Photo: Tecate Fixed

Matt Lingo – havin’ a talk

Photo: Tecate Fixed
Recently I found time to have a little chat with Matt Lingo. Some will know he’s the marketing guy at Leader Bikes, but this time we talked about his work as a photographer. Be sure to check his portfolio as well. I hope you will enjoy the read.

Hey Matt, how’s life? Let’s start with the most common question in interviews. Who’s Matt Lingo? Tell a bit about yourself.

I’m a 29 year old Director of Marketing at Leader Bikes, coming off of 5 years of working as a freelance photographer in cycling and action sports in Southern California

Let’s chat in a few words about how you got from freelance photography to marketing before we start talking about your photography.

Ok, well a big part of being a photographer is trying to “up-sell” the client on whatever project they might be interested in. If a company taps me to shoot a single page ad for a magazine I’m going to try and sell them on having me shoot a two page spread. If they want me to shoot a spread then I’m trying to sell them on me shooting a catalog. To do that though it’s necessary to have an understanding of a brand and their marketing needs to come up with fun, creative, and effective projects they can hire you for. After doing it for so many years it only made sense to transfer experience built up through photography into a marketing career.

Sounds quite logical to me. So the knowledge you got from your photography background was really helpful for you, as it seems. I would have come up with the next question later anyway, but let’s talk about it now. You focused on cycling and action sports, do you have any advice for photographers wanting to get into that field as well? How did you approach possible customers in the first place?

I’m a strong believer that you have to be a participant in whatever you choose to photograph. You might approach something as a new comer with fresh eyes, but eventually through the process of photography and exploration you should naturally become a part of whatever it is you’re shooting. I was always riding fixed gears through out college and photographed it on the side not really thinking much of it, so it was actually possible customers who approached me first. It was kind of a shock when one second you’re a kid in college shooting photos of your friends and the next Specialized is calling asking if they can buy them.

As a photographer myself I totally can relate to that and I agree that you have to be a participant or love what you’re shooting. Looking at your photography work I can tell that you love the images you’re shooting. But let’s talk about something else first, you mentioned you photographed your friends while being in college. How did you get into photography at first?

People usually tell the story of their father handing them an old 35mm, but I remember being in middle school when my father bought a Fuji point and shoot. I ended up grabbing it whenever I’d head out the door because I loved that I could take a picture and see it instantly. I was around 11 years old when he first brought the camera home, and I’ve been shooting since then.

Photo: Tecate Fixed

Photo: Tecate Fixed

Hahaha yeah, I’m having a hard time believing that all those photographers got their dad’s 35mm. Urban legend sounds more plausible.  So, is it learning by doing or did you study photography?

A little bit of both. I figured I would try going to college for it and see how it worked out, and while I didn’t pick up much technically there (ie exposure, photoshop) it gave me a great foundation for how to edit my own work, find the strongest images, and in general look at photography from a conceptual standpoint.

Let’s talk about the images. For you personally, what makes a good cycling photo? And what’s your personal favorite shot?

Since I’m a big fan of a bicycle in an urban environment a good cycling photo for me is one that also works as a great street photograph. Street photography is about the chaos of an urban environment, all these swirling random objects that a photographer waits until they line up in that perfectly to snap in that decisive moment. I love seeing the bike as the subject of these photos, and how the cyclist interacts with these urban obstacles.

A good shot of mine I feel that kind of reflects that is Josh Hayes on 7th ave. After a visiting places like New York and San Francisco, it made me wish the streets of my hometown looked similar so I got to photoshopping in cars and air planes to create my own decisive moments. I really enjoy the Josh Hayes shot as it gets a strong reaction from people. When I’ve shown it in galleries the audience is always visibly upset that the cyclist is going against the flow of traffic, and is relieved when I tell them it’s faked. It’s a good statement I feel of cyclist vs. traffic.

