Category Archives: Photography

Above & Oblique

Cycling through the Sussex landscape on a classic Italian road bike, A Pegoretti LuiginoThere is really no end to the possibilities for cycling photography if you want to photograph your own bicycle rides or cycling tours – creative angles just require a bit more thought, imagination and a shrewd use of landscape. The photo above is of me (and taken by me) spinning down a S-curve descent on a coastal road near Fairlight, along the Sussex coast, on my Pegoretti.

Going down hill of course gave me a nice boost on the ten-second timer limit imposed by most cameras and for this particular shot I used a lightweight travel tripod rather than a Joby Gorilla. The particular tripod I used is a real find – a five-section Manfrotto travel tripod (model MKC3 P01) that weighs just under a kilo, condenses to just over 17” long (43cms) and costs £42.69 on Amazon when I checked just now. I will review it in a later post, but in a nutshell it is great if you just want to use a compact camera.

When I saw the curving road and realised I could climb up on the embankment and compose a shot, I jumped at the opportunity. It was so nice to be able to break up the usual run of left-to-right, going away, quartering or head-on shots with something a little different. I parked the bike, scramble up the low grassy slope and set up my shot. I could see just where I wanted to be, visualising the bike coming out of the lower bend, and so I set the time, released the shutter and the sprint was on. Thankfully the Pegoretti has a lovely responsiveness. It shot off like a colt and I actually had to ease up as the end of my ten seconds approached in order to be where I wanted to be. So yes, above and oblique shots can well be had if you look for opportunities. And so, in answer to a challenge that a Left to Right shot, above and oblique, was impossible, I set up this shot a few miles later – pitching my tripod on a levee, composing then running back to my bicycle in time to capture  bike and rider spinning along a stretch of reclaimed salt marsh not far from Winchelsea. These things can be done!

cycling along the coastal road near Winchelsea Beach, East Sussex

On A Count of Ten…

A sunrise bicycle ride down a lane on the Pevensey MarshesSelf-timer photography, capturing images of your bicycle rides is not that hard, at least not to get the fundamentals right, although it does take a bit of practice. I have been doing this for about 18 months now, shot thousands of frames, and while have learned a great deal about this kind of photography, I am only too well aware of how much more I have to learn and how many unexplored possibilities there are out there waiting to be tried.

But back to the fundamentals – the ten second delay on your timer. It seems like little time, but in truth it is ample. Although my Canon G1X has a nifty feature that allows me to set the timer delay from 1-30 seconds, it is the ten-second setting that I use most frequently – by far.

For most of my set-ups I start with my camera’s wide-angle setting – which on the G1X is the equivalent of a 28mm on a DSLR – and crop a little if necessary, with the zoom, to cut out any intruding street furniture or branches from the edges.  When I compose the scene I form a pretty good idea where I want the bicycle to be. This takes a bit of visualisation and practice. Getting the scale right can be tricky, and takes practice. Too close, and your bicycle and (and you) loom awkwardly in the photo. Too far away and you’re a dot. As a rule of thumb, anything between 60-100 feet usually works well with a wide angle setting – but this is just a ballpark figure, say for shooting along a seaside promenade or along a fairly straight stretch of country road. And even here this can vary wildly, depending on the kind of shot you are taking, the lighting, the background. But if you start experimenting with these distances, you won’t go far wrong and with the miracle of digital, you will be able to see straight away whether or not it is working for you.

Then it is a matter of composing the shot, focussing and setting the timer. Before you push the button and start the clock ticking, get yourself completely ready to go. Get the bike in a good gear so you can pedal away swiftly and get into position. Bring the pedal around to a comfortable position so you can just push away. Look at the road ahead and take your mark where you want to be when the shutter releases and rehearse in your mind the sort of angle you want the bicycle (and you) to be in the picture.

