Profile

Martin Bissig

Silhouetted against the sunset, YouTube star and Red Bull rider Danny MacAskill hops on the back wheel of his mountain bike at the base camp of Mount Kilimanjaro. Taken by Canon Ambassador Martin Bissig on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV.
Canon Ambassador Martin Bissig is renowned for his action shots captured in extreme environments. "I joined three athletes on bikes on their way up Mount Kilimanjaro," he says. "YouTube star and Red Bull rider Danny MacAskill came to me at base camp, at 4,650m, and said he wanted to hop on this rock on the back wheel of his bike. We got up at 4.30am to get the shot." Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L IS USM lens at 1/200 sec, f/5.6 and ISO125. © Martin Bissig

Swiss outdoor action photographer Martin Bissig has used his love of mountain biking to his advantage, and become one of the world's most prolific shooters of the sport.

Martin's career has been driven by his three great passions: photography, mountain biking and the great outdoors. Encouraged by his father, a freelance photographer who shot for a range of newspapers, photography was the first passion to take hold. Eager to learn, Martin began experimenting with cameras from the age of seven, making the most of his father's equipment and their home darkroom. At 13 he was covering assignments when his father was busy on other jobs. Around this time Martin began mountain biking, the ideal sport for a teenager growing up in one of the world's most mountainous and scenic countries.

Canon Ambassador Martin Bissig.


Location:Unterägeri, Switzerland
Specialist areas: Action, sports
Favourite Kit:
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM

Despite his passion and his talent, Martin set his artistic pursuits to one side and embarked on a career in economics. "At 16, I got out of school and had to decide what I wanted to do with my life," he says. "So I thought, being Swiss, why not go into banking?" After completing a three-year apprenticeship at a bank, Martin went to university to study Business Administration. "It opened my eyes," he continues. "I had to learn stuff that I wasn't really into. I got my degree but I knew it wasn't going to make me happy. The choice was to go back to a corporate job and do stuff I didn't like, or change my life and do what I love."

Mountain biker Gerhard Czerner performs tricks on top of an abandoned tank in the Golan Heights, Israel. Taken by Canon Ambassador Martin Bissig on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV.
"My friend and travel companion Gerhard Czerner joined me on a mountain biking trip through Israel," says Martin. "We found a couple of tanks just standing around on The Golan Heights, leftovers from the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. Gerhard decided to do some tricks up on the tank." Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM lens at 1/1000 sec, f/4 and ISO100. © Martin Bissig

To begin with, alongside shooting intermittently for a handful of magazines, Martin supported his dreams of becoming a professional photographer with a variety of more traditional jobs. But after impressing a significant corporate client in 2003, photography ceased to be a hobby. Martin has since shot for a range of clients, including Red Bull, Scott, Adidas, Oakley, Specialized and Deuter. His images have appeared in countless magazines internationally, and he is considered to be one of the most published mountain bike photographers in the world. "I typically publish about three stories a year," Martin says. "Each gets published between 10 and 20 times, so I usually end up in about 50 different publications all over the world, in more than 25 countries. Each publication holds between four and eight pages, plus the cover, so I'm extremely fortunate to have had tonnes of my pictures published."

Professional cyclist Barti Bucher covered in mud and rain after completing stage 3 of the Absa Cape Epic race in South Africa in 2014. Taken by Canon Ambassador Martin Bissig on a Canon EOS-1D X.
"A shot that epitomises the toughest mountain bike race in the world: the Absa Cape Epic in South Africa," says Martin. "Swiss rider Barti Bucher [who came second in his category in 2014] is pictured after finishing stage three of the race during heavy rain." Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 1/500 sec, f/4.5 and ISO100. © Martin Bissig

Martin believes that being a keen mountain biker himself has helped to make his work stand out. "I love mountain biking," he says. "In photography, to be good at what you do, you have to take pictures of things you like. If I was to shoot people playing snooker, or riding horses, it wouldn't work as well. As a sports photographer, it's important that you know, and love, the sport yourself, because you need to know how people move and what looks right. I never planned to make a living this way, it was just a nice combination of all the things I love the most. As long as something is fun, you can do it forever. Of course, money needs to come in, but if money is your only motivation you will fail. I've learnt that if you keep doing what you love, eventually you'll become good enough to make money from it. It can take a lot of time and rejections, but it's totally worth it in the end. The places I've travelled, the things I've seen, the adventures I've had… I do stuff most people would love to do. I'm so glad I decided to follow my dreams."

