Dominique Powers: Beyond the lens

There’s much more to taking a photograph than just pushing the shutter button. Dominique Powers tells Rouleur about her unique journey to becoming one of the most respected photographers in the sport and explains how she captures images that tell a story

This article was produced in association with Pas Normal Studios

It’s often said that you do not take a photograph, but you make it. This is certainly true for American photographer Dominique Powers. 

When I take someone’s portrait, I try to put their humanity first,” she says. “It is about more than just capturing an image, it’s about creating a moment in which the subject feels really seen and therefore gives a bit more of themselves. Those are the images that really sing.”

Powers has become well established in the cycling world for her ability to create photographs that tell a story. Whether a commercial project or a scene at a bike race, Powers’ images have a certain distinctiveness and aura that make them clearly identifiable as her own.

The American didn’t at first set out to become a photographer, however, originally studying Art Education at the University of Vermont. After a childhood of using point-and-shoot cameras to capture her hikes and adventures in the stunning landscapes of Colorado and Vermont where she grew up, Powers knew photography was her calling. Spending a semester teaching photography when she was still an undergraduate was a catalyst for Powers’ next career move – she felt she needed more experience before she could truly teach others.

“I moved to New York City, because I was really interested in commercial photography, and started working in a photo studio there,” says Powers. “We did lots of high-end fashion and advertising photo shoots so it was this immediate exposure to the highest degree of commercial photography that there is. I just found that so enthralling.”  

After a year and a half working in a photo studio, Powers decided to become a digital technician, doing on-set colour editing and file management for photographers. She explains that she worked on more than 500 photo shoots during this time.  

“I’ve worked with so many different photographers for so many different brands and with many different levels of production and that is an experience I’m so grateful for, because now I’m transitioning into being a photographer myself, I know exactly what I want,” says Powers. “The  learning curve has been really trusting myself and listening to what I want to create and pushing myself conceptually in how I approach projects.”

After discovering cycling in 2020 during the pandemic, Powers explained she felt an immediate connection to and affinity with the biking community, especially in Los Angeles, where she is now based. After doing small, local shoots for cycling brands, Powers had the opportunity to pursue her own project, ‘The Leaders of Gravel’, in 2021.

“It came about at a time when I wanted to really open up my community, my experience in the industry and make work that I was really excited about,” she explains. “I could already tell there was so much momentum around women’s cycling, and it felt really motivating. It felt like if I wanted to create something in that space, there would be space for it.”

Powers embarked on a three-week road trip to photograph women who were heavily involved in the US gravel scene. She messaged the women who she wanted to take portraits of on Instagram and organised to meet them around some key gravel events during their seasons.

“For each portrait I was with each subject for about an hour or more. We would meet at trailheads or in a parking lot with a good view. For example, Sarah Sturm was the morning after Steamboat Gravel in the lot where her bus was parked. Everyone was so grateful and so excited to talk about their experiences in the sport. It was so special,” says Powers, “I spent so much time editing and listening to all of their interviews to transcribe them. I felt like I really knew these people. I think having my career in the cycling industry start from such a place of love, care and friendship made it all the more fulfilling and authentic.”

After her ‘Leaders of Gravel’ series, Powers went on to photograph the inaugural Tour de France Femmes last year, a project she admits came with some challenges, being so different from what she was used to. For Powers, taking a photo she is happy with relies heavily on the relationship and rapport she can build with her subject; at a fast-paced bike race, there’s seldom time to develop this.

“When I’m more comfortable, I take better pictures. Looking at my images of the Tour, I just don’t feel as connected to them. But by day three of the race, I felt like that was the day I was taking the best pictures and finally hitting my stride,” says Powers. “I had to head home after that day, which was heartbreaking because at that point, I started to recognise the riders and knew people’s personalities more. I’m very excited for my redemption this year.”  

Powers argues that the bond she has with the person whose photograph she is taking can make or break the image. It’s why she loves shooting in the gravel racing scene, surrounded by some of her closest friends. “I can get someone’s eye contact, that’s the greatest gift,” she says. “Those are always the images that feel the most ‘me.’ Having that personal relationship, so that when you’re at the finish line and they’ve just absolutely spent themselves but catch your eye for a second, it is a little acknowledgment of like, okay, you’re here for me, both to take my picture, but also as a person with love and respect. When that exists it is really special and totally changes things. It’s so different taking a picture of someone you don’t know and therefore you can’t care about something that you don’t know about. There’s a different way of looking at someone you don’t know versus someone you care about.”

