It was a hobby which first started when Richard Baybutt borrowed his dad’s camera to take pictures of his friends BMXing around Bolehills Park in Crookes.
“There’s a lot of rest time when you’re biking like that,” he says. “Shooting photos was a way to fill it.”
Today, 15 years on, he is one of the country’s most respected cyclist photographers.
He has taken portrait shots of most of the sport’s biggest names, regularly travels round Europe on assignments and is on Twitter banter terms with such legends as Mark Cavendish.
His jaw-dropping portfolio – mainly shot for specialist magazines over the last decade – includes Tour de France winners like Bradley Wiggins and Cadel Evans, and Olympic champions such as Lizzie Armitstead and Geraint Thomas.
Now, as Sheffield prepares to host the Grand Départ of this year’s Tour de France, the 32-year-old has opened up his archive of images for Star readers to see.
It’s filled with so many big names that when the race goes through on July 6 about 40 of the 200 riders will be among those who have posed for Richard’s lens.
Mark Cavendish is a fan of his work; Bradley Wiggins was “a professional but won’t suffer fools”; and Cadel Evans told him to rethink a photo shoot in which the Australian would have been standing with a bike.
“He’d just won the Tour,” explains Richard. “And he said he didn’t want to see another bike for a full month.”
Such are the demands placed on someone who photographs cyclists.
“Cycling and photography are my two passions so this is a dream job,” says Richard today, back at his Sharrow Vale Road home briefly before he jets out to Belgium tomorrow to take pictures of Marcel Kittel. “Cyclists tend actually to be quite awkward and gangly off the bike. They’re these incredibly graceful people on two wheels but put them in front of a photographer and they don’t know how to stand or what to do with their arms and legs. It’s your job to put them at ease and find their inner style.”
His first paid job – some pictures and a report of a race at Parkwood Springs – happened almost by accident when he was just 18.
“I sent photos and words to a mountain biking magazine I subscribed to called Dirt,” he recalls. “And they published them. I was so chuffed. I took it to show my friends and one of them said I should be paid for it. So I phoned the magazine and they said a cheque was in the post. I decided there and then that’s what I wanted to do with my life.”
He took a photo journalism course at Swansea Institute of Higher Education and, while there, did enough freelance work to buy his first proper camera. “It meant I could give my dad his old Pentax back,” he says.
When he finished the course he found he had enough cycling jobs coming in – and the odd other commission (“available for weddings!”) – he could do it full time. In the decade since his work has appeared in publication such as BMX Rider, Cycle Sport, Cream BMX and The Daily Telegraph.
“I just have so much respect for the guys I take pictures of,” he says. “I have a friend called Grant Robinson. He said he liked photography because he likes looking at pictures – that’s the same with me. I like looking at pictures of cyclists.”
Now he’s looking forward to the Tour coming through his home city.
“It’s a dream,” he says. “I’m not going to be working for it. I’m just going to enjoy. But will I take my camera? Of course, I couldn’t not.”
See more of Richard’s work at www.richardbaybutt.com
Sometimes getting a great picture, the best photographers will tell you, is all down to luck.
But sometimes it’s down to a sparkling idea, a bit of wherewithal and the tenacity to make something work.
Perhaps Richard Baybutt’s finest picture is of British cycling legend Mark Cavendish taken shortly after he’d won the UCI Road World Championships in 2011.
Crucially, Cavendish had told his press team that he wouldn’t do any photos on the day in question.
“We were at the same hotel as him in Paris because we were there to shoot Thomas Voeckler,” explains Richard.
“But Cav had just become the world champion. We had to try and get a picture.
“We had this idea where he’d be stood, suited and booted, on a bike against this bright white wall.
“So I set it up and got the journalist I was with to pose how we wanted Cavendish to be.”
He took a picture of it on a phone and then grabbed the world champion.
“We said: ‘We know you’re not doing any photos but this will literally take five minutes and it will look so good’,” recalls Richard.
“He looked at the phone and agreed.”
They spent just a couple of minutes getting the shots.
Cavendish himself later retweeted them, saying they were some of the best he’d seen.