The story behind our special Christmas edition
We've made our December mag that extra bit Christmassy this year, commissioning photographer Laurence Crossman-Emms to shoot some exclusive (and incredible!) festive photos for us. Find out the story behind them here
If you're a subscriber to MBUK, then you'll have seen our special Christmas front cover. If you're not, well you're missing out –not only on this, but access to some great subscriber-only offers and content too! Click here if you want a piece of the action.
What all of our readers will have seen in the December mag is the incredible festive photo spread in 'Out Front'. This was masterminded by North Wales-based photographer Laurence Crossman-Emms, who nailed it so well that you'd be forgiven for thinking it's Photoshopped. But it isn't, and to prove it, we asked Laurence to explain how he captured both images...
"The nights drawing in and the rides getting colder can only mean one thing – it's time for the annual Christmas photo! For eight years now, bar one, my good friend Duane Walker and I have set ourselves the challenge of capturing a bike-themed Christmas photo. Whether that involves sketchy features, jumping fires or throwing milk at each other, it's always a hoot. Because life is busy, there have been several times when we've shot the photo on Christmas Eve itself, cutting it fine for everyone to wake up to the Xmas surprise. But somehow, in between the chaos of broken bikes, forgotten Santa suits and (actual) snowy conditions, we've always been successful.
"This year was a little different, in that MBUK commissioned us to capture Saint Nicholas on camera well before the big day, and Duane and I couldn’t have been more fired up to get it done. After some badly-drawn mock-ups, a few Skype calls and some costume shop perusing, we had a pretty solid idea nailed down. This year we planned to shoot two images – one for the cover of the mag and one for the inside spread. But we didn't just want to shoot two angles of the same thing, we wanted to shoot two separate images. When one's not a big enough challenge!"
The cover shot
"The cover shoot came first. I'd found a pair of trees knotted together in a triangle and with a drop-off underneath, while out on a previous shoot. I reckoned it would look awesome to string some lights up, dress the scene with fake snow and presents, and have Santa bursting out through the middle. As Santa only travels by night, shooting this in the dark was a must. That presented its own set of challenges – lights, flashes and head-torches were a must, then there were the tree lights and having to lug a generator half a mile into the woods. (It's a good job we'd rallied a crew to help out.)
"The UK isn't blessed with snow when you want it, only when it's inconvenient, so to make it look more wintery, we bought a load of eco-friendly organic fake snow. Presents were wrapped and laid around the bottoms of the trees.
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"Now we needed the stunts. With Duane currently living in London, pre-riding the feature wasn't an option, so he had to come in cold turkey, at night, on mud as slippery as an oiled-up otter and on a bike he'd never ridden before. (Big thanks to Nukeproof for providing a bright red Mega 275 as Santa's sleigh.) After a few test runs, some slippery crashes and a bit of angle tweaking, Duane donned the Santa suit and we were ready to give it a go.
"With all the planning and prep, shoots like this always feel like a lot of effort just for one button press, but they're exciting too. I shouted, 'Duane, drop!' and he set off like Santa leaving the North Pole and slid off the lip of the drop. The smoke billowed, the fake snow fell, the lights in the trees glistened, the flashes snapped the scene and the shutter went 'click'. It was a wrap! Now it was time to pack it all up and head home."
The full turkey dinner
"For the magazine spread, I wanted to create a scene that people could look at over and over again and notice something different. Duane and I had loads of different ideas – looking through a window with Santa outside, building a jump in the snow dome or even making a sleigh. But in the end we decided on Santa jumping over a family sat round the table eating their Christmas dinner. We found the perfect jump for it too,at Antur Stiniog. It gave us enough loft to put the table underneath and enough airtime that we could have a reindeer in there too.
"The dinner table had to look realistic, so we went all out – Christmas jumpers, wine, crackers, cutlery and turkey dinner (which actually was a chicken, but was almost an inflatable turkey at one point!) Getting the table positioned and lining it up with the jump so it all fitted in the frame was the first tricky bit. Then we had to get the riders both in the air and close enough together. Duane took on the role of Santa once again and local rider Zac Lester was our reindeer. Hitting jumps at night and in novelty costumes isn't the easiest thing! It took a couple of attempts, a few glasses of wine and some seriously good facial expressions to get the shot.
"For me, the experience of shooting the Christmas photos is feeling like a tradition – the coming together of friends, having a bit of an adventure and getting a unique photo nailed. And in this case, we had some left over turkey (chicken) to finish off afterwards!"
To see the results of all this hard work, pick up a copy of our December issue – on sale now!
A big shout out to all involved – Duane Walker, for being an awesome Santa; Kirsty, Joe, Tom, Joshy and Zac; Nukeproof for the bike; and also Bud at Antur Stiniog.
Merry Christmas everyone!
Former Mountain Biking UK features editor Ed Thomsett is a downhiller at heart but has been riding bikes of all types since a young age. He's raced both nationally and internationally in downhill and enduro, and has spent several summers living in the Alps and Canada, riding, roadtripping and living the dirtbag lifestyle. Now Ed calls upon his years of experience riding bikes to the limit as a writer and reviewer for MBUK and BikeRadar. He's also an avid trail builder and has scraped out numerous steep and technical lines in the woodlands of his native North Yorkshire. These days Ed will happily turn his hand to any discipline and believes the sign of a good week is when every bike in his shed ends up muddy by the end of it.