TWMX All Access: The Digital Life Of A Factory Spectator

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Roosting the dirt with Professional MX/SX Photographer Steve “TFS” Bruhn

By Deven Riley, aspiring youngster

When was the last time you were flipping through a dirt bike magazine, and came across a picture that you just had to say “WOW” about? I’ll be the first to admit I do it all of the time! I have tried to take the same kind of pictures at the track, and just can’t seem to get it right. Most of my pictures show a blur that could be mistaken for the headless horseman. I have a talent for cutting heads off, which got me thinking about how the professional photographers get all of these great pictures. I went to the best of the best, professional SX/MX photographer Steve “TFS” Bruhn from www.motonews.com for the answers. TFS’s work is featured weekly on the web sites of professional motocross riders, and in national motocross publications monthly. Below I find out what it takes to be TFS, and what the life of a professional photographer is all about.

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DR: How did you become a motocross/supercross photographer?

TFS: I had an airline-engineering job and could fly for nothing on planes when they had empty seats. In 1997, I decided to see if I could fly to a whole supercross season and take notes for a web site. People asked for photos so I got a cheap digital camera. Things slowly got busy after a couple of seasons.

DR: Have you been involved with MX/SX your whole life?

TFS: I raced when I was in high school, but had to stop for college, then after I was away from MX for a while for engineering work, but MX was more fun and I bought a YZ250 to practice on. I tried to get an engineering job with the motorcycle companies and they never had anything.

DR: How did you get the name TFS? What does it mean?

TFS: I was flying to Florida on the weekends to see my friends race when I took a Continental Airlines job in Houston. One time at the Mini-Os all my racing friends were piled in a van and sleeping in tents. I flew in just to watch and drove up in a rental car, just like a factory rider would. Everyone was joking that weekend, “Hey, look at the new car. We have a “Factory Spectator.”

DR: What kind of camera do you shoot with?

TFS: Right now a Canon 1D, digital. It’s a professional camera with a “professional” price tag to go along with it.

DR: Is that camera something I could afford?

TFS: I doubt it. You don’t really need something like that unless you are making enough to afford replacing about $8,000 in camera stuff each year. You can do just as good with a $1,000 digicam, you will just have to try harder and you will get less good photos.

DR: How much does your camera equipment weigh?

TFS: I don’t know but the camera bag I carry on an airplane is pretty heavy.

DR: Have you ever been run over or hurt while shooting a race?

TFS: Sure, three times. Once I just got knocked down because I was standing in the corner of a supercross and the track was close to the wall. Cory Young missed a turn and hit the wall. It was really loud but it just knocked me down. When I got up a buncof people in the stands were leaning over the wall looking down and they all said, “Duuuuuuude!”

Another time Chad Sanner missed a tall berm in supercross practice and instead of tipping over the high side into a tuff bloc, he gassed it hoping to land on the floor on the other side of the berm. Instead he landed on me. I saw him coming and just threw my shoulder into him, which knocked his bike sideways and kept it from being a hard hit on me. It just broke my camera bag’s strap.

The best one was at the Minneapolis supercross during the 125 heats, when Casey Lytle lost his rear brake in a first turn and went straight when he was going too fast to make a turn. His bike slid right into my ankles, engine cases first and I fell on top of the bike when it was still going pretty fast. All three of us slid across the floor a little in front of 60,000 people. They all thought it was pretty funny.

DR: Do you drive or fly to all the races?

TFS: Mostly drive, just depends. Flights are pretty cheap if you search the web for deals. Many times flying is cheaper than driving.

DR: What is it like getting to meet and hang out with all the riders?

TFS: After a while it just seems like normal people you see at work. They have a lot going on during a race day so you have to remember they can often be distracted or worrying about something big. Away from the track everyone is pretty normal.

DR: How did you hook up that awesome Chad Reed interview in TransWorld? (He is my FAV rider of all times, I wish I was you!)

TFS: I was in Florida an extra week after Daytona looking for photos and interviews to do for magazines. I saw Donn Maeda, the TransWorld editor online and told him about it and he wanted a sit-down interview with Reed. Reed lives by Tim Ferry and I went to his birthday party one day and we did the interview in his condo at the golf course in Dade City, FL.

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DR: How do you get such hot shots during the race? (Do you move around or find the best spot and stay put?)

TFS: Practice, and you always move around.

DR: How many pictures do you take in a normal weekend? (practice and race)

TFS: About 2,000 for a full weekend.

DR: When the race ends, what happens next…..do you rush to upload pictures?

TFS: Yes, there is quite a rush afterwards to move the photos to a laptop, then browse everything and pick what the magazines are going to get. Even with a high speed internet it can take most of a night after a race. I always have lots of printable photos ready for the magazines the next morning.

DR: How do the pictures make it onto rider websites and inside of magazines? Do you pick the best ones, or do they pick their favorites?

TFS: I make CDs and someone else loads all of them reduced in size for the web sites. All the web sites pick their own from there.

DR: Do you store pictures that are not used or just delete them?

TFS: It only takes about $600 a year in to save everything, so I keep them all.

DR: If you store the pictures, how do you store them?

TFS: They go on external hard drives. I have about seven full.

DR: Do you like to shoot Motocross or Supercross better?

TFS: Supercross, because the track is tighter and you can get to everything pretty easy. Outdoors takes a lot of hiking. Also the cameras really like flash photography in the stadiums so it’s a lot more colorful. Plus the shows are a blast.

DR: Congrats on your new racing career, what is it like before a big race?

TFS: It’s no big deal. We are just racing minibikes for fun. There always seems to be a scramble before a race because you have to race with stuff from the sponsors, like Sano parts or Thor gear. A lot of time is spent gathering the stuff.

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DR: How did you hook up the factory Suzuki deal?

TFS: The agency that makes Suzuki’s ads and posters likes Motonews a lot and they wanted Suzuki to participate in the MPN Minibike Nationals this summer so they talked American Suzuki’s Mel Harris into it. I get a bike for the summer.

DR: Do you consider yourself famous since you are the prime SX/MX photographer?

TFS: Not really, but it is fun when so many people say hi at the races or call your name from the fence. I try and keep enough stickers for everyone who says hi. The fun part is getting your name/image out where people can see it, but trying to make it look like an accident.

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p>DR: How did you hook up the factory Suzuki deal?

TFS: The agency that makes Suzuki’s ads and posters likes Motonews a lot and they wanted Suzuki to participate in the MPN Minibike Nationals this summer so they talked American Suzuki’s Mel Harris into it. I get a bike for the summer.

DR: Do you consider yourself famous since you are the prime SX/MX photographer?

TFS: Not really, but it is fun when so many people say hi at the races or call your name from the fence. I try and keep enough stickers for everyone who says hi. The fun part is getting your name/image out where people can see it, but trying to make it look like an accident.

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