Bikes & Photography: Capturing Moments

Editor's Note: This is the second in a series of articles on the intersection of Bikes & Photography.

A group of mountain bikers stand with their bikes on top of a rounded hilltop in the desert.

CAPTURING MOMENTS

First and foremost, I'm not a professional photographer, I just really like to bring my camera along to capture my moments on a bike. I've lived in some really beautiful places and I think that's extremely helpful, almost like cheating. But the thing is, you can't take a photo without getting your phone or camera out. I've done a lot of racing and training rides where I can’t do that, so I make a point to slow down and enjoy my surroundings, which allows me to bring a real camera on my rides.

 

What Do I Shoot With?

My first real camera was a Sony a6000. It was big enough to accommodate Sony’s E-Mount lenses, but small enough to fit in any bikepacking bag. It was powerful enough to grab a solid action shot but also had its limits. It was a great starting point for me at a great price point. I then moved on to the Sony a6500, basically the same size but a better camera.

While these camera bodies are great for bringing along on rides, I think there is something to be said about the lenses you use with them. Photography gear is just as deep a rabbit hole as cycling gear. There are a variety of different types of lenses from Sony and other brands that work with Sony’s E-Mount. You can spend an arm and a leg, or get a budget lens—picking and choosing depends on the risk you want to take while cycling with your camera. 

A profile view of a bright pink Salsa Warbird gravel bike as it stands on a trail through dense pine forest.

More recently, I purchased a Sony f4 18/105 mm lens for the a6500. It’s an extremely versatile lens that covers basically the full spectrum as far as focal length goes, and lets in enough light for night shots. But it still has its limitations. It does not offer the crisp shots that some prime lenses offer. For those who don't know, a prime lens is a fixed-focal length lens. These lenses are typically really good for snapping photos at said focal length with lower apertures.

As I’ve evolved as a photographer, I’ve started shooting with just prime lenses on a Sony a7III. This has created better overall photos but it has also been a great camera and lens combo for video, which I’m doing much more of these days. It does have a full-frame lens however, so the body is much bulkier, but I’ll pay that price for better quality. For reference, I have Zeiss Batis 25 mm, 40 mm, and 85 mm lenses, and they cover what I need. If they don’t, I make them work; that’s the thing about prime lenses—it’s almost like a game to capture what you intend on capturing. After all, photography is an art, so get creative! 

A muddy full-suspension mountain bike stands balanced against a rock as the sun sets in the background.
 

How do I shoot?

Everyone has a different eye. I try to understand depth when I shoot, and this has evolved over the years. I try to sandwich the subject, or “meat” of my photo in between something in the foreground and background. I have found that this creates a pleasurable visual experience that triggers some sort of joy. I love looking at professional photographers to gather ideas on how I can reimagine a concept in my own world of photography. I think the biggest thing for me has been to never settle for what I know. I continue to change it up, which allows me to take better photos.

A view down a winding gravel road lined by lush green trees, from the point of view of the bicycle cockpit.


Where Do I Carry?

My camera carrying has also evolved over the years, going from storing the camera on the bike, either in my frame bag or into a stem bag, to now exclusively carrying my camera in a hip pack. The reason for the change is that the camera takes a lot of abuse when riding, no matter where it is on the bike. It rattles around even in the most secure and padded bag out there. You tend to take care of your body before your bike, so when you are riding, your body compensates for the bumps, jumps, and blunders. 

A mountain biker rides downhill through a sweeping corner in hot, dry desert terrain.

A mountain bike lays along a narrow, dirt singletrack trail bordered by thick patches of white and yellow wildflowers.

The other reason I keep the camera on my back is the ease of getting it out. It takes maybe three seconds for me to move the bag to the front, unzip the bag, and take out the camera. This helps with getting a quick shot of fellow riders, natural beauty, or animals passing by the trail or road. It's just as easy to put the camera back into the bag so you can get back to riding. I've used a lot of hip packs, but I’m currently using a Dakine hip pack that fits my a7III with one of my prime lenses. When I’m bikepacking, I use an Andrew the Maker Goodtimer Hip Pack, which is oversized so I can fit the camera and an extra lens in it.

Three riders approach on a winding dirt road past large mesas and plateaus.

How Do I Edit?

I like playing around with editing my photos, touching them up, or completely changing them. I’ve grown away from this a bit, but it’s still fun to experiment. That’s why I shoot in RAW, it gives me the ability to manipulate the colors in the photo while maintaining a high-quality image. I’m an Adobe fan, so I use Lightroom to catalog and edit my photos (the desktop app is incredible). After a short learning curve it’s rather easy to navigate and understand the nuances of the software. The mobile app is just as good, especially when you want to export a photo from your camera to your phone so you can easily touch it up before sharing with a friend or posting to social. Editing is again a personal preference, but one tip that I would give you is don’t over-saturate your photos, I did it for years and it truly takes away from your camera’s capabilities.

A woman descending on a full-suspension mountain bike shows speed in this panning-style photograph.

Conclusion

Sometimes shooting can be frustrating but I rarely regret bringing my camera along on my rides, especially while exploring new places. Photography will forever be a hobby that will capture the moments, the beauty of this world, great people in my life, and emotions. Photography is the storyteller without words, it’s the universal language, it's not something certain but something to ponder. I love it and I encourage everyone to take a stab at it.

A full-suspension mountain bike stands alongside a tent in darkness as stars dot the night sky.

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This post filed under topics: Bikepacking Fatbike Gravel Mountain Biking Neil Beltchenko Road Sponsored Riders Touring

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Neil Beltchenko

Neil Beltchenko

I’ve always had a bike since I was a kid, riding the dirt jumps in the park behind my house. It was not until 2010 when I finally got on a mountain bike again. Things kinda took off in 2012 when a friend and I took on the Colorado Trail in 10 days. It was an eye-opening experience that lead me to take on the Arizona Trail Race 300 in 2013 – my first bikepacking race. Basically, after that, the rest is history.

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