Here’s a thought. Have you ever taken the perfect bike picture, or can you remember the bike photo that’s stuck with you forever? Iconic photos like the Steve jobs book cover or Marilyn Monroe’s flying dress shot are the type of globally recognised photos, and not just because of the person, but what we each see in the image, which isn’t always the same. So let’s explore the bike photo a bit more.
I’ve noticed, probably like you, that the cycling industry has got us to a point that if we see a bike photo, we’re not satisfied unless it has the following criteria; viewed from the drive chain side, cranks horizontal with the drive side facing forwards, pedals horizontal to match the crank lines, tyres placed so the logos can easily be read and aligned with the valve, gearing in lowest ratio to show the ultimate chain spread, no seat pouch/toolkit etc etc. If we see a bike from the non-drive chain side, we’re gonna be disappointed. Although I do think this last one will change, particularly when the gearbox bikes arrive in mass production.
It’s a bit like this in the motorcycle world too. If there’s a moto with one or more exhausts on one side, like a flat tracker, then that’s the side that gets photographed, but it might not be the cleanest view of the Moto. Car photography goes against the cycling approach. On cycles, we want to see the drive chain, but you don’t get photos of cars with the bonnet/hood up so the engine can be seen, so why are we fixated with that drive side of the bike?
Have you ever asked yourself what you really want to see on a bike? What image in a magazine makes you want to buy a bike? Is it a non-action, ‘drive side shot’ or the usual ‘table-top’ or ‘tail whip’ shot, or somebody doing a trick on it you would never do anyway?
I’ve read that the best bike photos show the bike from a view that we wouldn’t normally see if we were standing next to it. Usually we’re looking down at a bike in real life, but in a magazine or internet photo, we can move the magazine or tablet around to get the view desired by the photographer. This got me thinking about some bike photography-related stuff like these below:
Firstly, let’s deal with the crap photos that we find on e-selling sites. Be suspicious of a seller who has just hosed the bike down to make it look shiny for the picture, and wasn’t bright enough to move the bike from the wet ground it was standing on, or actually left it in a pool of water.
When I look at pictures of bikes, I always look at what else is in the picture that will be equally, or more interesting than the bike on its own. Shed pictures are always interesting when someone has photographed a bicycle or Moto, because almost within a split second, I start checking out what’s on the bench, how the tools are stored, what other spares are hanging up and crucially, has the owner got just the parts l’m looking for? I think ‘bikes-in-shed’ photos are the best.
There’s also what I call the ‘cat walk’ look. A photo of a bike in an environment that it would never operate or be seen in, like a downhill bike in a velodrome or a TT bike sitting on top of a drinks bar in a pub, or a track bike in the middle of a club dance floor with all of the flashing lights on it. Oh yeah, photos of bikes just laid down on the ground is a no-no in my book.
Other questions I ask myself regarding bike photography are; does having a rider on the bike detract from the actual bike image? Or, what does the photographer actually want me to notice, or get out of the photo when I look at it? What do they want me to see? Rare components? The overall colour? The shape? Too many questions?……However, I would never, ever lay the bike down on the ground and take a photo of it. Why do people do that?
What about the kit you use to take a photo? I have the most fun with a smart phone. Just tilting a phone can change the way the Lens sensors react and change the view and colour of the picture. Then it’s good fun playing with the colours and contrast etc. If I take 10 photos, it’s usually the first one which was the best. The rest will only be good for cropping and stuff.
At the end of the day, taking a picture that we like is what’s important to us, makes us proud, want to look at it over and over again, and want to share it. So, get on with your bike photography, be traditional or be different in your approach, and most importantly, have creative fun!
Author’s track bike photographed by Rodrigo Macip. All other photos by the Author.