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Cyclist’s 31 Inspirational Women No26: Pauline Ballet

Leading freelance photographer who specialises in pro cycling photography

Maria David Sponsored
26 Mar 2021

Cyclist's 31 Inspirational Women

To celebrate International Women's Month, we have partnered with Zwift to tell the stories of 31 inspirational women across 31 days

Words: Maria David Photo: Justin Setterfield

Paris-based sports photographer Pauline Ballet is a regular on the professional racing circuit, be it standing at the side of the road, in a car, or on the back of the motorbike following the peloton.

One of only a handful of women who regularly photograph pro bike races, Pauline loves the excitement of capturing the drama of racing.

Here’s what Pauline has to say about her life in photography:

‘I guess I break the rule that you can’t be what you can’t see because I didn’t know any women who were photographers when I was a youngster.

‘I wanted to be a photographer because I was really inspired by the old black and white analogue photos of Paris by taken by people like Robert Doisneau.

‘When I finished studying at the National School of Photography in Arles, South of France, I did a photographic residency in Argentina. At that point I hadn’t thought about specialising in sport.

‘After doing a few small photography jobs I joined Amaury Sports Organisation, working in the picture library.

There are moments when I am so scared out of my wits when coming down the cols. Sometimes we are behind the rider as they descend, and you can see the speedometer of the motorbike showing 90-92kmh

‘One day my boss asked me to help out with taking photos at the Flèche Wallonne Féminine, even though I knew absolutely nothing about sports photography.

‘I got lots of advice from other photographers, but I was still so nervous. So there I was on the day, at the Mur de Huy. There was a massive crowd of spectators who had been there for hours, drinking beer, shouting and waving flags. There was just this crazy buzzing, festive atmosphere.

‘I absolutely adored it, and I got on with the other photographers. It was a fantastic experience, and that’s what gave me the desire to continue in sports photography.

‘On the day, I just snapped riders without knowing who I was photographing! The thing is, I had gotten to know the names of the racers from my work in the picture library, but then when I saw them in their kit with helmet and sunglasses on it was difficult to know who was who!

‘I am now a freelance, working on different types of assignments with different clients. Recently I worked on Strade Bianche with Team Cofidis. It was different from anything I have seen. I was quite surprised at how hilly it was, and the roads twisted in every direction.

‘For this job, I was in the car with the assistant sports directors. The day before the race we had decided which sectors of Strade Bianche we would photograph, so it was a case of getting to them quickly, taking photos and moving on to the next spot. I also took “behind the scenes” non-sporting photos.

‘I also do Paris-Roubaix for ASO, using a motorbike. That makes it easier to get around the course quickly and take loads of different shots.

‘Paris-Roubaix is the only race where I genuinely feel apprehensive. I have to concentrate so much and be really focussed and make sure I arrive in one piece at the finish line!

‘In this race, motorbikes are not allowed in front of the peloton on the cobbled sections as it’s too dangerous. We can only ride on the cobbled sections if we are there well before the racers arrive, otherwise we ride behind the peloton.

‘In the Tour de France I do a lot of my work from the moving motorbike. Frankly, there are moments when I am so scared out of my wits when coming down the cols. Sometimes we are behind the rider as they descend, and you can see the speedometer of the motorbike showing 90-92kmh.

‘At those times I hold my cameras tightly, squeeze my buttocks together and try not to think about anything; otherwise if I think about the speed I might as well give up my job!

‘The picture I am really pleased I took was one of Annemiek Van Vleuten right at the moment she attacked at the World Road Race Championships in Yorkshire.

‘I was on the motorbike in front of her and it was so good to be the one to have been there right at the moment to take the photo.

‘I also really like the one on the homepage of my website too. It’s the Col de Turini during the 2019 Paris-Nice. I absolutely love mountainous landscapes.

Find the rest of Cyclist's 31 Inspirational Women here

‘For that, I walked 3km down the road to get my spot as I thought it would be a more interesting photo than one from the finish line. It wasn’t easy walking with all the equipment, and I had to wait a while, but it was worth it in the end.’

As someone who has succeeded in an industry traditionally dominated by men, Pauline appreciates she is in a position to make things easier for those looking to emulate her by sharing her knowledge and experience.

‘My advice to women wanting to get into sports photography is to take photos in lots of environments, including cycling.

‘Go to races – even if you don’t have accreditation – and take loads of photos. Select your absolute best photos and edit them well.

‘Pitch them to different organisations, put them on different media and social media. Get feedback on your photos from friends and family.

‘This is not a job just for men, so don’t get intimidated by the fact that there are mainly men doing the work.

‘Finally, I strongly recommend keeping fit as this is a very physical job, with all the equipment you have to carry around. I do yoga and have found it a lifesaver!’

For more from Zwift this International Women's Month, visit here.