Ten Steps to Better Mountain Bike Photos - 8 of 10

Step 8 - Listen to Riders

Dylan Sherrard in Whitehorse, Yukon by Dan Barham (danbarham)) on 500px.com

I didn’t see this move at all - Dylan has a great eye for lines.

Whenever I work with someone new, soon enough there comes a point where we’re standing on location and I’ll glance at them, only to see them staring back in confusion and mild horror. It’s at that moment I realise I’ve zoned out to my own little world again, have been muttering to myself like a crazy person for the past five minutes and have generally been ignoring the world around me. It’s not a conscious decision, but under pressure to get a good shot and the excitement of finding the right way to do that, it’s easy to withdraw from the bigger picture, concentrate on finer points and miss what could be right in front of you, hidden in plain sight.

It’s that vein of isolationism, self-reliance and dare I say it, ego, that can get you into trouble; after all you’re the photographer, you’re the artistic one, you obviously know best. I’m telling you that you don’t, not always. I’ve lost track of the times I’ve picked a spot to shoot, already started finding my angle and barking orders to the riders, only hear back, “But Dan, this corner’s terrible”. At first I used to ignore the protests, however valid; too proud to lose face, push through the shoot regardless, harvest a few mediocre shots. Basically wasting everyone’s time.

Riley McIntosh in Nelson, BC by Dan Barham (danbarham)) on 500px.com

Riley was the builder of this trail, so he knew the best spot for an iconic shot of it.

The people you’re with when shooting are invaluable. While your head is off in the world of composition, shutter speeds and exposures, they can be the voice of reason, providing those little moments of clarity that can snap you back on the right path. It all goes back to that very first step I mentioned in this series - Ride Your Bike. Riders instinctively know if their body position is dynamic, whether a corner feels “right” or a line is natural or not. Listen to them. Hear their ideas for a different angle, and check it out. When someone complains about a section of trail not being that great, accept their criticisms or advice and build it into your decisions for shooting. Just because they’re not the “arty” one it doesn’t mean their concerns or opinions aren’t valid, you just need to weigh it up against your own instinct and go from there.

That isn’t to say sometimes you know best - there have been plenty of times I’ve been led to a spot that’s a “guaranteed cover shot”, only to be dismayed, and I’ve made riders shoot great photos in spots they didn’t like - but the extra sets of eyes and minds can definitely stack the odds in your favour.

Just don’t let them get too cocky or they’ll be after your job.

Next step: Break the rules.

Did you miss anything? See all the steps so far.


I’ve got so much more to give

Yukon, 11:38pm, Midnight Sun

It’s this dark at 11:38pm. Ace.

Want more info, as well as one-on-one help and advice? I’m running a trip to Whitehorse this June with Yukon company Borealé Biking:

Dan Barham Photo Clinic 2012

3 days of intense tuition (that’s the British usage of the word), discussion, riding and awesome shooting possibilities in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever taken a mountain bike. There’s only a few places left, so if you’re interested now’s the time to book.

Source danbarham.com

Ten Steps to Better Mountain Bike Photos - 7 of 10

Step 7 - Don’t Stop Now

Upper Russian Lakes, Alaska

Even though there’s no peak action, keep shooting - you might catch a great moment.

So, by carefully following the previous six tips, or maybe a spray-and-pray lucky break (we all get ‘em), you’ve managed to capture the action you’ve anticipated and set up, got a killer shot and put your gear away. That’s when it happens - the perfect ray of sunlight piercing through the clouds, laser-pointing a highlight straight onto a group of your chatting buddies; all of a sudden you realize you’re watching a “moment”, those fleeting few seconds that remind you why first fell in love with mountain biking. You scramble with the zips on your bag, fumbling with rushing hands, grab the camera and look up, only to see it the magic’s gone. Blew it.

I’m not going to pretend the same thing doesn’t happen to me, still - it does, way more than I’d like - but by following this simple step there’s a chance you’ll catch a few - Don’t Stop Now.

Carcross, Yukon

Great moments will happen when you least expect them.

