Behind the Lens: Going Left When Everyone Goes Right

by Clint Thayer

There are some advantages of doing what everyone else is doing.  Life is easy and you don’t have to think about it much.  Just follow the person in front of you and watch what they do.  If you can’t beat them - join them. Right?

Wrong. At least from a creative perspective. The act of creating means not just recapitulating what others have done before, but putting something new into the world.

Sometimes making something wholly new requires taking a different approach toward a familiar subject matter - one of which (for me) is cycling. If you've never heard of cyclocross, you would likely raise an eyebrow when I describe the nature of what a typical cyclocross racer does on the weekends.  Yet it’s strangely captivating to watch and even more so to photograph.  Over the years the sport of cyclocross has gained a great deal of popularity in the cycling community, and it’s starting to infiltrate the public’s eye as well.  This is wonderful for the sport and for the cycling community as a whole.  An entire industry is growing out of the weeds and as a professional visual storyteller - it is a wonderful backdrop.

With this growth, I’ve witnessed first-hand the explosion of like-minded photographers jumping in and crafting some amazing pieces of work.  Really great material showing off some exceptional athletes.  Welcome to the party!

I started shooting cyclocross a few years ago as a study in motion, light and...essentially,  grit.  I fell in love with the people, the sport, and most of all the imagery.  Turning a corner of the course into a Focal Flame portable studio was a blast and I learned a great deal about my professional craft - lessons that I still use today.  When Madison was awarded its bid to host the 2012 and 2013 USA Cycling Cyclo-cross National Championships, I could not have been happier.  What an opportunity to show my love of the sport through the lens - with cyclocross racers from all over the nation coming practically to our backyard!

But at the same time - I wanted to stand out and take some artistic risks.  Should I bring more lights? More filters? Climb trees?  Each technique could help produce wonderful images and likely push me creatively, as well as push the limits of what can be done with the camera.  

And pushing the limits meant that I wanted to go left when everyone else was going right.  I woke up on the Saturday of CX Nationals with my sights set on filming, editing, and publishing a ~3 min video that captured the heart of the event. And I wanted the creative process and the production to all be completed within one day.

I’ve never, ever liked rolling with the pack - going with the flow, or taking the easy road.  And I find value and comfort in setting my own expectations higher than I did the previous day.  I’m not in a race to out-do others - I’m in a race to push myself past my own creative comfort zone with the storytelling process.  This was the result:

Link to YouTube Video

So how different is shooting video from shooting stills? In many aspects, it’s very much the same.  Above everything else, story rules all.  With a still photo, the goal is to convey intent and imply story in a way that evokes a conclusion for the beholder in a single frame - not an easy task, yet very rewarding when successful.  From my perspective, video allows different creative space as a playground, including additional ways to help develop story. Your perception of time actually changes. Photography forces you into the moment in zen-like fashion. Videography beckons you to consider past, present, and future simultaneously.

And there are so many ways to evoke mood.  Sound, dialog, and ambient noise gives a videographer the capability to set tone without revealing a single frame. These are dimensions we all experience when we watch a movie, but when you begin to work with them as an artistic process for visual storytelling, it’s changes your whole perspective. It’s electric. It’s goosebump-inducing.

And I can’t wait for the next opportunity go push myself toward new paths, and new directions.

Thanks, as always, for joining in on the journey.  

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