A lot of readers have asked for a guide to photographing their bikes. Be it for Readers’ Rides or for their Instagram. Here, John walks us through the process he uses, which we can all agree is ‘dialed.’
Over the past 15 years, I’ve documented hundreds of bikes both in situ and in my makeshift studio setup at events like the North American Handmade Bicycle Show, the ENVE Builder Roundup, and the Chris King Open House. While it might seem daunting at first, it really is easy and like everything photo-related, it’s all about the setup. Let’s look at my process in detail below…
Step 1: Location
If you’re comfortable finding a locale with an interesting background, I suggest buying a 16” steel dowel (approx 3/16” in diameter) and plugging it into the ground with the other end placed into the bike’s crank bolt on the non-drive side. The downside to this if shooting on asphalt is the dowel can slip and the bike can fall over, so it helps to have a spotter.
If you’re uncomfortable with this, find a good, neutral wall and shoot the photos with it as the backdrop. This also helps with detail images as it creates a neutral-colored depth of field.
I try to shoot road bikes on the road and dirt-oriented bikes on dirt but sometimes I make exceptions…
Step 2: Bicycle setup
Note how the crank arm forms a line with the chainstay and the elevation profile is completely flat. I achieve this by using a 200mm lens, shot wide open at f2.8. If the bike has a lot of bags or accessories, I’ll stop the lens down to f4.5. I’ll either then position the tire labels and valve stems at 12 o’clock or 6, depending on how the wheels are set up. I like reading the text on the tires. Also, make sure the chain is in the big (outer) ring, and halfway up the cassette. The bike should also have pedals, unless it’s a show bike, and don’t be afraid to take off that cycling computer, saddlebag, or handlebar bag if it’s blocking key details on the frame.
Step 3: Details and shots/angles
Capture the frame’s stance by shooting a side elevation, as well as a front 3/4 and a rear 3/4, then move throughout the bicycle documenting the head tube/fork, chainstay/drivetrain, seat tube/seat tube cluster, brand label, head tube profile and so on.
Get in and shoot some macro/close-up details too. Are there places with patina? Heel rub? scuffs? Show these details. Sometimes, I’ll stop it down to f11 to get the whole detail in focus.
Step 4: Contextualize it!
Sometimes it helps to show the owner of the bike either while riding or holding it up. This showcases the owner’s style and how it coincides with the bike itself. Action shots are helpful as well: panning shots, riding singletrack or dirt roads or pavement.
All this simply showcases how the owner’s personal style will ultimately affect the look, build, and characteristics of the bike itself.
Step 5: Finishing
Once the photos are done, I’ll then clone stamp out the prop rod in Photoshop. If you’re on your phone, there are a few apps that allow you to “heal” or “remove” the prop stick as well. Snapseed is a good place to start. This gives bikes with a lot of character and beausage a pristine presentation.
Now, I should also add, if you don’t have access to a 200mm lens, you can use a 50mm just fine and these steps can also apply to even using a cellphone. The biggest thing to takeaway is to be creative!
If you’re interested in seeing any of these bikes in their fully-documented form, check out our Related archives below and if you have questions, drop them in the comments!