Josh Hayes, 5th Ave

Josh Hayes, 5th Ave

Gypsy, South Park Canyon

Gypsy, South Park Canyon

Haha technically I’m not photoshopping in cars that weren’t there. After the rider goes through I sit there for about twenty minutes watching what happens, and snap photos of anything I find interesting. All the cars, planes, people, came through there, just not the same time as the cyclist.

They just weren’t there the same time. But it makes up a good image though.
Looking at your portfolio and also the images at your blog “Reciprocity Failure” you seem to have a preference for black and white images. Does that relate to your love to street photography which mostly comes in bw, too? Cause, for example, if you look at action sports photography like skateboarding it’s more common to use bright colors.

The photographer who had the most influence on my work always taught that everything must be uniform, from concept to aesthetic. If you’re exposing and processing an image a certain way, it’s to heighten what the subject is expressing. B&W I feel shows off the gritty nature of riding a bike on a busy street, while working equally well with those quiet, personal moments we have while riding where we feel totally connected to the bike as if it’s an extension of ourselves.

I think through B&W we can decelerate a photo in some way. There’s no distress through too many colorful objects. Browsing your portfolio I can tell i prefer the B&W imagery over most of the colored ones. It seems that on most of the colored shots you used flash while most of the B&W ones come with available light, right? Let’s talk about gear for a minute. What’s your preferred setup to shoot cycling shots?

It’s changed alot over the years. Flash I generally put in color as it pops and saturates more. I started out with whatever I could fit in my Chrome bag when I’d go riding, and progressed into trying to use alot of different strobes on the street. Now a days my routine is usually direct a cyclist to pass by me six times in different ways (varying speed and position), then also do some driving alongside the rider with me hanging out the side of the car shooting (with a friend driving of course).

So, most of your shots come out of planned sessions with images on your mind? How do you approach a photo session?

Really depends on the project. On average it’s determining what kind of location/person is going to suit the product best, spending some time going over settings and possible models. Next it’s figuring out what kind of gear I’ll need: can I get away with a simple slr and a 50mm or do I need multiple cameras, lenses, lighting, and an assistant to help out? From there I go into the shoot with the idea of trying to scoop up as much as I can. I’ll either have a few key shots in mind, ones described by the client personally, or general guide lines to stick to, and play with it from there.

Which ones do you like best? The simple ones or the ones who need more production to them?

The production ones, I really like seeing a lot of planning and hard work come to fruition in the final shots.

Can you name a favorite? How long did it take to come up with the results, let’s say planning, shooting and post-production?

The 2011 Leader Bikes catalog was alot of fun to shoot. It played out similar to how I mentioned before with upselling. Leader asked me to photograph a rider while he was in town, which I upsold into a spread on Leader in Cog Magazine, which in turn became me shooting their new catalog. I came up with this concept of guys speeding around town on Leaders in business suits, which total time frame took about two weeks of planning/shooting/post. We generated a lot of content from it that lasted well outside of the catalog needs.

A shot from the 2011 Leader catalog

A shot from the 2011 Leader catalog

Oh yes, I remember those from seeing the ads somewhere online. So, now working at Leader Bikes, do you still find enough time to shoot? On your blog I saw photos of a session with the State Bicycle Team at Red Hook Crit.

Not with what we have slated for 2014, I definitely have my hands full. I shoot Leader full time while handling our marketing needs as well as brand image. On the side though the one client I’ve been able to retain and work with as it’s in the same vein as what we do here at Leader is Chrome Bags. Usually on my off days or while I’m at races representing Leader, I’ll be shooting for Chrome on the side as well.

Photo: Matt Lingo

Photo: Matt Lingo

Sounds neat. Being able to combine those at least. I do have a few more on my list, not too many. You mentioned earlier that, when planning a session you are deciding for the right model/rider to work with. Do you have a favorite rider to work with? If so, why?

Oo that’s a tough one. Emi Brown is always great to work with. We’ve shot so many times that he and I don’t need much communication, we both know how we operate and go straight to work. Craig Streit is also a favorite, he’s an enthusiastic and hard working guy which always makes for great pictures.

