Tim de Waele is a renowned pro-cycling photographer, who travels the world documenting the never-ending stream of ultimate cycling endurance races. After photographing the Tour de France, Tim then traveled to Puerto Rico to follow La Vuelta, a competition for serious athletes interested in participating in a pro-like cycling atmosphere. Somehow, maybe waiting in the airport for his next adventure, Tim was willing to answer a few of our questions.
CORBIS: What is your most memorable sports photo?
TIM: I probably still have yet to make it. Every picture is the most memorable at certain moment. I have many favourites at the time I shoot them, but a few weeks later the photographs become normal again and I’m looking forward to capturing the next magical moment.
CORBIS: What it is about shooting athletes that is interesting to you as a photographer?
TIM: It’s not only about shooting the athletes, I believe in being a good “sports” photographer, you’re able to handle anything in photography afterwards. Sports photography is not only capturing the action and emotion of an athlete but involves also portrait, landscape, studio, in any conditions (day, night, rain, sun, snow,) at any time and any place. Shooting athletes in those conditions is always different, never the same and this is what makes it so interesting and motivating, we’re never bored.
CORBIS: What types of personalities do you see? How do they act ‘off camera’?
TIM: All kinds, we see the “sports” people from close by, in competition, but also privately, and all is very relative I must say. Of course everyone has his proper character or style, different cultures, countries. There are some with their feet more in the real world than others, but in the end we’re all human and competing for the same thing: winning, doing our best and capturing that best picture in our case. Some athletes have become real friends, who we spend holidays with and/or free time. The great thing about sports photography is that not only are we privileged to meet the athletes but also the sponsors, directors and key businessmen. These are generally people who are difficult to reach but come to sports events like you and me and are very approachable.
CORBIS: Most satisfying moments? Most grueling?
TIM: Working in rain is for me, the worst. All other conditions I can manage and adapt, but shooting all day(s) long in the rain is very hard and depressing. On the other hand, you might not take that many pictures as on a sunny day, but when you have a few good ones, the result is amazing. Most satisfying moments are for me the ones where you work like crazy in crazy conditions and where you also end up with crazy and spectacular photographs!
CORBIS: In the Tour de France I imagine there’s quite a lot of waiting, what do you do during this time?
TIM: Free time in the Tour de France, no way! It’s not only about covering the race witch starts in general around 11:00am and finishes around 5:30pm. We wake up daily around 8:00am, depending on the kind of stage and distances, shower, breakfast and transfer to the start, which could be sometimes 1-2 hours driving. We have to be at the start line one hour before, since that’s when the teams are arriving. Then about 6-7 hours on the back of the motorbike capturing the race, no time for lunch at midday as the race doesn’t stop and you have to keep your eyes open for unexpected things at all times. The race finishes around 5:30 pm. I rush to the pressroom to edit and send out all pictures of the day, which takes about 3 hours. I go back to the hotel afterwards via motorbike, usually a 30 minute to 2 hour drive. By the time I arrive at the hotel it is usually after 10pm. The kitchen and restaurants are closing, so there’s no time to shower! By the time dinner is done, I check into my room, shower and get into bed. By that time it’s around 1am. This is our schedule for the full 3 weeks! You’re living for more than 3 weeks in a separated world, with no news and or any other leisure, apart from the ones of the race itself.
CORBIS: How did you get into this area of photography? What are your other hobbies and interests?
TIM: I’ve started being an all-round photographer, working for different international agencies, covering news, politics, war, sports, studio, show business. In the first 5 years, of my 23 years, I became more and more specialised in sports photography. I have now covered 7 Olympics, 4 soccer World Cups and world championships of almost all kinds of sports. Today, I’m more or less specialised in cycling photography, but I consider myself still as a general sports photographer as well as landscape-, portrait-,studio,-photographer. I always try to do as many things as possible, although it is not always possible due to the full cycling schedule. Photographing cycling means more than 250 days/year on the road, being on the back of a motorbike for more than 70.000 Km, so there is very little time left to do anything else, so my work is my hobby at the same time! Cycling is a great and perfect way to discover the world, different food, cultures, and habits. But, don’t forget and don’t underestimate, it’s also a very demanding and physical job, carrying about 12kg of equipment every day, jumping and running around. It’s like being at the gym for 7 hours a day, every day, but it keeps you fit at the same time. It’s already hard when you like it, so if you don’t like it and/or you don’t give yourself 100% daily, then you would be better off not starting it.
CORBIS: There is such an intense period of training for these kinds of races. What affects you the most to see? The family on the sidelines? Or watching people accomplish a goal they’ve been working towards for years?
TIM: Cycling photography is, I believe, the ONLY sport in the world where a sports photographer is actually participating in the sport, being part of the “peloton” on the back of a motorbike, riding within the athletes and seeing, hearing, and capturing things from the first row above all others, even TV. Very few are privileged to share that experience!
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