“Tom, what’s the main thing you think about when you’re shooting mountain biking?” Josh, a workshop student, asks. I’m teaching a photo workshop on adventure sports in Maine, and today we’re photographing mountain bikers.
“I want the viewer to be a part of the action,” I reply. “I want the viewer to stop in his tracks and really take a look at the image. If they think, ‘Wow, that’s incredible’, then I’ve done my job.”
“Are there any special techniques you use to capture that feeling?” Josh asks.
Perfect! Josh’s question has just provided the perfect segue into what this class is all about—capturing dynamic adventure sports images. One style of shooting that puts the viewer in the action is POV shooting, or point-of-view photography. This style of shooting uses interesting perspectives and special techniques to give the viewer a participatory sense of the action.
Generally, this means you aren’t on the sidelines with a big lens shooting away. More likely, you’re paddling through rapids with a camera attached to your head! But not all techniques require a certain amount of craziness to do them; some techniques are simple and easy to do. Following is a list of 10 techniques that will help you find interesting angles and create unique styles in your photography, no matter what the subject matter.
1. Super Clamp. The Manfrotto Super Clamp attaches to almost anything, and a tripod head can be mounted to it. I use a short extension arm on the clamp with a small tripod head attached to the other end. I attach this rig to my skis, kayak, mountain bike—use your imagination. I normally choose a fisheye lens with this setup to get as much of the scene as possible. One of my favorite mountain-bike angles is to attach my Super Clamp and camera to the back fork of my mountain bike and use a PocketWizard to trigger the camera as I ride on trails. You can blur or freeze the action, depending on the shutter speed. The trick is not to turn sharply to the side on which the camera is attached, or you might put it in the dirt.
2. Boom Arm. If attaching a camera to your bike and riding down a hill at full speed sounds like a bad idea, try the next best thing: a boom arm. This technique involves attaching a camera to a long rod or pole. I use a monopod with a tripod head attached to the end. With this setup, I can hold the camera above a subject for interesting overhead angles or right off the ground. I once photographed a TransAmerica bike ride and found the boom arm invaluable for unique perspectives. I’d drive with one hand on the wheel and the other holding the boom arm with my camera out the window (the camera was triggered by a long cable release). The camera was inches off the ground beside the cyclist’s wheel. These shots really put the viewer in the action.
3. Flash. Using flash can be the difference between a nice image and a great image. Flash will enhance color, create separation and imply mood. I always look at what I’m shooting and ask myself if adding my own light will improve the image. Sometimes natural light works great; other times it doesn’t. The best technique is using your flash off-camera. A simple dedicated flash cord that attaches to your hot-shoe will work. A wireless transmitter will give you even more creative options and the ability to put your flashes more distant to your camera. I often underexpose my background so my strobed subject will be brighter than the background and pop off the page.