Bike Photography Basics: A Short Primer
This article is intended to provide you with some quick mountain bike photography tips for taking epic photos on the trail. I’ve put up a quick list of a few basic strategies that you can use on any trail with any camera, including your phone! After all, when all you want to do is recall the moment and get back to the gnar, who has time to build up a setting like Ansel Adams?
Nowadays, most amateur trail images are taken using a smartphone, a compact point-and-shoot camera, or an action camera like a GoPro. Although many of you may own an SLR with interchangeable lenses, few riders utilize them on rides because to the weight and bulk, as well as the risk of damaging expensive equipment in the event of a mishap. As a result, all of the photographs used to illustrate Photography 101 below were taken with a GoPro Hero3 or a smartphone camera, so you can easily apply these principles with the equipment you already have.
Shooting Tips for Mountain Bike Photography
If you’ve never taken a photography class, you might be surprised to learn how a few basic “rules” can turn a mediocre shot into one that really “pops.” It doesn’t matter what kind of camera you have: taking amazing photos is simple. The most important thing to remember is to compose the scene–how you put your subject in relation to the background. Furthermore, simple, basic editing procedures can be used to further enhance a photograph (more on that in a subsequent article). To get you started, here are a few composition strategies.
1. Rule of Thirds
One of the most often utilized “rules” among amateurs and professionals alike is this general “rule.” Divide your scene into thirds, both vertically and horizontally, when looking at what you wish to photograph. It doesn’t need to be flawless. Then, position your subject (the rider) on one of these lines, or where the lines cross. This, believe it or not, produces a more aesthetically beautiful photo than positioning your subject in the middle or off to the side. Do you have any doubts? Try both methods with the same photo and see what you come up with.
2. Leading Lines
Leading lines are just lines in the shot that can be used to point a line directly at your subject, such as trees or train tracks. Because it encourages the eye to follow the trail until it finds the subject, singletrack is a good natural leading line. Instead of placing the rider in the foreground, it is ideal to leave some trail in front of the rider so that the eye can follow it.
3. Have Fun with Angles
The angle of the dangle creates epic mountain bike pictures. Get high or low–angle is everything when it comes to accentuating your subject in the setting. Shots taken at chest height are frequently dull, and this snapshot of me leaping off this small rock would be significantly less dramatic if taken at eye level. Those taken very low to the ground, on the other hand, magnify the subject and emphasize the riders’ height. Also bear in mind that taking shots from a high vantage point, especially with wide-angle lenses, creates a sense of scale and can result in stunning images.
You can create a natural “frame” around your subject by using natural elements already in your photo, such as flowers or tall grass in the foreground, and draw more attention to an otherwise relatively small rider in a large scene by using natural elements already in your photo, such as flowers or tall grass in the foreground. Trees can also be used as a guideline.
5. Lighting and Backlighting
One of the most critical tools you can use to make your shot stand out is light. The warm tones of sunrise and sunset, which throw long shadows, are more attractive than the bright “contrasty” color temperatures of midday sun. Backlighting may enhance a subject’s drama, as seen in this photo, where the person is not only framed by the rocks and trees, but also shines out from the strong sun behind him.
Bike photography is a movement art because bikes move. Panning is the technique of following your subject with your camera at the same pace as it moves, then capturing the photo to create the illusion of motion while keeping your subject in focus. When photography in a dark region, such as a forest, the camera must utilize a slower shuttle speed to gather more light, resulting in a more pronounced blurred backdrop effect. Using a flash, especially if your camera has “rear curtain sync,” will draw attention to the subject even more.
7. Motion Blur
Another way to accentuate motion is to make your background, or scene, clear while your subject, the rider, is blurry, expressing the subject’s impression of speed. Photographing in low-light conditions decreases the shutter speed considerably more, blurring the moving subject even more.
8. Stop Action
Faster shutter speeds, on the other hand, halt the motion of the subject. When the light outside is brighter, your camera will use a faster shutter speed, making it easier to shoot photos like this even with an action cam. Although changing the shutter speed on an SLR is simple, most action cameras and cellphones do not allow you to do it, therefore you must “trick” the sensor by shooting in brighter or darker areas to manipulate it.
9. Scene Depth and Scale
It’s as simple as putting an object in the foreground and having something up close and something farther away to create depth. It isn’t necessary for the foreground element to be your subject, nor does it have to be in focus, as long as it gives distance and depth to the overall shot. If the background is a desert, big trees, or the ocean, consider placing the topic off to one side to emphasize scale, and use other composition techniques to place the subjects in perspective.
10. Color and Contrast
Color isn’t only about having a lot of bright colors, which can actually confuse and overwhelm the eye if there’s nothing to focus on. It is crucial to compose color and contrast in equal parts to make your subject–in this case, the rider–stand out.
Bike Photography: Breaking the “Rules”
Bike photography is no exception to the notion that certain regulations are designed to be broken. Any drab shot can be improved by employing standard composition strategies. Some images, on the other hand, are actually more appealing when the “rules” are broken. Don’t be frightened to try new things! This biker can be seen perched atop a part of Moab’s Mag 7 route. He’s in the middle of the picture, clearly breaking the rule of thirds. Furthermore, the rock he is standing on frames the background rather than the subject, and the highway’s leading lines do not cross with him. Framing the background, on the other hand, is what gives the photo its impression of scale and depth.
As riders, we have the opportunity to see parts of the world that few others get to see. Trails are typically built in locations with scenic backdrops that make for great photos. We’d love to see more of your photos on Singletracks, so maybe this collection of approaches will help you generate better images.
Your Turn: How about you? Do you have any helpful bike photography tips for mountain bike photography? Post your photos online and show us what you’ve got?
Gear I use when riding:
- Smith Optics Forefront 2 Helmet – most breathable, best looking and comfortable helmet on the market
- Smith Optics Ruckus ChromaPop Sunglasses – comes with two lenses for when the light drops
- GORE Wear MTB shorts – durable, comfortable and the perfect length
- POC Joint VPD Knee Pads – Great for long rides becasue they breathe and don’t move around. Just enough protection without being overkill
- FiveTen Kestral Lace MTB Shoes – I dig these because when the inevitable hike-a-bike section coes, these feel like regular (but stiff) shoes.
- TREK Full Stache 8 – it’s a beast of a bike, maybe a bit much, but like McDonalds, I’m lovin’ it!
- Quadlock Case for Iphone 12 Pro – I have the entire set made by Quadlock: car mount, bike mount, armband, motorcycle mount. It’s the most versatile and substantial system out there