How many times during a ride have you thought, "This is incredible if only I had a camera with me"? Photography and cycling go together like bread and butter (or perhaps, coffee and cake). But taking great shots requires no small amount of technique. Thankfully, like any skill in life, a healthy dose of curiosity and plenty of repetition is really all you need if you want to become a better photographer.
As a working snapper and a cyclist, I've spent a fair amount of time honing the kit and techniques that help me to take pro-level shots while I'm out on the bike. In this blog, I'd like to share some of the things I've learned to help you capture consistently better shots. First off, let's start with the camera.
It's taken me a little while to figure out which camera is best to take with me on the bike. I've tried bulky DSLRs with different lenses, and at the other extreme, taken only an iPhone with me on the ride, but neither worked as I hoped. It took some time, but eventually I found I found an optimal solution: the Sony RX100. This powerful compact point and shoot camera can capture raw files and is slim and light enough to slip into a small pocket. It has a bright lens with a decent zoom range and offers more than enough control over settings. It might not give you the look of the full-frame DSLR with a prime lens, but it won't give you the back pain either. Crucially, it won't affect your cycling performance.
The latest Sony RX100 version is quite pricey, so if you’re on a budget, earlier iterations like the MKIII and IV are well worth checking out. Not only do these models have the potential to take shots at the same fidelity as later versions, but they come in well under what the latest model will cost you, albeit with a few less features.
Once I had settled on a camera, I needed to think about how to carry it on the bike. Keeping the camera in a jersey pocket isn't ideal as it's not water/sweat proof, plus it's almost impossible to take a photo without stopping. So I started searching for alternative options and found this strap on Etsy (the Slow Strap from Mettle Cycling is also worth a look if you ride with a mirrorless camera). Of course, you could choose any camera strap, but the cross-body stabiliser stops the camera from flipping around when you're cycling. The model above has such a stabiliser, secured via a slim magnet connection which makes it easy to unclip, grab your camera and take a shot with only one hand.
No shot is worth risking one's health or life for. If you don't feel comfortable using your camera while riding, don't do it. Instead, stop safely on the side of the road and challenge yourself to be creative while stationary.
If you see something worth capturing, take the next step and try to plan out the shot in your head. Don't forget to utilise the rule of thirds and other compositional methods to help to draw attention to the subject of your shot. As you gain experience, composing the scene will start to become more feel than thought. But if in doubt, make the most of lines - a straight or windy road, tree line or fence can help to draw the eye.
Capture Some Action
Try to get some action shots by controlling your shutter speed on the camera. To do that you'll have to switch your camera to Manual mode or Shutter Priority. Set your shutter below 1/100sec and try panning - following your subject or moving along as they ride by. Just make sure your subject is in focus, otherwise, everything will be blurry. Practice is key!
Understanding how to use light as a tool will set you on a path towards taking truly exceptional shots. My favourite time of day for photography is during the so-called 'golden hour', which occurs early in the morning and late in the evening when the sun is low, the shadows are long, and everything is suffused with a soft golden light. If you have a camera that allows manual exposure control, you can get some genuinely captivating results out of a sunset or sunrise session.
I like to think of post-production as polishing a diamond; it's not always necessary, but it helps. There are plenty of free apps out there for your phone and laptop. I use a paid Adobe package which is also available on mobile. Again, experience will help you to find your style.
I probably shouldn't encourage more time on social media, but these days it's the easiest way of finding image inspiration. Follow as many cycling photographers and see what other people do, challenging yourself to take similar shots to the ones that grab your eye. If you want to take better photos, you have to shoot thousands of them - there is no shortcut. I like Rouleur magazine, as I find it visually attractive and a source of great for inspiration to get out there and start snapping.
Many thanks to Bike Zone in Oxford for the loan of the Bombtrack bike during the shoot.