Crash course on mountain bike photography



I ride a road bike. But what I’m not good at is mountain biking. I need to see an obstacle way in advance so I can calculate my options. Left or right of a pebble on the shoulder of a road is about all I can handle. So, when I was asked to go mountain biking on the trails near Nakusp with the local bike shop owner, I took on the assignment with hesitation. Dodging roots, jumping stumps, twisting with the trail at crazy speeds scared the crap out of me. But for the sake of the story – I met up with Shon at his store in the heart of Nakusp.

We were on a tight schedule so asking Shon to stop and pose for photos or go back and try a section of trail over and over was out of the question. And carrying my DSLR camera gear on my back down a bumpy mountain would be tough. So, I had to rely on my slow whits on the trail and my IPhone for images.

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We were dropped off at the top of the Zoolander trail on Box Lake Mountain just south of Nakusp where Shon promised me the trails would be easy. “Blue trails,” he said. I figured that meant they’d be easy like blue runs at the ski resorts. But there was my first mistake. Blue ski runs are only easy to anyone who likes black diamond runs.

Shon led the way at a leisurely pace for him. I gripped the brakes until they squeaked. I’m sure bears and deer thundered away from the shrill.

My second mistake was concentrating on a photo instead of the job under my handlebars. It was autumn the leaves were turning colours and the sun was playing hide-and-seek through the trees. It was going to be tough to find a spot where I could show the terrain and not have too much contrast with the brilliant sun and shad….


Yeah. That’s what happens when your confidence and your skill don’t match while trying to multitask flying down a narrow mountain trail.

As I picked up my body and checked over the beautiful steed Shon lent me, I looked around. The crash site was perfect for a shoot. There was a gap in the trees, not too much sun/shade contrast, and topography to show action.

Shooting sports is not easy. But here is what helped me try to get the image I was looking for with just a smart phone.

First thing was to set the camera on HDR to get bursts of photos.

Shon needed to be moving towards me as I crouched at the outside corner of the trail (on bleeding knees but don’t tell him that) so that the shot would show movement.

He needed to be looking not at me, but focused on the trail ahead – looking out of the frame to lead the viewers eye through the photo. I tried to follow his face so it would stay focused and perhaps the bike and terrain would blur.

We tried the shot a few times, then continued on the trail. Unfortunately, the best part of the trail was done. If we had more time, I would have suggested going down again. (who am I kidding!)

The trail flattens out and follows an old rail bed offering beautiful views of the lake and the shoreline of Nakusp where we ended up in a few minutes. Back at Shon’s shop, I admired the selection of high-end mountain bikes but decided that skinny tires on flat stretches of highway are still my best bet.

Next time I decide to be behind the lens for a sport that is out of my league, I’ll hike to a spot and use my DSLR. Considering the circumstances though, I’m pleased with the end result. For more ideas on how to use your smartphone for photography, check out Jeff Bartlett’s video here.

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