Saturday, April 17, 2010

Mountain Bike Action: Top tips for successful mountain biking photography

Keeping up with the fast pace of mountain biking, and showcasing the speed and intensity of the sport can often be difficult.  Following the tips below can help guarantee some incredible results!

Below are some general tips for capturing awesome shots:

-Compose the image in advance and pre-set your focus.  I use single auto-focus to set it and then switch it to manual to lock it in.  Use the elements and features (cool tree, rock, anything unique) to frame the image or add more interest than just the rider.  Consider all options and take your time setting up the shot to make it perfect.  Unlike powder skiing you can shoot it again and again until it's right without too much effort on the athlete's part.

-Make sure the athlete is in colorful clothes that don't blend into the scenery.

-Keep the athlete out of the center of the image anyway you can unless it looks best centered.  Rule of thirds is your friend!

-Unless you want motion blur (when not using your flash), set your shutter at 1/500th or higher for action shots, if it's head-on or behind you can go a little slower.

-Set your flash mode to rear-curtain sync, it captures the action more naturally by popping flash at the end of the exposure to create the blur behind the athlete.

-Ask the athlete what they think will capture best, they probably know a great spot for you to shoot.

-Remind the athlete to hold good form and not ride stiffly.  You don't want the shot to look staged and some people will change their style because of nerves when shooting.

-Open up your aperture to showcase the athlete more, and shut it down to show the whole scene more.

-Crank the ISO when you need a faster shutter speed.

-Shoot at F/16 into the sun with flash to star it out.

-Shoot in burst mode when not using flash to have your pick of the best possible image in the sequence.

-Get some wireless triggers for your flashes, relying on  infrared can make it tough to guarantee the results you want, so use radio triggers. I recommend pocket-wizards, and the newest ones will also shoot in TTL making it even easier.

-When shooting with a flash midday, set up for head-on or behind angles mostly.  Full side angles take a lot of light, and the flash duration can make it tough to capture without tons of power and creating too much motion blur.

-Use a motion pan to show fast movement.  Set your shutter speed around 1/50th or so and fire a burst as you pan with the athlete.

-Go wide, wide angles will make the images look more exciting

-Get as close to the athlete with your wide angle as you can based on the athlete's guarantee to not hit you. (warning: fisheye's will make you get closer than you probably should, so watch out!)

- Get low to the ground.

-Carry all of your gear in a secure, padded backpack and wear the hip and chest strap.  When you get going too fast and hit a bump, the pack can bounce upwards shifting your weight and throw you over the bars... Spoken from experience.

- Shoot a feature whether it be jump, berm, extremely steep face, cliff, or high-speed turn where the athlete looks aggressive.  Straight path's are good for the more artistic shots but not much else.

-Don't focus only on capturing the action, the down time when the athletes are hanging around can make for some of the coolest shots that showcase the true essence of the sport.

-Try climbing a tree for a unique aerial angle, the more original the angle the better!

Here are some tips for when the lighting is spotty (often the case in mountain biking!)

- Keep your eyes open for spots where the athlete will be in the sun.  If you can set up a shot where they are lit up and the background is dark it will show them off the best.

- Bring an off-camera flash to light them up when they are riding through shady areas.

- Track them with continuous auto-focus and burst fire to get a shot when they are lit-up.

- Shots where riders are emerging from a dark area into bright light usually look amazing.

- Use the trees and a bright spot to frame the athlete in the image.

Please comment below if you have any additional suggestions that are not mentioned above.


Anonymous said...

Great post, thanks for sharing your knowledge!

Dave Wright said...

Thanks a lot for this Connor. I really appreciate you taking the time to share your knowledge. I have a mountain bike shoot on Thursday and I'm going to using these tips.

Your blog is one of the only places I've found that shares such detailed insights aimed specifically at adventure photographers. Keep up the awesome work...

Killer photos too!

darrenstarr said...

Great tips, keep up the good work with your blog always a good read, thanks.

Mountain bike said...

The last one is really awesome. What I like to say is practice starting and stopping on gradual hills to become acquainted with your bike.

Dustin said...

Great article. As another commenter said, it's hard for someone wanting to get into this area of sports photography to find solid advice on what to do for the first few shoots until you start learning it. Thanks!

Kirstz said...

Great photos and shot it is very difficult shot on mountain biking but you did a great job for this. How I wish I can watch that live and like you I can capture beautiful shot. Thanks.

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biking advise said...

Fantastic pictures, looks like lots of fun !!!!

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Nice photos and thanks for sharing your blog.

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