If you want to have yourself riding into the frame, face on, you will indeed need to be quick to get it in ten seconds, as you will need to pedal out there and turn around. So figure your turn-around point, and push away vigorously in an easy gear to get out there quickly. Have everything rehearsed. Before you push the button, get on the saddle, foot cocked on the pedal, press the shutter release and get a move on move. Move swiftly – but not in unseemly haste. You need to do this smoothly. But it is not hard, with practice, to ride sixty or seventy feet and then turn around in under ten seconds.

No matter which way you are facing, though, slow up for the instant of shutter release (unless, of course, you want a bit of blur which can be nice sometimes).

The images here – very simple demonstration ones in terms of setting-up (straight roads) – were done just this morning for this post, on a ten-second self-timer setting. Composition and exposure all take a bit of practice and observation and understanding, but as for ten seconds – if you fill them meaningfully, it can be plenty of time.

Cycling along a classic English country lane just on sunrise, near Hailsham, East Sussex

 

Review of the Canon G1X

A nice low-light shot taken with a Canon G1X while cycling along the Bexhill seafront, East Sussex

The G1X handles low light situations brilliantly for a compact camera – as in this shot along the seafront at Bexhill-on-Sea

For the past few months I have been using a Canon G1X to illustrate this blog and having by now show several thousand frames with it I thought I would give a brief review of the camera for anyone who might be in the market for a camera to pack in their saddlebag, be it for pictures of their morning commute or to take on tour.

Let’s get a couple of elephants out of the way first: the G1X is not by any means a cheap camera. Far from it. At nearly $600 it is as expensive as some DSLRs. Nobody who isn’t fairly serious about capturing good images is even going to be considering a compact camera in this sort of price range.

Nor, for that matter, is the G1X particularly small, at least not in the classic ‘pocket-able’ sense. That said, I was able quite easily to put mine in a jacket pocket while I was on assignment in Norway last year. But it isn’t the sort of thing you can just slip into a jersey pocket and forget it’s there, like, say, the Powershot 100.

No, the G1X is a chunky beast. But there is a reason for this modest size penalty and rather larger cost penalty and that is the beautifully big 1.5” CMOS 14.3 megapixel sensor lurking inside. This is getting up to nearly the size of the sensors found in a crop-DSLR (and six times the size of the sensor in Canon’s earlier G-series cameras, and twice the size of the sensor in the Nikon-1)  There is some serious image gathering capacity here – to all intents and purposes nearly as good as that of a crop-DSLRs. I noticed the difference straight away when I started using it. I had been pleased with my G11 – and why not, it’s a good camera! – but the results from the G1X were in another league, especially when in low light, something that matters a lot to me, given the hours in which I ride (and shoot)

With the G1X I have no hesitation going to ISO 1600 for night shooting, a real boon for the kinds of stuff I like to do. While the lens is not notably fast (28-112mm, f2.8 – f5.8) the camera’s low light abilities more than compensate for this ‘shortcoming’.  The lens is sharp and the camera as a whole performs brilliantly in low light – see the pre-dawn image above.

The build quality of the G1X is wonderful. It has a gratifying solidity when you pick it up. It shoots RAW, there are manual controls for everything, and a reticulating 3” screen that is nice and bright and allows you to compose from any angle without having to crouch down, or lay on the ground. And if you’re shooting yourself, either for a blog or because you are on tour, it has the all-important full custom self-timer setting  that allows you to set a timer delay of 1-30 seconds and then shoot up to 10 frames automatically. The ergonomics are nice, the layout is intuitive, and even though I have fairly big hands, I have no trouble working the various buttons and dials – even on chilly mornings.

The downside to the camera is that its AF is rather slow and can be a bit finicky on occasion.  It is also not very good at macro photography, although really if macro is your thing, you’re better off going straight to a DSLR. And finally, it’s battery life could be a bit longer. Figure on about 250 frames before you will need a recharge – although, in truth I have managed to get over 300 frames on occasion between charges.

In a nutshell, I really like this camera a lot. For me, and my uses, it is just about perfect. If you serious about your photography and want to have something small in your bar bag or saddlebag that will deliver DSLR quality (or near DSLR-quality) images, you could do a lot worse than the G1X.

