Through the Eyes Michal Cerveny
Czech photographer shoots the world’s biggest races
Photos and captions by Michal Cerveny
Name: Michal Cerveny
Home: Prague, Czech Republic
The MBA Q&A
TALKING WITH MICHAL CERVENY
MBA: Where did you grow up?
Michal Cerveny: I was born and grew up in Prague, the capital of Czech Republic, and that’s the place where I still live. It’s a beautiful city to live in, with a nice historical city center, and from there you can get to the trails in just 30 minutes. But for my job, there are not any spectacular locations nearby.
When did you get interested in mountain biking?
As a kid, I always loved to ride a bike, and when I was older, we did some cycle trips with my father and his friends in South Bohemia. When they were too slow for me and the stops for a beer too boring, I started to ride alone, more and more, and started to follow the scene, tech and racing.
How did you start racing mountain bikes?
Just for fun. In Czech Republic, even though it’s a small country, we have so many mountain bike races every weekend. Most of them are MTB marathons with distances around 40–70 kilometers, which are easy to pick up and friendly to ride. When I was younger, I was active in those, but now, as I don’t have too much time to train in the season, I pick up every year some legendary long-distance marathons in beautiful parts of our country, like Rallye Sudety, with 113 kilometers and 3290 meters of climbing.
How did you get interested in mountain bike photography?
It’s a simple connection of my two big hobbies. Maybe that’s why I’m doing this already quite a long time and still like it. I love to ride bikes and do photography. And when in 2007 the biggest Czech website about mountain biking—MTBS.cz (which I was checking every day)—was looking for a contributor, I sent them my application and got hired.
How did you get your first photos published?
Maybe they were photos from Ore Mountains on the northwest border of Czech. On one misty fall day we rode some trails there with a group of friends. I took a couple of photos on a borrowed camera. The editor of Velo magazine saw them on the internet and asked me if I could provide them to the magazine.
What did you think when that happened?
I was super happy and even got a little money, but for a long time I didn’t do photos because of money. It was pure hobby, which took me a huge amount of time and a lot of money as well. I spent money I earned somewhere else for better cameras, lenses or flashes. Secondhand for sure. I traveled a lot by my parents’ car to races, slept inside, and the incomes were good enough to pay the costs.
Were you going to school or working back then?
I studied marketing communication at University of Finance and Administration in Prague at that time. I never thought taking photos could be my job. In 2008 I got a chance to travel with one Czech team to the famous Crocodile Trophy race in Australia. I’d never been anywhere overseas in that time, and that sounded like a dream. After I got back to the university, there were hard times, and I found I would like to do more of what I did down there. But even [though] I left school before graduation, I got some basic knowledge of marketing I could use for my work.
How many years have you been shooting mountain bikes now?
I am on the start of my 13th season now. I think the Cross-Country World Cup in Houffalize, Belgium, in 2007 was my first World Cup where I shot.
What are some of your favorite places when it comes to shooting mountain bike photos?
As I focus mostly on racing stuff, the last several seasons I’ve been traveling with the World Cup circuit, where most of the destinations repeat every year. It’s quite a bit of a challenge to find new spots, angles and get unseen photos from those very well-known locations like Fort William in Scotland or Mont-Sainte-Anne, Canada. That’s why I enjoy almost every new place where I can go to shoot. But, to be honest, besides the stunning Cape Epic stage race in South Africa, my favorite venue is Nove Mesto na Morave here in Czech Republic. It’s in the beautiful countryside. The track is very well-designed and challenging, and the crowds make the best atmosphere! For the personal photo projects, I would love to go to spend some time in British Columbia, where I have never been yet.
Who are some of your favorite riders?
As a long-term project, I document the career of Jaroslav Kulhavy. We are friends for a long time, since 2007 or so. He is a nice guy, and it’s an honor for me to work with him and see all the ups and downs of a professional athlete from the first row. I enjoy shooting Nino Schurter for his precise riding style; same with young, talented downhiller Finn Iles. I like Loic Bruni, the very nice and fast French guy who is not shy to show his emotions. Last season I started to work with probably the most talented cyclist of our time, Mathieu van der Poel, and that’s what I’m now excited about.
And I have to mention Spaniard José Antonio Hermida, the true character and legend of mountain biking.
What other things do you like to photograph?
In the off-season, I don’t photograph too much when I don’t have to. I usually do some editorial stuff for magazines. Time to time I work for Audi Czech Republic, which is fun to drive and shoot nice cars. And when some nice weather comes in, I take the camera and go to the mountains for a walk, and maybe I would take one or two nice landscape photos.
What’s the hardest part about your job?
At this time it’s all the traveling. Waking up early, running all day along the tracks, no matter in what weather, all the stress, editing till the night and the pressure to deliver the photos—that’s the hard part of this job. I respect this and got used to doing it, but I hate that feeling when I’m leaving my home, family, dog, friends and bikes. The sun is shining and everybody plans their upcoming weekend, and I’m heading to the airport to sit XY hours on planes. Then I get back home for a couple of days and again, from April till October.
What’s your current camera?
I am a happy user of Canon cameras, and currently I shoot on an EOS-1D X and 5D Mark IV.
What are your favorite lenses?
I try to use all of my lenses equally, especially on the limit angles, just because I want to catch the eyes of the audience with a unique look. Sometimes, when I buy some new lens, I use it a little bit more often, even when I’m trying not to do so. The moneymaker, a lens I use most of the time, is a tele-zoom 70–200mm/ f2.8.
If you could give aspiring photographers a few tips to help them get better photos of mountain biking, what would you tell them?
Be creative. Everybody can take an average picture today, just by a smartphone or cheap camera, and the internet is full of boring and similar pictures. So, to impress, you have to create something good and unique. Be critical of yourself and your photos. Pick photos carefully. Less is more. Show off only those photos you are convinced are good and they can be related to your name. And, be patient.
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