A Beginner's Guide to
Taking the Perfect Cycling Photograph
Love it or hate it, gone are the days where the only way of explaining how your ride went was over a cup of tea on the sofa. The 21st century has seen photography dominating our cycling activities, whether that be an epic post-ride Garmin stats shot or a perfectly composed cake and coffee image, we love sharing where we've been, what we've eaten and what we rode.
Taking a photograph is one thing, taking a photograph you'll want to post on social media or print out for your living room wall is another thing altogether. We've sat down to compile our top tips for taking the perfect cycling photograph, and no, it's not all about gurning, wheelies and selfies.
For the BAAW Hype
A fresh new set of wheels, the latest bike purchase or discovering the coolest wall in town, there are plenty of reasons to photograph a bike against a wall, otherwise known as a BAAW, shot.
Taken well and your pride and joy will undoubtedly look a million dollars, taken badly and you will open yourself up to a flurry of abuse.
A man who has taken a few bike against a wall photos in his time, working for Sigma Sports, is our in house photographer, Jake.
Sigma Sports - Setting up the bike for the shot, can you give us your top tips?
Jake Armstrong - Uniformity and consistency is key. I like to begin with the gearing. When shooting mountain bikes I like to move the chain onto a bigger sprocket at the back to ensure the chain sits nicely on the bike. For road bikes I shift the chain onto the big chainring at the front and smallest sprocket on the cassette.
The next step is to address the wheels. It is best to think of a wheel as a clock face. You want the valves to be at the 6'o clock position.
Moving back to the drivetrain, you want to ensure the crank arm is at a 3' o clock position, so inline with the chainstays.
A given, but still something worth noting is to ensure the bike is driveside on, so with the chain facing you.
Sigma Sports - Are there any rules you stick by when it comes to backgrounds?
Jake Armstrong - Backgrounds can make or break a BAAW shot. Of course you require a wall but which wall needs to be carefully considered. Too busy a background and the bike will get lost in it. Simple is key, although I always like to find a backdrop with some texture to it. A lot also depends on the bike you are shooting. If it's a custom painted, brightly coloured track bike the background can reflect the bike's paint scheme. Similarly, if the bike is quite understated, a plain brick or white wall may be preferable. Express yourself and experiment with different backdrops, textures and locations and you can really make your bike shine.
Sigma Sports - Do you take light into consideration when shooting a bike against a wall?
Jake Armstrong - Yes, definitely. The ultimate aim of a BAAW shot is to show the bike off in the best light. Dark shots are only going to make components harder to distinguish. The same goes for stark, harsh light. This will cast shadows over your bike and make for a messy image.
Sigma Sports - Head or front on, what's the best angle to shoot?
Jake Armstrong - This is very much down to personal preference. Shooting side on works well, giving the best view of the bike, the wheels and components. If you want to highlight key features on the bike taking close up photographs works well when the bike is side on. I like to also shoot the bike at an angle, resting just the rear wheel against the wall. This allows me to highlight key areas on the front of the bike that may not be visible from a side on shot.
Sigma Sports - We often get asked how do you make your bike seemingly float in shots, can you tell us the secret?
Jake Armstrong - Unfortunately, this is a closely guarded Sigma Sports secret. All I can say is it requires a little magic.
Sometimes it is all about the impromptu shot, the unplanned capture or moment you couldn’t miss.
Unfortunately lugging around an SLR camera, waiting for this moment is sometimes not all that practical. Mobile phone cameras have improved greatly over the years, with the latest models offering digital camera quality clarity. This, combined with how easy it is to store a mobile phone in a jersey pocket, makes it the ideal ride accessory.
Avoid those blurry, dark images with Sigma Sports’ photographer Jake’s top tips for taking the perfect phone photo…
Sigma Sports - How do you avoid dark or over exposed photos when using a mobile phone?
Jake Armstrong - Mobile phone cameras love light. The brighter the environment, the sharper and less noisy the image will be. You will also have more freedom when it comes to editing the photo. I'd recommend selecting the brightest areas and exposing for that. Most phone cameras enable you to quickly tap on an area to adjust the exposure, or manually adjust it if you have the time. This is especially good for those scenes where the sun is making little patches of light on the road ahead.
Sigma Sports - When wearing gloves in winter it can be tempting to keep the phone tucked away in your jacket pocket and gloves on when out riding. Do you have any advice for shooting in the colder months?
Jake Armstrong - Other than making sure you are not standing around in the cold too long, I would recommend investing in a pair of gloves with touchscreen technology, commonly known as e-touch gloves. This means you can keep your digits warm when you're taking a photo and don't have to compromise comfort for that all important shot.
