Explore the stories behind Ian Collins’s iconic Semenuk Raw 100 photographs

© Ian Collins
Raw 100 has been a vehicle to show the incredible riding talents of Brandon Semenuk for the past six years. Photographer Ian Collins has shared that journey. Discover his fave Semenuk Raw 100 shots.
Written by Alastair SpriggsUpdated on
Ian Collins is hands down one of freeride mountain biking’s premier photographers. Growing up as a downhill racer, Collins picked up the camera with one goal in mind: to show the world just how exciting and gnarly the sport could be. His creative edge and longing for adventure soon established him as the go-to guy for freeride photography. His resume boasts multiple covers for mountain bike magazines, as well commercial spreads and content for some of the sports most well-recognised brands.
In 2016, Brandon Semenuk reached out to Collins to shoot the first ever Raw 100. Six iterations of Semenuk's Raw 100 edits on, including the latest version (V6), the two continue to be at the forefront of MTB trickery, style, aesthetic and creative content innovation. From his endless list of bangers, we challenged Collins to pick his favourite Raw 100 frames and take us through the story behind the capture.
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The Ominous Gravedigger (V1)

Brandon Semenuk prepping the trail for his Raw 100 V1 contribution.
The Ominous Gravedigger
  • Location: Aptos, California
  • Camera: Nikon D4
  • Lens: Nikon 70-200 f2.8 vrii @ 135mm
  • F-stop: 2.8
  • ISO: 100
  • Shutter speed: 1/250th
Why this photo?
This photo really shows just how far Raw 100 has come. It started out as a crazy idea where we scraped off an old little pre-existing trail, and now they’re these massive projects. It’s by no means the most stunning photo, but it’s one that I hold dear, because it’s where it all started.
Tell us the story behind this photo
The very first Raw 100 was shot on a gloomy, ominous day. I had recently moved to Aptos, which is Brandon's winter home while Canada’s snowed in. I had never really shot for him on one of his projects and he hit me up asking me to shoot one. He asked if I knew any good potential spots – it was all super vague. We ended up shooting the entire segment in one day, just down the road. This was my favourite photo to come out of the session. He looks like a gravedigger at a funeral. It’s ominous, creepy and scratchy – it seemed fitting for our first project.

Rock to Rock Transfer (V5)

Brandon Semenuk during the filming of his RAW 100 V5 contribution.
Rock to Rock Transfer
  • Location: Virgin, Utah
  • Camera: Nikon D5
  • Lens: Sigma Art Series 50mm f1.4
  • F-stop: f3.2
  • ISO: 4,000
  • Shutter speed: 1/1000th
Why this photo?
Well firstly, I think it just might be the gnarliest thing ever done on a mountain bike. Secondly, I shot it on my favourite lens in a last-minute scramble. This one was captured on my 50mm 1.4, on a full frame sensor – that’s how the human eye sees things. There’s no distortion or compression, it’s as real as it gets. If something looks gnarly on a 50mm, then it’s gnarly. That exact feature lives right at the bottom of the 2018/19 Rampage site, and anyone can go marvel at it.
Tell us the story behind this photo
We spent the majority of the day trying to get another trick – which Semenuk attempted what seemed like a million times – but got no luck, he was totally shot. He needed a win so bad. It was getting dark but he went to eye up a rock to rock transfer, and he told me to bring the camera bag. He started to figure out the speed and said, “Listen, if I hit this, I’m going to run back up the hill as fast as I can to hit it again, so be ready.” I was terrified. Originally I planned to shoot with a 35mm, but I ended up being in the way of the filmer. So I found a new spot, pulled out my 50mm and manually focused it with little time to spare as it was getting dark.
He straight aired it, cased it, crushed his wheel, and rode out. Immediately he ran to the truck, switched out his wheel, ran back up the hill without saying a word to anyone, and greased it. He hit it at the exact same speed, but tail whipping gave him the extra distance he needed. It was the heaviest thing I’ve seen in my entire life. As the photographer, I was so stressed. Sometimes you have those moments where you realise you’re being such a pansy, and this is way gnarlier for him than it is for me. I’m literally just pressing a button. But, there’s a lot of stress knowing that you can’t screw up the shot.

