Growing weary of photographing inside your home and want to get out? Local parks and trails closed to hiking? Then consider hitting your local bike trail or cruising your neighborhood with your camera at the ready. Cycling is great exercise and affords the perfect mix of range and speed for photographic pursuits. There’s no time like spring to get back in the saddle and bicycle your way to great photography and you’ll be amazed at the things you’ll see on a bicycle that you otherwise might have missed when traveling by auto. And besides, biking by its very nature is tailor-made for social distancing protocols.* So air up the tires, check your helmet and get out there.
Here are a few tips for a healthy and safe bicycle photo safari:
*Please note, experts recommend riding solo or with close family members and maintaining safe social distancing guidelines while riding during this time. More info.
First things first: Make sure it’s safe to venture out on your bike and that leaving your home for essential errands and exercise is permissible. Any bike will get you down the trail, but some are more suited for a photo excursion. Light, fast road bikes with thin wheels are great for flat-out speed but tend to be unstable at slow speeds. Their skinny tires are less predictable on rough terrain so think about a hybrid with wider tires or even a classic cruiser. These tend to be heavier but more suitable for the slow speeds best suited for frequent stops and turnarounds when you notice a photo op. Always remember the helmet, required by law in many communities. Make sure to carry come extra water to avoid dehydration and a basic repair kit in case of trouble. If you’re riding at dawn or dusk, you’ll want a light.
PICK YOUR GEAR
You’re going to want the lightest setup with the widest focal length range. I highly recommend choosing a zoom lens with a wide angle to short telephoto range. Something like the M.Zukio ED 12-45mm F4.0 PRO is a fantastic choice. It’s very portable and covers wide and short telephoto perspectives nicely. Pair it with an OM-D E-M1 Mark III body and you’ll have a light package that won’t weight you down. For a smaller package, the OM-D E-M10 Mark III is an excellent choice. If you want something in your pocket, the Tough TG-6 is rugged, waterproof and has a wide zoom range.
You’ll need something to carry your kit in, so think about the classic messenger style bag. After all, it was designed for bike couriers. I’ve experimented with “string” backpacks. If you go light, these are adequate for shorter rides and are comfortable in hot weather. I rarely take any extras…just the camera, lens and a fresh battery.
TIME OF DAY
If possible, time your outing for the best light. For me, that usually means riding early in the morning to avoid the harsh mid-day sun. Beginning early usually means you’re encounter fewer people on the trail. Besides, you can ride as long as you want as the sun comes up: Catch a great sunrise and ride as far as you want. There’s no need to worry about safely returning home after dark.
FIND YOUR ANGLES
As your ride, pay attention to your photographic instincts. Of course, you’ll want to deep your eyes on the trail, but you’ll also find yourself noticing interesting scenes and details as you pedal. Remember, you’re moving relatively slowly on a bike and you have more time to process visual information. Pay attention to your instincts and stop to observe. On the bike, your vantage point is higher, generally much higher than optimum angles on flowers, ground objects or closeups. For these, get off the bike and get low…really low. If your subject is a small flower, for example, kneel down to subject level or even lower. Shooting up almost always adds a sense of dynamic perspective and impact.
Related Tip: Perspective - A Small Thing that Makes a Big Difference
MANAGING FOREGROUND AND BACKGROUNDS
Another compositional trick to set your photography apart is to “layer” your foregrounds and backgrounds. Compose with the main subject very close to your lens and place another interesting object further away in the background. This tried and true compositional trick adds a sense of depth to your final image. Combining these two tips can result in powerful images of common objects.
Related Tip: Using Focus Bracketing and Stacking for Landscapes
Half the lighting battle is keeping the sun lower on the horizon. Shooting at midday almost always results in harsh, unattractive light. If you must ride during these hours, consider switching to your camera’s monochrome profile. Using your camera’s black and white mode will almost always render a passable image regardless of time of day. Lighting direction has a profound effect on the quality of your final image. Consider backlighting your subject to reveal delicate details and achieve that beautiful “rim light” to infuse your images with depth and glow.
WATCH FOR FUNKY CASTOFFS
As you ride, watch for interesting objects left behind. I love photographing amusing juxtapositions. Old sofas, chairs or other furniture in unusual places, interesting signage and industrial debris. Exploring these little scenes can make for quirky, fun images.
Don’t forget to explore the close-up world during your cycling trips. Scan the trail for interesting terrain, rock formations or vegetation. Sometimes I’ll substitute a small macro lens for the all-purpose zoom with the intention of producing only macro shots. The excellent M.Zuiko ED 30mm F3.5 Macro lens is tiny and makes a worthy cycling companion.
Changing up the mission throughout your photo safari is another way of stimulating creativity. Don’t feel like you have to photograph everything that moves. Plan a good ride, enjoy making some nice images and get some exercise in the process!
ABOUT LARRY C. PRICE
Over his storied career, Larry has worked for some of North America’s largest newspapers, including The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Baltimore Sun, Fort Worth Star-Telegram and The Denver Post. He is currently at work on a longterm project about global pollution with support from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting in Washington, D.C.