There are many reasons why people take up cycling; to get fit, lose weight, explore new places, and to have the feelings of exhilaration and freedom are among them. One thing exercise does for you is put you in touch with your own body and highlight any health issues you may have. For photographers, it also opens creative opportunities. On a bike, you’ll travel farther than you can by foot and see more than you would when driving. You can also stop more easily than you can in a car and aren’t forced to bypass great pictures.
Cyclists tend to want slightly different things than regular photographers; they’re looking to record their adventure, rather than passively photograph what’s around them. That adventure might include an amazing sunset or two, but there will be more emblematic photos of cycling itself. Often the bike will be included in the picture, which has more aesthetic appeal to cyclists than non-cyclists. Cycling companions may also feature, of course.
1. Camera choices for cyclists
A touring cyclist that bedecks his/her bike with panniers may decide to carry an SLR on a cycling trip. However, most cyclists are looking for a camera that’s light and compact enough to fit in a jersey pocket. A smartphone is an obvious choice since it’s likely to be carried anyway. However, photographers may prefer something with a bigger sensor and higher image quality.
There are a couple of candidates that immediately spring to mind as ideal cyclists’ cameras. The first of these is any of the Sony RX100 series. These are slim enough to be easily carried in a pocket, while also offering high image quality through a relatively large sensor. I sometimes carry this camera, which replaced an old Panasonic LX3. The latter was also okay, but lumpier than the Sony and less easy and comfortable to slip into a pocket.
Choosing a light camera is especially desirable if you climb a lot of hills when cycling since gravity becomes your worst enemy. It’s no coincidence that the world’s fastest climbers among cyclists are either skinny, short, or both. Even if you’re slim, you don’t want to carry more weight on your bike than is necessary. Along flat roads, this is less of an issue, as wind resistance becomes the biggest obstacle to your effort.
2. Cycling effort and its effect on creativity
All cyclists enjoy riding their bike, but their reasons for doing so are often quite different. A performance cyclist who trains for races will very often not stop once during a ride, regardless of its length. Such a rider will typically go on long, moderately paced rides to build endurance as well as some high-intensity rides to improve strength and speed. Rides with a relaxed pace are more conducive to taking photos than those where the cyclist is barely able to converse.
Rides with a relaxed pace are more conducive to taking photos than those where the cyclist is barely able to converse.
Touring cyclists, I’d contest, are in a better position to take good photos, since they’re predisposed to admiring their surroundings and less bothered about performance. I’ve tried fast rides (“fast” only to me) and find it immensely difficult to stop during the effort, take a decent picture and move on. Whether it’s lack of oxygen to the brain or low glycogen levels, I always feel my chances of a good picture are reduced on faster rides. Photography, being a contemplative sort of pastime, needs a certain amount of attention before it can be done well.
3. Planning rides for photography
Cycling adventurers like to explore new roads whenever possible. It’s fun to do this without any preplanning just by taking a random turn here and there. However, you can also plan a route on your computer using tools like Google Maps, MapMyRide, Ride with GPS, and Strava Route Builder. If you have a bike computer capable of navigation, you can load a route into the computer in the form of a TCX or GPX file and then follow its course out on the road.
4. Bike Preparation
Non-cyclists are unlikely to “get” this, but people who love to ride bikes also tend to like looking at them. Most cyclists appreciate a stylish or characterful bike. So, what is the best way to prepare a bike for photography?
Here are some slightly tongue-in-cheek details that may make a bike portrait look better:
- Remove any bidons (water bottles) from their cages for the picture.
- Ensure the saddle is level.
- Cut any excess from the steerer tube (an untidy protrusion that often exists when handlebars are lowered).
- Match the colour of the handlebar tape to the saddle.
- Line the pedal cranks up with the chain stay so they don’t cut across the bike frame (manufacturers do this in catalogue photos).
- Install matching tires.
- Remove saddle bags for the photo. (Impractical for fully loaded touring bikes.)
- Gum wall tires outline the shape of the wheels nicely, but don’t hide dirt very well. They tend to offer a plusher ride, so you might buy them for aesthetics and comfort. Make sure they’re clean.
5. Background and composition
However good your bike looks, you’ll let it down if you don’t set it against a pleasing background. If the background complements the color of the bike, so much the better. Nice light helps, too.
If you’re traveling, of course, you’ll want to include some scenery in the picture or any iconic buildings and monuments. The same rules that apply elsewhere also apply here. Keep the composition as simple as possible and don’t include clutter or any unnecessary elements. Pay attention to detail and remove litter and unwanted objects. Use roads to create strong diagonals, which will lead the eye into the picture.
6. Photos on the move
Though it’s highly inadvisable among traffic, a lot of cyclists can handle their bikes well enough to be able to take a photo while moving. There are several possibilities here:
- When moving at the same pace as a companion, you’ll be able to take a portrait with a motion-blurred background.
- You can take photos of a cycling group up ahead, preferably on a quiet road or cycling path where you don’t endanger yourself or them by taking the photo.
- You can take a selfie while riding, either from side-on or from the front. Holding the camera/phone at a high angle will capture any cyclists behind you, too.
- When you’re riding with sympathetic companions, set the camera up before moving for a particular type of shot. For instance, a slow shutter speed will enable you to take a portrait while maximizing the effect of movement.