Bike Photographer Jamie Clifton: Behind the Camera

Jamie Clifton Self Portrait April 2013

The woman behind the lens: A self-portrait of Jamie Clifton taken in April 2013.
Photo from Flickr

If you’ve raced your bike in Ohio, then you’ve probably stumbled across photos taken by Jamie Clifton.  She hikes into the woods with her equipment before most racers even show up and finds a great location for capturing the action.  She then sits in the bushes and waits, ready to pounce when the riders fly by.

I’ve been racing for several years and always look forward to checking out her work when it is posted on-line after a race.  It’s great to relive the race and see your teammates and other friends zooming along (or struggling through) the course.  Up until now, I had no idea what she looked like.  There is usually a sign warning of impending flash photography, but I’m usually so focused that the face behind the camera is a just a blur.

I wanted to know more about this mystery woman, so I sent her some questions to find out about her approach.

James Knott: You photograph many types of cycling.  How did you get into this specialized type of photography?

Jamie Clifton: I originally got into bicycling as an adult for health reasons, starting with a $75 mountain bike from Wal-Mart. I was hooked. That bike was stolen so I went to Bike Source and purchased a $200 [mountain bike] and started riding Alum Creek and quickly found other trails and that turned into an addiction to racing. I used to race on the COBC National Engineering squad.

Peter Hitzeman races at the John Bryan 6 Hour Race on 8/24/2013

Peter Hitzeman races at the John Bryan 6 Hour Race on 8/24/2013.
Photo by Jamie Clifton

James Knott: Why do you like photographing cyclists?

Jamie: My love for cycling naturally morphed into photographing the sport. Photographing cyclists is very challenging to do well. Not only is it a physical challenge, it is also a great mental challenge to find the right spots to capture meaningful images.

James: Do you see yourself as an artist?

Jamie: I see myself as a growing artist. I have not received any formal education in art, although I do self-study. I use my education in Photography from CSCC (Columbus State Community College) and try to apply that into what I do. I had several professors that are very competent in their fields ranging from fine art, photography and graphic design. I spent extra time with them to learn and to expand my knowledge outside of photography.  New lessons are learned all the time through trial and error.  I have sold and have been commissioned to create pieces.

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Photo by Jamie Clifton

James: What is your favorite type of cycling to photograph and why?

Jamie: My experience in racing included mountain bike, road, criterium, time trial and cyclocross along with recreational mountain bike and road. To pick a favorite would be a coin flip between MTB and Cross. I would have to give it cross racing because it is so hard. It demands not only road fitness but the skills of trail riding packed into a very short intense time slot. With cross racing you can see the competitors coming and you have time to prepare your shot. The sport is very accessible, to not only the riders, but their family, friends and for new people who are curious about the action. That’s the thing about cross, from the go you can find something happening all over the course, the sidelines and even the parking lots.

Keith Miller races in 331 Racing's Alum Creek P2 Time Trial in 2013

Keith Miller races in 331 Racing’s Alum Creek P2 Time Trial in 2013.
Photo by Jamie Clifton

James: What are the special challenges associated with shooting mountain bike races?

Jamie: It sums up into one word, location. I consider myself a strobist photographer, using off camera flash units, to bring light into quite often dark(ish) woods. I normally arrive to an event long before most people and that’s the reason you never see me at the start, I backpack in looking for key spots to set my gear up. That is usually the same reason you never see me at the finish. I carry two laminated signs to place beside the trail giving racers some warning in advance of my location. Days are usually long. One of my favorite races is the Mohican 100. Last year’s race I was into the woods at 6am beginning my 45 minute hike to the top of the mountain for my first spot. Many times I only have a second or two before having to make the capture. You can’t be in a daydream or you will miss the shot. I have used flash units strapped to trees, on the ground, a light pole and even put flash units in sealed containers into a stream just to get the capture I thought would be great. You would think it is boring just sitting in the middle of the woods waiting.  It is anything but boring. I use that time as a peaceful moment away from the hustle and bustle of life. Just to be in the moment. This helps me prepare for the mad rush about to fly by.

James: After each race, you post your images and racers can download the hi-res version of the photos for a fee.  Is this is a hobby, a job or somewhere in between?  What are you goals for Jamie Clifton Images?

Jamie: For now it is somewhere between a hobby and job. I would love to someday, not only travel the Midwest photographing races, people, events and products, but also traveling far and abroad bringing quality images, not only for the pro, but also for the athlete who is nervous with their first race.

Mike Wheeler races in the dark at 24 Hours of DINO at Versailles State Park in Indiana.

Mike Wheeler races in the dark at 24 Hours of DINO at Versailles State Park in Indiana.
Photo by Jamie Clifton

James: If someone wants to check out your work, what is the best way?

Jamie: For now I can be found through my Face Book page at www.facebook.com/JamieCliftonImages

More of her great work can be seen on her Flickr Photostream.  She has a great collection of cycling photos, nature photos and artwork.  

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Tom Groszko rips through a stream at the Huffman Fast Laps in Fairborn, Ohio in 2013

Tom Groszko rips through a stream at the Huffman Fast Laps in Fairborn, Ohio in 2013
Photo by Jamie Clifton