Ryne Swanberg, or "Swanny" as he is affectionately known, is the genius behind the camera for all those Supercross and Motocross photos MotoSport posts after every round.
Named after Chicago Cubs Hall-of-Famer Ryne Sandberg, Swanberg got the photography bug at just 8 years old and it happened with Motocross when he received his first Motocross magazine. He got his first dirt bike shortly after but capturing the sport on film never wavered. After an accident at 19 resulted in a severe broken arm, he retired the riding boots and the camera went full-time.
He got his professional start as a Motocross photographer in 2008 with VurbMoto.com and after three years he added freelancer to his resume which opened the door to work with MotoSport. In 2015, Swanberg sees a new role as the Senior Contributing Photographer for Transworld Motocross but is retaining his freelance status and partnership with MotoSport.
Admittedly, the traveling is tough on family life as he spends lots of time in airports, on planes and in hotel rooms. But, the experience gives him a chance to see new places, try new food and even though he can't ride dirt bikes anymore, he still gets a rush every time he walks out on the track.
Years as a photographer: Eight
Years photographing Motocross: Seven
Cameras used: Nikon D4 and Nikon D810
Sports covered: Motocross, Supercross, Snowboarding, Wakeboarding, BMX
Education/Experience: Two years at Ivy Tech Community College in Columbus, Indiana studying visual communication and photography.
Residence: Lives with his wife, 11 month old son and pit bull in Indiana
Other interests: Collects vintage cameras and motorcycles
1. How did you get started in photography?
My friends and I took turns taking photos of each other doing our respective sports when we were growing up. I have been shooting film since I was 14 years old.
2. What drew you in to Motocross photography?
I received my first motocross magazine when I was 8 years old and quickly got my first dirt bike after that. The magazines are what drew me in though. I would go to the grocery store every month with my mom to buy all the Motocross magazines that the local Wal-Mart had to offer. I have a pretty big collection starting from 1994 and going thru 2008 when everything started going digital. I grew up reading Motocross Action, Transworld Motocross and Racer X.
3. What's the key for you in grabbing great shots in a sport that's so fast?
I think the biggest thing is being aware of your surroundings and watching what is happening on the track. It's easy to get distracted and miss a shot but I like to sit back, look for something that looks cool and then dissect the best way to shoot it. You also have to be able to adapt quickly, especially to different lighting situations that may come up unexpectedly.
4. Can you look for a shot in Motocross or is there a lot of luck capturing the right photo?
There is definitely a lot of luck in Motocross, but it's mostly being in the right spot at the right time. The tracks are so big and there is so much happening that a lot of it comes down to where you choose to be at that given time. I set up every shot with a few personal guidelines that I try to follow but then you just hope something big happens where you picked.
5. For the camera geeks, can you give us a rundown of your equipment and how each functions in your line of work?
My workhorse is definitely my Nikon D4. It's great for fast action and the focus is top of the line. My next body is the Nikon D810 and I use that for special shots because it has such a large file size. I have a few Nikkor lenses that get the job done for me including the 14-24mm F/2.8, 24-70mm F/2.8, 70-200mm VRII F/2.8, and the 300mm VR F/2.8. My favorite lens is the 300mm prime, it can reach pretty far and the bokeh (aesthetic quality of out of focus areas) is hard to beat.
For shoots I have a full arsenal of Paul C Buff Einstein strobes that I use on location. They are amazing strobe units that have a small battery pack and can be used with Pocketwizards Hypersonic technology. I use Hypsersync almost every time I do a Moto shoot now just because it offers a lot more options for shooting fast action sports.
6. Every photographer has their own opinion on the digital age - what's yours?
I think digital is great. It allows us to get photos out a lot quicker. I started shooting film first in school and am glad I learned on that medium first. There is just something about developing your own film that is so rewarding. I still shoot film every once in a while for fun and I also collect old vintage film cameras for my office.
7. Do you take the opportunity to preview your photos or does that digital "benefit" bog you down as a professional?
I go through every single one of my photos in a program called Photo Mechanic to check focus and to rename every photo. It definitely takes a long time to go through all of my photos from a race. I usually start working right after the race has ended and work until I fall asleep, then work the entire day Sunday while I travel home.
8. There has to be at least a few experiences when you thought you got the shot or missed one you wished you'd taken - can you share what eats at you to this day?
It gets me almost every race. You can't capture everything, and I don't know how many times I have been walking and I miss a shot or someone walks in front of me and I miss it. That happens a lot, especially in Supercross! It bugs me every time but I'm always confident in the shots that I do capture that I can't dwell on the missed ones.
9. Conversely, are there favorite moments you can't believe you got?
I have a few favorite moments that I can't believe I captured. One of them being the Jeff Alessi/Ryan Villopoto laser incident at Washougal. I was just doing my thing behind the starting gate taking a shot of Malcolm Stewart and didn't realize it until I was going through the photos and saw a green dot poking out from behind the tree. Davey Coombs from MXsports.com was amazed that I captured that photo because they really didn't have actual proof of him holding it until they saw my photo. I definitely won't forget that shot.
10. What photography tips can you give the Motocross fan with a decent point-and-click camera?
Shoot as often as you can. Practice makes perfect and look for interesting lighting and angles. Lighting really makes a photograph and mastering different lighting scenarios and techniques will bring your photography to another level.
11. Do you cover other sports and/or is there another sport or opportunity you'd like to photograph?
I started shooting snowboarding when I first started out and wish that I still shot it. There's something about going out to the mountain or finding a killer urban spot with your friends that draws me to the snowboarding world.
I have recently started doing some work in the medical field and I never thought my camera would take there. I have been working for Cooke Medical who specializes in catheters and other medical devices. I have been shooting live case studies (surgeries) while Cooke products are in use so they can use them commercially for advertising and educational purposes. I shot my first live surgery with a live patient right before the Seattle Supercross this year in Seattle and it was definitely one of the craziest experiences of my life.
My main focus is motocross though for right now and I'm excited for the 2015 race season!