Just because the peak action has been and gone, it doesn’t mean there aren’t fantastic scenes just begging to be shot; you just need to be ready. The soul of the sport, of any sport, can often be found in the quietest of moments, but recognizing that and acting on it can be one of the hardest things to do - my natural instinct is still to just chill out in the down-times, get engaged with whatever conversation is happening and generally live out the mountain biker role I grew up with for so many years. As a picture maker, however, you need to snap yourself out of that mode (I use the Inception-like falling feeling of my crushingly large credit card statement as a kicker), take a step back and judge the scene on its visual merits.

The results will never be as grandiose or awe-inspiring as the action shots you take, but by recording the little moments and lifestyle around the main events, you’ll build a rounder, fuller experience of the true experience of riding bikes. If you’re lucky, you might just evoke that feeling in others.

Next step: Listen to riders.

Did you miss anything? See all the steps so far.


I’ve got so much more to give

Yukon, 11:38pm, Midnight Sun

Come to the Yukon with me. You’ll love it.

Want more info, as well as one-on-one help and advice? I’m running a trip to Whitehorse this June with Yukon company Borealé Biking:

Dan Barham Photo Clinic 2012

3 days of intense tuition (that’s the British usage of the word), discussion, riding and awesome shooting possibilities in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever taken a mountain bike. There’s only a few places left, so if you’re interested now’s the time to book.

Source danbarham.com

Ten Steps to Better Mountain Bike Photos - 6 of 10

Step 6 - Keep It Simple

Seb, Brevard County, NC

I could’ve used fill flash on the rider here, but the result wouldn’t look as natural.

With all the information, technology and photographers on the web, you’d be forgiven for thinking that in order to shoot decent photos, you need to learn the most advanced lighting techniques, clever ways of getting faster shutter speeds with flash or specialist lenses that cost a fortune. It can be an intimidating place if all you have is a cheap camera with “normal” lenses, but here’s the thing - you’ll improve a hell of a lot more if you follow that age-old adage of “Keep It Simple, Stupid”.

I’ve never really been a big fan of off-camera flash; I use it, sure, but only when I absolutely can’t do without it. It’s not that you can’t make a decent shot using remotes - quite the opposite in fact, there are some incredible photographers who use nothing else - it’s just I see way, way more shots ruined by overzealous lighting than those enhanced. Accept that shadows happen, sometimes you can’t see a rider’s face under their helmet peak. Who cares? Most riders aren’t known for their stunning good looks. 

When you add in the extra dimensions of creating your own light, and especially when you’re already struggling with more basic concepts like composition and timing, there’s all of a sudden a lot more that can go wrong, yet I’m constantly asked by new photographers about which radio trigger is the best and how to use them.

Olleros, Peru

Sometimes all you need is the old adage, “f/8 and be there”.

The same can be said with “special effect” lenses and equipment. Fisheyes let you fit a huge amount of space within frame and can make close-up airs seem way bigger, but they have a nasty distorting effect on anything with vertical line - trees, for example, or the wheels of a bike. It’s ugly and distracting, and can be a nightmare to get a nice composition with. Also in this category are tilt-shift lenses - all the rage a couple of years ago, but quickly relegated to the more novelty areas of photography. Of course you can use them effectively (and I have myself), but you don’t need to buy one.

My solution of K.I.S.S. is one I think is most useful to photographers looking to improve. Cut the crap, use what you have and you’ll find yourself free to explore your creativity much more than if you lock yourself into one particular method. Forests are dark, moody places - don’t make them look like a blown-out disco full of bendy trees, likewise stunning landscapes don’t need special effects to make them breathtaking.

The benefits are easily apparent - your bag weighs less, you’re less locked down to a particular angle and your bank balance is higher. Triple win.

Next step: Don’t stop now.

Did you miss anything? See all the steps so far.


I’ve got so much more to give

Dan Barham Photo Clinic 2011

Come to the Yukon with me. You’ll love it.

Want more info, as well as one-on-one help and advice? I’m running a trip to Whitehorse this June with Yukon company Borealé Biking:

Dan Barham Photo Clinic 2012

3 days of intense tuition (that’s the British usage of the word), discussion, riding and awesome shooting possibilities in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever taken a mountain bike. There’s only a few places left, so if you’re interested now’s the time to book.

