By Justin Steiner
While writing “Trail Shooter: Dirt Rag’s Guide to Mountain Bike Photography” for the last issue of Dirt Rag (#161) we solicited questions from you, our dear readers. Many of the questions were answered within that article, but I’ll touch on some of the other questions here. If you haven’t seen issue #161, you can pick up a copy in our online store.
Before we get into that business, I’d like to encourage everyone to check out photographer Dan Barham’s blog featuring his amazing Ten-Step photography how-to series. Check it out for incredibly inspiring imagery.
Here’s a selection of the questions and requested topics we received from Facebook.
Q: Matt Karaus suggested we touch on the “use of DSLR’s, specifically focusing techniques.”
A: Proper focus is one of the more difficult aspects of shooting action sports like mountain biking. Essentially, you have two options; pre-focus or task the camera with tracking your subject as it move through the frame.
If you’re shooting with a point and shoot, you’re almost always better off pre-focusing on the point where you’d like to capture the rider. The autofocus function on most point and shoot camera is simply is not up to the task of tracking a fast-moving subject. To pre-focus, place your focus cursor on the trail where you’d like to shoot the rider and press the shutter button down halfway. Hold the shutter halfway as you recompose and track your subject, then fully press the shutter at the right moment. Pre-focusing will greatly reduce shutter lag, too.
Even with DSLRs you’ll want use a mix of pre-focusing and focus tracking techniques, depending on the surroundings. If you’re filling the frame with the rider, most DSLRs with a responsive lens will be able to track all but the fastest motion when set to continuous autofocus. If the rider is a small portion of the frame, you’ll have various levels of success depending on the complexity of the scene. Use trial and error and consult your owner’s manual for best results. Generally, adverse conditions will dictate pre-focusing.
Q: Dain L. Melton asked how to pack an SLR in a hydration pack with out destroying it for epic trail shots…
A: I utilize an affordable neoprene sling case from Zing. Just slip your camera in and drop it in your pack. You can also just wrap your camera in a shirt or jacket and shove it in your bag too. I’ve found Lowepro’s Photosport AW200, pictured above, to be a fantastic dedicated solution if you’re shopping for a new bag.
Q: Maurice Tierney wrote: “I’m interested in asset management, like how do I keep track of all my photos?”
A: No matter what software you use to edit photos, diligent filing will go a long way toward keep you organized. Figure out a file naming system that you can stick to. Download photos into a specifically named folder with associated date so you can find them again when needed. Be sure to back these images up to an external hard drive immediately after downloading, and BEFORE your format your memory card. You always want to confirm you have two copies of your photos at all times.
As for editing, non-destructive editing programs such as Adobe Lightroom (pictured) or Apple Aperture are well worth the investment. These programs maintain your original files and allow you export edited versions. If you’re using Photoshop-style software, be sure to “save as” so as to not overwrite your original files.
Q: Melissa Pace wrote: “Can you tell me what web resolution means? I took pictures at our local bike trails for a friend that submitted an article to Dirt Rag, and they couldn’t be used. He told me it had to do with the resolution, and if I ever get a chance like that again, I don’t want to miss it. Looking forward to this article and to learning all I can.”
A: Digital cameras can be set to capture images at a variety of resolutions, most of which are fairly detailed and worthy of use in print. The downsizing of these images to “web resolution” usually occurs in the editing process after the files have been downloaded. At full resolution, most cameras capture images at 240 to 300 pixels per inch (dpi). Most of our computer monitors display at 72dpi, so “web resolution” images are routinely downsized for ease of sharing on the Internet. If a 72dpi image is printed, however, you will notice distinct loss of quality throughout the image. Long story short, if you’d like to have your images printed, try to deliver a minimum 240dpi image at whatever megapixel size your camera shoots normally. See comments above about destructive vs. non-destructive editing.
Q: Debra Ackley said: “I carry just a small Sony Cybershot while I bike. Any way to make my photos capture the depth of the drops or the beauty of the surroundings?”
A: Nearly every photo should have depth, meaning foreground, middle ground and background, in addition to a defined subject. If you focus on these four elements you can make great photos with any camera. Try shooting from high or low angles to exaggerate the scene you’re seeing.
Q: Anthony Conti asked for “DIY and low budget tips and tricks.”
A: I’m a huge fan of buying used equipment, particularly for recreational use. Why take the depreciation hit on a new product when wise shopping will net you a great camera or lens from a few years ago for a fraction of the price?
When shopping for a DSLR, invest wisely in lenses, as they’ll outlast multiple camera bodies and hold their value quite well. I’ve had great luck with reputable used retailers such as KEH.com. I’ve also managed some great deals locally via Craigslist.
Rather than buy a new point and shoot, I’d recommend scoring a used, entry-level DSLR and affordable 50mm f/1.8 lens for under $400. Shoot until you’re heart’s content and steadily build your lens collection over time. You won’t be disappointed. A skilled photographer could shoot a whole feature with such a minimalist kit and produce very striking imagery.
Q: Chip Batson said: “For newbies, how to best take motion photos where riders are in focus but the background is blurred.”
Q: And, along the same lines, Mike Swope wrote: “Shots that capture the motion, momentum and flow. More interested in CX but will use the same techniques.”
A: A slow shutter speed is the key here, Chip and Mike. Turn your camera to “shutter priority” mode and dial in 1/10 to 1/60, or faster if needed, of a second of shutter duration and shoot away while panning with the rider they go by you. Shoot perpendicular to your subject’s direction of travel to achieve maximum blur. Experimentation will yield better understanding of what works and doesn’t. The photo above was taken at 1/40 at f/5.6.