Woody Allen once remarked that showing up is 80 percent of life. One of my passions is taking pictures while out on bicycle rides and from my experiences there, I can’t help but agree with him: If you want nice pictures, you got to show up where and when you take them. Over the years I have returned with some great shots that I could share with friends and people on the WWW, but owning a decent camera and knowing how to compose a shot are useless unless you put yourself in a position where great shots can actually happen.
Specifically that means:
- being in the right place at the right time,
- bringing your camera and
- actually taking a picture of something.
That may sound trivial, but many cyclists I know either limit where and when they take pictures, don’t carry a camera or pass too many nice views without bothering to stop for a picture.
A bicycle is almost the ideal means of getting around to take pictures. It combines the wide reach of motor vehicles with the close-up view of pedestrians. On a bike you can easily cover 100-200 km in a day, much more than on foot, but still at a pace where you can see things in detail. Once you see something interesting it’s very easy to stop (or turn back a bit if you’ve passed it already), unlike in a car.
So my first advice is to go out and explore. Roam around and seek out new places. I particularly like mountains because of how far you can see from high up, or from how far away you can see them, as well as the coast line.
It’s not just about where but also when: Some of the best shots presented themselves in the early morning or at sunset, where the light is warm and soft. Get up early and don’t be afraid to return after dark. My bike has a powerful dynamo hub-powered headlight and I often complete rides several hours after sunset.
Nothing brings out colours more than bright sunlight. Don’t miss clear, sunny days if you want to capture views of autumn leaves, flowers or distant mountains.
Don’t be put off by a chance of rain. While overcast skies may dull colours, sunlight breaking through clouds or evening light after rain can be wonderfully atmospheric.
I always carry two cameras on my rides, sometimes three. I also carry charged spare batteries. Most cyclists these days probably carry a camera-equipped mobile phone, but I only use mine for immediate sharing on a ride (e.g. in WhatsApp) or as a backup. If I shoot the same image with both the phone and the camera I will rarely make any use of the shots taken on the phone, besides sending some to friends before I return.
My main camera is a Canon S100 (and before that an S95) which is compact enough to fit into a jersey pocket. I normally keep it in my handle bar bag, within easy reach when I stop. Recently I have also been travelling with a DSLR (Nikon D3300) that I carry in my Ortlieb seat post bag. Both the Canon and Nikon provide much superior image quality compared to my Samsung phone.
Last but not least, you need to take the time to stop. This is one reason why I enjoy riding either by myself or with other slow-ish cyclists. If in doubt, stop for a shot. And if it’s worth taking a shot, try a couple of slightly different ones and later pick the one you like best. It’s a simple matter of what your priorities are. To me enjoying views is more important than maintaining some average speed or Strava ranking or whatever. If I go for as much as 100 km without taking a picture, something must have badly gone wrong 😉
Here are some of my favourites from the last three years.