Stephen McClements, of our Compliance department, has a passion for Motorsport photography. This year, one of his photos in particular attracted all our attention, as well as attention worldwide from bikers and fans alike. We were all full of questions about his experience, and more importantly, about the successful hobby that he had managed to keep quiet around the office for so long!
- How long have you been photographing the Isle of Man TT?
I first started photographing the TT in 2009 purely as a hobby. I submitted a selection of images to a local publication and to my surprise they used a couple. The following year they agreed to support my application for accreditation! This means that for the TT, I have access to restricted areas, the start line and the podium presentation. Nine years later and thousands of pounds spent I’m still going!
- Do you work for a specific company when photographing the TT or is it a hobby?
This year as well as the local publishing company that has supported me since I started, I also provided images to a local newspaper group. They have been fantastic in supporting me when applying for accreditation for events that I have travelled to photograph. During 2018’s practice week, I was contacted by a major Motorsport photography agency asking if I would be interested in assisting in a photo-shoot that they had planned during race week. This extended to providing them with images from the racing for their clients.
- What would people be surprised to hear about your photographing exploits?
In the two and a half years that I have worked for Capital International Group, I have probably only taken one week’s holiday that did not involve photographing a motorcycle race. During this time I have attended races in Malaysia, the USA, Spain, Italy, Czech Republic, the UK and of course our Manx road races.
I am fortunate that the island is home to the current World Super-bike Champion Jonathan Rea, Moto GP star Cal Crutchlow and former World Super-sport World Champion Sam Lowes, as this is a great help when applying for accreditation!
- Could you provide a summary of your experience of this year’s TT?
I actually missed the first evening of practice as I was at Donington Park photographing the British round of World Super-bikes. I arrived back on the island on Monday evening and within half an hour of collecting my bags from Arrivals I was on the start line.
It is always a challenge to find new spots to shoot from, so I was pleased during practice week to visit two new places. Both places required a knock on the door of the landowner to ask permission, and it always amazes me the hospitality of locals to strangers; in one instance, the owners appeared quite disappointed that I could not hang around for their BBQ once practices finished!
Unfortunately, on the Wednesday of practice the unforgiving side of the TT materialised when local rider Dan Kneen was killed in an incident and having spoken to Dan on numerous occasions and assisted him with photos, the news was hard to take.
After missing the next practice session to clear my head following the sad news, I was ready for race week. We were treated to some close spectacular racing with lap records tumbling due to the weather. I had already pre-planned my locations each day so that I could get a variety of shots for each race, which went successfully. The main problems encountered involved remembering to charge my laptop and trying to find a 4G signal in the middle of nowhere.
Peter Hickman at Guthries 2018.
- What do the TT races mean to you?
Kind of a love-hate relationship! It’s like Christmas for me, I wait 50 weeks of the year for it to come around, talk constantly with my friends about it, spend time watching footage on previous years racing to find new places, and await rider announcements in the run up to the event. But in a split second as I have found out over the past 2 years, you can find yourself questioning why you do it and feel like walking away. However, having been involved in the races in some capacity for over twenty years you just know come the following May you will be sat back on a hedge somewhere!
- What is the hardest part of photographing a race?
For me, it is planning my locations so that I can capture a variety of images from different places, which can be quite challenging within four laps. As a cyclist, local knowledge of the back roads is a definite advantage.
- What is your favourite section of the TT course to photograph from and why?
Guthries, which is located on the mountain. I don’t think you will find a more picturesque view from a section of track on any circuit in the world! On a clear day, you can capture the riders in the foreground of the shot and the background covers the north of the island. Local knowledge comes in handy here too as there is a culvert which enables you to photograph from both sides of the road.
- Apart from the TT Course, what is your favourite circuit in the World to photograph?
Tricky one! My shortlist would be Philip Island in Australia, Laguna Seca in USA and Brno in the Czech Republic. As it is less than a pound a pint in Brno, it takes the checkered flag!
- Do you photograph all the riders, or photograph for specific requests?
My brief this year was to capture the top 20 in each race whilst keeping an eye on the local rider’s performances.
- Is it only bikes you photograph or is your interest wider than Motorsport?
I am interested in all forms of Motorsport, but so far I have only photographed the 2 wheel variety. On a trip to Australia later this year I will be attending a car race (Bathurst) and will attempt a few shots from the spectator area.
- What are your ambitions going forward with your photography after your success this year?
I shall whisper this in case my Manager is listening… I would love to take a year out and cover an entire season of Moto GP or WSBK. However, until I win the lottery you will still find me in the Compliance Department at CIG!
- How many photos do you take of a single average TT race?
Over the two weeks including practice sessions I took approximately 4,300 photos. For an individual race it averaged at 330 photos.
- Describe the interest in your most popular photo from this year’s TT?
My most popular was a photo from Ballacrye of Michael Dunlop & Ian Hutchinson. The riders pass through this section at approximately 160mph just a few feet away from you, and due to the crest of the road they become airborne which is quite spectacular. As a result of posting it on Facebook I received a number of enquiries of people wanting to purchase a copy.
Michael Dunlop and Ian Hutchinson at Ballacrye 2018.
- How many hits did this particular photo get?
To date, I have had just over 33,000 views on Facebook and in the region of 2,500 likes, retweets, etc. on various social media platforms.
- Has this been your most successful photographing season? If not, what was?
Yes, I think this has been one of my best TT’s to date, as working for the agency gave me an opportunity for new experiences I could only have dreamed of 12 months ago. I am excited for what the future holds… roll on the 25th May 2019!
You can see more of Ste’s work by searching ‘AJS images’ on Facebook.