Source danbarham.com

Ten Steps to Better Mountain Bike Photos - 5 of 10

Step 5 - Nail your timing

The Coastal Crew, Sunshine Coast, BC

Be ready, and know when the peak action is. It’ll get easier the more you do it.

"I hate my camera, it’s so slow". I’ve heard it lots of times, normally when someone’s showing me a little LCD screen of half a bike wheel, a cut-off head and a missed moment. While it’s true, some cameras are a lot slower than others, if you’re serious about getting the right shot you need to learn to anticipate how long it’ll take from button push to picture snap.

The first step has nothing to do with what you’re holding in your hands, however, or anything to do with you at all. It’s all about the action. Recognising where the ‘peak’ action is in a situation is the most important, as all the timing in the world isn’t going to make up for the fact you missed the best possible moment to capture. If you’re not sure, the answer is simple. Put the camera down, stand there and ask your rider to ‘give it a go’. Actually watch, not through a little viewfinder or on the back of a screen, but with your own eyes. Notice where that perfect little tweak of the bar is, the exact moment their front wheel leaves the drop, or the moment they crank that corner right the way over. Now you know where it’s happening, you can anticipate when your shot needs to be.

Tim, Pemberton, BC

Sometimes you just get lucky.

Your next task is to coerce your camera into doing what you want, when you ask, not when it feels like it. If you’ve got a compact camera, the delay you’ll notice the most when it works out all the clever computations for things like exposure, focus etc. before taking the shot - the good news is you can normally ask it to get all that dicking around (technical term) done in advance. Focus on where you now know the action happens, half-push the shutter button down and let it whirr and grind away for half a second. Now when your rider hits the marker (or just before), you’re ready.

Click. Look. Happy.

Next step: Keep It Simple.

Did you miss anything? See all the steps so far.


I’ve got so much more to give

Dan Barham Photo Clinic 2011

Come to the Yukon with me. You’ll love it.

Want more info, as well as one-on-one help and advice? I’m running a trip to Whitehorse this June with Yukon company Borealé Biking:

Dan Barham Photo Clinic 2012

3 days of intense tuition (that’s the British usage of the word), discussion, riding and awesome shooting possibilities in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever taken a mountain bike. There’s only a few places left, so if you’re interested now’s the time to book.

Source danbarham.com

Ten Steps to Better Mountain Bike Photos - 4 of 10

Step 4 - Your camera’s a bully

Squirrel and Seb, Brevard County, NC

If I’d trusted the camera, this would’ve looked very different.

We’ve all been there - standing in an incredible location, watching glorious light spill over a perfect trail, your buddy carving a never-to-be-repeated slash round the corner. Except it doesn’t look like that on the back of the camera - in fact, nothing like it. Sure, you can see the sky but everything else is murky mush. You’ve just been bullied by your camera.

This isn’t the place to start getting into technical details (plus they’re really quite boring in the grand scheme of things), but essentially when you point your camera at a scene, it tries its hardest to work out what’s going on and give you an exposure based on its interpretation. Thing is, it doesn’t know you’re trying to take a shot of an incredible sunrise or getting that wicked lens flare for some authentic Instagrammishness. For all it knows, you’re taking a shot of a bowl of fruit. Or your grandmother. Or a race car. You get the point. You need be able to recognise when the camera’s got it wrong and adjust accordingly.

With practice it comes easily. Take a look at the shot above of Squirrel and Seb honking up some North Carolina slickrock, first rays of the day bursting over their shoulders. With all that beautiful light streaming into the lens, the camera’s going to make the wrong call and way underexpose what I really care about (the riders) and give me a shot that’s only fit for the trash bin. By “overexposing” the shot, based on how it’s metering, I can get a nice balance between blowing out the sky (meh, who cares) and actually getting some detail in scene. For how to do this, check out the exposure compensation controls of your camera. It’ll be in the manual somewhere I’m sure.

Yukon Nightriding

Decide on how you want it to look, and make the camera work for you, not the other way around.

