2018 was a special year for me – a year of massive highs, and naturally, a couple of lows. To create some context, however, I’m going to step back in time somewhat. I bought my first digital camera – a canon EOS 1200D –  back in December 2015 whilst living in Whistler as a skibum. At that point in time I’d done a whisker of mountain biking in Australia, but not a whole heap. My partner at the time, Rachel, and I decided to stay on in the summer and had a real proper crack at mountain biking. I ended up buying Remy Metaillers old Commencal Meta V3 and that was that. I dragged that little canon EOS 1200D around in a torn up camelbak trying to savour some memories for when I’m old and decrepit. 

Ever since that summer of 2016, that baptism of fire in the Whistler valley, it’s been a constant battle between wanting to “just go ride” (that’ll make an awful lot of sense to budding and seasoned photographers alike) or to take the camera. 

Upon moving home I invested in a Fuji XT1 mirrorless system. It’s like a DSLR yet foregoes the internal mirror – this helps make the camera a whole heap smaller and it’s been a godsend for someone who is constantly on the move and doesn’t want to be held back by the weight or size of their gear.
In January I had a pretty bad accident whilst riding at Mount Buller and sustained a pretty severe AC separation. It needs surgery however I’ve been putting it off and making do. Forced time off riding had a silver lining in the way that I had all this energy pent up and was able to channel that into photography as I spent most of the summer and racing season off the bike. Rachel was intent on racing at all the events, so to make them more enjoyable I started shooting more.

Over the wintertime after a solid few months of camera wielding, Ben reached out to see if I’d like to contribute to Gravity Down Under, and thus I earnt my first paycheck from taking photos. It’s pretty cool what can happen when you’re passionate about something and you invest your focus in that passion.

As my shoulder healed up and the sun poked out again I’ve caught the riding bug again. I’m finding I’m leaving the camera at home more often. “Just riding” has become a more deliberate activity. I entered my first races this year and was pretty stoked to take the win overall in Challenger Mens for the Shimano EMS series along with winning the first two legs of the EWS Oceania continental series in Challenger mens. Rachel and I will be heading to Derby, Rotorua and Whistler this year to compete in the EWS – Rach in pro womens and myself in the 80 events with hopes to still make it out and cover the pro events. 

I’d like to invest more time and energy into both riding and photography. I plan to race this summer in Amateur/expert with the hopes of stepping up to elite next summer. I’d also like to grow as a photographer; my main goal to develop a more unique style and space in the already niche outdoor sports and adventure photography industry. Ultimately I know trying to succeed at both means compromising both, so for now, I’ll be taking each day as it comes along the same path and your guess is as good as mine as to what the future holds.

For now, I’m just stoked I get to travel the country and soon the world with my now fiancé (more on that below) riding bikes, going to beautiful locations and meeting wonderful people.
It’s not a path that’s always comfortable, and I can vouch that it’s certainly not for the net profit (that’ll be a big red number), but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

For my 2018 highlights I opted to do something a little different, grouping some images into points in time that tell a story about my year and why that occasion meant so much to me. I think at times we get lost in the point of photography; which for me is the memories and stories that are evoked by the images. I love shooting the races, but I love the travel and the people more. After all, that’s why we do what we do, day in, day out, right?

Photo 1 – Bubbles

The racing scene can become overly serious sometimes. If you’ve been to a VDHS round before you’ll likely recognise this fella, familiarly known as Pac. It was refreshing to see him blowing bubbles all the way up the chair, enjoying the view and reminding us all too keep things fun! Shot onFuji XT1 with the XF18-135mm .

Photo set 2 – Bright Nationals 

The bright nationals were the pinnacle event for my calendar year as far as race photography goes. As Matt Rousu mentioned, they have a reputation for putting on some stunning light shows in the afternoon, particularly with all the dust flying.  

