Shooting Solo: How To Document Solo Bicycle Tours

What does it mean to create and capture an authentic moment?

Laura Killingbeck is a lifelong adventure cyclist who recently pedaled the Great Divide. Below, she shares her philosophy and practice of shooting solo photography in the field.

On my first solo cycling trips around Iceland, Canada, and the US, I mostly took pictures of cool plants and weird bugs. I got very few shots of me actually cycling. At the time, it didn’t matter–the photos were just for me. I liked those bugs.

My attitude shifted in 2017 when I got a smartphone and started using Instagram. Suddenly my photos got feedback, and that was fun! I became aware, when I peered through the viewfinder, that my friends might see what I saw. It changed what I chose to shoot and how I framed it.

A couple of years later I started blogging for the Adventure Cycling Association. By that time I’d ridden thousands of miles around the world, but I’d never written about my journeys or even talked much about them. Suddenly, my trips became the subjects of stories for a wider readership. I needed photos that showed the larger picture.

Social media and blogging have shifted how and why we take photos. We’re not just snapping mementos–we’re creating images that build relationships and tell stories.

As a freelance writer in the outdoor industry, I’ve now published my cycling photos hundreds of times for blogs, websites, and print magazines. I never call myself a professional photographer; I have minimal training in the technical aspects of photography. But I do describe myself as a visual storyteller. I always hope my photos tell stories that help people feel more connected with the world we’re a part of.

This article covers the basics of how I shoot solo photography–with myself as the subject–when I’m riding alone.

Shooting Solo: A Fascinating Predicament

When you’re alone, the easiest photo to take is the one that doesn’t include you. But photos that build relationships and tell stories about solo journeys often need to include you as the subject. They need to show who you are, what you’re doing, and how you feel. They need to tell a larger truth about what it’s like to be you, out there.

The problem is: you can’t see you! It’s an endlessly fascinating predicament.

Usually, photography relies on observation. You notice the glint of sun on an ocean wave, the color of a woman’s rainbow hat, a goofy smile on your friend’s face. You see something and snap a picture of the thing you see.

Solo photography relies on imagination. You imagine what you might look like cycling down the road, then set up your camera and plan how to capture the experience before it happens.

You never see the moment in real life. In that sense, solo photography is an eerie art: no one sees these moments in real life. All we have are the pictures.


In 2023 I spent eight months solo cycling and camping along the Pacific Coast, across the southwest, then up to Canada on the Great Divide. You can find my full route description and gear list here. I also talked about my trip for the Dayfire Podcast. All the photos in this article come from that journey.

For most of my trip, I shot photos with a FujiX100V fixed lens mirrorless camera and a simple Kodak tripod. I stored my camera in a padded case attached to my handlebars. This case was easy to access and robust enough to protect my camera from several drops. I kept my tripod within reach at the top of my frame bag. The most important part of outdoor photography is to protect your camera and make it easy to use.

Camera Settings

The FujiX100V has a genius feature called “Interval Setting”. This setting allows you to take a constant stream of photos at designated intervals of time. I usually set mine to an interval of two seconds.

When I want to take a picture of myself cycling, I just set up my tripod, put my camera on “interval,” and press the shutter. Then I bike down the road, turn around, and bike back. The camera takes photos the whole time at two second intervals. Each evening, I scroll through the day’s photos and delete all but a few.

When I return home from my trip, I put the photos on my computer, delete even more, organize them, and make edits. I recently started using an app called BeFunky for basic editing.

Imagining The Rider

When I’m pedaling, I’m always looking for an imaginary rider. Can I see the rider biking up the next hill? Going around the bend? Stopping in the center of the road?

This rider is, of course, me. But I never think of her as me–she’s always “the rider.” This is the nature of creating an objective product (a photo) with yourself as the subject. You kind of have to be in two places at once.

When I look for the rider, I try to see how she fits into the landscape. I look for all the things I’d normally look for in photography–lighting, composition, color balance, novelty–but it all happens in my imagination. I don’t know how the rider will look on the hill with the sage in the back and the sun coming from the east, because I haven’t seen it. I just imagine it.

Becoming the Rider

Once I see the rider in an image I’d like to capture, I stop and set up my tripod and camera. Then I memorize my preferred placement of the rider in reference to the landscape.

I press the camera shutter and start pedaling my chosen route. The camera snaps photos the whole time, from close to far and back again. As I ride, my imagination continues to whirl. I’m going to capture the coolest pictures in the world! I’ll look like a svelte cheetah! A shooting star! A real cyclist!

When I return to my camera, I immediately scroll back to see what I got. That’s when I’m usually like, oh good god. I realize my face is covered in soot and my shirt is on backwards. My bags look like they were lashed to my bike by an escaped lunatic. My expression: brimming with delusional hope.

This is also the nature of creating an objective product (a photo) with yourself as the subject: you may suddenly see yourself as you actually are.


I spend a lot of time imagining and setting up photos, but they rarely turn out exactly as I’d planned. That’s part of the process.

Sometimes I put the camera in odd places, at different angles, just to see what happens. I get a lot of interesting bloopers. (At least, I think they’re interesting.) I also photograph everyday tasks like setting up camp, putting on my shoes, or filtering water. This gives people a “behind the scenes” look at what my life on the road is really like.

It’s really hard to allocate enough resources to spend months at a time on my bike. So when I’m out on a trip, I’m grateful to be there. Even on hard days, I feel happy. I tend to publish pictures that evoke authentic happiness: this is the larger story I want to tell. I also often accompany my photos with writing that explores difficult, gritty, or complex inner journeys. I try to keep the whole package as real and balanced as I can.

If the purpose of photography is to build relationships and tell stories, those relationships and stories need to be authentic. Otherwise, your life will become an empty shell. There’s room for creative expression, choice, and curation. But I think it’s crucial that the images you publish reflect a larger truth about who you are and what your journey means to you. This is particularly important for people shooting solo–you’re the only one there to tell your truth.


It’s hard to capture authentic expressions when you’re taking photos of yourself! By the time you set up your camera and stand in front of it, the moment has passed. Your smile looks fake because it is fake.

Once again, this is where solo photography relies on imagination. I try not to fake my smiles. Instead, I set up my camera, put myself in the frame, and then imagine a friend walking up and finding me there. Wow, it’s great to see them! How did they manage to find me!? My smile becomes genuine, and that’s what the camera captures. I love my imaginary friends!

I also take portraits that show different parts of my body in relationship with nature. A finger on the edge of a flower expresses a human relationship with that flower. A foot pointed into the sunset shows a person playing with the sun. I love being part of nature, and I hope my photos show the quality of that relationship.

A Conversation with Culture

It’s still relatively uncommon for women to bike alone for months at a time and tell our own stories about it. Women don’t always feel safe traveling alone in areas where we could experience male aggression. For many women, this limits or totally restricts our ability to move independently in the outdoors. For women of color, trans women, nonbinary folks, and people who inhabit intersecting demographics of marginalization, even more is at stake.

I don’t always feel safe being female in the world, but I do feel safe being a human in nature. This is a complicated dynamic. On my last bike trip, I passed dozens of solo male cyclists, but only one other solo female cyclist. I’ve seen this gender dynamic replicated on every long distance trail I’ve ever cycled or hiked. Culture is changing, but the gender ratio for solo cyclists is still clearly skewed.

As a female shooting solo, I create images of authentic experiences. Those images build relationships and tell stories; they also contribute to a cultural conversation. I’m here, free and independent, finding boundless joy in nature.