Sigma Sports - Can you give us any tips for carrying your phone when out on the bike?
Jake Armstrong - Just having your phone in easy reach would be my advice. Most people don’t take a dedicated camera out riding with them, but do have their phone. If you spot an opportunity to take a great photo, do it! This means having your phone in a place that is easy to get to and not in your saddle bag, wrapped in four sandwich bags or surrounded by inner tubes. There are plenty of products on the market to keep your essentials protected, from phone cases and wallets to easy access bento boxes.
Sigma Sports - You've taken your photo, now what?
Jake Armstrong - I would highly recommend using an editing app to ensure the image is pristine and ready to post. There are a myriad to choose from, with the majority letting you add filters and experiment with adjustments that can really make your images come to life. My app of choice is VSCO, I’ve used it from the week it came out and it continually improves with every update.
For all things cycling visit Jake's Instagram page.
The Cafe Stop Aficionado
Cycling. It’s all about the rituals. The cap worn at the perfect angle, the socks cutting just below the calf and the bike spotlessly clean for the Sunday morning group ride roll out.
The cafe stop, whether that be before, during or after the ride is just one of those rituals that can define a ride. Documenting that slice of carrot cake or marvelling at the coffee art is a skill unto itself.
A man partial to a slice of carrot cake and a flat white is Sigma Sports' customer care administrator, James Ferguson. We headed to our local cafe to quiz this self proclaimed cafe aficionado.
Sigma Sports - What is your thought process when it comes to composition of the shot?
James Ferguson - It all depends on the equipment I have on me at the time and if anything happened on the ride that can be represented by these items. I tend to go with the helmet as standard and if cold, gloves; sunny, sunglasses etc...I would also include my wallet or Wahoo/Garmin cycle computer. A lot depends if I can tag the manufacturer in the photograph or not. If it is a product/company I highly rate, then I like to add it to the shot. Sometimes, I like to take a photograph from the cafe that is different, for example a picture of the riders shoes or silhouette of the riders in the cafe.
Sigma Sports - A well lit shot can make or break a cafe photo. What's your preference shooting inside or out?
James Ferguson - It depends on the weather and what the interior/exterior looks like. Often my decision is based on whether I can capture the mood of the weather by taking the photo inside or out. If its a new cafe stop, I like to get an exterior shot so I can remember where I have been. A good cafe is always worth another visit.
Sigma Sports - How do you decide what cake to photograph?
James Ferguson - It's normally the one I'm eating! I do not choose the cake with a photograph in mind, but the bigger, more decadent the better. Making it visually appealing is key.
Sigma Sports - Talk us through capturing the atmosphere of a cafe stop. Is it a ritual for you?
James Ferguson - More often than not, if I hadn't been able to get a good shot from my ride, I will use the cafe stop as an opportunity to take a photo for Instagram. Although one photo cannot sum up the ride in its entirety, it can sometimes give a flavour of the ride. However this is only magnified by the title and description of the shot. If I am riding with others, I was also try and get the group/individuals in a shot that again, helps sum up the day's activities. As with all my cycling shots, I like to use Sigma Sports' hashtag #BuiltByTheRide to ensure my posts are seen by the wider cycling community.
For all things cycling and some mouth watering cake shots visit James' Instagram page.
The on bike action shot
Whether it's the pros fighting it out to enter the Forest of Arenberg at the front or you want to capture the action on your local chaingang, an action camera is the perfect addition to your bike or clothing ensemble. Shooting not just high quality video, these cameras also take a mean photograph, and allow you to keep your hands on the bars and eyes on the road or trail while doing so.
A keen mountain biker, Sigma Sports copywriter, Ollie Boulton, enjoys capturing the jumps, singletrack and trails using just such a device. We've asked him for his top tips for taking a great on bike action shot.
Sigma Sports - With the camera fixed once mounted to yourself or the bike, how do you decide where to attach it?
Ollie Boulton - A lot of time this comes down to personal preference. I would recommend keeping it away from any moving parts on the bike, as this could cause the camera to slip and either get damaged in these parts or cause a crash. I usually choose to attach the camera to the handlebar. There are many secure and discreet mounts available, with some doubling up as computer mounts.
When it comes to clothing, mounting the camera to the chest is a good option, especially when riding off road as it gives the shots a rider's perspective.
Sigma Sports - How do you ensure you have your camera at the ideal angle, position on your bike?
Ollie Boulton - Many action cameras come with an associated app which allows you to check your camera's view. This should reduce the chances of capturing shots of your tyre, sky or numerous shots of tarmac. These apps make editing images and videos a simple task and ensure your footage and stills are ready to be shared.
GoPro at the Tour de France