 

 

 

 

On Pixel Peeping

Dream Bicycle-1When I launched this blog a bit over a year ago it was with the idea, in part at least, of rekindling my love of writing which had waned a bit over the years as a result of my nearly always having to write to other people’s specifications and expectations. Along the way though I rediscovered my old and long buried love of photography, something I had put away and nearly forgotten about years ago for reasons that now aren’t clear to me at all.

It has been like an awakening. I have really enjoyed getting back behind the lens, creating images, using light, getting back in touch with my artistic side and meeting (or trying to meet) the challenges of being both subject and photographer as I record aspects of my daily rides. As I began to find my old skills, visual imagination and ability to see, I have felt myself constantly wanting to expand, improve, do more and better.

I have been investing. A few months ago I picked up a Canon G1X – a rather pricy pro-quality compact with which I have been using and enjoying greatly, revelling in its improved high ISO capabilities, bigger sensor, near DSLR quality images yet still in a convenient, nearly pocket-sized package.  Satisfied though I was with my G1X (review to come eventually) the momentum continued to gather.

This week I made the big splash and acquired a full-frame DSLR, a big capable Canon 5D Mark III – in part to generate some (hopefully) nicer images for my blog (and how frustrating it is to be laid up right now!) but also to let me pursue some new and interesting professional leads that have opened up as a result of my re-launched photographic career.

I love the new camera. I still have a couple of excellent L-series lenses left over from before, but to cover a focal length gap in my collection I also bought a Zeiss 35mm f2 prime – a lovely piece of glass.  It is manual focus, of course; all Zeiss lenses are. I don’t mind the seemingly retrograde step. I am old enough to have learned on manual focus lenses (as I learned to ride bicycles with toe-clips). Furthermore in tinkering around in my living room – my battered shoulder doesn’t allow for my doing much more – I have been pleasantly surprised at how well the auto focus assist works with manual focus lenses, beeping softly and a green dot lighting up to tell me when focus has been nailed.

One of the things that intrigued me most about buying this beautiful manual focus lens, and indeed in buying the new camera body as well – one whose technical capabilities far, far exceeds that of my old DSLR – has been reading the reviews of other buyers, and long threads on photography forums where aficionados debate the relative merits of various types of lenses and bodies. In reading all these critiques, test reports, reviews and comparative analyses I found myself thinking that somewhere along the line, while I have been away, art has been subsumed by technology.

In shopping for a lens I found myself reading – surprisingly often – that manual focus is simply impractical, or even impossible, if one is going to be serious about photography in anything other than a tripod-in-the-studio set-up; certainly that for of action, sport or street photography manual focus is out of the question.  It makes me wonder how pictures ever got taken in the old days.

And on the optics and sensor front I found myself reading – and this despairingly often – about the urgent, desperate necessity for Canon or Nikon (fill in the blank) to address their woeful shortcomings on noise, dynamic range, resolution and the sharpness of their lenses in the corner of the frame. Pixel peeping is the term for this particular form of nit-picking and if one was to take seriously some of the jeremiads I’ve seen in photography forums, you would be left with the impression that even my spiffy new Canon 5DIII, or the unaffordable 14 frame-per-second 1DX (a sports or wildlife shooter’s camera) or Nikon’s near medium-format-quality D800 were little more advanced than the cameras Matthew Brady was using during the U.S. Civil War.

There seems to be this insatiable demand out there for more and better, and as quickly as possible, together with swift scorn for yesterday’s breakthrough. Twenty-two megapixels, pin-sharp, at ISO6400? That’s so five minutes ago. Forget the matter of how they used to take pictures in the bad old days of manual focus, one is left with wondering why they even bothered.  And, my God, what sized prints do these reviewers and forum posters imagine they are going to be making with their ultra-high resolution 70 megapixel cameras with 24-stops of dynamic range they dream about and expect to have in ten years time?

The one positive thing about all this was that it prompted me to take a couple of hours off the other day and do a reality check: look over some of the work of some of the great photographers of the 20th century – Henri Cartier-Bresson, Dorothea Lange, Robert Capa, Frank Hurley etc. – and also to look over the old pictures in a book I contributed to for National Geographic some years ago about the history of photography in the magazine (The Photographs: Then and Now).

