Ibah Zakaria zooms in on cycling photography

Photos by Fin Iskandar & Nadiah Aziz

With so many cycling events on annual event calendars worldwide, there are obviously many photographers who specialise in capturing moments from these events. Malaysia is obviously no exception. We've also got a pool of amazingly talented professional shutterbugs who will capture those moments of pain and suffering as you gun it to the finish line. One of these in particular, is Kuraibah Zakaria or @thebikexplorer Instagram, who you may or may not have seen getting into all manner of positions to get the shot just right. She cleans up pretty well too.

Currently a Marketing Executive with the Malaysian Timber Council, we sat down for a chat with her recently and realised that she's not quite your average female. 

You do all manner of photography. Tell us a bit more about your background.

I am a Marketing Executive by profession and photography is something I love doing in my free time. I started off with wedding and event photography, which is a normal start for most photographers locally. But normal didn’t quite cut it for me, so I stopped doing it after a couple of years. I also did a short stint shooting golf, but that too, died off after a while. 

Circa 2017, I received an opportunity to shoot an adventure race which sent me to the heart of Royal Belum, shooting world adventure race champions competing in gruelling conditions of our dense jungle and I was immediately hooked! That was when I found my calling in photography.

After that one event, how did you get started in cycling photography?

After Royal Belum I received a request to shoot an MTB Enduro race by a fellow ride. It was a dream come true as I have always wanted to shoot mountain biking. The race organisers liked my work so I continued to learn the ropes in mountain biking photography.

I shot my first MTB downhill race last year and started contributing photos for Cycling Plus Malaysia on and off. My photography assignments have expanded since then, switching between mountain biking and road cycling as well as editorial and even some races, which is wonderful.

Who inspires your work?

Krystle Wright. She has followed her passion in photography to the end of the earth. I quote Krystle’s words to me in a personal note exchange: ‘I have always enjoyed proving people wrong and it adds fire to the belly, but make sure you keep having fun with it and be absolutely unapologetic about who you want to be!’

Do you have a favourite shot, cycling discipline, and cyclist to shoot?

No specific favourite shots or cycling discipline but I have to say my soft spot will always be mountain biking – that is my first love. I was fortunate to have done photography sessions with local renowned and respected riders with different cycling backgrounds and they are all fun to work with.

What’s the most challenging discipline to shoot and why?

Any cycling race is challenging as the shots could get boring real fast - same body position shots, same spots, same angle, same framing – with hundreds other photographers aiming for the same thing. 

Same, same! The real challenge is to make an iconic and memorable shot that is your own. I found the best bit about mountain biking races is the fun surprise it brings with each rider – you never know when you’ll get a lucky shot of your favourite rider doing skids or crashes. 

What’s in your standard kit bag?

I try to stay as simple as I can with my gear. A 70-200mm 2.8 lens saves my day during races as I love getting up close with my subject so it’s a standard requirement in my bag. I work with both Canon and Nikon systems, thus the Canon 70D and Nikon D750 are also in there.

What’s your favourite gear to shoot with?

No favouritism for gears for fear that they will be mad at me and put up a protest.

What’s your favourite location to shoot at and why?

Give me any nature trail at any given time, they will be instant favourites for the rest of my life. 

If you could have a bucket list of events to shoot, what would that include?

In no particular order, it would be the Paris-Roubaix, Malverns Classic, Naughty Northumbrian and any of the UCI MTB Downhill World Cup events.

Who would be your dream sportsperson/cyclist to shoot?

Jill Kintner sending it on the trail. She is an absolute badass.