It works the other way, of course. Just because your camera thinks your shot should have a whole range of brightness values from pure black to bright white, it doesn’t mean that’s what you want the shot to look like. This shot of night riding in the Yukon needs to be gloomy and dark to show what it’s actually like to ride at near midnight without lights (it’s incredible, in case you were wondering), but my camera wanted to bully me in to exposing the scene “properly” to make it look like daylight. Nice try, camera, but you’re getting some exposure compensation down to how things should be.

It’ll take some getting used to, and a bit of bravery to stand up to evil metering system trying to foil your every move. The good thing is you’re shooting digital (you’re shooting digital, right? You’d better be) so just have a quick look at the back, faff with the buttons a bit and have another go. S’easy.

Next step tomorrow: Nail your timing.

Did you miss anything? See all the steps so far.


I’ve got so much more to give

Dan Barham Photo Clinic 2011

Come to the Yukon with me. You’ll love it.

Want more info, as well as one-on-one help and advice? I’m running a trip to Whitehorse this June with Yukon company Borealé Biking:

Dan Barham Photo Clinic 2012

3 days of intense tuition, discussion, riding and awesome shooting possibilities in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever taken a mountain bike. There’s only a few places left, so if you’re interested now’s the time to book.

Source danbarham.com

Ten Steps to Better Mountain Bike Photos - 3 of 10

Step 3 - Don’t just stand there

Janne and Darcy, Åre, Sweden

Getting higher shows surroundings, as well as bringing more “history” to the trail.

Height plays a big factor in purging your shots of the ‘meh’ factor - that unnerving feeling that a shot is familiar or mundane. The thing is, the vast majority of us see the world at a height somewhere around five or six feet; we’re used to how the ground looks, expect to see a certain amount around us and feel comfortable with that. When you simply stand there and snap away, the results are comfortable, expected and boring.

Fortunately, it’s really easy to change all that - all you have to do is move around. Not just laterally around the subject, but in a vertical plane too. See the above photo of Janne and Darcy ripping through the lush Swedish countryside, taken from a perch halfway up a convenient tree (it has to be said I spend so much time in trees it’s become quite the source of amusement for anyone I shoot with). By getting just a few feet higher, the whole feel of the shot has changed. Because I can see more of what’s behind the riders - the trail stretching back and winding through the vegetation - a sense of history and place is baked into the photograph, telling way more of a story, not only of what’s happening right now, but what just happened.

Janne and Darcy, Åre, Sweden

Getting low removes a lot of context, but gives a unique perspective.

Naturally, the opposite is true if you get lower. This goes hand in hand with my previous tip of using the environment to your benefit (these things are all connected), but by getting right down you can not only remove much of the distractions of an environment but also erase a good deal of the implication of what’s going on in the shot. The above image was taken on the same shoot as the previous capture, but by getting lower I’ve hidden the fact they’re riding along a wide ski cat-track, and made a feature out of the bobbly little flower things (I’m quite the naturalist, I’m sure you can tell). All by simply lying down and shooting from a different perspective.

Next step tomorrow: Your camera’s a bully.

Did you miss anything? See all the steps so far.


I’ve got so much more to give

Dan Barham Photo Clinic 2011

Come to the Yukon with me. You’ll love it.

Want more info, as well as one-on-one help and advice? I’m running a trip to Whitehorse this June with Yukon company Borealé Biking:

Dan Barham Photo Clinic 2012

3 days of intense tuition, discussion, riding and awesome shooting possibilities in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever taken a mountain bike. There’s only a few places left, so if you’re interested now’s the time to book.

Source danbarham.com

Ten Steps to Better Mountain Bike Photos - 2 of 10

Step 2 - Look around you

John Alm Hogman, Åre Bike Park, Sweden

It’s not often skinny jeans match flowers so perfectly

By and large, we’re a lucky bunch - we ride our bikes in some of the more inherently beautiful places on Earth, and it makes the job of taking great photos that much easier. That isn’t to say you can’t work with what you’re given to eek out that extra bit of awesome from any situation.

Before you commit to one particular style of photo or fix the composition in your head, take a moment and consider the environment you’re in. What makes it special? Is it the thin ribbon of singletrack, a particularly gnarly root section or it is just that the flowers in that area are in full bloom? Concentrate on the best aspects of the surroundings, and make it a central theme in the shot.

