Photographer Chris Lanaway joined the cycling industry at a high point. Straight after graduating from university, he went shooting the Madison Genesis team and then switched his focus to shooting mountain biking. Like many of us who work in the bike industry, his passions led to what is now his full-time job. Here is his career journey, in his own words.
In your own words, who are you and what do you do?
I’m Chris Lanaway, a photographer and appreciator of the great outdoors. Growing up in the Arun Valley in the south of England, my youth consisted of building dirt jumps in the woods or skateboarding in the various crusty coastal towns along the south coast. I’m a lover of the outdoors so when not riding bikes or spending time with the family, I’m often found fishing or hiking.
I work as a photographer specialising in cycling but also covering a variety of other sports throughout Europe and the UK. I have worked with some of the biggest names in cycling and football on commercial projects alongside a stint following the world tour.
I made a name for myself after graduating from university working with the UK domestic cycling team Madison Genesis. I covered their training camps and some of the domestic races during the 2015 season. This became a stepping stone where I made connections in the media covering cycling and soon ended up working regularly with many UK print magazines covering both domestic and international road and cyclocross racing. I like road cycling but mountain biking was always my first love. As a kid, I would watch my friend’s dad’s MBUK VHS tapes with Martyn Ashton and often try and copy his insane ability on a bike (unsuccessfully).
Following a few years covering some of the biggest races and events in road cycling, I began applying my skills in commercial photography to cycling and worked with brands producing lifestyle and product images. This allowed me to migrate back to MTB which now makes up the bulk of my work and also fills most of my spare time.
In 2019 I relocated. I now live in southern Sweden with my wife, two kids, and cats.
What is your job?
I’m a photographer specialising in most things to do with the outdoors, but cycling and mountain biking are a core focus of my work. I work directly with bike brands on product launches and race coverage along with tourist boards and magazines showcasing destinations for cycling around Europe.
How did you get into what you do?
While at uni I and my friends were right in the mix of the track bike/fixed gear scene and so while studying I decided to use my uni work as a way to explore the bike industry in detail. Hand-built steel bikes were popular at the time, and by chance, I managed to get access to the Reynolds factory for my final project which got published in Boneshaker magazine. It was spotted by the marketing team at Madison-Genesis who asked me if I wanted to be the team photographer for the 2015 season. I worked with them for a season and soon made connections in the industry and swiftly had a decent client list which led me to go full-time in 2016.
How long have you been working in the bike industry?
I started as a part-time bike mechanic around 2011/12 while at uni, but after that, I was working full-time and doing my photography work, so I’d say around 10 years now.
How have things changed since you started?
I started in the industry during what was the actual cycling boom (the London 2012 boom) which saw cycling blow up in the UK. When I started, the bike industry was really strong, with plenty of bike shops and people looking to get into cycling. The domestic racing scene was strong in all disciplines with plenty of teams and support for riders. Women’s cycling was starting to grow and gain attention (in the UK at least).
There was a lot of opportunity then, a lot of excitement around cycling. Brands and teams were willing to take risks with how they marketed, this was fairly steady until the pandemic happened. The supply issues created problems for the brands. From my point of view, many clients looked to showcase the lifestyle or brand stories rather than the product. For the smaller brands, it was a bit trickier due to smaller budgets and being more negatively affected by shipping or production delays.
For the most part, the pandemic still meant I was busy, but the current situation means the last 18 months have been a challenge. I’ve still managed to keep busy thanks largely in part to some supportive clients, but it’s been wild.
Is there anything you wish you could change about your role/job?
Tough question, I’m very lucky to love the majority of what my job entails and fortunate to work with some great clients who also support me in my riding outside of work. That said, some more riding time of my own would be nice, and some more time between jobs to go home and recharge with family during high season. Overall, though, there isn’t anything I would want to change.
What does the average week look like?
It largely depends on the time of the year but right now it’s a bit of a mix. It usually starts by riding the girls up the hill to pre-school and then a lot of emails and meetings discussing projects and ironing out details for upcoming shoots. I’m also working a lot on updating my portfolio and website in preparation for 2024. I’ll usually squeeze in some quick lunch laps on my local hill too.
Right now, I’m actually on the road in my van, typing this in Belgium so it varies a lot from week to week. I’m either working from home a lot or I’m on the road for days on end. I’m currently on a tour around Germany and Belgium working on assignments and having meetings. During the summer I pretty much live out of a suitcase not knowing where I’ll end up next, jumping from job to job.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to do your job/what you do?
Do it because you love it, otherwise you will burn out very quickly. Spend time refining your craft, and really get to know your gear and how to work in various conditions and locations. Practice on your friends and believe in print, a printed portfolio will stand out way more than any digital portfolio on an iPad, etc. Stay humble and know your worth, don’t work for free!
What do you like most about what you do?
The locations I get to see, the people I get to meet, and the friends I’ve made along the way. I’ve made some great friendships and had the pleasure of riding some epic locations, all as part of my job. So yeah, that’s something I love!
If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?
I recently asked myself this, I don’t know. I imagine it would be something to do with cars or fishing, I enjoy working on and modifying cars. I also love fishing, it’s my escape so maybe I’d work in conservation or something.
What have been some of the highlights of your career?
Bergen Road Worlds would be a stand-out one, I was fairly green to the industry but Simon at SWpix threw me some opportunities early on. I took a punt and decided to not shoot the finish and instead see what happened after the men’s race. I happened to be standing next to Peter Sagan when he was told he won. I was one of the first people to get the shot of him celebrating out into the world and my image ended up all over the globe soon after. It was a surreal experience at the time so shout out to Simon for that opportunity!
Riding and working in the backcountry around Crans Montana is another one, awesome crew and some of the best off-piste riding I’ve ever experienced. I always try to get back, and I’ve managed it twice now! Hardline is another, shame the race was called off, but that aside it was cool to see the line in the flesh and get to grips with just how gnarly it is.
The industry is in a bit of a tough situation in terms of the cost of living. Do you see it recovering any time soon and, if so, what will brands need to do to stay relevant and afloat?
Consumer confidence does seem to be improving and, sided with some crazy bargains right now (if you’re in the market for a new bike), slowly but surely it feels like there is some optimism ahead for 2024.
I’m remaining optimistic for 2024, I think once summer 2024 is out of the way the situation will steadily improve. As for how brands can stay afloat/relevant, that’s a tricky one. I don’t know so much about what could work but what I have noticed is that the brands that have reduced content creation and output seem to drop off the radar very quickly right now.
Social media is a driver of so much awareness and engagement. Looking back at the pandemic, brands that doubled down and looked for new ways to produce content and showcase stories came out shining. In my opinion, a lot could be learnt from looking at what was successful then and applying it again now.
What do you dislike most about the cycling industry?
It still suffers from a big lack of diversity and I feel more could be done to make it more inclusive. The road side of the industry is better, but I feel off-road has a long way to go.
How do you keep things balanced when your hobby becomes your job?
During the summer there is not much balance, I’m always working, but that does involve a lot of riding too so I do still enjoy it. My work is quite seasonal and I don’t do any winter sports so I get a lot of downtime in the autumn and winter to spend with the family and pursue my interests outside of riding. I do love what I do and I love the opportunities that it presents me with so I really can’t complain.
You can find out more about Chris and his work on his website here.
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