ON THE ROAD TO SUCCESS
Jered and Ashley Gruber have built a career – and a marriage – shooting the world’s best cyclists
F￼or nine months of the year, every year, Jered and Ashley Gruber criss-cross Europe to photograph professional cycling’s premium races. For bike-loving photographers, it seems like the dream assignment, but, creatively speaking, routine can let the air out of anyone’s tyres, no matter how pumped you may be for the job.
“Take, for example, the Tour de France,” says Jered. “It’s always interesting but there’s a certain point, with the routine the same every day, when you’re just kind of over the details of it. But, what’s always interesting and always different are the people on the side the road. An amazing assembly of humanity shows up to watch the race.”
Jered and Ashley have taken the simple pleasure of what they call “riding bikes and taking pictures” and made it both their successful business and their way of life. Their dynamic action shots, in close-up or against expansive landscapes, and energetic crowd montages are in demand from magazines, pro cycling brands and organisations.
They met in 2008 in their hometown of Athens, Georgia, USA, in what could be a scene from a cheesy romantic movie. “I was a cyclist over the moon with my first professional contract,” Jered remembers. “Then, about a week before the season started, I was out on my bike with a couple of friends and this girl walked in front of me on a zebra crossing. For some reason, I turned around and went back to talk to her and it didn’t take long before our life turned completely upside down.”
Jered gave up pro cycling and followed Ashley to Innsbruck, Austria where she was studying. During the year they spent there, two more life-changing decisions were taken. Jered bought Ashley a bike and himself a first DSLR, a Nikon D40. They began cycling together, taking his camera wherever they went. Jered was working for a cycling news website, which sent him on assignments around Europe. The Grubers wrote up their trips on Facebook, where a follower suggested their pictures were good enough to earn money. A first magazine commission came in 2009, and a year later, when Ashley finished her degree, they got married and went all in on a joint career.
Today, their annual trans-Europe adventure lasts from the beginning of February until the end of October. When Nikon Pro speaks to them, they’re driving to Spain to shoot the last six stages of the 2019 Vuelta a España, the third of cycling’s Grand Tours after the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France.
“Of the three Grand Tours,” says Jered, “La Vuelta is the newest for us in our schedule. The Giro d’Italia is the first we ever shot. Now, we go through and look at the 21 stages and pick the 10-12 most interesting. But we shoot all of the Tour de France.” Clients include the EF Education First Pro Cycling team, cycling magazines Pro Cycling UK and Cycling Weekly, and Amuary Sport Organisation, the organising body of the Tour and the Vuelta.
With three days prep beforehand and work on the rest days, the Tour is a four-week solid job. “It’s very difficult. We took a few years to wrap our heads around making it through that period in one piece,” says Jered. With their work and personal lives entwined, maintaining a harmonious relationship is no mean feat, either.
“I’m pretty zen,” says Ashley, laughing, “and Jered’s the Tasmanian devil. I get more and more calm as he gets crazier.” Their work is divided clearly: Ashley drives, Jered navigates. Jered does post-production while Ashley deals with the organisation and admin. “I’m the one who interacts with people we meet,” she says, “because sometimes Jered gets frustrated while we’re working on the course.”
On the Tour de France, that course is chaotic. Millions of people line the route to watch about 200 cyclists race. Navigating crowds and competitors is a highly skilled operation. Good viewpoints are researched on Google Maps. They always shoot at the start and finish of each stage, but in between, it’s a game of leapfrog to drive the stage route in their car to get ahead of the peloton ready to capture the action.
“You take a picture in one spot,” says Jered, “then drive like a rally car driver to the next. Eventually, you’ve got to get to the finish line in good time, which can be a 15-minute saga of trying to get a good shooting spot.”
The duo work alone if they can’t get ahead of the race together. “I hitchhike with a team car and stay in front of the race,” Ashley says. “I mostly don’t know the people who pick me up, but always meet somebody interesting. Ending up in random places with interesting people is one of the fun parts of what we do.” The pleasure they get from unplanned moments spills over into the pictures they shoot, as they scan the crowds for photogenic fans.
“The right kind of fan,” says Jered, “is not brutally drunk. We try to avoid those wearing fluorescent clothing, because it’s foul, so distracting. We look for energetic, excited people. At the finish, you have to look around to see which fans might go crazy, because there’s inevitably someone who’ll try to run next to the riders. A really, really passionate fan lights up a picture. Without them, it can be boring and dull.”
The Grubers’ photography is never boring or dull. Evident in their pictures is their tangible passion for cycling – as much as the most fanatical spectator. Their journey began with enthusiasm and excitement for bikes and photography and their undimmed passion keeps them ahead of the trailing pack. ￼
ASHLEY AND JERED GRUBER
“During a flat stage, bikes go by at 30mph, so we’re taking all these pictures and we don’t always have a total grasp of what we’re seeing. But because the D850 has so many megapixels, I can crop the image and make beautiful compositions that are impossible to do in the moment because of the chaos around us,” says Jered.
Three D850s and a D5. Our lenses are: AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED, AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR, AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II, AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G and AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4G
AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED
AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED
“The French Basque Country has captured our hearts. The roads are unbelievably steep, but the setting is out of this world,” says Jered Gruber
D810, AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED VR, ISO 560, 1/1000 sec @ f/5.6
Ashley: “Getting a shot is a cumulative experience of what you’ve already seen in the race plus what you know is possible”
D850, AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR, ISO 800, 1/8000 sec @ f/4
Jered: “I didn’t get an interesting shot in this ugly location until I saw the shadows of a stadium and how riders would come into the light”
D850, AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II, ISO 400, 1/6400 sec @ f/8
When the route allows, Jered and Ashley leapfrog ahead of the race in their car (or hitch a ride in a team car) to pre-planned set-up positions
D850, AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR, ISO 800, 1/2500 sec @ f/5.6
Jered: “Fans turn OK shots into something memorable. This woman was truly one of the best I’ve ever seen”
D850, AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR, ISO 450, 1/2000 sec @ f/4
The Grubers have a rule: no fluorescent clothes on fans in shot. But, of course, creative rules are there to be broken
D850, AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR, ISO 560, 1/2000 sec @ f/4