Mountain Bike Photography Tips

Photographer Shelby ParenteauAuthored by Vermont photographer Shelby Parenteau (@shibbyshibbyyeah).

Just like how you don’t have to be the best biker to enjoy mountain biking, you don’t need to be the best photographer to enjoy taking photos. If you like to capture moments, or you just want to be able to better document your mountain bike adventures then read on for some simple tips!

Location

Knowing your location is a HUGE help. Being familiar with the trails and interesting looking spots or features is certainly a plus! But, if you don’t know the terrain, pay close attention on the climb and you can scope out some good spots. You can also ask other people who might know the trail system better, or simply make sure you have a good group to ride with! Speaking of which, on to my next point….

Group

Go with those who are okay with some photo stops.

  • Smaller group = easier for multiple stops and locations to shoot at.

  • Bigger group= can mean lots of practice for shots on select locations.

I’ve also gone to mountain bike races as a spectator, which was a great time to practice, because you can simply hang in one spot and you get a continuous flow of riders coming down the trail to photograph. If you do this, just make sure to ask the event coordinators if it’s ok to photograph.

 

Shot Set-Up

Perspective

Think about your perspective! Do you want a tight action shot, simply featuring the rider and the feature or do you have a great landscape in front of you, and you want to capture the whole scene? Knowing that will help you identify the best places to shoot from.

Leading lines

Take the movement of the photo into consideration and shoot accordingly. Leading lines, like a long bridge or section of trail can really add to the overall feel of the photo and help draw the viewer’s eye in.

Angles

Getting low can really help capture the intensity of the rider and their facial expressions. It can also help show just how big that drop is or how steep that roller is...but keep in mind shooting from above can also be great in these situations (I find for some drops and rollers, it can really look awesome from above). Experiment with different angles in different situations.

Mountain biker Kate Emmons - Photographed by Shelby Parenteau

Light

I find it is often best to shoot in the morning or the early evening, as light tends to be softer. Shooting mid-day can often lead to harsh lighting conditions. Also keep in mind if you are under a lot of tree cover it will naturally be darker.

Equipment

If you have a DSLR or camera you want to use, then great, but you really don’t need anything fancy to capture the moment. Most smart phones of today will do the trick. You can set your phone to manual mode and use the following tips for your settings. Or, if you have an iPhone, live mode is often good because it captures more of the moment and you can go back through and choose the best frame from the shot.

If your phone isn’t capable of manual settings, you can usually use burst or sport mode for better quality action shots. Another thing you can do is record video and grab a screenshot of your favorite frame. The following technical settings won’t be incredibly helpful if you can’t shoot manual, but the tips above can most certainly be used.

ISO

In basic terms, this setting will brighten or darken your photo. 100 ISO is the lowest setting and would be used on a very bright and sunny day. Always try to keep the light meter on your camera in about the middle. Under or over exposed photos are often hard to fix (although not always un-usable). I also find once I get above about 3200 ISO, photos will become grainy. This threshold however varies for different cameras, just experiment with yours and keep in mind the higher the ISO, the more noise you will have in your shot.

Mountain Biker Meg Oliver - Photographed by Shelby Parenteau

Aperture

This is essentially your field of view. It determines the amount of light the lens lets in, and can give you a wider or more narrow depth of field. The lower the number, the more narrow your field of view in your shot. For example an aperture of 2.8 will have your rider in focus and blur out the background. The higher the number, the more of the scene will be in focus. I tend to shoot at about a 4.5 aperture (or f-stop, as it’s called) when shooting action scenes as when a rider is moving fast it is easy to have them become out of focus. If you want a shot that conveys the whole landscape, then shoot with a higher number aperture. But, keep in mind when your f-stop is at a higher number, that means the light is traveling through a narrower opening, so you will need a higher ISO setting. All of these settings play off of each other. Adjusting one means adjusting the other to balance everything out.

Shutter Speed

This determines how long your camera sensor is exposed to light. I find with mountain bike photography, I like to use a shutter speed of 1/1000 or higher, that way the rider stays in focus and does not end up blurred. The higher your shutter speed, the faster movement you can capture.

I realize there is a lot of technical information in here, but don’t get bogged down with it. Just go out, have fun biking with your friends, and remember that practice makes perfect!! I hope these tips help you in your journey of mountain bike photography!

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