Cyclists carrying their bicycles follow two men and a camel across the Sharqiya Sands desert in Oman. Taken by Canon Ambassador Martin Bissig on a Canon EOS-1D X.
"We were looking for the best biking spots in Oman, which we found up in the mountains," says Martin. "But what is a story about Oman without sand dunes and camels? We travelled to Sharqiya Sands, one of the country's biggest deserts. We went for a hike behind our Bedouin camp. Our guide showed us the way – riding was impossible on the sand dunes, so the riders had to carry the bikes on their backs." Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X (now succeeded by the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II) with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens at 1/500 sec, f/5.6 and ISO200. © Martin Bissig

How do you execute your creative vision for a mountain bike shoot?

"Generally, I have just an idea of a country I want to visit, or an area I want to go. Once there, I'll go with the flow. I don't have specific ideas or images I want to capture. I let myself be surprised by what the country or area holds for me. It's difficult to plan anyway; sometimes there isn't any information available about the area."

What are you looking for from the scene and the rider when you fire the shutter?

"I want to tell a story in one image so I prefer to shoot wide. I want to create a certain perspective: to show the viewers where we are, the nature, the trails, the action. I need a good landscape, a good trail, good light and a good rider. If that all comes together, I've got my shot."

What's the creative reasoning behind your usual setup?

"I always shoot in Aperture priority (Av) mode, and I need to make sure the shutter speed is fast enough for action. I use a higher ISO setting to avoid motion blur. I used to shoot a lot with flash, but nowadays I almost never use it. I want to be authentic and photos shot with flash can appear artificial."

What's the trickiest part of a shoot?

"The riders. I can have the best location in the world, in the best possible light, but if the rider sits on the bike like a bag of potatoes, the shot is useless. So, I try to tell a story with a single image. I see what I do more as landscape photography with an additional element – an athlete."

Instagram: @martinbissig
Website: www.bissig.ch

One Thing I Know
Martin Bissig

"Find your niche and shoot what you love. If you shoot things you don't like just for the money, you won't last long. I do work outside my field that I see as 'money jobs', but most of the time I take pictures of the things I like doing."

Martin Bissig's kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs

An array of Canon cameras and lenses - the contents of Canon Ambassador Martin Bissig's kitbag.

Cameras

Canon EOS R

Canon's flagship mirrorless camera offers the ultimate shooting experience to take your storytelling further. "I've waited for this camera for a long time. It's small, fast and offers all I need," says Martin.

Lenses

Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM

Capture more, even in low light, with this ultra-wide angle 15-35mm zoom with 5-stops of image stabilisation – ideal for landscape and architecture. "My wide-angle lens of choice," says Martin. "Fast and super sharp all the way to the corners."

Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM

Boasting a fast aperture and image stabilisation, plus a Nano USM motor for silent focusing, this lens provides outstanding performance. "This lens sets new standards for this zoom range with incredible image quality," says Martin.

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L USM

This professional quality, fast-aperture telephoto zoom lens is popular with a wide range of photographers, from wildlife and sports photographers to those shooting weddings and portraiture. "The most compact 70-200mm lens there is. Its size and weight, combined with its excellent image quality is perfect for me," Martin says.

Canon RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM

A highly versatile 24-105mm zoom lens offering an ideal balance between performance, portability and image quality, this lens offers superb flexibility to photographers and filmmakers. "If I can only bring one lens and don't want to compromise on image quality, this is my choice," says Martin.

Canon RF 24-240mm F4-6.3 IS USM

This portable, versatile 10x zoom lens is ideal for everything from wide-angle landscapes to frame-filling portraits, and even close-up sport and wildlife, offering near-silent focusing that is as unobtrusive as possible. Martin uses this lens for travelling, describing it as his "expedition lens". "It covers a zoom range that's ideal for me while travelling, with great image quality considering its size and weight," explains Martin.

Accessories

Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT

A powerful flashgun for use both on and off the camera, able to be triggered remotely up to 30 metres away. "I have three of these units," says Martin. "They're great: small, lightweight and easy to set up. Perfect for most of my shots outdoors when I want to light up the riders, up to 1/8000 sec."

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