Some of you might be familiar with Ben Haulenbee, a local photographer whose photos and videos have graced our pages now and then. Since cutting his teeth shooting mountain biking in VT Ben’s career has escalated to a position as a staff photographer for the Subaru Rally Team USA. Last week we caught up with Ben when he was up in Burke with Knight Ide, his son Daymien, and Ryan McEvoy for a day of shredding and shooting.
Ben and crew has just chased the light from sun up to dusk as Ben was on a mission to get reaquainted with his MTB shooting roots. Here are the fruits of his labour and sentiment on the subject.
What have you been up to lately?
I’ve been shooting for Subaru Rally Team USA covering both of the series they compete in, Rally America and Red Bull Global Rallycross. The last two races of the year are coming up soon, so I’m just about to wrap up my second season with them, which has been a pretty amazing experience so far. Rally is hands down the best motorsport in the world, and working with Subaru is about as good as it gets. It’s also great that the Subaru Motorsports program is based right here in Vermont, so when I’m not traveling for events I still get to be in the area.
So, why the sudden urge to shoot bikes again?
Last month when Sasha Yakovleff was up visiting the area he wanted to do a shoot, but I couldn’t make it work because of a conflicting event with Subaru. I had been so busy with rally all summer that I hadn’t realized how long it’s been since I’ve gone out and done some MTB photos. Since then I’ve been really itching to put something together, I’m on a mission to get as much shooting in as possible, especially now that we are getting into the peak of fall colors. I also miss being on the bike more than once every other week.
As a photographer, is rally at all similar to mountain biking?
Absolutely. All the things that I love about mountain biking are present in rally, and then some. With both you’re capturing something flying through the woods and tearing up dirt. The amount of crossover is remarkable in terms of gear and photo technique used to capture the action.
What are the biggest differences between the two sports?
There are a few… Most importantly I have to be cognizant of the risk inherent to working with cars. There are a lot of angles I can’t get during a rally because it would put me in a risky situation, so the limitations on how I can shoot are greater. Other than that, it really comes down to knowing the nuances of the two sports. To list a few differences off the top of my head, bikes don’t throw dirt like a 300hp AWD race car, cars don’t jump has high as bikes, cars move way faster, trails are usually more dynamic than roads, and the difference in scale between bikes and cars is obviously great. As I said before, the technical aspects are the same, getting a good shot boils down to knowing your subject and knowing how to best utilize your equipment and abilities to capture the action.
Speaking of knowing your subject, what was it like getting out to ride with Knight again?
Knight is a great rider to work with. Going out with the intent to take photos is exciting, but not many people really understand that going for a ride and going out to take photos are two entirely different endeavors; it requires a lot of patience. Guys like Knight get that. Much in the same way a model is better at posing for the camera than most people, a professional rider knows how to adjust their riding style, or how to approach a section of trail differently to make the shot better; they can also take direction in order to improve a shot. For example, taking a line wider than normal if it made the framing of the shot work better, or boosting a little higher off a double on the trail that they’d normally skim over, as Knight did this past week, can make a photo more visually dynamic. At the jumps Ryan is much the same, not many people can throw dialed tricks on request.
In the short term, I’m hopefully going to be back up in the Kingdom to shoot a few more sessions with Knight and some of the other riders in the area. We threw some ideas around that would be awesome if we were able to produce the photos this year. Longer term, I’m hopefully going to be driving to all the races with Subaru next year, so in between events I can explore, and ride spots that have always been on my bucket list. I’d definitely track down Sasha in Utah if it ended up working. That whole plan is part of a larger project I’m working on behind the scenes, but the content from it should be great.
Anything else you want to say?
Definitely. If you’re a mountain biker you should go check out a rally car race. If mountain biking had a companion motorsport, it would be rally. A lot of the people on the Subaru team ride, including the drivers. A rally race feels a lot like a mountain bike event; you’re just out in the woods on an adventure, hanging out with some really cool people. It’s one of the things I really enjoy about rally; it’s nothing like other motorsports where you just sit on your ass watching cars go in circles all day. And if you need more incentive to check out rally, Brandon Seminuke is starting to race.
A few additional thoughts from male model and stunt man Knight Ide:
I’ve known Ben for Over 10 years now. I think we first met at Bolton Valley at a time when they were offering lift access to some some gnarly (usually wet) downhilling and the most progressive freeride features in the east. The DH/freeride scene in VT at that time was really small and so we ran into each other at numerous dh and jump events.
Ben was a young shredder and aspiring photographer and I was a local hucker so one day he reached out to me about shooting me riding on some jumps in the Burke area. The foliage was peak and I was always looking for an excuse to jump my bike! First we hit the jumps at the local sandpit, which have long since been flattened to make the parking area for Mikes Tiki Bar (a fair trade I think).
I hucked my 45 lb Banshee Scream again and again with no idea of how the shots would look since he was shooting film! Remember Kodak? The jumps were sizeable, 35′ hip and 45′ stepdown but Ben was obviously looking for something more dramatic and picturesque. I had mentioned to him that I thought it might be possible to jump from the Burke Mid lodge roof to transition, an 18’x18′ drop. The backdrop for the shot is the iconic Willoughby gap in full autumn blaze and Ben wanted this shot!
I had been sizing this stunt for a while because we frequently climbed onto the roof to ride off of the front side where the drop is much smaller. I’m not going to lie, the though of my impending doom as a result of failure was rising exponentially as the shoot progressed. I tried some subtle hints that maybe we had enough rad shots and so maybe we didn’t need to do it. Ben was having none of this and so eventually coaxed me up there.
The run in for the drop off of the top of the Burke Mid lodge, home to the infamous Bear’s Den Lounge, is about 25′ of flat rubber membrane. Getting my massively heavy Banshee up to speed across that distance turned out to be a little more than I could handle and so the case was substantial but my wheel held up and I rode out. Ben tried to coax me up for another take but I had had enough and figured since we were shooting stills he had the shot regardless of the case.
When the pics came back from the lab the shot was there and awesome (for the time).
The Days of the Bears Den Lounge are numbered with the recent development happening at Burke. I wanted to return but this year the backdrop would have been the construction site for the new hotel. I think next fall will be our last chance and it will be cool to be able to compare the shots with and without the hotel. The shot will be better as we have both progressed in ability level and my v10 is at least 10 lbs lighter. Something to look forward to for next season.
Shooting with Ben is always a pleasure, he knows how to make me look good. I hope the pictures from this latest shoot inspires and gets people out on their bikes.
Thanks to everyone that makes my life as a dedicated mountain bike enthusiast possible. Five Ten, Shimano, Santa Cruz Bicycles, East Burke Sports, MTBVT, Kingdom Trails, NOX Composites.