mm as every photographer has one.

About 90% of the shots were taken on the 50mm and while I presume I had a Canon 6D on me as backup it didn’t leave my bag.

Comments (1)

    Photo #9 (‘sudden death plank slapping’) might just be the best mountain biking photo I’ve ever seen. Can I nominate it now for next year’s Photo Of The Year?
    Incidentally, I’ve just checked my copy of ST 116 & the cropped version that appeared in the magazine isn’t nearly as effective as the (I assume?) full, uncropped version here. IMHO. Seeing more of the bodies & the surrounding audience makes it more live & immediate somehow.

Leave Reply