I’m very privileged to be able to call photography my job, all be it part-time. I have a small home studio and I’ve shot wedding and family work for several years now. I am in fact a rather huge cliche – an amateur photographer who took a course and started to call herself a “professional”. It’s a title which is technically true but which I still find hard to apply to myself. I’m constantly waiting for someone to uncover my dirty secret, that is that my technical knowledge probably isn’t that great – not awful but could be better.

That’s not why I started to shoot film, that came about thanks to an old camera of my Grandad’s (a Canon AV-1), and a maternity break. To pile on the cliches, I headed out with my Canon AV-1 loaded with Kodak Portra and fell for film for all the obvious, beautiful reasons: the refreshing lack of instant gratification, freedom from the little screen on the back that sucks you in and the joy of getting your developed images back. I’d come back round to taking photos for myself again. Not because I wanted to get better or get paid, just because I wanted to. Magic.

I stepped up a little in-camera power and went for a Nikon F100, purely and simply because I already had glass to use with it and felt at home with the controls – it just made sense. I have to say I’ve been through some other, increasingly manual and ever more classic cameras since but that F100 is still a go-to for me when I know I want to get good, repeatable results.

The pictures below were taken in 2018 at a mountain bike race called the Red Bull Hardline. I’m an avid biker and so myself and friends made the trip to the Dyfi Valley in Wales to go watch what is well known as one of the most difficult downhill mountain bike races in the world. The scale of it is pretty hard to imagine, the jumps are enormous and the steepness of the terrain is bonkers. The level of technical riding ability and guts you need to clean a run is quite insane.

It is truly a spectacle.

So why not limit myself to one focal length and one roll of film? I wanted to prove to myself I could create good images without multiple bodies and big lenses.

Capturing Red Bull Hardline 2018 on Kodak Tri-X 400
Capturing Red Bull Hardline 2018 on Kodak Tri-X 400

It was the Nikon F100 was I reached for to take these pictures. I decided to go simple with a 50mm lens and Kodak Tri-X 400. I wanted to be able to push the film to help me catch the action and I’d never used Tri-X before, so it seemed like as good a day as any to go for it.

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Of the 36 frames I shot at the event, the first one above is my favourite. Firstly it conveys the scale of the event: bonkers big jumps. Secondly because of the rider in the image. It’s pretty hard to concentrate on getting a shot and trying to work out which rider is heading into the air in front of you, so it wasn’t until I got my scans back that I worked out it was Kaos Seagrave (his real name), middle name danger (that’s probably not true). He’s a young, up and coming rider who I’d met the previous year when he was the guest at a wedding I was shooting.

I knew who he was because I follow the sport and I vividly remember watching him doodle on his placemat the whole way through the speeches. He just looked like a young bored kid, who would really much rather be out riding his bike than sat at a wedding in a posh shirt. So to see him here throwing some real style over an enormous jump I looked back and thought, no wonder he was bored!

I really concentrated on trying to show the scale and atmosphere in the photos. Although it wasn’t my original reason for choosing 50mm lens, it actually turned out to be the best tool for doing that job. I’d have been too tempted to close in on the riders and shoot for bokeh if I’d had a long lens with me. That human-eye-view you get with a 50mm nailed that for me without me having to try really.

The only thing which I feel is missing slightly is the feeling of just how wet it was on the day. It tipped it down pretty much all day. It makes what the riders achieved all that more amazing, as they had lots of wet slippy mud to deal with on top of everything else, so that’s why I included the portrait of Jim and James. It sums up our spirit of the day, one which I’m sure translated to the riders too. It might be raining but I’m doing something I enjoy with my mates so I’ve got a great big smile on my face none the less!

From a photography point of view I came away more convinced than ever that my heart lies with film. Not because it’s better than my day to day digital photography particularly but because it’s my way to take my photos for me. I still love my Grandad’s AV-1 even if it’s not quite as cool as an AE-1, I love my F100 because it just works brilliantly every time and for the final nail in the new to film stereotype coffin I’m also loving my new Hasselblad 500CM.

I don’t care if I’m a giant walking hipster cliche, because the photos and the process of taking them make me happy.

~ Cat

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About the author

Cat Topham

I’m a thirty-something wife and mum of one, former soldier who now takes photos of dogs for a living. I live in the Scottish Borders and am regularly torn between heading out with my camera or heading out on my bike. I try not to combine the two that often...

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  1. A great set of pictures that really capture the feel of the event. Just goes to show you don’t need a DSLR and giant telephoto to photograph action sports – just a good eye and 36 frames of Tri X!