Career Insight - Joe Dick - Motorcycle Photographer

joe dick portrait with motorcycle Introduction
Joe Dick's photography career took off after a chance-introduction to an established superbike photographer. Already having a keen interest in motorcycle photography, Joe's journey to become a full-time motorcycle photographer had begun. Now Joe is celebrating 10 years as a professional photographer having worked his way up to where many would argue is the pinnicle of motorcycle photography, the staff photographer for one of the biggest bike publications in the UK, Motorcycle News. In our interview Joe tells us about his career and work with MCN.

How did you get in to photography?
It all started when I was studying for my Media GNVQ at secondary school. A week of lessons (which was around 4 hours) consisted of the basic elements of photography. Realistically, we didnít learn all that much about taking pictures but it did give me an opportunity to borrow the Canon Eos 300D with itís 18-55mm kit lens and take it to a British Superbike round to take some pictures. Bikes have been in my life since I could speak, and I always went to the races with my parents. The interest in photography came on a race weekend at Donington Park Race Circuit where we were camping in the caravan and I found out that my Dadís old 80-200mm film camera lens fitted onto the digital camera, and worked! My dad showed me the ropes with his amateur skills and a new love for picture taken spawned.

Did you have a formal photography education?
Iíve never had a lesson in photography in my life. I like to think Iím a quick learner and after a few weeks of reading magazines and website articles I started to understand about composition and the very basics in the technical aspect of using a camera. Since then itís been a case of learning on the job and progressing skills by doing stuff, not reading theory.

KTM SuperDuke GT Why did you decide to begin freelancing?
Itís something I fell into whilst still studying in 6th Form. Iíd started going to a few rounds of Superbikes in Ď06 and taking pictures from the spectator areas when my sister, who at the time was working for a race team, introduced me to a Professional Superbike photographer. He was kind enough to let me use some of his kit and get me behind the barrier and we formed a friendship which soon turned into a working partnership where I went to the British Superbike rounds supplying him images and progressing my skills, all whilst still studying at school. That was the start of my photography and freelancing career. I pushed myself to improve my skills and I had a good mentor who demanded nothing but the best and pushed me every time i thought I had a good shot.

I was asked at the end of 2007 to cover the 2008 World Superbike Championship and BSB races that didnít clash with the world calendar. Thatís where I really started to learn my craft. 18 years old, I found myself trackside in Qatar with 2 cameras, a suitcase and a ton of fast learning to do.

Who were your early clients?
I was contracted to an agency early on and that meant that there were many clients to provide for. There were multiple international magazines to provide for, Motorrad, MCN, Motociclismo, Motorcycle Racer magazine etc, but the big clients were people like HRC (Honda Racing Corporation), Kawasaki Europe, as well as some personal gigs through networking for Red Bull and Stobart. In more recent years, Honda Europe with their motocross team, KTM Austria and some more personal projects with singers in the UK and America shooting stills and video.

KTM Factory bike in the Dakar rally Why did you decide to specialise in motorcycles?
Whilst it may seem like i fell into the motorcycle photography career a little bit, thereís been a few events along the way that have put my heart well and truly into the biking world. Bikes have been a passion since I was a child, following the racing on the TV and going to as many race events as i could, riding a trike around age 4 and moving to a motorbike not long after that all I could think about were bikes. My Dad always had bikes in the garage and was always changing them for different models what seemed like every other week.

Fast forward to 2006 where i got my first taste at shooting bikes trackside and I was instantly hooked. Capturing speeding bikes in beautiful light, whatís not to love? Iíll never forget texting home stood at Hairpin corner saying ĎThis is awesome, I can see me doing this as a jobí. Little did I know, just 6 months later that would become a reality.

If Iím being honest though, the major decider for a career in motorcycle photography was when I broke my leg in November 2009. I ended up hip to toe in a cast unable to walk and I was unable to fulfil my contract in the super bike championship. I found myself with minimal jobs and a small bank balance. Iíd sworn since i was at school that I wouldnít ever stack a shelf in my life, and yet there I was with a supermarket application form for night shifts to earn money. But it all clicked when I was filling it out. I wasnít filling it out to simply earn money, I was looking for work to finance my passion, photographing motorcycles.

MCN is a huge gig for a specialist motorcycle photographer. How did you land this job?
After recovering from my leg injury i started photographing for multiple uk magazine publications before landing a job at Mortons Media Group as their staff photographer, working almost exclusively on their motorcycle publications. For the next 6 years I stayed there working as their staffer as well as doing some freelance gigs in the music and car industry during that time. The job at MCN came up for grabs and after some hard thinking I applied, and here I am. Itís the most prestigious staffer job in biking as far as Iím concerned, and with the sheer scale and profile MCN has it really was a no brainer.

honda road test What are your responsibilities?
To provide the brand with high quality images, organising and planning shoots alongside test riders and writers, as well as providing support for online content and producing videos when physically possible. Being a weekly publication, MCN eats content for breakfast lunch and dinner, so there literally is no let up in the production of images and videos.

Whatís a typical day for you at MCN?
I donít think there really is a typical day. Whilst the job is consistent in what I do (i.e take pictures and produce video content of motorcycles), the actual way in which shoots are conducted changes all the time. One day i can be shooting very local to the office, the next i can be packing to head over seas to shoot something else. Not only that, but I work with a lot of freelance journalists as well as the staff writers, so itís not just the bikes that vary from day to day but the staff I work alongside. This makes for a very varied work dynamic, but itís something I love as you never quite know how something will pan out until youíre in the moment, on the shoot capturing the shot.

