A Note from Fatty About Tuesday’s Post: My “Team Fatty in Bizarro World” post on Tuesday caused a little more heat than I intended. I thought of it as a “joke with a tweak:” mostly kidding around, but hey, this is really how people identify Team Fatty at this kind of ride and I don’t like the confusion. That said, I think Jay’s reply is heartfelt and in the end we’re all working toward making the world better. As in, I wouldn’t even consider taking action against these guys. In fact I just made a donation. (And if they’d like to make an in-kind donation at my LiveStrong Challenge page, that would be an awesome way to say, “Hey, no hard feelings.”)
A Note from Fatty About Today’s Post: My friend Adam Lisonbee (Grizzly Adam to all his friends) is a great photographer. Recently I told him about something that bothers me about a lot of the photos I take while biking (both road and mountain): steep trails / roads look like they’re practically flat in my photos. I figured I am not the only person with that problem, so asked him to write a guest post for me. Which is what you’re about to read.
How to Make Steep Hills Look Steep
We’ve all been there.
We skipped the rest stop on the group ride so we could get out ahead of our riding buddies, tossed the bike into the bushes haphazardly, grabbed the camera from our jersey pocket, quickly turned it on and tried to get into that perfect spot to take the perfect photo. The photo that will capture the incredible ability of the riders as they gracefully glide over a mind-bendingly steep trail. You clicked the shutter just in time to capture your companions in what you were absolutely certain would be an amazing picture.
“Did you see how steep that was!”
“I can’t believe I finally rode that section.”
“I got some great photos of you coming down.”
And then you get home and open the pictures on your computer.
And that’s when you realize that, although nice, the photos are lacking something vital. That they are flat. That steep hill looks tame and normal and… “It’s way steeper than that!”
Take the photo below, for example. These ‘cross racers are on a pretty steep run-up. But it looks flat:
Camera lenses flatten terrain features. It’s one of the shortcomings of taking a three-dimensional landscape and representing it with a two-dimensional photograph.
However, all is not lost. Camera lenses are easily manipulated. You don’t have to be a professional photographer to capture pictures that look a lot better than reality. In fact, that’s what photographers do-they make reality look really, really cool. And you can do it as well. It’s easy!
I’m going to share with you a super-secret secret that will help you capture those “look at how steep this trail is” moments. Now, I specifically chose to share this secret here at FatCyclist.com because I know that Fatty has a large audience, but also an audience that will keep this super-secret secret to yourselves. You won’t just go blabbing it all over Facebook and Twitter. Will you? That’s what I thought. My secret is safe with you.
Oh, and I’m going to give this information to you for free. I could charge you for it, and I know you’d pay. But I’m giving it away for nothing, because, frankly, I’m tired of seeing all the mediocre bike photos that are appearing on the web.
Are you ready? The secret is unbelievably simple.
Just tilt the camera.
I know, I know, right now you are slapping your foreheads and exclaiming loudly (much to the wonderment of your coworkers) “Of course! I’ve been so stupid!”
Tilting your camera will turn even a mundane park trail into a hair-raising, death-defying, gravity-denying, decline.
Lots of tilt:
With just the slightest tip of the lens, you can make crazy-scary looking photos. Think of the bragging rights you will own when your coworkers, who probably spent the weekend doing yard work, see pictures of you like the one above. You’ll be the talk of the office!
You can thank me now. Or later. Either is fine. All I ask is that you get out there on your bikes and with your cameras and start shooting tilted pictures. It is, obviously, the only real way to overcome the mountain-flattening shortcomings inherent in the primitive technology of photography.
Oh, and your welcome.
Wait what? Oh. You wanted actual advice on shooting steep trails? Um.
OK. Let me google that. Hang on a minute.
All right. Here we go. Wait, no. Maybe this one…
This might take a minute. (Fatty, you told me that your audience just wanted razor sharp wit. I didn’t think actual advice was of any value here!)
Ahh. Here we go. Found it.
You want real advice? I’ll give you real advice…
…that I solicited from outdoor photographer extraordinaire, mountain biker, skier, and purveyor of PhotographyReview.com, John Shafer — aka Photo-John.
First: “Shoot perpendicular. Instead of shooting up at our subject, shoot from the side. This gives you the actual angle. Make sure to watch the trees and keep your camera vertical. If your slope isn’t actually very steep, this may not be the best method.”
Second: “Shoot across. I love it when I can shoot across a ravine or gully with a long lens. The combination of looking straight across at your subject and the long lens can make a slope look nearly vertical. This is a good technique for making things look steeper. The tough part is actually having a good vantage point for a shot like this. I think it’s easier with super long lenses and ski shots than it is for mountain bike photos. I also think telephoto shots in general imply slope better – as long as you stay reasonably close to the subject. If you’re 200 yards straight downhill you’re just going to flatten out the slope. But if you’re 30 feet downhill you can still get a sense of steepness.”
Third: “Wide-angle. Shooting tight with a super wide lens and keeping your subject near the top of the frame can make a trail look really steep and gnarly.”
Hmm. So maybe tilting the camera isn’t the ideal solution. In fact, maybe it’s cheating. To find out for certain, I set out with my camera, and John’s suggestions, in my pocket. The results? Well, I’ll let you decide. But I thought they were a good start. No tilting needed.
Wide angle sample:
Now it’s your turn. Go ride your bike, and take some great photos along the way.
Grizzly Adam is the author of Mythical and Tangible: Tales of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Singletrack. He writes regularly at GrizzlyAdam.net. He can also be found on Twitter.