Jean-baptiste Liautard

An illuminated rider is reflected in a small pool of water as he performs a jump on his bike against a smoky night sky.

Canon Ambassador and extreme sports photographer Jean-baptiste Liautard used a wheelbarrow filled with water as a mirror to create this award-winning reflection shot. The image shows rider Jéremy Berthier performing a stunt on his dirt jump bike near Lyon in France. "I used a couple of flashes to backlight the jump and the smoke, leading to this silhouette effect," says Jean-baptiste. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II (now succeeded by the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III) with a Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM) at 26mm, 1/80 sec, f/5.6 and ISO640. © Jean-baptiste Liautard

Canon Ambassador Jean-baptiste Liautard is among the most prominent extreme sports photographers of his generation. Renowned for his artistic style and unique images, Jean-baptiste's creativity and drive have made for some of the most iconic mountain biking shots out there.

"I'm just trying to take another approach to mountain biking photography," he explains. "I try to do my own thing, something a bit different and arty. That's what people tell me; my photos are different."

Born and raised near Lyon, France, where he is still based today, Jean-baptiste's first love was mountain biking, before photography became his passion. "I got into mountain biking when I was about 14," he says. "There's a hill near my parents' place and I always saw people biking on the trails – one day I tried with a friend and I got hooked."

After a crash temporarily took him out of the sport, Jean-baptiste picked up his first camera – a Canon EOS 7D (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 7D Mark II). "The only way I could still hang out with my friends was to start shooting," he explains. "But photography didn't develop into a real passion until I was about 18. That's when I started to think I could really do something with this."

After studying photography in Lyon, Jean-baptiste worked as a staff photographer for a mountain biking brand. He went freelance six years ago, and now travels the world capturing some of the biggest names in the sport.

"It's so cool because I can share my passion for photography and riding every day," he says. "The guys I'm shooting with are my friends and we share the riding passion. It's really important for me to be part of the sport and to relate to what the athletes feel, because then I can completely understand what I am asking them to do to create a shot."

Canon Ambassador and extreme sports photographer Jean-baptiste Liautard.

Location: Lyon, France
Specialist area: Extreme sports
Favourite kit:
EOS-1D X Mark II
EF 50mm f/1.2L USM
In the far distance, a biker can be seen on top of a mountain cast in shadow. The sky behind him is a glorious fading yellow.

This image was taken on a winter's evening in the mountainous Ardèche department in southeast France. "France is an incredible playground for mountain biking," says Jean-baptiste. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM) at 200mm, 1/1000 sec, f/6.3 and ISO100. © Jean-baptiste Liautard

The sun-drenched mountaintops of France and Canada's misty forests are just some of the spectacular backdrops featured in his portfolio, but among Jean-baptiste's most famous images is his award-winning picture of a rider performing a jump while silhouetted against the night sky. Captured at home in Lyon, this ethereal shot was recognised at The Red Bull Illume awards.

"That picture is very special," he explains. "I love shooting silhouettes and reflections. The challenge I faced was that there was no water at the location, so I had the idea to fill up a wheelbarrow to create the reflection.

A mountain bike rider is silhouetted against a spiralling blue light trail.

Jean-baptiste used a long exposure to capture the silhouette of mountain bike rider Peter Kaiser. "The light trail is made with a big programmable LED strip that I moved from one side of the camera to the other, passing behind the rider to draw his silhouette," Jean-baptiste says. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 16mm, 20 sec, f/6.3 and ISO100. © Jean-baptiste Liautard

"The hardest part was finding the right trick," he continues. "That was a real challenge as we had to find the best stunt for the angle, and it was a very low-light situation – the rider had to run the trail almost blind. It felt amazing to be recognised at Red Bull Illume. It's among the most prestigious awards for action sports photography, so it was incredibly special."

Jean-baptiste's unique style has caught the attention of many commercial brands. "I always have a lot of projects on the go," he says. "But it's also good to just spend time with the athletes riding and not shooting, as it builds the relationship. That's what I love the most about what I do – at the end of the day, I'm just shooting with my friends."

What would you say are the key elements to successful mountain biking photography?
"I think it's one of the most difficult sports to shoot because there are so many things moving at the same time. The athletes move extremely fast and their movements are so quick, which is why I would say knowing the sport inside out and having a great camera are really key."

How would you describe your photographic style?
"I try to play a lot with light, whether it's natural light or artificial light. I see a lot of pictures – from Instagram, online, even paintings – and I look at the different techniques used, and I'm inspired by that. Today, it is hard to invent a completely new technique, but I try to make it fresh by adapting it. Sometimes I look for a specific location – I have a list of ideas on my phone – and when the location fits the idea, everything comes together."

What's the biggest challenge when photographing mountain biking?
"There are many things that need to come together. You must showcase the action in the best way possible; the athlete has to be happy about the picture. The bike must be in the perfect position, and it must be the right moment. Even if the shot is perfect in every way if the attitude of the rider is not good, then it doesn't come off. That can be frustrating; you could be working with the last ray of light that day and then the rider doesn't do the best that they can, so you must do it again. You have to always be quick-thinking."

What advice would you give to someone starting out in the industry?
"I'd recommend not doing it for money [at first]. In extreme sports, everybody knows everybody, and it's hard to make it your full-time job before you have a name for yourself. I just tried to reach out to people, found athletes and shot for free at the start. Every weekend, I'd be at the hill at my parents' place shooting everyone. That's how you build a name and develop your skills because you have no pressure. Shoot as much as possible would be my advice."

One thing I know

Jean-baptiste Liautard

"I used to go to a shoot with an idea in mind, and when the weather or something that was out of my control wasn't how I imagined it, I was a bit lost. I would spend time looking for what I imagined in my mind. But now I've learnt to adapt and not fixate on just one image; if the weather or riding conditions are not as I expected, now I am more creative and prepared for everything."



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