How do you approach a bike test shoot?
As often as possible, i try to sit down with whoever has commissioned the shoot before the day, or at least get an overall view of what weíre trying to show in the feature through email, text, phone call, telepathy, any way really. Whether itís simply the first ride of a new bike, or a complex head-to-head feature showing which bike is best and why. I like to get a plan together with locations, potential shots and, if weíre doing video, an idea of how weíre going to start it, what the main content will be, narration, piece to camera, onboard shots etc and how the video will end. Obviously with head-to-head/vs shoots we donít know what is going to win, but shot ideas, locations and all that stuff helps get prepped.

Another thing we like to do is nail locations with the shot list so we donít have to spend too long looking for somewhere to shoot. Most of the time we have an idea of where weíre going and we have our favourite locations. Every time I plan a shoot far away or in another country though, I thank the technical gods for google maps with ground view.

mika race Does it help that you are a biker?
100% yes! Iím not one for stats, all the model versions, performance figures or spec, but being behind the camera and knowing what it takes for a rider to put a bike where I want it and with them in the correct position on the bike, it helps massively. I have a much better understanding of how the bike works, reacts and what it can and canít do. Not only that but it also helps to understand how good a bike really is or isnít if I can get to ride it before the shoot.

What are the highs and lows of being a staffer on a major publication?
Itís mainly highs to be honest. Thereís a never ending stream of work which has a huge variety. One day I can be shooting a historic piece of motorcycle memorabilia, the next day I can be shooting the latest MotoGP bikes. Iím not one for holidays and time off as I get frustrated with empty hands very quickly. I love shooting and lets be honest, can you really call it a job? I guess the only lows are when youíre traveling a lot and start to miss the family or when you have to sacrifice doing one shoot because Iím already booked on another.

Do you have any favourite images?
Tons. I end up with a new favourite after most shoots. I donít think that I could choose my top 5, 10, 20, or maybe even 50. Thereís just so many I like after 10 years on the job.

Do you also shoot film too?
No, and I havenít really played with it either. Maybe a few times when I was younger but nothing in my professional career. Itís one thing I love the look and thought of, but Iíve always been working in an environment where time is of the essence and Iíve never quite found the drive to go out and get all the kit to shoot film myself. However, in my early days i would shoot as If i was using film, teaching myself the fundamentals of photography and learning what everything is (aperture, shutter speeds, Iso etc) rather than just relying on the camera screen and Ďchimpingí after every shot. Everyone is different though and have their own ways of working. I have massive respect for those who started their career using film and made the change to digital through the years but digital is what works for me.

"Itís the most prestigious staffer job in biking as far as Iím concerned." Whatís the split between photography and video and how do you approach a video shoot differently to photography?
When we decide weíre going to shoot video on a shoot thereís usually one common problem which is a shortage of time. Nearly every shoot takes up all the time we have with just stills so getting enough video content to make a short film can be tricky. Primarily, Iím a stills guy. Itís how I got started and itís what I do day-to-day but Iíve been pushing my video recently and over the last few years Iíve gone from nothing but stills to shooting music videos in places like New York and Los Angeles and even further afield. kawasaki road test

Theyíre more high key though and the day to day video content I shoot for MCN is nearly always for YouTube and social media with a more run and gun style. With stills thereís usually a set amount of shots we get and then weíre done but with video itís a heck of a lot more complicated. Firstly, the video canít be too long, and in that short time I have to know that I can get all the information needed across to the viewer. To do this I use detail shots, action shots as well as a piece to camera and I can annotate off them all if needed. It can definitely be a tricky balance. Planning ahead and making sure that everyone is aware of what we need to get as a team helps massively.

Video is becoming ever more popular, what do you see for the future of video and photography?
I think thereís always going to be a divide and a need for both. Stills have their own unique way of delivering impact, that moment in time frozen forever. The way that people consume media is changing though and video is definitely a mainstream way of consuming content, to the point thereís now thousands of people making a living from YouTube alone. Itís no secret that print is being consumed by less readers across the board, but I donít think that itíll ever become obsolete. So many people I speak to say that they have tried, as have I, to consume print media through the use of a tablet but it just does not have the magic that print media can offer.

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to make a career of photographing bikes?
First and foremost, Iíd say itís not easy to get in to, but donít be turned off or disheartened by it. You have to take thousands of bad photos before you start taking good ones. Be driven, be creative and be determined. Shoot any bike you can get your hands on, practice static, action and detail shots. Practice your panning too. Go stand by a road side and just shoot cars, bikes, cyclists, anything coming past over and over until you get them tack sharp. Once youíre nailing the shot start dropping your shutter speed until you can get down to somewhere in the region of 1/50th - 1/100th of a second. I rarely shoot panning at anything lower than 1/80th, but knowing you can do it even slower makes faster panning shots easier. After youíve got the basics down, start building a portfolio and try to get your work seen by magazine editors, journalists and bike fans. Social media is constantly growing and you could definitely start trying to build a fan base for your shots on there which would only help in getting your work seen by those that matter.

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All images © Joe Dick - Motorcycle News and used with permission.

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