My goodness. All those people muddling through with their manual focus lenses (and in Henri Cartier-Bresson’s case pretty much the same old boring 50mm focal length) and their grainy old film. Funnily enough, despite the passage of years and yes, often the graininess of their prints, none of their photos have lost their power to fascinate and involve.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the technology that we have today. I am not longing for the days of film. When was the last time you shot nice sharp usable stuff at ISO6400 on film?) It is just that when you are shopping around for lenses and bodies it becomes so easy to be swept away by technology and clinical test results that you lose perspective and forget it is the person behind the camera, and the composition that makes the biggest difference of all.

 

Shooting Black & White

Photographer Roff Smith uses a self-timer to get this black-and-white image of himself riding his bike along the old English seafront at Hastings, East SussexI have had a fondness for black-and-white photography right from the get-go, when I first began to study photography back in Albuquerque during the 1970s. I enjoyed every second I spent in the darkroom, loved the hands-on aspect of the art and the ability of black-and-white images to tell a story, richly and evocatively, using texture, shadow and shape.

In those days though you needed a darkroom if you were to dabble in black and white – or at last I felt you did; what was the point in sending your rolls of Plus-X or Pan-X off to be developed and printed by somebody else? – and given that I was moving around a lot and seldom had much spare cash, and so my involvement in black-and-white photography pretty much ceased after I left school and no longer had access to the university’s excellent darkroom facilities.

Over the past year though, as I have come back to photography with this blog I have taken up black-and-white photography again – in the digital way now, of course, sans darkroom. I love it. Black and white is a lovely medium for cycling photography, and not only because of its wonderful fine art qualities and moodiness.

Much of my shooting is at night, especially in winter, and the use black and white can cover a multiple of sins both in the camera and out of it. While my Canon G1X has surprisingly good low light capabilities for a compact – for web use, at least, I can confidently shoot at ISO1600 – but even, so converting to black and white can neutralise (or maybe naturalise) a fair bit of grain or noise.

And then there is the matter of white balance and colour. Between the camera and Lightroom I can quite easily render a scene lifelike in colour and tone; the trouble is, the real life colour of these night-lit scenes is often sickly yellow, thanks to the sulphurous colour of the street lamps in use along my route.

To be sure, it is possible to tinker all that sickly sheen away in Lightroom or Photoshop, but how much easier – and frankly pleasurable – it is to convert to black and white and be done with the problem. While this cop-out doesn’t work every time, the success rate is high enough, and my liking of black-and-white high enough, for me to give it a try, on spec, and see what happens. Another of the many beauties of digital photography is this heaven-sent ability we now have to make limitless copies, experiment to your heart’s content and learn from your mistakes – without fear of huge bills in film, printing and developing costs.

For what it is worth I thought I would put down a couple of tips that I have picked up for shooting in black-and-white. Chief among those is not to use the black-and-white setting in your camera. Not only will it never do the job of converting a live, full-colour scene to monochrome as nicely as the software in your computer, but by shooting only in black and white you rob yourself of colour. Why do that when you can have both colour and black-and-white in the same image capture? Take it all. Often times the images can be equally strong, yet utterly different – two completely separate scenes, moods, statements. Since you can take both, do it. Shoot in colour and render it in black and white back home.

And shoot in RAW – this for the same reason, in principle, as shooting in colour: why give up all that lovely data that you can use back on your screen at home. When you shoot a jpeg your camera arbitrarily sheds the lion’s share of the data it acquires during the exposure in order to render the scene in a good average way, the way it thinks the scene ought to look. Often it does a very good job of this, and of course jpegs take up less room on your card. All well and good. But by shooting in RAW you retain all that data, it is there for you to use, at your discretion, back at your desk, when you have the image looming large in front of you so you can make critical judgements more easily and fine-tune the results.

