Liam Hallam is a sports science graduate. He is also a keen cyclist and a lover of the Derbyshire Dales and Peak District.
How to take great cycling photos
Cycling is a fast paced and adrenaline fuelled sport that can give a photographer a host of great image opportunities while providing the additional challenges of motion and emotion.
A great cycling photograph can tell many different stories however a simple static shot like so many people take of cycling events doesn't really show the true racing circumstances.
The right techniques for cycling photography can showcase as event and often means taking a DSLR Camera out of the sport mode that many amateur photographers rely upon.
Cycling images can tell a story within themselves. Whether it's the pain and suffering of a Time Trial as a rider pushes their body to it's ultimate muscular endurance capacity while attempting to maintain form on a bicycle, to a breakaway group in the mountains showing the remoteness of the terrain, multiple switchbacks in mountain roads and the effort of the riders to overcome such a challenge.
Taking great cycling Photo's on your DSLR- take it out of 'Sport Mode'
Sport mode on your DSLR camera is great for when you're getting to know your camera at first however once you get out of the habit of using the specific preset modes on your DSLR camera you start to learn so much about how to take a great cycling photograph
Putting your camera into it's manual mode will allow you to take so much more charge of your photographs.
Cyclists love side on photography shots
Cyclists know how they feel when riding a bike but often a side on photography shows them a lot about their position on the bicycle. Side on photographs of cyclists also showcase the rider and bicycle in unison like the photography of the rider in black and white on the awesome looking Merida Time Warp bike below.
Time trial cyclists always want an idea of how aerodynamic their position is and whether they look comfortable on a bike and if you're looking for their approval (and potentially money!) they're a great photography to take.
Cycling Photography Techniques-side on photographs and taking control of your camera and it's manual settings can lead to better cycling images
Manual DSLR Camera settings for better Cycling Photography
For cycling photographs if you're looking to completely freeze the action you will require a fast shutter speed from your camera. Digital SLR cameras are great in that you can look at what you've taken and make adjustments for your next photograph.
Photographing a time trial event is a great way to get used to using manual settings as riders are spaced apart- often by around a minute if you're positioned early on the course so you can make adjustments between photo's. Short circuit races are also great for allowing you to make adjustments to camera settings.
Consider shutter speeds of around 1/500 of a second to really freeze the action however by playing around with your shutter speed you can find out what shutter speed for cycling photography really works for you.
When in 'sport' mode your DSLR camera will likely try to get the foreground and a high propertion of the background in focus which freezes the image completely. By lowering the number of stops you use for a photo you can add additional blur to the background and make the cyclist the whole focus of the image- not just a part of it.
Great cycling photos concentrate on a riders' face
Better Cycling Photography- Focus on the face
A cyclists face can often show the emotions and physical state of a cyclist. Whether they're going through hell to try to stay in contact with a breakaway group heading up a mountain or the pain and torture in a cycling time trial showing the suffering of a rider giving their all in the race of truth
Concentrate and focus on the cyclists face for your photo's to show how the rider is performing.
Ensure that you set your lens to AF (Autofocus) and continuous focusing (AI Servo AF Canon/AF-C Nikon) and keep the sensor points inside the viewfinder tight on the rider’s face to show the struggle of the cyclist. Some riders show real struggle and emotion while riding, while some show extreme coolness under pressure which also provides great results.
The time trial rider to the right is truly punishing himself in an attempt to achieve a good time.
Techniques for better cycling images: Take photo's from low down
If you're looking to concentrate on a riders face make sure you get fairly low to the ground and shoot you camera upwards. Cyclists tend to look down while they're riding at angles of around 45 degrees to the floor so by shooting from low down and at such an angle you can really get a full visual on their face in many cases while you're taking your photographs.
Panning Cycling Photography to show movement
Get yourself a monopod to improve your cycling pan photos
Pan (follow rider flow) to show motion in your cycling images
Cycling is all about speed and motion so ideally you want to show it in your cycling photography.
Tracking a cyclist while your camera shutter is opening and closing shows blur in the background and when set up correctly will show a rider in sharp focus to enhance the image of motion in the background and the moving parts of the bicycle.
Ideal dslr camera settings for cycling motion pan shots are a relatively slow shutter speed of 1/60 second or slightly slower. It is important to follow the cyclist with your focal point and continue following after you press down your shutter release for an awesome image.
An ideal tool for taking panning shots with a Digital SLR camera is a monopod as it gives a set point to rotate around for your pan cycling images. These can be purchased relatively inexpensively and are a must for amateur and professional photographers.
Capture a cyclist from their right to show the cranks and drivechain
The biggest bicycle photography faux pas
Bicycles have two sides and one of them is not photographic!
Always aim to photograph cyclists where possible from the cyclists right side where their cranks and drivechain is visible.
You can obtain great photo's for other angles however be aware that if you're concentrating on the bike instead of the rider- always shoot crankside.
Great Canon DSLR Camera Lenses for Cycling Photography
These images were all shot at the Mapperley CC Evening 10 Time Trial Series which runs on the A10/2 Course throughout the Summer
For more details on Mapperley CC and their Cycling Club
LaZeric Freeman from Hammond on June 16, 2020:
interesting. i have a bike path behind my house. Sometimes when looking out of the kitchen window, I can see the serious bikers coming through and i am fascinated. I think there are a lot of marathons/races in this region (Hammond, Indiana).
Liam Hallam (author) from Nottingham UK on August 10, 2012:
Thanks ciprica. I agree that a regular compact camera might not give you the required shutter speed but any dslr camera should be sufficient and I have friends who have also had great results using bridge cameras. Not long for the vuelta although the cyclo cross season is what I'm really looking forward to. Thanks for your comment. CF
ciprica on August 10, 2012:
Beside these things, you must also have a really good camera.
I can't wait for La Vuelta 2012 :D
anonymous on June 08, 2012:
anonymous on June 08, 2012:
Liam Hallam (author) from Nottingham UK on June 02, 2012:
Thanks Green Art. Panning helps to show the effect of a cyclist at speed but is a slightly more advanced technique. It looks fantastic when it works well.
Laura Ross on June 01, 2012:
Great ideas for taking quality biking photos. I like the effect of the blurred background and also the panning idea to show the cyclist in motion. Voted UP and useful.
Liam Hallam (author) from Nottingham UK on June 01, 2012:
Thanks Tribook. As a cyclist I love to see photos
tribook on June 01, 2012:
Great hub! I love seeing good cycling pictures