Take the shot above, of John Alm Hogman throwing an impossibly contorted shape over a table in Åre, Sweden. While riding down the trail searching for a spot, I caught a glimpse of the blue and green flowers in the corner of my eye, realized they matched his outfit pretty closely and slammed on the brakes. This was the spot. For composition, I framed the jump with the flowers in the foreground, zooming in past them to make them more prominent in the shot, and used the diagonal sides of the jump to “point” towards where he’d be, subconsciously leading the eye and focussing the action. Crazy style, model’s own.

Including the foreground elements fills in space that would otherwise have been “dead”, with nothing really of interest worth including, and recognizing the colour matching ties the rider with the trail, giving that feeling of being “one” with the forest.

Katrina Strand, Squamish, BC

Sometimes it’s not what you show, it’s what you leave out that counts.

It’s also good to realize when things aren’t as good as they could be, and work with the positives in a setup while minimizing the negatives. The above shot of Katrina Strand in Squamish was taken in an otherwise mundane stretch of woodland - nothing to shout about, dead leaves and brush by the side of the trail, fuzzy edges to the singletrack - really nothing worth including in the frame.

What it did have going for it though was this great peephole through which to shoot - by using the stump to block most of the ugliness, I could focus on the riding and leave the rest to the viewer’s imagination.

It’s important to acknowledge that you don’t need to include everything in a photo - in many cases the fewer distractions to the eye, the better. Work to eliminate elements that don’t help achieve the goal you set for the photo - maybe it’s an errant spectator, a rake next to a jump or a road sign in a street scene - and the result will be cleaner, simpler and more appealing.

Next up: Step 3 - Don’t Just Stand There.

Did you miss anything? See all the steps so far.


Learn in person

Dan Barham Photo Clinic 2011

Come to the Yukon with me. You’ll love it.

I’m running a trip to Whitehorse this June with Yukon company Borealé Biking:

Dan Barham Photo Clinic 2012

3 days of intense tuition, discussion, riding and awesome shooting possibilities in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever taken a mountain bike. There’s only a few places left, so if you’re interested now’s the time to book.

Source danbarham.com

Ten Steps to Better Mountain Bike Photos - 1 of 10

One of the things I get asked the most, both by email and in person, is “how can I make my bike photos better?”. The truth is, it’s really not that hard once you boil it down to a few key elements; of course, to really excel it gets a lot more complicated, but hey, that’s life. I’ve wracked my brains and tried to come up with ten points that should hopefully put that extra gloss on your mountain bike photography. I’ll put a new one up every day for the next ten days, although please take all of ‘em with a pinch of salt, I’m in no way claiming to have all the answers.

STEP 1 - RIDE YOUR BIKE

Josh, Gooseberry Mesa, UT

If you don’t ride your bike, how can you expect to take good photos of other people doing it?

This one seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be amazed at how easy it is to get absorbed by photography, constantly thinking about taking photos, finding locations and angles, the technical details of shutter speeds, apertures and ISOs, all the time forgetting about the reason you started doing it in the first place - the bike riding.

Kyle Norbraten + Dylan Dunkerton, Whistler, BC

From the saddle, a lot of things start to make sense.

Riding your bike is the most important tip I can give you. Only by getting out on the trails and living the sport will you stand any chance of capturing its soul - without it, you’re limited to guesswork and lucky chances. When you’re riding you’ll see bits of trail worth shooting, you’ll experience the feeling of a certain corner or location or situation, and that intimate knowledge can then be transmitted to your photography much easier and with greater effectiveness.


Get the full inside scoop

Dan Barham Photo Clinic 2011

Come to the Yukon with me. You’ll love it.

Still want to know more about shooting mountain biking? Check out the photo clinic I’m running with Yukon-based tour gods Boreale Biking:

Dan Barham Photo Clinic 2012

3 days of intense tuition, discussion, riding and awesome shooting possibilities in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever taken a mountain bike. There’s only a few places left, so if you’re interested now’s the time to book.

Source danbarham.com