Whether you’re a professional photographer who loves carrying around a full-frame camera and two lenses on your rides or someone who just likes to shoot photos with their phone, I applaud your commitment to capturing special moments in pixels or on film. We never get these junctions of space and time back, and capturing them in an image can not only be a joyful experience, but it can preserve the moments for eternity. Or at least until they get lost on a harddrive full of photos or a box in an attic, but at least we’ve tried!
I’ve been documenting bike escapades for the better part of 25 years and shooting professionally for almost five years now. For me, there is simply not a whole lot better in this world than capturing that moment of pure bliss of a person riding a perfect ribbon of singletrack, or the massive landscapes surrounding an empty dirt road wending its way through the mountains, or the chaos and dust of the start of a gravel race. Bikes are fun. So is photography.
General Thoughts on Bike Photography
As with any skill in life, practice doesn’t make perfect, but practice makes better. Regardless of your photography skills, you can always improve, and the key to doing this is to constantly practice. This applies to both big camera and phone photographers. There’s always something to learn, something to experiment with, something new to try. So take lots of pictures! Take them unabashedly! Don’t worry what other people think! Don’t worry if you scroll through your images afterwards and discover that nothing really worked out the way you wanted it to, because now you know and you can try something else in the future.
Like with riding a bike: practice, practice, practice. Even if you’re not seeing immediate improvements in your images, they will inevitably get better as you learn and play. Embrace the learning curve.
If you want to shoot photos during a bike ride, you’ll need to have easy access to your camera. Bikes move fast, and if you’re spending minutes getting into a pack to pull your equipment out, the moment will more than likely have already passed. If you’re shooting with a phone, thinking about camera access isn’t as important, as phones fit easily into pockets and other easily accessible spots, but bigger cameras are a different story.
When it comes to carrying a bigger camera around, hip packs seem to be a popular option for their combination of easy access, protection, and comfort. My on-the-bike camera of choice is a Sony a6500 with a 35-135 mm lens. The micro 4/3 mirrorless body is incredibly compact for the quality of photos that it takes, and the whole setup weighs less than two pounds, which is a reasonable weight penalty to accept for having a powerful camera along on a ride. I use a hip pack made by Dispersed Bikepacking with an insert specifically designed for the camera that I carry. The insert adds extra protection from impact, and the roll-top closure system makes it easy to get the camera in and out.
I’ve seen people take full-frame cameras out on casual rides in hip packs, but I tend to save that sort of heft for professional shoots. In the end, the right camera is one that you’re willing to carry, and if you’re not going to want to carry a camera because it’s too heavy or bulky, then it’s not going to do you any good, now is it?
Bikes move fast and require a fast shutter speed in order to not be blurry. There are countless tutorials on camera settings and the interplay between shutter speed, ISO, and aperture, so I’m not going to go into a lot of detail about all that here. But, I’m here to say that it’s a lot easier to edit out noise from a higher ISO setting in post-processing than it is to deal with a blurry rider. So when in doubt, err on the side of a faster shutter speed at the expense of other settings. I never shoot below 600/s, and that’s for big-landscape-small-rider shots. For closer up images, I’ll crank my shutter speed at least to 1000/s to get a clear image.
Setting your focus setting to continuous tracking can help you get multiple images of a rider in focus if you’re shooting in burst mode. For close-up shots, I’ll generally shoot in as high of a burst mode as my camera can do in order to increase my chances of getting a good image. The autofocus and ability to shoot fast are where higher-end cameras really start to outpace smaller and less expensive ones.
The faster a rider is going and the closer they are to you, the more difficult it will be to get “the shot” and practice is critical. And even with practice, you’ll still mess up plenty. It’s fine.
Scene and Settings
By the sheer virtue of riding a bike, you’re going to be in beautiful places. Whether that means that you’re riding through a city, idyllic farmlands, huge mountains, or just neighborhoods around your home, there’s always something to capture. Finding creative ways to capture bikes and their riders in different settings is part of the great joy of cycling photography. As there are endless ways to ride a bike, there are endless ways to capture bikes in a scene. Play! And definitely don’t take yourself too seriously.
Photography is one of those beautiful mediums where you can experiment and learn without investing too much. If you’re someone who generally shoots small riders in big landscapes, make a concerted effort to shoot close up. Maybe focus on trying to capture the emotion of people rather than the beauty of the landscape. If you’re someone who generally doesn’t capture the setting of a place, instead focusing on the details of the person, zoom out and see if you can photograph the interaction of the rider and setting in an impactful way. The possibilities are endless, and it’s important to not get stuck taking one specific type of photo if you want to grow as a photographer.