Cramped Indoor Flatspin (V6)

Brandon Semenuk during the filming of his Raw 100 V6 contribution.
Cramped Indoor Flatspin
  • Location: Merritt, British Columbia
  • Camera: Nikon D6
  • Lens: Nikon 20mm f1.8
  • F-stop: f2.5
  • ISO: 5,000
  • Shutter speed: 1/1,250th
Why this photo?
Once you stare at it for a minute and appreciate the riding, then you’re like, holy shit, that’s gnarly. It’s also a cool one in terms of lighting. Semenuk was better lit while shooting this feature from the other side, but from this angle it has a hazy look with the blown-out light coming in, and putting edge-light on him which I really like.
Tell us the story behind this photo.
This is the type of photo that you really have to deep-dive into. When he was riding this line, his helmet was literally two inches from the concrete ledges on the take-off and landing. He’s also doing a flat spin, so if he were to over or under rotate he would have smashed into the pillar. There was no room for error anywhere.
You need to work hand in hand with the athlete to make sure you get the right frame
Ian Collins

360 Unturndown to Manual Sequence (V6)

Brandon Semenuk during the filming of his Raw 100 V6 contribution.
360 Unturndown to Manual Sequence
  • Location: Merritt, British Columbia
  • Camera: Nikon D6
  • Lens: Nikon 70-200 f2.8 vriii @ 135mm
  • F-stop: f8
  • ISO: 2,500
  • Shutter speed: 1/1,250th
Why this photo?
There’s two unconventional things happening in this photo: it’s a sequence shot head on, and Semenuk’s doing a spin to manual. It’s one thing to land a flip in a manual, but to slow down a spin and land in manual is another story… I can’t think of anyone else who is doing that, much less while adding a combo in!
Tell us the story behind this photo.
The elements lined up on this one and it allowed me to shoot this photo head on. Typically, sequences are shot from the side in order to make sure all the frames are sharp. But it was overcast and really bright out so I shot at f8 and the frames turned out sharp enough, even with him coming right towards me. When shooting a sequence, you usually have to be at least 1/1,000th shutter speed to stop the action, and in most lighting that requires shallower depths to let enough light in. Shooting a sequence at a shallow f-stop is best if shot from the side.
In order to perfect the focus on this shot, I had Semenuk stand in near the middle of the feature, then manually focused the camera to ensure I didn’t blow it. When focusing, highlight the key moment, and make sure that part is tack sharp. If they’re a little soft coming off the lip or landing, it’s not the end of the world. Always plan around the key moments, and if you have to compromise, do it as you move away from this moment.

Dusty Backlit (V5)

Brandon Semenuk during the filming of his Raw 100 V5 contribution.
Dusty Backlit
  • Location: Virgin, Utah
  • Camera: Nikon D6
  • Lens: Nikon 70-200 f2.8 vriii @ 170mm
  • F-stop: f4 aperture
  • ISO: 320
  • Shutter speed: 1/5000th
Tell us the story behind this photo.
We always strive for our openers to have some sort of element of surprise. We floated around some crazy ideas for the opener, but nothing was really working out. Then we thought: what if it was super dusty and Brandon scrubbed through the hanging haze? It worked out. Filmer Rupert Walker shot it more evenly exposed to match the rest of the video, but I had the luxury of shooting underexposed to create a backlit look.

Final remarks

Shooting mountain biking is definitely one of the harder things to shoot. I’d have a hard time when I love a shot, but the athlete didn’t. At the end of the day, photos are an extension of their craft, and their style is extremely important. You need to work hand in hand with the athlete to make sure you get the right frame. If you learn to communicate and work with riders, you’ll develop a trust and they’ll want to keep working with you – hence why Semenuk has kept me around. There’s a mutual level of respect and once you open that dialogue you’ll work much better together.
Asking for criticism from athletes is the best thing you can do because they’ll let you know if they don’t like it. Sometimes Semenuk could be doing a trick, and I might have the coolest angle ever, but his back is blocking out what he’s doing. You may have the best framing, but if it’s not showing the trick, then it doesn’t matter. That pushes you into angles that you may like better. Your first shot may seem the most logical, but then you get thrown out for whatever reason. I can’t tell you how many times something like that has been a blessing in disguise.