Having female photographers as role models and inspiration in cycling has been a key part of Powers’ journey to feeling comfortable within the sport. She notes that cycling photography is still an extremely male-dominated sphere.  

“One time I ended up on a finish line and I was one of maybe two women out of forty dudes with their two foot long lenses and they were kind of mumbling among themselves because they’ve been doing it for so long and probably working together for so long,” says Powers. “I definitely  lead with kindness, but I’m also not afraid to throw some elbows and if there’s a place that I want to get, I try to be self-assured.”

Powers explains that fellow female cycling photographer Jojo Harper, who has worked largely for the Trek-Segafredo WorldTour team in recent years, was someone she looked up to when entering the sport.

“I am definitely grateful to have such strong and empowered female role models. That’s what it’s all about and that’s what I look forward to being to others. It’s about taking up space, but then also creating space for others.”

Above all, Powers’ images have to mean something to both her and the person in the photo. Her work is about people, about the depth of feeling more than the depth of field, a window into who someone is, a personality captured in one moment.  

“You can catch someone in a beautiful moment like when it’s nice light and it can be a beautiful photograph, but it won’t be a Dominique Powers portrait,” she says. “What makes the ‘Leaders of Gravel’ series so special, and why I think those images are so successful, is that they were taken at the end of an hour-long interview, talking about cycling and these women’s roles in it and what they want for it. They were in this space of such empowerment and confidence. Seeing the results of that, seeing these women embody their experience and their role in the community and letting that come through, that’s what makes images so powerful.”

Dominique Powers' favourite photos photographs

#1 — “This is Raylyn Nuss sitting against the barriers of the finish chute of the 2023 Cyclocross World Championships in Hoogerheide. This image symbolises so much more than looking back at the end of a race –  also looking back at the end of a season.

The 22/23 CX season was my first time being introduced to the sport. I was embedded with the Nice Bikes CX team based out of Providence, Rhode Island, for their team camp, US World Cup races, as well as the final WC in Besançon, France. Through their eyes I fell in love with the sport, and the grace and strength with which riders must handle their bikes, truly becoming one with  them. The pinnacle of the season, the World Championships, blew me away with the fervour and quantity of the fans. It was unlike anything I had ever seen in sport, over 40,000 people in one place to witness the best cyclocross athletes in the world chase the prestigious title of champion.

What I love about this image is that Raylyn actually had a really tough race. After a crash early on and a slightly longer race time than usual she found her tank running empty around lap five of the  seven-lap race. There’s a level of incredulity in her expression, tinged with some awe and fear and resentment, at facing what she was able to put her body through and not having the result to show for it. The pressure of being an elite athlete and all the joys and tribulations involved, summed up in  one moment.”

#2 — “Krystal Salvent sits for a portrait in Golden, CO as a part of the project ‘The Leaders of Gravel’, a portrait series I created to amplify and support women pushing the sport of gravel cycling forward in the States, made in August of 2021.

This series will always be the nearest and dearest to my heart, as it was the beginning of my journey as a photographer in the cycling industry. As a new cyclist myself I found the media surrounding the sport disappointing with its lack of narrative and vulnerability, and so I set forth to create the work I felt was missing. I interviewed and photographed 15 women in gravel cycling, from race owners and directors, to elite athletes, to women working on diversity and inclusivity at all levels. For many of them I was the first woman to take their photograph, to which I always responded that I wouldn’t be the last.

This series is the work that is most ‘me’ at its core. The inclusion of a simple backdrop is a nod to my background in fashion photography, used as a way to separate and elevate the subject from her surroundings.”

 #3— “Amity Rockwell switches helmets at her aid station after lap seven during the 24-hour long mountain bike race outside of Tucson, AZ, 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo in February, 2023. Having completed this race the year prior on a four-person team, Amity went into the event with the intention of setting the individual women’s time.

There is a fire in Amity that appears when she puts on her game face – it’s as if her quick tongue and sassy wit turn inward and morph into jet fuel for her legs. I too was excited. Never having photographed a race through the night I prepped some flashes and experimented with different techniques and ways of using long exposure.

Despite her desire and capability, the race length and temperature fluctuations started taking their toll, and by the time I took this image we both were a bit delirious. I love this frame as it encapsulates so much of the feeling of what racing through the night feels like: the adrenaline,  chaos, and exhaustion all setting in at once.”


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