Reaching for the SKY …


Wednesday 28th November 2012


“Two things awe me most, the starry sky above me and the moral law within me”. Emmanuel Kant, (German philosopher).

Dermot is one of the editors on the Sports section of The Sunday Times and he asked me to head up to the National Cycling Centre based at the Manchester Velodrome for a portrait shoot with Sir Dave Brailsford – Performance Director of British Cycling & General Manager of Team SKY.


The sport of cycling in recent years has come under much scrutiny as troublesome periods of doping within the sport distracted away from a sport that is truly a great spectacle to watch. The pro peloton has been littered with stories (and indeed convictions) of those who have chosen to ignore their own ‘moral law’ and have chosen to take performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) in order to gain an advantage over those who have chosen not to cheat.

It was in this context that David Walsh, the Sunday Times’ Chief Sports writer was interviewing Sir Dave – who as General Manager of Team SKY has adopted a zero tolerance within the team and its management to PEDs. Team SKY had also had a magnificent year leading the pro peloton – producing Britain’s first Tour de France winner with Team SKY rider Bradley Wiggins … therefore the man behind the team’s success was hot property to interview.

Dermot wanted me to capture a page lead portrait of Sir Dave and the shoot had been set up for 3.00pm.

I’ve photographed Sir Dave before and I know that he is a busy man. And so this proved to be the case once again. At the National Cycling Centre I liaised with Fran Millar one of Team SKY’s PR Officers to discuss the best location for the shoot. The velodrome itself was out of bounds and Sir Dave’s office was … well, just an office! So within the large foyer I set up on a wide balcony, which offered me space and distance away from visitors in and out of the building.

Sir Dave was running late and no amount of back pedaling was going to speed things up … he was in meeting after meeting after meeting.

With a team bike as a prop and a chair for him to sit on I set three lights: a key light shot through a brolly, a snooted back light to illuminate Sir Dave’s head and a further fill light to lesson the shadow on Sir Dave and light the bike.

Working against a wall of windows didn’t help with reflections – but with some daylight outside this wasn’t too bad. But the longer I waited for Sit Dave to arrive, the daylight faded and the windows became mirror like. But this was my best choice for somewhere to work … I’d spent an age scouting the building and relocating now was not an option. If I moved I could miss my one chance of grabbing Sir Dave.

Sir Dave Brailsford

Dropping dark outside – ambient light levels were gloomy! Adding flash would help illuminate the portrait as well as adding a style to the shoot.

With the scene set I had to carefully position the lights to avoid reflections.

Sir Dave Brailsford

Note the brolly lit up reflected in the window.

Some adjustment to where I should stand and position the brollies addressed the reflection issues – but the idea of Sir Dave standing was still proving a problem … the clock was ticking with Sir Dave standing ready.

Sir Dave Brailsford

Sitting may be an easier angle to work with.

With Sir Dave sat I could hide myself crouched down so that I didn’t reflect in the glass behind him either. More adjustments to the flash output was required in order to get a reasonably even light across the picture.

Sir Dave Brailsford

The final picture

With just 5 minutes of Sir Dave’s time (squeezed in between his meetings) my shoot was complete and I packed away and caught the next train home.

I ran the shoot through PhotoMechanic to choose and caption my final edit and then these were tweaked in Photoshop to ensure the light balance, brightness & contrast, tones and highlight & shadow details were all adjusted correctly. They were sent to the desk via FTP.

My thanks to Dermot for the shift and once again to Sir Dave, even though 5 minutes for a shoot doesn’t allow much time for experimenting with ideas – had I been given longer, who knows, the sky could have been the limit!