Photograph mountain bike riders
In this blog post, I will share some tips on how to photograph mountain bike riders. I like to take my kids to a pretty famous mountain bike park in the Perth hills. You may have heard of the GOAT FARM. It’s a pretty popular mountain bike track with plenty of natural and also man-made obstacles, trails and jumps. I even take the occasional family portrait here, as it’s just a really nice place to go.
I like to take my kids to a pretty famous mountain bike park in the Perth hills. You may have heard of the GOAT FARM. It’s a pretty popular mountain bike track with plenty of natural and also man-made obstacles, trails and jumps. I even take the occasional family portrait here, as it’s just a really nice place to go.
The Goat Farm
The Goat farm is located in Greenmount just as you get towards the bottom section of the Perth hills. For us, it’s only a few minutes away. The Goat farm is great for riders of all ages.
For the professional mountain bike rider, it offers a good training track for serious competitions and events. Casual amateur riders find it’s a fun way to spend a few hours after work or in the evening. For the kids, it’s a great place to burn off all that energy and learn a few skills on how to handle the mountain bike.
My kids actually take their BMX bikes too and they have a great time. It’s amazing for their confidence.
Not being a super talented on the jumps myself, I prefer to take my camera up and take photos of the mountain bike riders doing jumps, tricks and the occasional stack. I also happen to be quite scared of coming off the bike too, so with my camera in hand I feel pretty safe.
Professional mountain bike photography
Many years ago before I really launched fully into professional photography, I had the opportunity to photograph mountain bike riders participating in one of the state downhill mountain biking events. The event had a section that ran right through the Goat farm. A friend, who is the mother of World champion downhill mountain biker rider Sam Hill, loaned me her camera.
Although I was new to photography and he (Sam) was an up and comer in the sport, I managed to capture some images that the family was very happy with. Maybe if I had pursued it a little further I could have taken up professional mountain bike photography.
Since that time, I have taken a few portraits and action photographs of mountain bikers, BMX riders and Skaters and even Rally Australia car races. I have also taken action shots in almost every sport, when I was the head sports Photographer for the West Australian Newspaper section for the South West – The South West Times.
More recently times I have photographed big events like the Tour of Margaret river and the Busselton Ironman. All of these types of activities and events require similar equipment and photography skills.
The right lighting
The Goat farm is great for action sports photography. Getting the light right renders amazing results. These photographs were taken early in the morning. At this time the sun is behind the riders as they ride down the hill. Most of the photographs will be backlit. If you get there early enough you can get a true silhouette. I really like backlit photographs, especially when a beautiful rim of light is created around the head and body of the subject.
If you happen to go late in the afternoon, this is also a good time to take photographs. I have been up there in the afternoons on many occasions and light is so delightful, hence why I also do family portraits on this location.
Taking action photographs of the riders in this the light will shape and form the images very differently. Riders faces will generally have the light right directly on them. This will work fine too, although I prefer it later in the afternoon when it is a bit softer and less harsh. The colours tend to be vibrant and warm too.
Photography equipment for mountain bike riding
For a fast moving action like mountain bike riding, I don’t think you can go past a Digital SLR with a fast sports lens. I’m sure you can get decent results with mirrorless, point and shoot and even phone cameras if you use good technique, the lighting is really good and you are patient.
Personally, I use a DSLR with a good tracking autofocus system. I also happen to have a range of really good lenses to use. using something with a reasonable zoom like 70-200m or greater will allow you to can track and photograph mountain bike riders from the start of the run. You can then continue to track them for most of the short courses covering their jumps and turns. Towards the end of their run, you will get some nice close ups too.
The beauty of using a longer lens in excess of 200mm is that you can really compress the background to give it a dreamy effect. This dreamy effect enhances the point of interest which in this case is the riders. It also puts a cool perspective on the foreground and background distances.
I also like using wide angle lenses for certain shots. Mostly I use a lens around 16mm although a fisheye lens would work out too and create a very fun photograph.
When taking action photographs with my wide angle lens, I like to move really close to the subject and fill the centre part of the frame with them. With fast moving mountain bikes this can be pretty dangerous and a little scary. Make sure you take a lot of caution and have a good get out the way plan, in case things get a little too close for comfort.
Settings for taking action photographs?
The first setting to really consider when taking mountain bike action photographs and the one I think is the most important is the shutter speed. As the bikes are moving and generally at a pretty fast pace, shutter speed becomes the important factor.
High shutter speeds
Using shutter speed in advance of 1/1000 of a sec will freeze the action and movement pretty well. This will freeze the action of the riders and make your photographs look really sharp and crisp, avoiding most motion blur.
Once you have the shutter speed that you are after you can balance out the exposure by adjusting the aperture and ISO. A wide open aperture will emphasise the focus on the subject while blurring out the background nicely. This Bokeh is very popular and eye catching.
Use your own Style
In these particular photographs, I was trying to make sure my highlights didn’t blow out too much, which made the overall image a bit darker and moodier. You are the storyteller when you take photographs, so you might opt to do something similar or you might have your own style you wish to display to the viewer of your finished photo project
Motion blur isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes an image with blur actually tells the story much better. This can emphasise the movement and action much differently.
In other blog posts, I will look at the technique of panning to get a powerful photograph with motion. We will also look at other techniques including off camera flash to create amazing light, contrast and form.
Next time your out at the goat farm or anywhere taking pictures of people doing some serious mountain bike riding, I hope this post will prove helpful in getting those perfect shots.