What I prefer to do with my images is make the basic adjustments before I convert to black-and-white. You can do this conversion in a variety of ways, from tinkering about with the colour sliders on your developing software to pre-sets that you can find in Lightroom and Photoshop  that will do the conversion with a click of a button. (I would assume Aperture and other packages offer similar pre-sets; I am personally familiar only with Lightroom and Photoshop).

My preference though is to use a plug by Nik Software called Silver Efex Pro 2. This is an absolutely brilliant black-and-white converter and once your image is in monochrome it offers a suite of very sophisticated re-touching tools, tints, tones, filters, sliders for brightness, structure, contrast, etc – a true digital darkroom that I’ve no doubt would have brought a smile to the face of Ansel Adams himself. You really can do an awful lot with this, and do it with great subtlety and style.

Silver Efex Pro 2 has 38 pre-sets of its own and allows you to see what each would do to your image and in a twin view mode allows you to compare the new possibility with your original. Each of these pre-sets can of course be modified infinitely with the various tools, sliders, filters at your disposal. You can furthermore make your own pre-sets and download more from the Nik site. This is not a cheap bit of software by any means – £160 – but for black-and-white photography it is about as good as it gets. It is a delight to use and the results are very gratifying. For me at least brings back much of the pleasure I used to find in disappearing into the darkroom back in the 1970s – only more so because here the creative possibilities are greater and simpler to use.

By the way, if you are leery of shooting in RAW, uncertain of your ability to process these images on your computer, and don’t want to risk screwing up good shots in the field, many cameras give you the ability to shoot both RAW and jpeg simultaneously – and while it eats up card space, it can be worthwhile for piece of mind while you experiment with RAW, and discover for yourself how easy and straightforward RAW really is to work with. And if you want a good guide to this sort of thing or would like to know your way around Lightroom and/or Photoshop, I heartily recommend the books of Scott Kelby – very well written, accessible, clearly illustrated, easy to follow. You can see by the number of stars his books get on Amazon reviews that I am not alone in finding them very useful. Good luck. Black and white photography can be both a rich and rewarding medium and a lovely way of capturing the simple beauty of a bicycle ride.

Another Auld Lang Syne

Hard though it is to believe, it is New Year’s Eve again. Another year has spun past at alarming pace, and now we find ourselves on the threshold of 2013. Where is the millennium going? I was talking to my kids the other day and recalling some memories of Christmasses when I was a kid, and marvelling aloud that those memories were forty years old – and then realising, with a jolt, even as I said it, that my math was a bit faulty and that those memories, from the early 1960s, were nearer fifty years old than forty.

This past year has been kind of a mixed bag for me – lots of assignments (a good thing) but lots of time way (less good) and on the cycling front an unusually low mileage year, mainly because of all the weeks I have been travelling for work, but partly too because of the amount of time and effort I put into my photography on my daily rides, the pausing and setting up gear and composing scenes.

While I would like to have topped 10,000 miles this year – and my waistline could certainly have used it – I have to say I have very much enjoyed the photography aspect of my rides, just as I enjoy the writing of this blog. Together they have added a new dimension to my cycling, one that has no quantitative measure. It has made me see and appreciate more of the things around me, and given me an outlet for the creative aspect of riding my bicycle that has always been there in the background – the working of my imagination as well as my legs. When I look back over the year the most memorable rides tend to have been the ones where I found something, saw familiar things and places in a new light, and took photographs that pleased me later. On that note, I am going to append a selection of a few retrospective images, the year 2012 in Black and White. I hope you enjoy them.

And I hope too that you will all have a happy, healthy and prosperous 2013.

Pretty Bike Rides – A Baker’s Dozen

 

 

It’s coming up on a year now since I started this blog and after looking through the photo library I have built up over that time I thought I would post a collection, a baker’s dozen, of a few of my favourites over the past year as well as some that I have not displayed before. As ever I am the cyclist as well as the photographer in every one of these shots. I have really enjoyed taking these photographs. I hope you will enjoy viewing them.

