If you've followed U.S. cycling, particularly, cyclocross, you've likely seen an image captured by Rhode Island based, photographer, Meg McMahon. A cyclist herself, we asked her what prompts a great image, what others can do to improve photography and how riding and shooting mix for her.
How'd you start shooting? How'd you end up shooting bikes as much as you do?
When I moved from NYC to Providence, I started taking photography courses at RISD to improve on what was at the time a hobby. Simultaneously I started riding a bike to give my body a needed break from running everyday. I remember having an assignment having to do with natural light and decided I would go to a local Cyclocross race with my camera. I had never seen the discipline and knew very little about it. In hindsight I've learned that fresh eyes can make the most compelling images. From that weekend on I knew something clicked with shooting the movement and emotion of people on bikes.
Obviously we're in a photo saturated world. With high frequency, high impact is harder to achieve. What photos speak you and what makes them stand out?
The photos that speak to me are authentic and clean, not heavily processed, retouched or cropped just to make a bigger impact for the viewer. I find many people think that if they enhance, for example...the sky from blue to purple that it's a better photo. Images that have feeling, tell a story and steal moments are the ones resonate with me most. I want to be moved by a photograph.
What are techniques or exercises or practices that folks can use to get to an impactful photo?
To get more impactful images, one should have a game plan, be patient, and keep a low profile. When you start shooting, remember to move around and use that natural light.
In terms of equipment, it's important to push yourself to try other lenses, especially primes which force you to move and frame differently then with a zoom.
Is equipment overrated or is it like bikes with a diminishing returns point for what people might spend?
Your eye is first and foremost the best tool. I think the equipment is important when it comes to the technical quality of a photo. There is no doubt in my mind a full frame DSLR produces a better photo then an iPhone or a point and shoot, but if shooting is a hobby you don't have to spend a fortune on a camera. I will say that if you ever try an expensive body with great glass it's hard to go back; it's kind of like trying Di2 for the first time.
Whose photos speak to you and inspire you?
Emily Maye and Chris Milliman are probably my favorite when it comes to cycling and sport and I also love Bo Bickerstaff. Non cycling, I'm all over the place...Sally Mann, Stephen Shore, Rinko Kawauchi and Elisa Sighicelli.
If someone wants to be a better photographer at the end of 2018, what advice would you give them?
To be a better photographer I would say take more pictures and step out of your comfort zone of what you normally like to shoot. Also, develop your own style and always be curious.
Riding and shooting; how are they related?
Ah a loaded question...for me riding and shooting are similar in the sense of equipment. To me the camera and the bike are just tools (or means) that are needed to do what I love. I appreciate and admire a great bike or camera, but I'm not interested in the mechanics of how they work; although, I should force myself to learn more. The two also feed my sense of curiosity. On a ride I get to explore new surroundings, go down roads or trails and see things that normally I would not. When shooting I'm constantly observing and taking photos of moments and details to tell the not so obvious story. I want to know more then who won the race and shooting allows me to seek that at out.
Here is where they are oddly not related. I don't shoot cycling because I like to ride or because I'm a fan. I love all sports, I grew up in an athletic family and team sports were a big part of my life. Shooting predominantly cycling occurred because of timing and opportunity. I've documented horse racing and loved that just as much as a covering a Cyclocross World Cup in Belgium; and I don't ride horses. My passion is in showing people all the little stories behind the big event regardless of the sport. Make sense?
Any must-reads on either subject? Related: what are you reading right now?
I don't read photography books, although maybe it's another thing I should do. As for riding I'm currently reading Draft Animals by Phil Gaimon the two other books waiting in line are Vanishing New York and Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin.