BEHIND THE LENS
FROM BMX TO MOUNTAIN BIKE
AND EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN
Interview by Robert Johnston
If you’ve seen any of my reviews in the last year, you’ll have seen some of the incredible photography helping them to look good. For that, I’ve got to thank Adam Lievesley, who I was fortunate to befriend after moving to my current location in the Midlands of the UK. What first began with a friendship riding bmx has now turned into Adam and myself regularly going out to shoot the items I’ve got on test. You’d never have guessed that Adam’s first “real” mountain bike photography was just a year ago, with his keen eye for lighting and angles producing some spectacular results in a relatively new and unfamiliar environment for him. As you may guess by his instagram handle (@adamlievesleybmx), his photographic background is in shooting skateparks and street environments.
Let’s dive into some more information and wisdom from the man himself…
THE LOAM WOLF: WHAT IS YOUR BACKGROUND?
Adam Lievesley: Hey mate!
My name is Adam Lievesley. I’m 23 and live in Derbyshire in the UK. My background is actually in swimming, probably not what you were expecting! This passion however died off when I was about 16 and I discovered the skatepark. It instantly resonated with me – I just loved being able to go when I wanted and do what I wanted. No 5am starts, no coaches shouting at you, no expectation, no stress.
I quickly learned that BMX worked incredibly well with my other hobby – photography. I’m a fully self-taught photographer, and before BMX had only really taken photos of nature. As soon as I took my camera to the skatepark something just clicked. I loved it! And I wanted to learn more. I would spend hours researching and watching youtube videos about equipment, settings and techniques. I slowly started getting noticed by bike brands and the online based bmx magazine Ride UK BMX, who began posting photos I had taken of my mates. This naturally led me on to MTB, since most people that ride BMX also rode some sort of mountain bike. This for me was a great subject to transfer my BMX photography knowledge across to,and I had to adapt what I had learned to this new subject. I love shooting both BMX and MTB because they are so similar but so different at the same time. Bikes are just rad and I love showing the world that!
TLW: BIKES ARE RAD INDEED! YOU’VE RECENTLY TAKEN THE PLUNGE TO BE A FULL-TIME, FREELANCE PHOTOGRAPHER. WHAT WERE YOUR MOTIVES BEHIND THE MOVE, AND HOW HAVE YOU BEEN FINDING IT?
AL: Yeah in January I decided to move from being a full time lifeguard to following my dream of full time photography. I still work as a lifeguard on a zero-hours basis for the quieter times, but otherwise I’m stoked to say I’m a full time photo guy!
I’ve wanted to make the switch for ages and 2019 for me was so good for me. so when January 2020 came I thought it’s now or never – let’s do it!
Obviously 2020 was definitely a tricky one with that pesky virus. I didn’t have any income throughout the whole of lockdown which was very hard, but I just spent my time developing skills and planning for the future. With all of this going on I’ve secured a few monthly contracts and built stronger relationships with new and existing brands. I just can’t wait for covid to fuck off so I can get stuck into it properly. Even with 6 months of no pay I wouldn’t change my decision to go full time. I reckon that says just how much I love it.
TLW: I’M SURE I’M NOT ALONE IN THINKING YOU’VE GOT THE NECESSARY SKILLS TO MAKE IT AS A FULL TIME PHOTOGRAPHER, SO IT SEEMS LIKE A GOOD MOVE TO ME!
SPEAKING OF SKILLS, WHAT HAVE BEEN THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES YOU’VE FACED WHEN SHOOTING MOUNTAIN BIKES, AND HOW HAVE YOU OVERCOME THEM?
AL: Thanks man I appreciate that.
Yeah, shooting MTB is hard and has been a great learning process. I think location is very hard to deal with. finding the right angle and making it look as gnarly as it is to ride. I feel it’s almost a 50\50 split between where the photo was taken and what the rider is doing, then trying to get the rider to stand out in some very cluttered backgrounds is a real task.
I have really slowed my process down with regards to shooting an MTB photo. I have a proper look around and see what angles will work for the environment and for the trick and then try to get a sweet spot between the two.
It is really cliche but just shooting more has helped massively. I look back on the first MTB photos I have taken compared to my most recent ones and can see a natural progression. I would not say I’ve learnt anything technically different, it’s just I’ve learnt how to look at a scene and get the most out of it.
TLW: WELL, YOU DON’T MAKE IT LOOK TOO TRICKY!
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE OTHER CHALLENGES YOU HAVE FACED ON OTHER PHOTO SUBJECT MATTER, AND HOW DID YOU OVERCOME THEM?
AL: I think photography is always full of challenges. Every shoot has them – lighting, environment and weather are usually the main culprits. I assess the situation and use my experience to make decisions. “Right, this angle will work” or “this shot needs flash because it’s too back lit”. Once you have taken the photo, review it and see what you think. If you like it then move on to the next, but if you don’t, switch it up – change angles or change your lighting. You just have to shoot! Learning from bad photos usually makes good photos.
TLW: WHAT IS YOUR DREAM PHOTOGRAPHY GIG / VENUE / EVENT ETC?
AL: I’ve always wanted to shoot photos at Fise Montpellier. The atmosphere looks crazy and there are so many different disciplines. It just looks so fun. Crankworx and Audi 9s are also on my list. The tricks that go down combined with beautiful scenery – it’s like a photographer’s wet dream!
TLW: DO YOU HAVE A “BUCKET LIST” SHOT OR PROJECT YOU WANT TO WORK ON?
AL: I do not necessarily have one thing that stands out in my mind. I am just stoked to shoot loads of different people and share their rad stories and lives through my photos.
TLW: WHEN IT COMES TO EDITING PHOTOS, DID YOU CREATE YOUR OWN PRESETS, OR DO YOU USE OTHERS AND TWEAK THEM DEPENDING ON THE PHOTO TO GET TO THE PUBLISHABLE VERSION?
AL: Yeah presets are such a handy thing to use, they speed up editing so much. I did buy some once, but I literally only used a couple out of the pack, and by the time I had finished tweaking them to my style I might as well have just done them myself, haha! I did learn a few bits from them though, mainly to do with how effective radial and gradual filters can be for getting the look you want. I have so many presets that I’ve made for so many different setups: indoor, outdoor, flash, cloudy, sunny, sunrise, woods, autumn and so on. There are so many different scenarios I find myself in – I think I just about have a preset for everything haha.
TLW: ARE THERE ANY PHOTOGRAPHERS YOU DERIVE INSPIRATION FROM?
AL: This sounds really cliche but I think I get inspiration from all photographers. Obviously there are some better than others but there’s so many talented people out there. I don’t think I could specifically point any out. If I see a sick photo it gets me stoked to shoot and the cogs go round in my head thinking of new shot ideas and locations. It doesn’t matter who shot it. If I connect with it, then they have inspired me.
TLW: IF YOU COULD COLLABORATE WITH ANY OTHER PHOTOGRAPHERS OUT THERE, WHO WOULD IT BE, AND WHY?
AL: There’s so many photographers I’d love to collab with. Photographing so many different things there’s different photographers for different things. Connor photo UK, Louis Morris Media, Tom Khaler, Fooman, Vince Perraud, Bartek Wolinski and Innes Graham to name a few. I just love chatting cameras, sharing stories and getting stoked on photography.
TLW: AFTER CARRYING YOUR MONSTROUS CAMERA BAG ON OUR SHOOT THE OTHER DAY, IT HAS BECOME VERY CLEAR THAT YOU HAVE GOT A WHOLE LOT OF CAMERA GEAR! CAN YOU WALK US THROUGH YOUR SETUP?
AL: Yeah, it weighs a ton haha. I recently switched to a mirrorless setup and have not looked back since – the technology and features packed into such a small body is insane! My bag is stuffed full of the following:
- Nikon Z6 camera body (main)
- Nikon D810 camera body (backup)
- Samyang 12mm fisheye lens
- Nikon 24-70 f4s lens
- Sigma 35mm f1.4 art lens
- Nikon 50mm f1.4 lens
- Nikon 85mm f1.8 lens
- A very battered Sigma 15-30 lens that rarely leaves my bag. I do not know why I carry it around to be honest, but you never know!
- 2 Pixa-pro AD200 flashes, that I mount on to some old and battered tripods.
TLW: ANY TIPS YOU WANT TO SHARE WITH UP-AND-COMING PHOTOGRAPHERS?
AL: shoot, shoot, shoot!!! The biggest way you will progress is by getting out there and shooting. Learn your gear, learn your subjects, and just have fun. If you enjoy it then that shows in your work so just have fun with it.
TLW: SOUNDS LIKE A SERIOUS SET OF KIT. THANKS FOR YOUR TIME LETTING US LEARN A BIT MORE ABOUT YOU!
LET’S END ON THE BIT I WANT TO KNOW MOST – WHAT CAN WE EXPECT TO SEE FROM YOU IN THE FUTURE? ANY EXCITING PROJECTS LINED UP, OR ANY NEW AREAS YOU WANT TO EXPLORE?
AL: ooh, that is a good one! I am hopeful that COVID is defeated this year so we can travel again. I have got a couple of cool projects in the pipeline for 2021. First of which is that RIDE UK BMX are doing another magazine after a few years out. I have already shot a few bits for it so I am super happy to get some photos in print. I have a cool project with Scottish shredder Mark Ducat which got delayed due to COVID, so look out for this one soon. I have got a few other bits as well but mostly I just want to shoot more photos than I ever have. I feel like recently a fire has been lit inside me to just produce the best content that I can. I am enjoying myself so much and I hope that that is showing in my photographs!
Look out for my website going live soon (Adamlvphotography.co.uk), and in the meantime, you can check out some more of my work on Instagram @adamlievesleybmx.