PS – I cheated and put in 14 :-)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moods of the Night

I’ve always loved black-and-white photography. Like most photographers of my generation, it’s where my roots are. To this day I hold fond memories of studying photography at the University of New Mexico, in Albuquerque, back in the late 1970s – spending hot nights roving Central Avenue when it was still a living stretch of old U.S. Route 66, all cafes and pawn shops, auto courts and curio dealers, my Nikon loaded with Tri-X, trying to capture the beat of the city’s restless neon-lit rhythms and then later on playing around with the results, for many happy hours, in the university’s darkroom. It was such fun. I miss those days.

It is a long, long way in space and time from Albuquerque in the Seventies to a faded English seaside town on the Sussex coast in 2012 but with autumn fast advancing towards winter, and my rides unfolding in darkness each morning, I am finding myself reprising some of my old Central Avenue-Route 66 pleasures and shooting more black-and-white – or rather, developing more black-and-white, for this is the digital age when you just shoot what you like and make up your mind later on whether it’s to be colour or monochrome.

And lately when I return from my rides I find myself tilting towards monochrome. There is just something about night-lit scenes that makes me want to process them in black-and-white. Not only does the medium capture eloquently the mood and mystery of being abroad after hours, it also – on a practical level – masks a host of awkward lighting problems, such as the sickly and unappealing yellows of street lamps and other garish colour shifts. To be sure, you can fix most of these white balance and noise issues in Lightroom, but how much simpler and cleaner and truer it is to click the black-and-white toggle and find yourself seeing the scenes as they were when you were imagining them at the time – all shape and shadow, mood and mystery, the loneliness, simplicity and solemnity of night without the distortion of colour.

Antarctica – A Photo Essay

As you can see, this photo has little to do with cycling; it’s of an enormous colony of King Penguins on South Georgia Island. I took it several years ago during a period in my life when I spent a lot of time each year in Antarctica. I have always loved the Antarctic and have been fortunate enough to have visited the continent something like seventeen times over the years on various jobs and assignments, starting with an assignment for Time Magazine in the early 1990s where I covered the removal of the last-ever working dogsled team, from Australia’s remote Mawson Base.

Since then I have travelled to most parts of the continent – the South Pole, the Trans-Antarctic Mountains, the Ross Ice Shelf; I have visited something like twenty-eight Antarctic bases, spent time with the volcanologists at the summit of Mt Erebus, and did krill research on a Russian research ship in the Scotia and Bellingshausen Seas. I loved every moment I spent down there. Antarctica is, without question, the most magical place I have ever been privileged to visit.

This morning when I was messing around on my computer, getting ready to write a cycling post, I stumbled across this cache of pictures I took along the Antarctic Peninsula and South Georgia Island many years ago. I’d all but forgotten I had them. Although this is a cycling website, I hope you won’t mind my pinning up a few of these old pictures and adding to them my own personal urging that if any of you ever have the opportunity to get down there(for Antarctic tourism is booming these days) – go! If you want a cycling story in Antarctica, well, I have one of those too – for that see here

Midnight sunset over mountains on Joinville Island at the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Midnight sunset over mountains near Hope Bay, Antarctic Peninsula

Iceberg in Weddell Sea

Snowy albatross on the wing off Prion Island, South Georgia

Iceberg arch, near Petermann Island

Crossing the Antarctic Circle aboard National Geographic Endeavour

Elephant Island, South Shetland Islands – this is where Shackleton and his men sought refuge during the harrowing Endurance Expedition in 1916, and from where he set sail in an open boat for South Georgia, 800 miles away.

Seal at Argentina’s Orcada Base in the South Orkney Islands

Sunset on ice sheet near Marguerite Bay

Sunset over mountain on Joinville Island, Antarctica

Flag over British Base at Port Lockroy, Antarctica

Sunset, South Georgia Island

Photography – Capturing Motion

One of the challenges I face in shooting for this blog is that I am both the model and the photographer. This is not only a technical hassle but an artistic one as well, since among other things I would rather not have the photographs be all about me but instead represent ‘A Cyclist’ – somebody, anybody, riding a bicycle through what I hope will come across as a pretty, or evocative, or illustrative scene. It is not always easy. One thing I find that works nicely, or can work nicely, is to incorporate a bit of motion in the shot – a pleasing degree of blur that leaves the viewer with an impression of a cyclist spinning through a static landscape or street scene.