Emi Brown

Emi Brown

Craig Streit

Craig Streit

So those are the ones you can chase down a road over and over again until you got the shot without complaining? I like those. Do you have the riders have a say in the way a photo comes together? From my sessions I really love when a rider comes up with ideas as well, cause often times they will surprise you.

Absolutely, couldn’t agree more. When you can team up with someone and are on the same page with what you’re both trying to produce it can make for some amazing images.

Let’s get back to the photoshop topic just for a second, how often do you combine multiple images to get the shot you had in mind? To produce those amazing images.

Not too often, it’s more of if I see an opportunity to add in extra cars/people etc. then I do. Sometimes I do it as well to remove unwanted people from the photos as well.

Yeah, I saw that video of yours where you’re explaining your way of doing it for the bmx shots. Let’s finish those up before I come up with few short ones: what is it that fascinates you about cycling?

In case you couldn’t tell I’m passionate about street photography and urban chaos. I spent all this time photographing crowds in Las Vegas, people crammed together in Los Angeles, and then I stumbled onto bikes that were cutting through all that. They turned the congestion, pollution, and fast food into exercise, being environmentally conscious, and making great time getting from point A to B. All this stress was replaced by fun.

Ok, time for some really quick ones. Since you mentioned street photography again. Which photographers do you find inspiring or have had a big influence on you?

Gary Winogrand made in my mind the best picture anyone’s ever taken, his work is a huge influence on me. I enjoyed seeing how Philip Lorca Dicorcia took the studio and married it to the street with this work, elevating the idea of the decisive moment. With my work I almost try to take what Gregory Crewdson has done, creating these large landscapes and filling them with a cast of characters almost as if it’s a movie set, to create these “in between” moments that cause you to pause.

I think I see what you mean. Just by reading this I’m thinking of the tilt/shift shot again or the ones you at the San Diego track. If you were about to shoot now, let’s say riders in the streets, or an alleycat. What would be your choice of gear?

San Diego Track Sessions

San Diego Track Sessions

You mean something where I had to stay mobile and shoot quick?


Probably just my Nikon D3 with a 50mm f/1.8, and my Fuji X-Pro1 with an 18mm f/2. Just keep it simple with prime lenses and camera bodies that do well in low light, I wouldn’t want to try and overcomplicate it with lighting or zooms. Just stay flexible and focus on spending more time shooting then swapping between bodies or hauling gear.

Nice choice of lenses. I recently started trying the Olympus OM-D with a 17mm f/2. Awesomely quick autofocus and 11 or 12 shots per second. Mirrorless, so pretty tiny. I think on my Canon 5D Mark II I’d go for the new Sigma 35mm f/1.4.

Love those Olympus OM-D’s, great cameras plus that OM is a classic look.

Yes. I’d love to check the Fuji one but didn’t get my hands on one yet. Hey Fuji… why aren’t you replying to my mails? Let’s finish up with those…

Cycling: my legs are my gears / death before derailleur or carbon framed 21 gears?

You know now that I’m a dad with my butt planted in an office most of the time I’m finding my track bike is starting to collect a little more dust, and the carbon road Leader Mark1 is seeing more use. I may have swapped to the dark side, but I still haven’t sold my soul to the point of wearing a cycling kit just yet.

I somehow can relate to that, you become more responsible with life progressing. But hey, as nowadays it’s totally common to wear cycling kits on fixed gear bikes as well, the path to the dark side is pretty narrow… For the track bike, favorite gear ratio?

I’ve been running 48:18 on my track bikes for a while, can’t see to break myself of it.

A cycling video that recently made you want to ride right away?

The short Colin Arlen filmed of Don Ward for the Red Bulletin really inspired me. He really captured what Don does for cycling in Southern California in a way that makes you want to grab your bike and get outside.

Thanks for taking your time. I appreciate it a lot. Any last words?

Thanks for the interview.

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