Last summer, I put together an initial stab at trying to help our clients and fans improve their mountain bike photography; I covered action, place, and perspectives. There’s far more to cover, and in this installment I’ll give you my thoughts on composition, focusing, and communication.
One important thing to note: your photo equipment is only so important in the process of capturing awesome images. Sure, a DSLR that shoots 10 frames per second and captures images at 24MP is going to improve your chances of a quality shot. But to be honest, knowing HOW to use that equipment is far more important. My first recommendation is to shoot with something you’re comfortable with; gear that you like enough to carry with you on those long epic rides where you’ll have so many opportunities to take a few great shots.
The Rule of Thirds. Any decent photographer has heard of it, and we all try to practice it for MOST of our photography. That said, these days there are so many photos floating around on the internet between Instagram, Facebook, Pinkbike, and 500px that unique composition really stands out. Sure, an amazing close-up shot of the rider flying through the frame is going to get you a ton of likes…. but do something unique, and that image will stand out for years to come. Check out the shots below to see a few examples of something a little different- and then experiment for yourself.
Today’s DSLRs have some pretty complicated- and intimidating- focus systems. What makes it worse is when you switch between systems (Nikon, Canon, Sony, etc) nothing carries over since every camera manufacturer has their own verbiage. Forgoing specific camera terminology, let’s “focus” on a few main ideas:
- Follow focus: With mountain biking specifically, this is probably the most common- and toughest- focus method. Essentially, you’ll choose a focal point and follow your rider along the trail, pressing the shutter button when you see an interesting composition.
- Spot focus: With this technique, you “create” the scene you want your biker to ride through, you wait until they hit that spot… and then CLICK. Typically for this type of shot, you can set a relatively low f-stop (wider aperture) since you know where the focal plane is going to be. Just make sure to anticipate a slight shutter lag when you time the shot, as most cameras aren’t instantaneous.
- Infinity Focus: Likely the easiest of the three, infinity focus is a method you use when most all of the scene will be in focus due to the scale of the image. When taking shots of wide-angle landscapes, you’ll typically set a higher aperture (f/8-11), focus on something in the middle of the scene, and see that almost everything is in focus. For these shots, make sure your rider stands out against the other elements in the image.
If you’ve been on a Chasing Epic trip, you’ve heard me utter the phrase “enduro pose”; it’s my way of telling clients that they don’t have to be going fast, they just have to LOOK fast. Elbows out, knees bent, and make sure you look core! In all seriousness though, communication between the photographer and rider is paramount to success, and it’s not something that comes easily. Hell, I even tell my friends/riders what clothes to wear!
As a photographer, you have to tell your rider where to ride, how to ride it, and what the shot looks like in your head. It may take more than one shot to capture the image you want, too. If you spend more time on pre-shot communication, you’re likely to get what you want the first time.