For the photo of Troy Brosnan there wasn’t a whole heap of technicalities involved – it was just a matter of timing the shot right with the light. I envisioned a photo I saw taken by Dave Trumpore of Bas Van Steenbergen – it was over Crabapple Hits in Whistler. The light was extremely harsh so Dave ran his shutter speed high, effectively under exposing the image and only capturing detail on what passed through a light spot. I’ve got a ways to go to match his photo, but it’s a start.  The other two images were both taken in the “dark side” zone on Mystic DH. The crash photo was quite funny – most of the other Photographers didn’t want to take the chance standing behind the blown out catch berm. I took the risk and it paid off. The rider was ok! The photo of Will Arnott was featured in AMB’s Photographer of the Year awards, along with 2 other photos I took last year. As a photographer, having 3 photos shortlisted was my proudest moment of 2018!

Photo set 3 – Lake Mountain

For me personally, mountain biking is about the places and the people, and these photos take me back to an all-time day with a great friend. Sam and I headed up to Lake Mountain to try and catch some good conditions – the forecast had predicted light snows overnight and we were hoping the dirt would be dark and tacky. It’s not about the risks, or the results. It never has been. It’s about creating memories in beautiful places with great company, and we achieved that this day. Sitting down the bottom in Marysville with a hot pie and a coffee and dirt in our eyes we spoke animatedly about how much fun we’d had. That’s why I love this sport so much and always will. All three images were shot on the Fuji XT1 with the Samyang 12mm Manual Focus. The tree image has been processed in Black and White, however otherwise un-edited. The natural fog created a great feel.

Photo set 4 – Derby

What can be said, that hasn’t already? Derby is the epicentre of Australian trail riding right now, and for good reason. The place is a work of art. I’ve since looked at several properties since returning home, and still dream about buying there and spending my days working within a community that adores mountain biking. From the van ride up to the Blue Tier, to stunning views over Derby from the renowned trouty slab, its all pure magic. All Images shot on Fuji XT1 with Samyang 12mm. 

Photo 5 – Hannah at the Cathedral ranges

I’m not just interested in mountain bike photography, yet rather anything to do with outdoor pursuits, wilderness and adventure sports. This is my favourite image I took in 2018 so I figured it’d be rude not too include it. This is my close friend Hannah. We met in Whistler through mountain biking and have stayed in touch ever since. She has now got her PR and lives in town, however came to visit just last month. Hannah is big into climbing, mountain biking and ski touring, so Rach and I took her on our favourite scramble in the Cathedral ranges, about 2hrs north-east of Melbourne. I shot this with my Samyang 12mm. As we weren’t roped in, it was a bit of a high consequence juggling act having to manually set the focus and not having the freedom to take my time and take the image through the viewfinder (ie. the eyepiece). As a result, I had to pretty much shoot blind from the hip. I took 4 frames at different focus points – all 4 turned out however this was my favourite

Photo set 6 – Bright

Rounding out my 2018 highlights was a winter trip to Bright Rach and I took in July. I’d had a ring handcrafted by the local jeweller here in the Yarra Valley and planned on proposing to her on top of Mystic Mountain, one of our all-time favourite zones to ride here in Victoria. The weather moved in and at times you struggled to see your hand in front of your face. I ended up proposing to her in the cabin we’d rented for the weekend as I didn’t want to carry the ring around in the mud! Plus it was around 2 degree’s celsius, and my hands were struggling to grip the bars let alone fumble with zips and delicate ring boxes. I had to shoot these images at much higher ISO’s than I usually like due to the weather and darkness in the forest. To try and make do with these conditions I processed these in Lightroom in Black and White, and then softened the blacks and added a whisker of grain in an attempt to create a ‘vintage’ vibe. Ideally I should have taken my 23mm f1.4 with me – shooting at 1.4 allows more light in and therefore you don’t need to slow your shutter or lift your ISO to gain exposure, so you end up with better colours and sharper details. I still opted for the 12mm as I really wanted the wide effect to help capture the expanse of the pine plantation.  

These are by no means my best technical photos – most of my proudest photos were taken in Whistler 2017, however these help paint a picture of my year and for me personally help tell a story of why I love mountain biking so damn much.
Thanks for taking the time to read through, Here’s to 2019! 
Happy trails!

Words and Photos: Andrew Howieson
You can also check out more of Andrew’s work at Two The Mountains