THE DO'S AND DON'TS OF BIKE PHOTOS
TO GETTING POD
Picking PODs is a huge job. Since it was launched more than 11 million photos have been uploaded to Pinkbike and today we receive more than 40,000 uploads every single week. That staggering volume is then sifted through to find what we consider the best of the best - from literally millions of shots we select just 365 photos each year that we make our PODs. It's not supposed to be easy to get one - you will be competing with many of the best photographers in our sport, but ask aspiring photographers like Braydon Ball, August Horeth or Tim Koerber, it is possible to have your work featured alongside the likes of Sterling Lorence, Dan Milner and Ale di Lullo. So what do we look for in a POD? The simple answer is great photos. These 11 pointers should hopefully give you something to think about if you want to see your work featured as a POD.
1. Get it in focus: This sounds obvious, right? Yet people are suggesting photos for POD that are plain out of focus. If you're not sure whether a shot is in focus or not, zoom in at 1:1 to the subject. When you're in that close the focus of the shot (it may not always be the rider) should still be sharp, every line should still be crisp and clear. For panning shots, something needs to be sharp, mountain bike tracks are rough terrain, so you're not always going to get tack-sharp pans, but at least the head or the frame needs to be crisp.
2. Process, but not too much: The simple rule here is that the shot should still look real. While artificial-looking images are a big turn-off, so are flat, dull images - it's a balance, one that almost every photographer I know is continually playing with.
3. Composition, composition, composition: A good photo has a sense of drama, depth, beauty. It needs to feel like the different elements are in balance, while conveying a feeling - whether it happens to be speed, aggression, scale, or whatever else you want to get across to the viewer. People spend their lives writing about how to get this right, and it's a lot easier to list what doesn't work than what does, but reading up on the things like the rule of thirds and the golden ratio are a good starting point.
4. Understand the equipment you are working with: Does your lens have soft spots you need to work around? Does it distort the image? How much depth of field do you get at a particular aperture? Understanding the basics of your equipment will help you take great images. One of the examples that crops up often is the deformed front wheel, because it was shot with a wide angle lens and as the wheel reaches the edge of the frame it gets distorted. It's a common error, but one that can be put right with a little attention and understanding.
5. Photoshop isn't going to help you: We see too many comments about images being Photoshopped, and there is always the occasional cynic who suggests that you don't need any talent these days as Photoshop can do it all for you. This is bullshit. If a shot is good, then 9.999 times out of ten it is good when it comes out of the camera, you can't Photoshop an image to correct poor focus or composition. If you had flat light you can't turn a shot into a golden hour beauty using computers. Yes, technology makes getting good photos easier in some ways, but the basics that make a good photo - lighting, focus and composition - will always remain essential and impossible to replicate on a computer.
6. A good rider is worth his or her weight in gold: If the rider doesn't look good, then the photo is never going to look good - a photo is only as good as the subject. It's not just about style either, but understanding. What also makes the photo work is the relationship between the photographer and the rider, if you both have a clear idea of what you're trying to get, then that will show in the photo.
7. You get out what you put in: If you just go into your nearest woods at a time that suits you and shoot whatever happens to be there, the chances are you're going to get fairly average photos. If you take the time to find unique spots, wait for the right light conditions and find a rider who understands what you're looking for then you've got a recipe for good photos. That doesn't mean you have to go trekking into the Himalayas to get your first POD. It might just be a case of searching those locals woods for a special spot, or building one if it doesn't exist yet, then waiting until the light hits it just right...
8. ...Although the Himalayas are always good: If you do get to the top of some farflung mountain, with angelic shafts of light breaking through the clouds, then yes, taking great photos is a lot easier. While it's a lot easier to be defeatist and say "professional photographers get paid to go there, it's an unfair advantage," they had to take their first photos somewhere too. Chances are that nobody paid for their first trips either, part of the reason they are where they are today is that they got off that sofa and got out there and found amazing places to take photos.
9. "But I haven't got a $5,000 camera": This is one of the most piss-weak excuses for not taking good photos that you can come up with. How many professional photographers do you think started with the equipment they have now? Every single good photographer I know started with a simple camera, learned to take good photos with it, then bought better equipment as their careers progressed. A lens like the Canon 50mm f/1.8 costs around $100, and yes, the autofocus isn't the fastest and it won't survive standing in a torrential downpour while you wait for your clients to ride past, but damn it's sharp. Like everything in this life, you have to spend some money to take good photos, but equipment is getting better every year and the cost of a basic setup that will allow you to take good photos is cheaper than it's ever been.
10. All these rules apply, except when they don't: If you go through the PODs we have picked in the last year, you will find photos that break most of these rules at some point or other, except composition. If you can put together an utterly compelling photo we'll happily throw the rulebook out the window. Some shots that don't make sense technically can just feel right. It's not something you can put your finger on, describe or explain, some photos just work. But remember, you have to demonstrate that you know which way to point a camera - you need to show that you know how to put together crisp, clean shots before anybody will consider shots that aren't technically strong. As they say in the art world - if you want to paint like a child, first you need to learn to paint like a master.
11. Just because you like a shot, doesn't mean we will:
It's a great feeling to come back from shooting, download your photos from your camera and feel like you got the one. If you don't get off on that moment, there's probably not much future for you as a photographer. You'd have to be a bitter soul to want to take that joy away from someone. But PODs are supposed to be about the best photography we can find, and just because you're excited about your shot doesn't mean we're going to be. By all means send it in, but if we come back to you and say it's not made the cut, don't let that take away from your enjoyment of shooting, or your determination to take good photos. You need to remember that sending your photos to someone whose job it is to make decisions about photos is very different to showing it to your family and friends. Hopefully your friends are trying to be positive and supportive as you pursue a passion, whereas someone who selects photos for a job will have a set of criteria your photo will be judged against. Every single photographer you look up to right now will have had shots rejected at one time or another, whether its by art editors, clients or competitions. It's part of being a photographer. Yes, it sucks, but it's how you deal with that rejection that determines your future. If you get angry and call the guy who said no a dick, don't expect them to be kind to your work in future. If you ask yourself (or even the person who said no) what can you do better next time, how can you get a photo to that standard, then you're going in the right direction.
Article: Matt Wragg
Mentions: @mdelorme @BraydonBphotography @natedh9 @sterlinglorence @Maxxon @robb @SamNeedham @DanMilner @rnangle
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