Graham Watson, Director, Graham Watson Publishing, Ltd
Bragworthy Factoid: One of just 4-5 pros worldwide who cover cycling at this level
1. 30-plus years photographing cycling
2. Apprenticed to society photographer Leonard Green as a teenager (Green, AKA “Lenare,” was the UK’s leading mid-century celebrity portraitist)
3. Authored or co-authored 20-plus books
4. Offers online, same-day race coverage of more than 160 racing days/year
Portrait of a master
Watson attributes discovering his life’s passion to impoverishment. Signing on to study photography as a teen in 1970s London and unable to afford the train, Watson invested in a bicycle to make the 15-mile trip into the city each day. He points to the 1977 Tour de France, his first as a fan, as pivotal in his journey from portrait to cycling photography. “It’s one big adventure. The photography purists would be horrified if I said that. My passion, if anything, is the adventure.” Purists aside, Watson clearly had the chops: Following the event, he won a photography contest sponsored by Cycling Weekly and his career took off at a sprint.
Blocking with the best
Watson’s business includes magazines, books and online print sales for race fans. He brought his online business to SmugMug in 2009 after it was recommended by a developer with knowledge of both cycling and photography. Watson relies on SmugMug to leave him free to do what he does best — take brilliant photos. He likes leaving printing in SmugMug’s capable hands and concentrating on other areas of his business. Citing cycling’s worldwide following and the need for quick turnarounds — globally, fans number in the millions — Watson takes his role in fan appreciation seriously. “You entertain people. It means a lot to see pictures of the sport they love. It’s a responsibility.” SmugMug’s platform has allowed him to make prints available to a bigger audience at a more competitive price; it helps him stay in touch. Watson links to SmugMug from social media to deliver a race-day postmortem, tracking the day’s happenings through pictures. He loves focusing on his commentary while SmugMug takes care of post-race ecommerce, enabling fans to order directly from the site.
Riding the pegs
Like a lot of seasoned pros, Watson initially had mixed feelings about the industry shift to digital. Now, they’re gone. “Digital prints better in a magazine than slides ever did. Digital photos go straight to press (no 15 minutes sending one image!). The romance is gone, but it’s efficient.” Watson says the increased competition enabled by digital technology has changed the game. “Most of us thrive on the challenge of staying ahead of everybody. It’s very expensive and [digital] has more people getting involved, so I try to find extra ways to keep pace with my rivals.” He points to SmugMug handling print fulfillment as a benefit that allows him to focus on his core competency: capturing exciting sports moments. Watson’s studio relies on SmugMug for every aspect of order processing, from selection and payment to delivery and customer service. They are pleased to have had exactly zero issues with fulfillment since they became a client. One favorite feature is the ability to link directly to an individual order with full details after payment is received through their Sales History.
Bagging the peak the smart way
Because digital is making access easier for non-pros, Watson says it’s important to move with the times. This means recognizing what’s good about digital. “Even 10 years ago working with film, the day never ended. It was eight hours of shooting cyclists and another eight getting film scanned and emailed. With modern tools, you’re in bed by midnight.” He likes that clients can get their images very quickly following events, view their full archive and choose what they need, without having to contact him and wait for source images. “I use Twitter as a way to entertain and promote my work,” Watson says. “It’s proven to be a commercial tool. You get low-res pictures on the website, and, true, it’s not the same as being published in print. [It’s] a different medium, but a very important one.”