Shoot better Adventure Biking Photographs

Never before have so many photographs been taken! Everything from people’s lunches to up-to-date news items to profound art to pics of the last fabulous ride you had. Many of the photographs I see could easily be improved by adhering to a few simple rules. So let’s look at composition – where and how to place the various elements of the picture within the area of the photograph. There are some basic composition rules that can enhance your pictures but if you apply them to your images and you find that you don’t like the effect for heavens sake go with what you like!

The first rule (remember what I’ve just said about rules) is that there should be some point or points of interest in the picture that attract attention. It may very well be a bike, flowers or a person, and if it’s a person, their eyes. There could also be more that one point of interest and in many cases it is preferable to have more than one as it enables the eye to move around the picture. The eye can move across the photograph and, if you have elements that are close and far away, in and out of it as well. The placement of these points is very important and varying amounts of emphasis can be given to each point, depending where it is placed in the picture area.

The positioning of elements in a pic helps the eye move in and out of the images as well and side to side and up and down. Notice too how the road leads you into the image. KwaZulu Natal Midlands. South Africa
The positioning of elements in a pic helps the eye move in and out of the images as well as side to side and up and down. Notice too how the road leads you into the image. KwaZulu Natal Midlands. South Africa

If one divides the viewfinder of your camera up into vertical and horizontal thirds, the points where the two vertical lines and the two horizontal lines cross are very strong positions. These are ideal for the points of interest, that you want to highlight, while the lines themselves are useful guides for things like horizons. It is all too easy to just pop something into the centre of a frame, particularly on auto focus cameras. The trick with these cameras is to first focus the image and then, while holding the shutter release button down on the auto focus lock position, reposition the subject into the most pleasing composition before pressing the button down fully and taking the picture. One may find that the placement of the subject in even more extreme positions, like in the outer columns, also works well.

The Rule of thirds. Divide the photograph into 3 vertically and horizontally. These are very strong places for things like the horizon subjects etc. Notice that the bikes are on the left with space in front of them. KwaZulu Natal Midlands. South Africa
The Rule of thirds. Divide the photograph into 3 vertically and horizontally. These are very strong places for things like the horizon subjects etc. Notice that the bikes are on the left with space in front of them. KwaZulu Natal Midlands. South Africa

In most cases when photographing subjects that have fronts and backs, like people, animals, cars and so on, it is often more pleasing to position them so that they have space to move into. Placement on the other extreme, so, that they are facing the edge of the frame. is rarely attractive but can be used to good effect when the photographer is attempting to create some tension in the image.

While quite a nice pic the bike is positioned right up against the right, with no space to move into. It would have been preferable to have it on the left. KwaZulu Natal Midlands. South Africa
While quite a nice pic the bike is positioned right up against the right, with no space to move into. It would have been preferable to have it on the left. KwaZulu Natal Midlands. South Africa

The placement of points of interest is of even greater importance when a wide angle lens is used. Wide angle lenses tend to add the perception of space to a photograph and as a direct result the transition between close and far objects is greatly accentuated. This is why so many subjects seem to be small spots in the middle of the picture when point and shoot and other cameras with wide angle lenses are used. The answer to this is to get closer (of course this is not always possible) or to put some other strong foreground element into the picture that will take the viewers eye to the subject.

When composing a picture in the viewfinder try to look at the image in the viewfinder as though you were looking into a slide viewer or perhaps at a photograph rather than the real live scene before you.

When you are standing there looking at the scene you don't notice them because the brain edits them out. Look at a photograph and there they are... KwaZulu Natal Midlands. South Africa
When you are standing there looking at the scene you don’t notice the power lines because the brain edits them out. Look at a photograph and there they are… KwaZulu Natal Midlands. South Africa

So often one is unhappy with the pictures after seeing them on your computer or mobile phone and you notice all sorts of unwanted things in the image. The eye and brain are wonderful editors and while looking at a scene, will edit out all sorts of things, like telephone poles, bits of rubbish and so on. Look at the picture in the view finder or screen and not at the scene in front of you. Look for things that seem out of place. Check the corners and sides of the frame. Are any important bits cut off! Have the points of interest been placed where you want them?

Take it slowly. Look. Think!

By the way, all these pics were shot on an iPhone 6s which is capable of shooting excellent photographs and movies. The same applies to other phones like the top models from Samsung, Sony etc. Much easier to carry around than a point and shoot or DSLR.

Happy Shooting

Roger de la Harpe

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