That's how we ride - backwards!

A 28-hour work day

How to survive 28 hours of photography…

It’s quite a story, so if you’re just interested in the fast facts, skip the bla-bla and read the last part 🙂

Sweden, we love you. You know how to make both participants and photographers happy. Having a small group start every 2 minutes means no one’s in anyone’s way for too long, which means no one’s blocking too many others from the photographer’s lens for too long. For the Vätternrundan with its 300 kilometers around the beautiful lake this makes for a total of 28+ hours of working for us photographers, but being able to deliver the best possible shots this is just perfect.

Photographer in the middle of a field of flowers
Want the best picture? Find the best spot! And wear camouflage.

It’s a long day still, obviously.

Getting to Sweden meant collecting at our ‚home-base‘ Aachen, Germany on Thursday evening the week before. Driving all night, having a nice little rest at the ferry in Denmark and driving some more the next morning, our arrival at 13.00 was timed just right. We arrived a week before the Vätternrundan to be able to also capture the beautiful moments the Halvvättern with its 150 km and Tjejvättern with 100 km brought. These were smaller events, still applying the small number of people per starting block we had some practice with the way it works here, aside from that they were fairly ‚regular‘ jobs – first start early morning, last finish late afternoon.

The first 2 colleagues arrived in Sweden by plane a bit earlier, that way they could find the best spots to take pictures during all 3 races.

‚Camping‘ in a local sports facility we prepared for the big race the next week, having fun, lighting the barbecue on the occasional (ok, almost every) night and trying to get some good sleep on our air mattresses. Some took their work with them (you gotta love the digital age!), some planned a holiday away from their regular jobs and got to actually see a bit of Sweden (yeah we all do something on the other days of the week, too).

Airbeds on the floor of a gym
Quick snap of our hotel in the middle of the night – couldn’t sleep anyway 😉
Barbecue night
Good thing we know how to have a good time!

The evening before the race the team leader briefed all of us – we need to know where to go, what time to be there, how to get there and who we’re going to be hanging around (stuck?) with for the hours that follow.

Then on the 2nd Saturday the fun began! Starting at 7.30 pm the first riders left Motala for their 300 km ride around the lake – the Vätternrundan. An impressive distance, with an even more impressive amount of participants. Like I said, the first ones started at 7.30 pm. Then 60 every 2 minutes, until somewhere around the same time the next morning. That’s a LOT of people, I don’t have the exact number but think 20.000 riders. All wanting the best possible memory of their amazing performance. That’s a LOT of pictures I tell you. All riders had to finish before midnight on Sunday, a quick calculation told us we’d be working for at least 28 hours.

Briefing the night before
Briefing the night before

How do you get through 28 hours of photography?

On most race days our alarm clock rings very, very early. We arrive on our photo spots a while before the first racers arrive. That’s necessary because roads will be closed and we need to prepare our camera’s, flashes, figure out the best position…

This race was a little different.

Divided into groups we all left to find our spots at around 5 pm, taking our camera gear with plenty of batteries, memory cards, flashes, a laptop and card reader per group and some camping gear to get a quick rest in between. Oh, and plenty of food, drinks, maybe a barbecue for when it’s quiet… A complete survival-kit really 🙂

One team covered start and finish with a little help from some others to allow for 2 or 3 hours of rest at night time, three other teams each covered 2 different spots each and 2 motorcycles allowed for some awesome mid-race Tour de France-style pictures with a photographer taking pictures sitting backwards. They made loops in the evening until it got dark, started for the entire 300 km tour as soon as the light allowed for it in the morning and did loops again the next afternoon.

Night time at the Vättern lake
Night time at the Vättern lake
That's how we ride - backwards!
That’s how we roll – backwards!
Vätternrundan picture from motorcycle
… and that’s why we do it!

Switching tasks we all got some sort of rest in between work (think 2 hours of laying down and trying to sleep during the night, 2 hours again somewhere the next afternoon).

Note to self: bring earplugs, always bring earplugs.

Until about 11 it was light enough to take pictures without blinding the riders with our flashes, after that we built up a setting that would allow for a nice image still, just a little different to work with. In the meantime we got to prepare some food and coffee and set up some tents.

Another reason to love Sweden by the way: the „allemansrätten“ – right of public access which shortly put allows for everyone to enjoy nature, assuming you will not disturb anyone and destroy nothing. So you’re allowed to camp, barbecue, enjoy life as long as you leave within 24 hours and cause no trouble, leaving nature intact, create no risk of fire, etc.

Sleeping on the side of the street during the race
Sleeping on the side of the street during the race

At around 4 am it was light enough to start taking pictures with camera’s in hand and at around 5 the big exhausting tour driving the motorcycles around the lake started. We later heard ‚our‘ guys actually had to stop for another quick sleep about half way round. For the better – safety first, you don’t want to put the riders or yourself at risk, ever.

After the last riders passed our spots we packed our stuff and took off for the next one, near the finish line. With a lot of people already riding there it’s a slow and careful drive on a busy path, after which we got back to work again. When the motorcycle team arrived back we all got to take a nap in turn. No wait – we had to. It’s so awesome when your colleague tells you you look like sh*t and go get some rest now 😉

We’re not just there to catch the first rider, we also wait for the last one. It was pretty close to midnight when all teams got back to the accommodation, where the rest of the memory cards would be copied – think around 250.000 pictures, it takes a while to copy that many so it was a real good thing the team leaders copied a bunch in between work and sleep.

And then? Packing up again. Camera gear, motorcycles, camping gear, people, food, … all needs to be fitted into a bunch of cars. A shower to freshen up and a short but awesome night of sleep in a crowded hall with too many snoring people and off we all went, back to real life. We have to make sure the pictures reach our head office as soon as possible so the processing can start to make sure you find your pictures online within a couple of days – therefore, the two that came by plane left by plane again and set the wheel in motion before the rest of us were even half way there.

Fast facts

    • over 250.000 pictures
    • about 2 hours of rest each, twice during the race
    • 16 photographers
    • 10 photographers stayed for the week, 6 drove there just for the race
    • 2 vans with 2 motorcycles, 2 cars, 1 rental car
    • 2 persons came by plane
    • 1 flew back on Monday to drop off pictures of the 1st weekend, then flew back again on Thursday
    • all pictures online within 2 days
    • around 15 hours of driving (after meeting in Aachen which is 2+ hours for some)
    • 1 week of camping on air beds
    • obviously some fun in between:
      • disc golf
      • canoeing
      • hiking
      • biking
      • bbq’ing
      • drinking
      • having fun!

One of the best things about this job is the fact that your colleagues become good friends, they have similar interests and usually make for great company (despite the fact that we don’t all speak the same language! Luckily, there’s hands, feet and most do speak English 😉 )

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