This can be a rather nice effect, as a bit of variety, if you are taking pictures of yourself touring or on a ride and want to convey a sense of speed, freedom, motion or just something that is visually a little different. Having by now had a fair bit of practice at this, and having written some posts on self-timer photography for cyclists (see here, here, and here), I thought I would write a post with a few tips for anyone who wants to try these rider-in-motion shots for themselves.

For starters, obviously, you’ll need a tripod and camera with a self timer. A ten second delay, which most camera self timers have, is generally sufficient. Some cameras such as the Canon G11 and GX1 (both of which I use, along with the Canon S90, and can recommend highly as great cycling cameras) have customisable self timers, allowing you to set delays of anything from 2-30 seconds, and then fire off as many as 10 shots on the trot. If your camera doesn’t have this sort of functionality and you want it – or in fact if want something even more flexible – you can get a wireless remote shutter release, such as the Hahnel Giga Pro, and fire at will from up to 100 metres away. You can get these shutter releases to fit a wide variety of camera makes and models. They are not cheap, but they do work.

As for tripods – the Joby Gorilla SLR is very nice, lightweight, adaptable and reliable. (for more on these see here) They make smaller and lighter models but I prefer the slightly larger and stouter SLR version since it also has a quick release plate (allowing you to set up more quickly) and a spirit level for keeping your horizons horizontal. It is also that bit steadier too. As for overall size, one of these Joby Gorilla SLR tripods and a fairly chunky compact camera such as my G1X will fit nicely together in a Carradice Barley (7-litre) saddlebag, with plenty of room for your usual cycling spares. If you don’t mind carrying something a little larger, in a knapsack, Manfrotto make a very useful five-section travel tripod for compact cameras. It is a handy little thing, folding up to about 16″ long and weighing less than a kilo. It extends to about four feet high (higher still if you use the centre pole, but I never do; it’s too unstable)

Joby Gorilla SLR tripod seen here with a Canon G11. This is a very versatile and lightweight setup that can easily fit in a handlebar bag or saddlebag. Most of the photographs here, and throughout the blog, were shot with this combination

After you have found a good spot, established where and how you want to take your photograph, and composed it in your mind, you need to set the camera so that you can achieve the blur you want in your image. It’s not tricky, but it has to be done properly and takes a bit of coordination between rider and camera. As far as the camera settings go, you generally want a shutter speed of between a fifth and a tenth of a second. In early morning or late afternoon light (always pretty for taking photographs) you can achieve this by setting a very low ISO (say, 80 or 100) coupled with stopping down your lens (say f7.1 or f8). It gets a bit trickier in brighter midday light, where you may need a neutral density filter. You can think of these as like sunglasses for your camera – they let in all the correct wavelengths of light, just not so much of it and so will allow you to use lower shutter speeds. Neutral density filters come in varying strengths, up to 10 stops of light – which is so dark you need to compose and focus before you put the filter on, as you can’t see through it.

The neutral density filters that come built into compact cameras are typically three-stop strength, enough to create a bit of blur on a moving cyclist in a gentle mid-morning light, although the softer, earlier (or later) light will be better.

That is the camera’s part – to shoot a nicely composed streetscape image at a fifth of a second or so. Your part is to ride through the scene and be at the critical spot in the frame when the camera fires – and be moving at the right pace. You will be surprised at how slow this pace is. At a fifth of a second, even a tenth, it doesn’t take much movement at all to create blur. If you move through the scene too quickly – and this is awfully easy to do – you will leave a messy blur that is unrecognisable, if you even register at all. A gentle bit of motion, slightly more than walking pace, ought to do you at a fifth of a second, slightly quicker at a tenth.

Experimenting is key here (thank goodness for digital!) Look at what you have on the screen and don’t be self conscious about doing a few takes to get it right. Good luck.